Barack Obama: ‘We Are Not As Divided As Our Politics Suggest’

Barack Obama: ‘We Are Not As Divided As Our Politics Suggest’

RECONCILER IN CHIEF: Barack Obama stands on stage at Chicago’s McCormick Place after being re-elected president of the United States during his election night watch party on November 6, 2012. (Photo: Olivier Douliery/ABACAUSA.com/Newscom)

In his victory speech at the McCormick Place convention center in Chicago, President Barack Obama echoed many of the themes that inspired his supporters when he first arrived on the national scene — themes of hope, empathy, and reconciliation. In the wake of a bruising campaign that time and again revealed America’s deep ideological, cultural, and racial divides, President Obama sought to begin the process of healing and unifying the nation for the challenges ahead. Below is the transcript of his speech.

BARACK OBAMA: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you so much.

Tonight, more than 200 years after a former colony won the right to determine its own destiny, the task of perfecting our union moves forward.

It moves forward because of you. It moves forward because you reaffirmed the spirit that has triumphed over war and depression, the spirit that has lifted this country from the depths of despair to the great heights of hope, the belief that while each of us will pursue our own individual dreams, we are an American family and we rise or fall together as one nation and as one people.

Tonight, in this election, you, the American people, reminded us that while our road has been hard, while our journey has been long, we have picked ourselves up, we have fought our way back, and we know in our hearts that for the United States of America the best is yet to come.

I want to thank every American who participated in this election … whether you voted for the very first time or waited in line for a very long time.

By the way, we have to fix that.

Whether you pounded the pavement or picked up the phone whether you held an Obama sign or a Romney sign, you made your voice heard and you made a difference.

I just spoke with Governor Romney and I congratulated him and Paul Ryan on a hard-fought campaign.

We may have battled fiercely, but it’s only because we love this country deeply and we care so strongly about its future. From George to Lenore to their son Mitt, the Romney family has chosen to give back to America through public service and that is the legacy that we honor and applaud tonight.

In the weeks ahead, I also look forward to sitting down with Governor Romney to talk about where we can work together to move this country forward.

I want to thank my friend and partner of the last four years, America’s happy warrior, the best vice president anybody could ever hope for, Joe Biden.

And I wouldn’t be the man I am today without the woman who agreed to marry me 20 years ago.

Let me say this publicly: Michelle, I have never loved you more. I have never been prouder to watch the rest of America fall in love with you, too, as our nation’s first lady.

Sasha and Malia, before our very eyes you’re growing up to become two strong, smart beautiful young women, just like your mom.

And I’m so proud of you guys. But I will say that for now one dog’s probably enough.

To the best campaign team and volunteers in the history of politics. The best. The best ever. Some of you were new this time around, and some of you have been at my side since the very beginning.

But all of you are family. No matter what you do or where you go from here, you will carry the memory of the history we made together and you will have the life-long appreciation of a grateful president. Thank you for believing all the way, through every hill, through every valley.

You lifted me up the whole way and I will always be grateful for everything that you’ve done and all the incredible work that you put in.

I know that political campaigns can sometimes seem small, even silly. And that provides plenty of fodder for the cynics that tell us that politics is nothing more than a contest of egos or the domain of special interests. But if you ever get the chance to talk to folks who turned out at our rallies and crowded along a rope line in a high school gym, or saw folks working late in a campaign office in some tiny county far away from home, you’ll discover something else.

You’ll hear the determination in the voice of a young field organizer who’s working his way through college and wants to make sure every child has that same opportunity.

You’ll hear the pride in the voice of a volunteer who’s going door to door because her brother was finally hired when the local auto plant added another shift.

You’ll hear the deep patriotism in the voice of a military spouse whose working the phones late at night to make sure that no one who fights for this country ever has to fight for a job or a roof over their head when they come home.

That’s why we do this. That’s what politics can be. That’s why elections matter. It’s not small, it’s big. It’s important. Democracy in a nation of 300 million can be noisy and messy and complicated. We have our own opinions. Each of us has deeply held beliefs. And when we go through tough times, when we make big decisions as a country, it necessarily stirs passions, stirs up controversy.

That won’t change after tonight, and it shouldn’t. These arguments we have are a mark of our liberty. We can never forget that as we speak people in distant nations are risking their lives right now just for a chance to argue about the issues that matter, the chance to cast their ballots like we did today.

But despite all our differences, most of us share certain hopes for America’s future. We want our kids to grow up in a country where they have access to the best schools and the best teachers.

