Who won last night’s presidential debate? That depends on whose headline you’re reading this morning. Some reports are calling Mitt Romney the winner, while others are describing the debate but refusing to declare a winner or loser.
In my view, the American people won, for three reasons. First, the candidates were civil and at times gracious, with none of the mean-spirited rhetoric that has so dominated politics in recent years. Second, the news coverage I saw was even-handed, a refreshing change from the political bias so obvious in most media today. Third, the debate was substantive and informative, educating voters as we seek to understand the differences between the candidates.
As I viewed the debate, I remembered the presidential election results I watched 12 years ago while in Cuba. When our ministry team went to bed, Al Gore had been elected president; when we woke up the next morning, the election was undecided. As “hanging chads “became headlines, Fidel Castro announced to the Cuban people his willingness to help America decide our election. As he pointed out, Cuba elects a president every five years with no difficulty. Of course, they have only one candidate.
Think of the people around the world who have never participated in a free election. China’s leader is selected by the Communist Party and rubber-stamped by the National People’s Congress. Much of the Muslim world is governed by theocracies; military dictators rule many of Africa’s nations.
America is the world’s oldest participatory democracy. Our political process, while frustrating and flawed, is more inclusive than any other system known to history. Here’s why: it was birthed in a Judeo-Christian worldview that values each person as created in the image of God. Thomas Jefferson, while not a biblical Christian, could declare our independence from Britain’s monarchy with the assertion “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights . . .”
Tragically, our culture affirms this view of human life less today than at any time in our history. Biblical teachings regarding the value of life from conception (Psalm 139:13-16) and the nature of marriage (Matthew 19:4-6) are ignored or rejected by more Americans than ever before. Alexis de Tocqueville was right: in a democracy “we get the government we deserve.” If we fulfill Plato’s prediction by casting ballots based on personal preference rather than the collective good, our politicians will cater to such self-centered consumerism. But if we agree with President Washington that “virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government,” insisting that our leaders reflect and advance our highest values and virtues, our nation’s future will be brighter than ever.
You and I cannot influence America today, but we can influence Americans. This is the challenge, and the invitation, of God.