Now that the Wisconsin recall election is over, some people are rejoicing and others are disappointed in the outcomes. However, I think almost every citizen in our state is happy to be moving on, away from the incessant political ads, phone calls, and media hype.
Now that the recall is in the history books, the question is: Where do we go from here? I think most Wisconsinites want to live and work together peacefully, yet the climate in our state — and in our nation, for that matter — has been so contentious.
Steps towards healing
Governor Scott Walker took one step by inviting legislators and staff members of both political parties to what was called the “Brat Summit” at the governor’s mansion. The governor himself grilled the brats, and it seemed that those attending enjoyed themselves.
Spending time talking with each other might be a first step in the process of healing in our state. If we listen to what people say, we might start understanding their point of view. It doesn’t mean we have to agree with everything they say, but we might be able to find some common ground and ways to work together.
I think most people in our state want many of the same things: a safe place to live, a good education for our children and young adults, a thriving economy, and help for those in need. We often differ in how to achieve those goals.
Citizens got involved
One good thing that came out of the recall process is that citizens in Wisconsin got involved. People campaigned for candidates and educated themselves about the issues. They watched the debates. And they voted in large numbers.
This is encouraging, because voter turn-out in some elections in recent years has been very low. At least people are no longer apathetic about elections, especially since they now realize how important it is to cast a vote!
Exercising faithful citizenship
The Catholic bishops in the United States have been encouraging members of the Church to exercise faithful citizenship. For many years, the bishops have issued a statement on political responsibility at the time of the presidential election. They updated their statement this year, calling it Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship (it is available on the bishops’ Web site at www.usccb.org).
I encourage people to read this document in its entirety. It provides an excellent overview of Catholic teaching and political life, with ideas that might be helpful to all citizens in our state and nation.
The bishops point out that they do not intend to tell Catholics for whom to vote. Rather, they say, “We recognize that the responsibility to make choices in political life rests with each individual in light of a properly formed conscience, and that participation goes well beyond casting a vote in a particular election.”
They explain that the bishops, as well as priests, deacons, or other Church leaders, should “teach fundamental moral principles that help Catholics form their consciences correctly, to provide guidance on the moral dimensions of public decisions, and to encourage the faithful to carry out their responsibilities in political life.”
In order to make a wise voting choice, we as citizens should form our consciences based on Catholic moral and social teaching. These include such principles as the right to life and dignity of the human person, the call to family and community, the protection of human rights, the option for the poor and vulnerable, the dignity of work and rights of workers, and caring for God’s creation.
A renewed kind of politics
The bishops’ faithful citizenship statement calls for a renewed kind of politics:
• Focused more on moral principles than on the latest polls.
• Focused more on the needs of the weak than on benefits for the strong.
• Focused more on the pursuit of the common good than on the demands of narrow interests.
This kind of political participation reflects the social teaching of our Church and the best traditions of our nation, say the bishops.
As we move forward in our state and nation, I hope we will study and take to heart the words of our bishops in becoming faithful citizens of this great country.