President-elect George W. Bush, as a victor who lost the popular vote and won the presidency with a 5-4 Supreme Court decision, will face a divided nationa House of Representatives with a razor slim Republican majority, a Senate split 50-50, a judiciary which has revealed deep chasms and taken blows to its credibility, and an executive branch struggling with perceptions as to its legitimacy. The electorate itself showed it was almost evenly divided on election day 2000, with millions of citizens feeling deep disappointment and even anger at the result. The racial dimensions of that alienation and disaffection are especially troubling.
It's time to ask what moral and political lessons must be learned from all this. First, the nation's electoral apparatus is terribly flawed, as this closest election in American history has painfully demonstrated. We've fallen well short of the democratic promise of universal suffrage, won through decades of struggle. The religious community should now play a leading role in the call for election reform as a moral issue, as we have so often in the past. From women's suffrage to the civil rights movement, people of faith have often been in the forefront of efforts to expand and extend democracy. The time for a new electoral reform movement has arrived. What would it take to address the problems we're now aware of? Here's a short list:
Congress should institute minimum and universal national standards for voting equipment, ballot design, and ballot counting. While the battle focused on a few thousand ballots in Florida, some 2 million votes nationwide were not counted for a variety of reasons. Even the majority opinion in the Supreme Court pointedly noted, "After the current counting, it is likely legislative bodies nationwide will examine ways to improve the mechanisms and machinery for voting."
Of particular concern is how these many problems work disproportionately to disenfranchise voters who are poor and people of color. The Washington Post reported that the prevalence of old, dilapidated voting equipment in poor communities nationwide makes black votes three times more likely to be thrown out than white votes. Worse yet are alarming reports of black voters in Florida being intimidated and even obstructed from casting their ballots. A Justice Department investigation of these problems has begun and must be completed.
Voter registration should be much simpler, and voting itself should be easier by instituting the day off or voting over a weekend as many countries do. And it's time to either reform or abolish the electoral college, a vestige of an aristocratic era that must submit to the scrutiny of a more democratic nation. To the extent possible under the First Amendment, there should be restrictions on media projecting results until all polls have closed nationwide. A large part of the confusion election evening was caused by early media "calls" followed by retractions.
And finally, there could be no better time for a bipartisan commitment to eliminate the excessive influence of money in politics. The candidates, political parties, and outside interest groups spent nearly half a billion dollars on the 2000 election. Campaign finance reform should be a top priority of the new administration and Congress.
But in addition to these critical questions about the process of American politics, there are even deeper concerns about its content. The election of 2000 must honestly be viewed as a tiea virtual dead heat, and a rather unenthusiastic one at that. While there are certainly committed partisans on both sides, most Americans were not terribly passionate about their choices this year. Many voters were undecided until the very end, many more spoke in "lesser of evils" language, and most wondered if this was really the best America had to offer.
Simply put, the two traditional political options in America (Democrat and Republican, liberal and conservative) have failed to capture the imagination, commitment, or trust of a majority of people in this country. Neither has found ways to solve our deepest and most entrenched social problems. Record prosperity hasn't cured child poverty. Family breakdown is occurring across all class and racial lines. Public education remains a disaster for millions of families. Millions more still don't have health insurance or can't find affordable housing, while our popular culture becomes more and more polluted by debased and violent "entertainment." The political Right and Left continue at war with each other, but the truth is that it is these ideological false choices themselves that have run their course and become dysfunctional.
AMERICA'S POLITICAL TIE calls for a new "moral politics" that won't simplistically argue between personal and social responsibility, but instead will weave them both together in a search for common ground. It won't assign all the answers to the government, the market, or the churches and charities but will patiently and creatively forge new civic partnerships where everyone does their share and everybody does what they do best. It won't debate whether our strategies should be cultural, political, or economic but will show how they must be all three, guided by a moral compass.
Finally, a new politics won't be led just by elected officials, lawyers, and their financial backers. Look for community organizers, social entrepreneurs, nonprofit organizations, and faith-based communities to help show the way forward. Pay particular attention to a whole generation of young people forged in community service. They may be cynical about politics but are vitally concerned with public life. The politics we need now will arise more from building social and spiritual movements than merely lobbying at party conventions. And ultimately it will influence the parties, as successful movements always do.
The new president and Congress face a historic challenge. But I believe the nation's political tie might be a moment of opportunity. It shows the old options and debates have created a deadlock. This very crisis could open the way for some new and creative thinking and organizing, and that could be very good news indeed. Our political leaders must now learn that the way to reach common ground is to move to higher ground. And we citizens should start by showing them that way.
The "New" Sojourners
The new Sojourners magazine will seek to serve that movement for a new moral politics in America. We hope you like the streamlined and simplified format, the rich colors and whiter paper, and the easier-to-read pages. The new logo will make clear on the nation's newsstands what Sojourners magazine is all aboutFaith, Politics, and Culture.
We like the new Sojourners very much and hope you will too. We want to reach out to many new people with a cleaner, clearer, and more compelling publication. And we especially want to reach a new generation of young people who are motivated by their faith. Sojourners has always been home to Christian activists trying put their faith into practice. Now a new generation of faith-based activists wants to make Sojourners their home too. I've been talking to many of them about their lives, their hopes, and our collective future. We've been doing "movement talk," and their perspectives will increasingly shape the future of this magazine.
Sojourners is 30 years old. Our first issue came out in the fall of 1971, when a number of us were seminary students in Chicago. For three decades we've been engaging biblical faith with our lives and the world. It's been an incredible journey. Both the churches and the society are more open to the message of faith in action than any time in these 30 years. We're going to use the celebration of our 30th year to take the message both wider and deeper.
This issue is a re-launch of Sojourners. While we will continue to build on our 30-year tradition, you will see lots of new things in the magazine this year. So if you currently read and don't subscribe, now is a good time to do so. Make your re-subscription a 30th anniversary birthday gift to Sojourners and the opportunity to get re-connected. Sojourners 30th anniversary celebration is our chance to say thank-you to all the people who have been a part of the wide and extended Sojourners community, and an occasion to ask ourselves what the next steps should be. Join us.
Jim Wallis is editor-in-chief ofSojourners.