Beyond the voting booth: Setting the public policy tone

| November 7, 2012 | 5 Comments

CNS photo / Nancy Phelan Wiechec

In the lead up to Election Day, many pundits were still talking about the “Catholic vote” as a key constituency of support for candidates, although Catholics today are as divided as any group when it comes to election-year politics.

What isn’t talked about at all — and what should be — is the “Catholic response” in the aftermath of Nov. 6: How can we unite and respond to the call to be responsible citizens after the polls close, the votes are counted and the winners declared?

After all, our responsibilities as citizens don’t end when we leave the voting booth. As Catholics who believe in the sacredness of life and the dignity of all people, we have something to contribute after Election Day that can help bring an end to the increasing polarization infecting our political system, temper the often-strident tone that characterizes public policy debates, and keep everyone focused on working toward the common good.

Changing the tone

Changes won’t happen overnight, but we can start at home and how we conduct ourselves within our neighborhoods and social circles. The Knights of Columbus were spot on earlier this year when they launched a “Campaign for Civility in America” urging an end to the hate and demonizing that characterizes so much of today’s public discourse. “How we disagree with each other says as much about us as a nation as what issues we disagree on,” Supreme Knight Carl Anderson noted.

The Catholic response to Election Day should be a reinvigorated effort to promote civility because how we conduct ourselves with those with whom we disagree says a lot about what we believe regarding everyone’s God-given human dignity.

Civility helps to keep us focused on the issues at hand rather than personalities.

In an election season that included tough debates over candidates as well as ballot initiatives such as the marriage and voter I.D. amendments, civility is an essential asset going forward since discussion around these and other important issues will continue well beyond Election Day, no matter which way the votes go. (This issue of the newspaper went to press before polls closed.)

Getting involved

The Catholic response to Election Day should also include a commitment to get involved in the public policy process beyond voting by:

  • Writing letters to state legislators, members of Congress and other elected officials to hold them accountable to the campaign promises they made or to persuade them on issues on which they took different positions from our own.
  • Participating in social action events such as pro-life marches, poverty awareness campaigns and religious liberty rallies.
  • Continuing to educate ourselves about the Catholic Church’s social teachings and what they say about the laity’s involvement in political life. If you didn’t read the U.S. bishops “Faithful Citizenship” document before the election, read it now so you can better understand what the church teaches on this topic and why. More resources for learning and action are available online from the Minnesota Catholic Conference (

Doing our homework about Catholic social teaching and what it requires from us moving forward, getting involved, showing respect for others, and praying for our elected leaders and fellow citizens — this is how Catholics can help set the tone after Election Day for our nation as we strive to build a just society.

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Category: Editorials