Lessons from the Midterm Elections

In politics there is always a spiritual choice to be made -- a choice between hope and fear. Leaders can build movements by appealing to a vision of what our country can be or by painting a picture of what to fear. Barack Obama won in November 2008, in the midst of a recession, bank failures, and two wars, by speaking to our values as a country and by riding a movement that had reason to hope and was ready to work for change.

But the new president soon lost the narrative, and the "movement" is now on the other side of the political aisle. Sadly, this fall the vast majority of the country voted against rather than for particular candidates or policies.

Scriptures say, "Without a vision the people perish." Soon after he was elected, the president let the vision perish, and the people soon followed. A campaign of "hope and change" and "yes we can" was replaced by the politics of diminished expectations and "they won’t let us." Without a deeper vision, a vacuum formed, and into it grew a different sort of movement. The "new populism" in America is now decidedly on the Tea Party Right.

Washington politics has been frozen solid, with little movement or motivation to solve the nation’s problems. We have seen the opposition party adopt a politics of sabotage more intense than any in years. On cable TV and talk radio, honest and robust political discourse has been replaced by an ideological food fight.

It feels as if civility has died in America, and urgent pleas for a more truthful and respectful public discourse from religious leaders and former lawmakers from both parties have been ignored by a media that loves a perpetual conflict narrative. But many in the country still long for a more civil tone in our political discussion.

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Sojourners Magazine January 2011
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