We go to the polls this November to choose a new Congress. This past session we have seen member after member of Congress investigated, indicted, tried, resign, many leaving for alcohol rehab or jail. These are the people we choose to represent us, to run our government. Do these Representatives represent our values? Is it possible that when these candidates told us that they could bring home the pork, that they could benefit our self-interests, they were appealing to our selfish value of putting ourselves ahead of what is good for the community. Are we then surprised when they put their self interests, their pocketbooks, their campaign coffers and their pleasures ahead of what was good for the country. Were they just reflecting the values of the people they were elected to represent?
The idea that we should accept modest sacrifices in order to benefit the common good is not a new idea. The Greek philosophers debated this very idea. In his first inaugural address Tomas Jefferson spoke of it saying that Americans should, “arrange themselves under the will of the law, and unite in common efforts for the common good.” Other political leaders including Madison, Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt, and Martin Luther King drew on the principles of the Common Good. Recently, you may have heard politicians discussing the concept. Former President Clinton spoke about it at Georgetown University. Ned Lamont, Bob Casey Jr., Barak Obama and John Kerry have supported the idea. A number of voting guides including Voting for the Common Good: A practical guide for conscientious Catholics, the Campaigns for America’s Future’s, Agenda for a Common Good, and Sojourners magazine’s Voting Gods Politics, have also embraced the concept.
Are we tired of the rampant individualism? Are we ready to be part of a larger community? Are ready to be part of a better community, a better America? Are we willing to work together? President Clinton contrasted the Common Good values with those of the right wing stating that, “Where us common good folks favor equal opportunity and empowerment, they believe the country is best served by the maximum concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the right people…We believe in mutual responsibility. They believe in large measure that people make or break their own lives, and you’re on your own. We believe in striving, at least, to cooperate with others, because we think there are very few problems in the world we can solve on own. They favor unilateralism whenever possible and cooperation when its unavoidable.” When applying those values to voting, one must look for candidates that believe in putting principles ahead of power and personal profit. Will they see us all as members of the same community? Will they work to address issues that hurt the community such as poverty, healthcare, education and human rights? Will they embrace a foreign policy that realizes our health, security, and prosperity are inextricably link to the health, security, and prosperity of the world? Will they seek to united, rather than divide the people of this country? Will they take responsibility for their actions, such as paying for the programs they pass rather than passing on an enormous debt to future generations? Will they work to create a world that is safer; starting with fully funding any military actions we commit our soldiers to. Will he place the safety of the citizens ahead of special interests?
In the Politics of Definition, John Halpin and Ruy Teixeria said that, “Securing the common good is as much about altering peoples’ internal moral compasses as it is about shifting the overall political discourse in society.” If we alter our own moral compass, reject the materialism, individualism and the unethical behavior of our society, and choose instead to make choices that benefit not just ourselves but the country as a whole, then we might have some hope that the people we choose to represent us will make choices that benefit not just themselves, but the country as a whole. Our country was founded on this principle; that “we the people”, a community, came together to form “a more perfect union.” This November we have a chance once again to achieve that “more perfect union.”