I watched the first presidential debate like millions of other voters. I agreed with the analysts and pundits about who did well, better than expected, or not all that well. I was not uplifted by either candidate’s rhetoric, arguments, approach, tone or style. I still know who I am voting for – that didn’t change – but I was distressed.
Something was missing in the debate, something that really matters to me, to us as people of faith, indeed to us as a nation. Neither Obama nor Romney had anything resembling a framework of values from which their policies flow. At least such heart-felt values - learned in one’s family, or school, or faith community, or by just being an observant human being – were not explicitly evident in all the “facts” and figures and arguments tossed around during the evening. I know that each of them has a set of values, beliefs and moral convictions but neither of them was talking about these important matters.
This is what distressed me. I don’t need to know all the specifics about how someone plans to fix problems because reality will always shift things around and campaign promises can become impossible to keep. But I do want to know the values that undergird one’s approach to fixing those problems. Is someone going to bring into the mix not just the best minds, the top experts, but also those most affected by a particular policy? Will, for instance, senior citizens who rely on Social Security and Medicare be truly consulted about changes in either of these systems? Will the “common good” be a factor in deciding an energy policy or an income tax policy? Will veterans of our current wars have input into the priorities for funding the services of the Veterans Administration so that critical matters like treating PTSD and preventing suicides will be addressed?
“Where there is no vision, the people perish,” warns the writer of Proverbs (29:18). The translation by Eugene Peterson (The Message) put it like this: “If people can’t see what God is doing, they stumble all over themselves.”
We’ve been doing a lot of stumbling lately and we need a clear, clarion call from the leaders of our country that the well-being of people – their lives, their health, their ability to raise families, their hopes, their dreams, their hearts, their communities – is what matters most. Not corporate profits, not the accumulation of wealth, not short-term gain at the expense of long-term survival. I want to hear this from the candidates. I want my heartstrings to reverberate with words spoken from profound depth of caring and compassion. Then I will know they are truly meant to be guiding forces for figuring out the complex problems of this world which ultimately cannot be fixed by force or violence.
I expect more from presidential candidates and I hope that they can and will rise above the thicket of weeds and see the sky.