I knew a local cartoonist out in California named Paige Andersen, who one year near Election Day rendered drawings of improbable right-wing and left-wing extremists. I don’t remember the details. The right-winger was probably armed to the teeth, dispensing tax cuts as confetti, while the left-winger sported a pony tail and carried government cash ready to throw at any problem. I do recall that both drawings had arrows pointing to the respective extremist’s back pocket with the words, “Votes his pocketbook.”
As another election comes and goes, this part of the cartoon vividly comes back to me. It makes me wonder if polls ask the wrong question at election time. It may be we need to ask not, “Did you vote?” (fewer of us young folk do, by the way), or, “How did you vote?” (the republicrat question), but rather, “Why do you vote the way you do?”
The legendary Bill Clinton answer is, of course, “It’s the economy, stupid.” And we do often vote from our personal view on the progress of the economy. But the problem with this from a moral and spiritual perspective is that it really doesn’t raise the political discourse or the act of voting much above naked self-interest.
Imagine for a moment taking the concerns of your entire local community into account on Election Day. Not such a revolutionary idea really. The founding fathers had it in mind in thinking of voting as a civic duty. In terms of traditional Catholic social teaching, we call such a pattern of voting looking to the common good.
I live in midtown Manhattan in New York City. In my neighborhood the big issue is the lack of affordable housing�poor and even middle class people are priced right out of the area. I would be too if my religious order hadn’t gotten in early�144 years ago. Then there is noise pollution (garage exhaust fans, car horns, sirens), and the everpresent garbage on the street. And truancy at the public high school is out of sight.
It would be easy for me to focus on the noise and the garbage. They are the issues that affect me directly. But the housing and the truancy are actually having a deeper and more terrible human impact in the neighborhood. So which should receive my attention when I am considering for whom I am going to vote in the periodic races for city council and state assembly?
Jesus said that the second most important commandment was loving your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:39). Apparently he was copping this one from the Hebrew Bible, Leviticus 19:18. In the U.S. we usually think of this as meaning that we should be nice to people, treat them with courtesy. But the Hebrew of Leviticus reads more with the sense of treating your neighbor as if he or she were family. This is not a detached, distant kind of love.
I never thought of it this way until this year, but maybe we should look at voting as a kind of act of love, a way of caring for the other people in our community. We entrust their future to those candidates most worthy of our trust, to those whom we think will be most attentive to our neighborhood’s needs and concerns.
The problem is, the needs and concerns of the neighborhood may not coincide exactly with my personal economic interests.
Well, that’s all right. Every now and then you haveto take a hit. And life isn’t all about me after all.