Don’t Be Fooled, Politicians Are Not Our Saviors

By the time this piece posts, the blogosphere will be awash in commentary about the first presidential debate of the 2012 general election.  Pundits will weigh in on word choice and policy platforms.  Fashion bloggers will be talking about the color of the men’s ties.  And students of Aristotle and Socrates will be weeding through the buzz words and hot topics to determine whether the redesign of the debate structure signifies a return to substantive oratory. 

As Newton Minow, a longtime debate organizer observed on Tuesday, the new format is designed to, “Be entirely different from the disappointing primary and caucus debates, where we saw moderators preening for the camera, demanding yes-or-no answers, asking candidates to raise their hands to respond to questions, and forcing candidates to shout to be heard.”

You know what I’ll be doing while the debate is raging and the handlers are spinning?  I will be swapping canned goods with four other women.  Don’t get me wrong, I will consume a good deal of the media coverage surrounding the debate and read the transcript in the morning.  However, I will not have been glued to the television set or my laptop screen for those 90 minutes for one simple reason: I am living life.  I think it is too easy during election season to fall into the trap of thinking that the next president is going to fundamentally alter my day-to-day reality come January.

Yes, the person who sits in the Oval Office is a critical part of our American democracy.  You know who else is?  The councilwoman who represents my neighborhood.  As well as the ward leaders, the city commissioner, the city controller, the district attorney, and a dozen other elected officials that ensure (or at times stymie) the democratic process as it plays out in my corner of Philadelphia.  The truth is it wasn’t President Barack Obama who helped get one hundred new street lights installed on the commercial stretch a few blocks away from where I live.  Or, launched a bike lane initiative that has considerably increased my feeling of safety when riding to and from my parish on the other side of the city.

Civil society is vitally important to ensuring religious freedom, a safety net for the least among us, and vibrant public spaces.  Free and fair elections are an essential component of civil society.  The canning swap is too.  Our gathering marks the end of a summer of community gardens and farmers markets, of days of collectively putting up vegetables in a hot, steamy kitchen.  We believe in the power of buying locally and the dignity of community supported agriculture.  We believe in the household as an important economic unit.  We believe in maintaining practices that foster sustainability and interdependence.  And obviously, we believe in good food!

As each woman brings her jar of salsa, tomatoes, peaches, or pickles to share, she is also reflecting an aspect of subsidiarity, that oft misunderstood tenant of Catholic Social Teaching.  I am not talking about the small government being better government definition, I am referring to what moral theologian Meghan Clark explains, “is about the well-ordered society directed towards the common good.”  We each have a part to play: elected officials, houses of worship, universities, public administrators, business owners, and of course, the voters.  For all the pageantry of the presidential election, we must remember that November 6th will simply be another opportunity to live what we believe.