So at lunchtime on this gorgeous autumn day, my son and I walked down the street to the local public elementary school where I cast my vote in the Virginia governor’s race. On our way to the school, we talked about the value of voting and the apathy of so many of our fellow citizens who decline to do so. We wondered how much our nation’s affluence, and even the size of our political community here in Virginia (over 8 million souls) contributes to that apathy. “If we lived in a community of only a few thousand people,” I conjectured, “we would all be rabidly interested in every facet of our politics, because every political decision would affect everyone immediately and visibly.”
As I approached the school with my son, some volunteers handing out voting guides congratulated me for my “civic mindedness” in bringing my son to the polling place. I guess I did want my son to see me vote, to witness my small but (I believe) significant participation in our political process. And I’m glad he saw the troops of hard-working volunteers ready to check my voter registration card, and that he was allowed to stand with me at the touch screen and watch me cast my ballot. There is so little left of shared public life here in the United States – we have to appreciate, and teach to our children, the value of what remains of it.
The governor’s race in Virginia this fall has been the usual contentious one. Republican Ken Cuccinelli is pitted against Democrat Terry McAuliffe. The Catholic Church does not take sides in political elections, but it does offer principles that should guide our political community – principles based upon the Church’s understanding of human dignity and the common good as illumined by the light of the Gospel. The most fundamental and politically necessary of these principles is every human being’s right to life, from conception to natural death, without respect for which every citizen’s progress toward a flourishing life is put in jeopardy. Another fundamental and necessary principle that the Church upholds is the right to religious liberty, which the HHS Mandate that forms part of Obamacare has endangered for many Americans.
Terry McAuliffe is unfortunately an avid defender of “a woman’s right to choose,” as well as a staunch supporter of Obamacare. He has rejected the Church’s guidance in matters necessary for our common good, whereas Ken Cuccinelli has vowed to fight for every Virginia citizen’s right to life and opposes the HHS mandate. McAuliffe, moreover, supports same-sex marriage, while Cuccinelli supports only traditional marriage. So while the Church in no way endorses Cuccinelli, its guiding political principles, in my estimation, direct us to press the touch screen for him.
As I write this, Cuccinelli trails McAuliffe slightly in the polls. But even if Cuccinelli comes from behind today and wins, it will still be the case in our polity that the number of people who recognize and adhere to the fundamental principles of Catholic social teaching, whether they be Catholic themselves or not, is becoming smaller and smaller. Yet even as their numbers dwindle, the political action of this plucky band is becoming ever more vigorous. It is as if that small, vibrant political community I imagined in talking with my son is coming into existence – not linked, however, by a single locality, but rather by a single passionate desire for dignity and freedom. This movement has nothing essentially to do with the Republican Party (I myself am not a Republican and have no desire to be one). It is a cultural or philosophical movement rather than a political one in the “party” sense. At bottom, it is about what it means to be a human being.
In his engaging new book, Tea Party Catholic, Samuel Gregg, Director of Research at the Acton Institute and a member of Aleteia’s board of experts, quotes Pope Emeritus Benedict’s prediction that “Catholicism’s immediate future in America and the West would be life as a “creative minority.” The phrase “creative minority,” as Gregg points out, is taken from the English historian Arnold Toynbee, the man who famously observed that “Civilizations die from suicide, not by murder.” For Toynbee, according to Gregg, a creative minority is a group of people “who proactively respond to a civilizational crisis and whose response allows that civilization to grow.”
I will learn tonight – and you will know when you read this – whether the proactivity of Virginians is (or was) enough to elect Ken Cuccinelli as their governor. Who knows? Perhaps a McAuliffe victory, while damaging to Virginia in the short run, will stoke the flames of a creative resistance to the decline of a truly human politics both in Virginia and throughout the United States.
In any event, in taking my son to the polls today I’m glad I did a little bit to help keep the flame of freedom burning for future generations. After my son and I came home, we had some lunch and then my son returned to his schoolwork (at McInerny Academy, our homeschool), while I came down here to my home office and returned to my duties for Aleteia. In the quiet of our family’s privacy, my son and I are able this afternoon to undertake the wild adventure of freedom rooted in the truth about the human person. Not under the constraint of a false philosophy animating an increasingly despotic regime, but in light of a freedom and dignity suitable to the children of God, we pursue our happiness.
This, I say, is what politics is for.
This is why we go to vote.