Monday, November 06, 2006

An Election Eve Breather

Well, here we go. All the money blown on TV and GOTV, the disaffected voters, the detonating clerics, etc. etc. etc. -- it all comes down to tomorrow.

On an uplifting note -- something an official can strike midway through his second term -- the Catholic governor of North Carolina, Mike Easley, spoke last week at Notre Dame.

Fulltext; some snips:
My mother always insisted I go to mass every Sunday. “Even if you are not getting anything out of it, she said, you are putting something in.” Now, years later, those so very early Sunday masses and so very long sermons are part of who I am.

To the extent that our values guide our policy, and our religion influences our values, then our religious faith guides that policy as well.

However, this is not a violation of the constitutional provisions regarding separation of church and state. We are not required to separate morality from policy. To the contrary, it is quite natural and appropriate to navigate public policy with our own internal moral compass.

But, I am very uncomfortable when I hear politicians invoke the Almighty for their own purposes. How often have each of us been offended to hear the name of God invoked to demean and even hurt people who do not see the world as we do. Such talk diminishes religion and turns people off.

It is better to remember the words of my patron saint, St. Francis of Assisi, who said, “Preach the gospel at all times and when necessary use words.”

St. Francis reminds us that action and deed are what really matter.

When I was born in North Carolina in 1950, we had 22,000 Catholics, about the same percentage of fans who will be wearing Carolina blue at the game tomorrow. And we probably were not any more popular than the visitors at the Notre Dame stadium.

While my parents made certain that all seven of their children practiced our faith, it was not an issue that we discussed a lot in public. I remember JFK running for president in 1960 and I was 9 years old at my dad’s tobacco warehouse. We handed out cards for Kennedy often to hear, “Sorry, I ain’t got much use for them Catholics.”

I learned very early to work by deed rather than to preach the benefits of Catholicism to a warehouse full of farmers who did not fully appreciate the Pope. But I think they do appreciate much of what the church has to say.

Twenty years ago the U.S. Bishops shared their thoughts on the economy in a pastoral letter titled “Economic Justice for All.” They discussed how we need broader social commitment to the economic good. The moral role of government, in their view, is to protect human rights and secure justice for all.

Okay, who can argue with that? But we have to put these words into action. Politics is one way to do that.

Benedict XVI said this in his first encyclical, that politics is needed for justice.

There is one theme upon which most major religions agree. In my faith, it is best explained as, “Whatever you do to the least of these, that you do unto me.”

The political debate over this policy is not whether we help the least of these, but how, and how much.

The objective is clear. It is to set the right policy, one that helps all people reach their full potential so that they can make full use of their God-given talents. But, getting the policy right is only part of the job.

The other part, and often the most difficult, is building a consensus that will put those policies into action.

Governors must execute the laws. By the nature of our jobs, we have to get things done. We have to be more than an advocate or a strong voice. We have to produce.

We have to not only make the speeches, but also make the decisions and actually implement those things that we deem good public policy. Again, as St. Francis reminds us, the words are hollow without the action.

Articulating a grand vision is of no value if not followed with the planning, strategy and resources it takes to make the vision a reality. Leadership requires that populist rhetoric give way to consensus building.
As most of the political discourse these days -- not to mention the ecclesiastical -- has devoted itself to the vaporization of the opposition, at the end of a rough campaign cycle, it's a nice reminder of a civilized future we probably won't be experiencing.