Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.

Directions versus Issues

James Skillen


November 6, 2000

Choosing the next president isn't the only important decision facing voters tomorrow, but it surely ranks at the top. You may not be overjoyed by the Republican or Democratic candidates; still, whatever you think of Nader and the rest, it will be either Al Gore or George W. Bush on the way to the White House. And since the office of the presidency has to be filled, and because justice requires action and not only ideas, sitting out the election is not a good option.So how to choose?

The debates didn't help very much. Bush and Gore were so intent on avoiding fatal mistakes and wooing undecided voters that they hid as much as they revealed. Neither shared a vision of the nation, world, and presidency. Both pandered to our desire for benefits; neither spoke of sacrifices or duties. Oddly, neither mentioned political parties, as if they did not belong to opposing teams.

But there are big differences. As one headline said, "Election Offers Classic Ideological Choice." Gore promises much government help—programs and targeted tax cuts—although without new federal workers. Bush criticizes Republicans with a "leave us alone" political stance, insisting that justice and the nation's good require government action--but his main theme is cutting government and taxes.

Still, the choice isn't so easy if your political vision isn't conventional left or right. What if you agree with Gore that the health-insurance crisis requires vigorous government action, but you also know that government must protect life, including children yet unborn? What if you think Bush is right to insist on personal and family responsibility and yet you know that stewardship of the earth demands a more active government than Republicans prefer? Political views that take seriously government, market, individuals, and civil society—all at the same time—do not fit well with the choices before us.

So don't look just at the candidates' wish lists. Think about the long term. What policy changes will set our nation on a better course? Consider four lev-erage points: critical choices that set a direction for our lives together.

The new president will likely reshape the U.S. Supreme Court by his nominations. Should we have equal treatment of religion or go back to church-state separationism? Should the associational rights of groups like the Boy Scouts be protected or instead overridden in the name of diversity?

The federal government is often acting for or against life for the unborn, the disabled, the elderly. Neither candidate is perfect, but consider which one is most determined to promote the dignity of life.

Both candidates endorse Charitable Choice, but Bush has championed it as both candidate and governor. So ask yourself: how important is it for our nation to ensure equal treatment of religious service providers and to include a faith and moral dimension in our public assistance efforts?

Bush favors school choice; Gore rejects it. This isn't only a matter of rescuing children from failing schools. School choice promotes an idea of public education that includes rather than excludes parents and their faith commitments. It is a reform that fosters not only schools of conviction but also communities of conviction.

This presidential contest is not only about how to use the budget surplus, provide medicine for the elderly, or cut taxes. Bush and Gore are heading in different directions on some of the key issues of government and civil society, individual rights and personal responsibility, moral standards and concepts of tolerance. The new president will help to set our nation's direction. Think about those leverage points when you pull the voting lever tomorrow.

—Stanley Carlson-Thies, Director of Social Policy Studies
   Center for Public Justice


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Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”