January 14, 2008
Voters are afraid of the future. Should we be?
We voters just can't make up our minds. One day it's Rudy. Then Huck. Hillary. Then Obama. Then Hillary again. Hey, here's McCain, risen from the political dead!
Certainly one reason we can't decide is because no one candidate fulfills all of our hopes and dreams. One has experience (sort of). Another has charisma. One speaks of conservative values but has other issues. Another champions those same values but is a . . . Mormon. Some say the only African-American candidate isn't black enough, or the only woman candidate not womanly enough. They're like the old commercial . . . everything you always wanted in a candidate - and less.
Another reason for voters' fickleness is the economy. If you're not covered at work, private health insurance is unaffordable for all but the wealthy. Gas and milk cost three bucks a gallon. Economic growth appears to be stagnating, and the growing mortgage crisis is hammering the real estate market and home values. Big-screen TVs and other luxury items aside, according to The Two-Income Trap, it generally takes two incomes to match the standard of living that one income provided a generation ago, and many people feel they are in danger of slipping from the ranks of the middle class.
Americans' priorities are also in flux early into the primary season. The survey found voters to be in their darkest mood about the economy in 18 years, by some measures; 62 percent said they believed that the economy was getting worse, the highest percentage since the run-up to the recession in 1990. Seventy-five percent said they believed that the country had "seriously gotten off on the wrong track," also similar to levels in the early 1990s, when such discontent fueled the presidential candidacy of Bill Clinton.
Worries about the economy now dominate the voters' agenda, even more so than the war in Iraq, which framed the early part of this campaign. While change has emerged as an abstract rallying cry in the campaign debate, what the voters mean when they talk about change is clear - new approaches to the economy and the war, according to the poll.
Whatever their personal or policy differences, nearly all candidates are promising "change" in response to consumer angst. Now as the breadwinner in my family, I can understand those fears, and the desire to latch onto someone who promises to fix my financial problems. Sometimes it does seem as if the big corporations have an unfair advantage over consumers, and it feels good for government to "level the playing field."
However, despite our present economic uncertainty, is all this worry really justified? The statistics, though troubling, are not as bad as the election-year rhetoric: Joblessness, at around 5 percent (up from 4.4 percent a year ago), remains low by historical levels. Adjusted for inflation (up 4.3 percent last year), gas and milk don't cost as much relative to our rising incomes as they seem to. Those struggling with "subprime" mortgages, though their pain is real, are a relatively minor percentage of the American people. Despite the considerable challenges we face, the American economy remains the envy of the world.
Every generation worries about the economy (remember the "stagflation" of the seventies?), and while no one knows the future, I would guess that we have less to fear than most generations - even if recession comes. There are many other issues we also must consider, such as the war on terror, peace in the Middle East, abortion, the environment, and other priorities.
Beyond all that, as Christians, we should look at the coming election through the lens of faith, not fear. We are to trust God to provide, not the promises of politicians. As a certain nonpolitical leader once said:
"Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
"Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble."
Thus, whatever the economy brings, we are to be busy doing his work - including helping those who really are struggling - trusting him to provide our needs each day.