Rejecting ‘What’s in It for Me?’

[Today,] the longest presidential campaign in history comes to a close. If you haven’t voted early or already cast your absentee ballot, I trust you will exercise your civic and Christian duty and go to your local polling place to vote for the candidate of your choice.

[Today's] election will be historic. We’ll either have the first African-American president, or the first woman vice-president. And the election comes at a crucial time in our history, given the extraordinary financial and energy crises, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the specter of terrorism.

But while the candidates have been historic, their campaigns have not been. Both senators, Obama and McCain, have served up a typical laundry list of promises-most of which neither will be able to fulfill. The country’s basically bankrupt and nobody, family or government, can spend their way out of bankruptcy.

What would make this election truly historic would be this: If, before walking into the voting booth, the American people were to consider not which man will put a chicken in every pot, but which man is best prepared to help sustain a just and good society.

For that is the proper role of government from a classical and biblical perspective: to preserve order (which includes restraining evil), and to promote justice.

In his classic work, The City of God, St. Augustine taught that peace is the tranquility produced by order (tranquillitas ordinis). The first order of government, therefore, is to preserve order because a political community can enjoy peace only by following the moral order. An ordered civil life allows fallen human beings to “live and work together” in harmony.

Take away the moral order, and you have chaos-not just on the streets, but in board rooms and financial markets as well. I just met with a brilliant scholar from the Third World who advises major international financial enterprises. He shared my convictions that the economic collapse we’re seeing around the world is the result of people thinking that they can indulge their own greed without moral restraints. It’s a worldview problem-disregarding the common good.

The second role of government, promoting justice, means that government must safeguard the rights of people-life, in particular, and property, the rights of all citizens-while seeking the common good.

So that’s government’s job: preserve order and promote justice. Government is not a vending machine to dispense goodies to its citizens.

And in times like these, we certainly don’t need a sugar daddy for a president. In fact, we need quite the opposite-a president who will dare to tell us that we are going to have to make sacrifices. We are going to have to become less self-indulgent, to curb our appetites. And we are also going to have to look out for our neighbors, to help others in need. All the while insisting that government do what it’s supposed to do, and no more.

So when you walk into the voting booth tomorrow, ask yourself which candidate is best equipped to lead government in its proper role-preserving order and establishing justice-not who is going to give you the most goodies.

And then, vote.

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