A country that lives up to its legacy as the global leader in technology and discovery and innovation, with all the good jobs and new businesses that follow.

We want our children to live in an America that isn’t burdened by debt, that isn’t weakened by inequality, that isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet.

We want to pass on a country that’s safe and respected and admired around the world, a nation that is defended by the strongest military on earth and the best troops this — this world has ever known.

But also a country that moves with confidence beyond this time of war, to shape a peace that is built on the promise of freedom and dignity for every human being. We believe in a generous America, in a compassionate America, in a tolerant America, open to the dreams of an immigrant’s daughter who studies in our schools and pledges to our flag.

To the young boy on the South Side of Chicago who sees a life beyond the nearest street corner.

To the furniture worker’s child in North Carolina who wants to become a doctor or a scientist, an engineer or an entrepreneur, a diplomat or even a president — that’s the future we hope for. That’s the vision we share. That’s where we need to go — forward.

That’s where we need to go.

Now, we will disagree, sometimes fiercely, about how to get there. As it has for more than two centuries, progress will come in fits and starts. It’s not always a straight line. It’s not always a smooth path.

By itself, the recognition that we have common hopes and dreams won’t end all the gridlock or solve all our problems or substitute for the painstaking work of building consensus and making the difficult compromises needed to move this country forward. But that common bond is where we must begin. Our economy is recovering. A decade of war is ending. A long campaign is now over.

And whether I earned your vote or not, I have listened to you, I have learned from you, and you’ve made me a better president. And with your stories and your struggles, I return to the White House more determined and more inspired than ever about the work there is to do and the future that lies ahead.

Tonight you voted for action, not politics as usual.

You elected us to focus on your jobs, not ours. And in the coming weeks and months, I am looking forward to reaching out and working with leaders of both parties to meet the challenges we can only solve together. Reducing our deficit. Reforming our tax code. Fixing our immigration system. Freeing ourselves from foreign oil. We’ve got more work to do.

But that doesn’t mean your work is done. The role of citizens in our Democracy does not end with your vote. America’s never been about what can be done for us. It’s about what can be done by us together through the hard and frustrating, but necessary work of self-government. That’s the principle we were founded on.

This country has more wealth than any nation, but that’s not what makes us rich. We have the most powerful military in history, but that’s not what makes us strong. Our university, our culture are all the envy of the world, but that’s not what keeps the world coming to our shores.

What makes America exceptional are the bonds that hold together the most diverse nation on earth.

The belief that our destiny is shared; that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations. The freedom which so many Americans have fought for and died for come with responsibilities as well as rights. And among those are love and charity and duty and patriotism. That’s what makes America great.

I am hopeful tonight because I’ve seen the spirit at work in America. I’ve seen it in the family business whose owners would rather cut their own pay than lay off their neighbors, and in the workers who would rather cut back their hours than see a friend lose a job.

I’ve seen it in the soldiers who reenlist after losing a limb and in those SEALs who charged up the stairs into darkness and danger because they knew there was a buddy behind them watching their back.

I’ve seen it on the shores of New Jersey and New York, where leaders from every party and level of government have swept aside their differences to help a community rebuild from the wreckage of a terrible storm.

And I saw just the other day, in Mentor, Ohio, where a father told the story of his 8-year-old daughter, whose long battle with leukemia nearly cost their family everything had it not been for health care reform passing just a few months before the insurance company was about to stop paying for her care.

I had an opportunity to not just talk to the father, but meet this incredible daughter of his. And when he spoke to the crowd listening to that father’s story, every parent in that room had tears in their eyes, because we knew that little girl could be our own.

And I know that every American wants her future to be just as bright. That’s who we are. That’s the country I’m so proud to lead as your president.

And tonight, despite all the hardship we’ve been through, despite all the frustrations of Washington, I’ve never been more hopeful about our future.

I have never been more hopeful about America. And I ask you to sustain that hope. I’m not talking about blind optimism, the kind of hope that just ignores the enormity of the tasks ahead or the roadblocks that stand in our path. I’m not talking about the wishful idealism that allows us to just sit on the sidelines or shirk from a fight.

I have always believed that hope is that stubborn thing inside us that insists, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us so long as we have the courage to keep reaching, to keep working, to keep fighting.

America, I believe we can build on the progress we’ve made and continue to fight for new jobs and new opportunity and new security for the middle class. I believe we can keep the promise of our founders, the idea that if you’re willing to work hard, it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from or what you look like or where you love. It doesn’t matter whether you’re black or white or Hispanic or Asian or Native American or young or old or rich or poor, able, disabled, gay or straight, you can make it here in America if you’re willing to try.

