The following editorial was first published in The Washington Post on May 1, 2012:
A Chance to Vote Your Values — And Act On Them, Too
With the withdrawal of Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich from the race, the Republican Party all but has its presidential nominee. That means our country’s major issues will be faced by former governor Mitt Romney or President Obama after the ballots are counted on Nov. 6. But before the ballots are cast, voters must first address two critical challenges.
The first is to vote through the filter of the morals and values by which we live. The second is to robustly engage the democratic process that allows us the right to choose our leaders and to do so in a way that demonstrates reverence for our system of government and respect for those who answer the call to serve in it.
We all know the issues in this year’s election: The economy. Jobs. The ongoing and multifaceted threat of terrorism. Abortion policy. Health care and what role the government ought to play in it. Whether same-sex marriage should be legalized nationwide. Immigration.
There is no shortage of deeply held, passionately articulated opinions on these matters. You talk about them with your friends and family. You see, read and hear them discussed and debated. Right now, as you’re reading this sentence, someone is being polled on some aspect of one of them.
But when you step into the voting booth the first Tuesday in November, what “they” wrote or said shouldn’t matter as much as what you think, feel and believe. With our right to vote comes a responsibility: to look inside our hearts and identify what we hold most dear, then check the box, punch the card or tap the screen next to the name of the candidate who most closely aligns with our values.
That’s where the real challenge comes in: Chances are neither Romney nor Obama will earn a perfect score when you go through this exercise. There is no way that every decision they’ve ever made, every bill they’ve ever supported or opposed, and every sound bite they’ve ever contributed to the 24-hour news cycle is going to line up exactly with your core beliefs. Some things the candidates have done or said might disappoint you. So your decision will come down to this: Which man most closely stands for what I stand for? Whom do I trust more, based on his public record and personal convictions, to lead the nation in the direction I hope to see it go?
Note that “values” do not equal “religion”; while for many of us, it is indeed our religious faith that informs our values, we must remember that we are electing a president, not a pastor, priest, rabbi, imam or elder. It is a civic, not spiritual, position with secular, not sanctifying, duties. What is of paramount importance in selecting an occupant for such an office is not whether he or she attends the same house of worship as we do; it’s whether he or she adheres to a moral and ethical code, rooted in natural law rather than doctrinal purity, that we believe offers a better vision for America.
This brings us to voters’ second challenge: to model something different than the rhetorical savagery that too often colors political discourse in the United States. Some people, on both sides of the ideological aisle, have become so consumed with winning a political “battle” that they’ve lost sight of basic virtues like the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
It’s easy to argue with someone who holds a different worldview. But let’s not take the easy way out. Let’s look for points of mutual cordiality where they might be found. We may persuade some to our way of thinking by taking a reasoned approach. And even if we fail to change each other’s minds, we don’t have to call each other names.
This does not mean we stop ardently engaging the culture and advocating for the morals and values we hold dear. It does mean we do so in a way that recognizes the dignity and respect we all deserve as humans. We must remember that both names at the top of the ballot belong to human beings.
This is likely to become more difficult as the campaign grinds on and the candidates, and their surrogates, target the opposition’s jugular. That’s all the more reason for the rest of us to point to a better way. As the late British writer and aristocrat Mary Wortley Montagu put it, “Civility costs nothing, and buys everything.”
If recent trends hold, a little less than half the country will wake up Nov. 7 unhappy with the election’s outcome. But there is no reason any of us need to be unhappy about the process we personally follow to get there.