The first presidential debate, focused on domestic policy, is in the books. But if you, like many other Americans, are just starting to tune in seriously to the 2012 campaign and trying to make up your mind about who to support on Nov. 6, you have two more chances later this month to hear the candidates: a debate with a town hall format Oct. 16 and a final contest Oct. 22 focused on foreign policy.
One of the challenges for debate moderators is to press candidates beyond generalizations and pin them down on specifics: Exactly what do they propose, and what legislative measures would they rally around, to support their broad policy objectives. Voters, too, are eager to hear particulars.
But, while specifics are good, Americans also should strive to understand the bigger-picture philosophies and world views beyond party platforms that presidential nominees — as well as other federal and state candidates — would bring to office. These often reveal more about how a future president or lawmaker would approach a particular issue or set of problems than any two-minute debate answer or campaign commercial ever could.
For us Catholics, the protection of human life, promotion of human dignity and advancement of the common good beyond our own individual wants and desires are core principles rooted in the church’s vision of a just society.
What would it look like if candidates espoused similar principles when confronting the challenges of the modern world? Here are a few examples:
- They would speak often about the need to give particular attention and care to society’s poorest and most vulnerable members.
These candidates would push for policies that support women facing unexpected pregnancies and help them create stable, healthy families after the birth of their babies. They would fight for programs and services that meet the poor’s basic
needs while giving them the resources to become self-sufficient. They would ensure that the elderly and ill have access to essential and life-affirming health care.
- These candidates would give special attention to the needs of children by supporting policies that protect marriage and strengthen families.
- They would believe in everyone’s need for forgiveness and mercy, even when it comes to hot-button issues — giving undocumented immigrants a second chance to start a new life without the threat of deportation tearing their families apart, working to abolish the death penalty while still holding prisoners accountable for the crimes they’ve committed, and giving addicts and others who have made bad decisions the help they need to turn their lives around and become productive members of society.
- Candidates who share a Catholic world view understand that our social responsibilities extend beyond our communities, cities and national border. In an era of globalization, they seek to build bridges between nations instead of burning them, and they understand that we must be good stewards of the natural world for the benefit of future generations.
- And, not least in importance, such candidates would understand that religion makes positive contributions to society and should have a voice in the public square. They would support religious liberty so churches and others may continue the faith-based works of charity, health care and education that have been an integral part of our nation’s history without having to violate their consciences.
It’s vital for Catholics to have the tools necessary to view this year’s election through the lens of their Catholic faith. That’s why each issue of The Catholic Spirit features a “Faith in the Public Arena” column from the Minnesota Catholic Conference and why every issue from last June leading up to Election Day, Nov. 6, features a “Catholics Care – Catholics Vote” column from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
While we should press the presidential nominees and other candidates for office on the details of their policy plans, we shouldn’t overlook the need to see how their big-picture views of the world stack up against our own as Catholic citizens.