Why should we get involved?

AMERICAN PUBLIC LIFE IS TOO OFTEN OVERSHADOWED BY WIDESPREAD PUBLIC CYNICISM AND FRUSTRATION.s too often overshadowed by widespread public cynicism and frustration. Many Americans seem disinterested or disenchanted with politics. This alienation is a dangerous trend, threatening to undermine our democratic traditions.

As the nation prepares for the 1996 elections, we need to examine our own political behavior and take steps to build public confidence and participation in the political process. We ask candidates to trust the American people enough to share their values and vision with us without resorting to empty rhetoric or polarizing tactics. We urge the news media to cover campaigns in ways that tell us more than who's ahead or whose commercials are more clever. The nation needs more thorough and unbiased coverage of the positions and qualifications of the candidates and the major issues facing the nation.

The key to a renewal of public life is reorienting politics to reflect the search for the common good (i.e., reconciling diverse interests for the well-being of the whole human family) and a clear commitment to the dignity of every person. If politics ignores this fundamental task, it can easily become little more than an arena for partisan gamesmanship, the search for power for its own sake, or interest group conflict.

Every proposal, policy, or political platform should be measured by how it touches the human person; whether it enhances or diminishes human life, human dignity, and human rights; and how it advances the common good. The common good is shaped by moral convictions, personal virtue, and active commitment of every person.

The renewal of democracy is not simply a task for others, but for each of us. It is the traditional virtue of citizenship that will renew American democracy. In bringing the virtues and values we seek to uphold in our personal lives into the public arena, we strengthen public life and build a better society.

We encourage people to use their voices and votes to enrich the democratic life of our nation and to act on their values in the political arena. In the Catholic tradition, citizenship is a virtue; participation in the political process is an obligation. We are not a sect fleeing the world, but a community of faith called to renew the earth. The 1996 elections provide new opportunities to replace the politics of polarization and false choices with the politics of participation and the common good.

Our community of faith brings two major assets. The first is a consistent ethic of principles. Our religious teaching provides a moral framework that can guide policy choices. Our community of faith does not rely on focus groups or polls to chart our directions; we advocate a consistent commitment to the human person.

We draw our principles from Catholic teaching and tradition, not partisan platforms or ideological agendas. We stand with the unborn and the undocumented when many politicians seem to be abandoning them. We defend children in the womb and on welfare. We oppose the violence of abortion and the vengeance of capital punishment. We oppose assault weapons on our streets and condoms in our schools. Our agenda is sometimes counter-cultural, but it reflects our consistent concern for human life.

Secondly, we bring broad experience in serving those in need. The Catholic community educates the young, cares for the sick, shelters the homeless, feeds the hungry, assists needy families, welcomes refugees, and serves the elderly. People who are poor and vulnerable, the elderly, and immigrants are not abstract issues for us. They are in our parishes and schools, our shelters and soup kitchens, our hospitals and charitable agencies. On many of the most vital issues facing our nation, we have practical expertise and day-to-day experience that can contribute to the debate.

Our task is to bring together our values, experience, and community in an effective public witness. The test of the 1996 elections will be how our choices touch the weak and vulnerable. Catholics need to share our values, raise our voices, and use our votes to shape a society more respectful of human life, human dignity, and human rights.

This article appeared in "Political Responsibility: Proclaiming the Gospel of Life, Protecting the Least Among Us, and Pursuing the Common Good."

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