I believe we can seize this future together because we are not as divided as our politics suggests. We’re not as cynical as the pundits believe. We are greater than the sum of our individual ambitions, and we remain more than a collection of red states and blue states. We are and forever will be the United States of America.

And together with your help and God’s grace we will continue our journey forward and remind the world just why it is that we live in the greatest nation on Earth.

Thank you, America. God bless you. God bless these United States.

Cory Booker: Keeping It Too Real?

Cory Booker: Keeping It Too Real?

GOING ROGUE: Last Sunday, during a 'Meet the Press' panel discussion, Newark Mayor Cory Booker, a surrogate for President Obama's re-election campaign, praised Obama's record but went off-message when he scolded the Obama campaign for negative ads.

On Monday night, I was out with friends when my pal Outlaw told me about another person there who’d made some less than flattering comments about him. Here’s the thing: Outlaw is my friend. This random guy running his mouth was not. So from there I went on to joke about the stranger, making assessments about his overall character and so forth. Then Outlaw laughed and said, “We can’t really speculate on who he is based on this one comment he made about me. You’re just saying all that stuff because you’re my friend.”

I replied, “Of course I am, duh! That’s what friends do.”

And I mean it. I believe that’s what friends are for: to love you unconditionally and support you when you need it. When your friend gets cheated on and calls you, your job is to pick her side and provide comfort. Now, I’d be remiss not to acknowledge that pesky thing called accountability. When you’re wrong, your friends should tell you and hold you accountable. But when you’re in a fight –particularly physical ones — you expect your friends to jump in and sort out the details later. Right?

Well, it seems the mayor of Newark, New Jersey, Cory Booker, was in a bit of a quandary. I’m sure you’ve heard of him, but if not … Mayor Booker is a progressive young politician who enjoys immense popularity in his hometown and across the country. Many believe he has the potential to hold an even higher position, maybe even president! While he’s managed to appease liberals and conservatives alike in his home city, he primarily moves rank and file with President Obama and has been an outspoken and helpful backer of the Obama administration. When the President voiced his support of same-sex marriage, Cory Booker took to his Twitter feed (as he often does) to applaud and agree. One could say that Mayor Booker and President Obama are pretty chummy.

That was until Mr. Booker was interviewed on Meet the Press last week. Mayor Booker called the Obama campaign’s attacks on Mitt Romney’s private equity firm, Bain Capital, “ridiculous” and “nauseating.” In case you haven’t seen it, I’ll let you take a look below.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

When I saw Mayor Booker’s comments flicker across my timeline, I thought that I was surely misreading it. I mean, it’s one thing for lil ol’ me to disagree with President Obama (I do so pretty often, actually), but I’m not the President’s pal; I’m not an elected official; I’m not a leading voice in the Democratic party; and I don’t have anything close to Cory Booker’s 1,150,727 followers.

However, when Mayor Booker calls out the Obama campaign’s tactics, it makes us wonder … was it the right thing to do? The media recognized the spectacle right away, declaring that Booker had gone “rogue” and speculating on how damaging his words would be to the Obama campaign. After Booker released a personal video in a desperate attempt to clarify his comments, MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough even suggested that Booker is “fighting for his political life.”

From my perspective, this controversy ultimately goes back to those old conflicting questions about friendship. Should Mayor Booker have stuck to his guns and his morals that said, “The political discourse has gone too far, we’ve got to get above the nasty fighting and stay above the fray?” Or should he have stood by his friend and fellow statesman who’s running in a tight race against a man that Mayor Booker surely doesn’t want to win the presidency?

It’s a tough call and one we often have to make in our personal lives. Do you stand by your friend even when you disagree with her cheating on her nice yet gullible boyfriend? Or do you call her on it and threaten to expose her if she doesn’t shape up and act right?

In this case, I too have some critical feedback for the Obama campaign’s tactics. The emails I’m getting from the Democratic National Committee often sound as divisive as a Fox News personality, and there’s an ad out that compares Mitt Romney to a vampire for “sucking jobs away from a steel town.” That type of rhetoric is polarizing and doesn’t resonate with the inspiring picture of our president that draws voters together. Perhaps Obama’s campaign does need to take a couple chill pills. However, I believe Mayor Booker could have expressed his concerns to the campaign without necessarily sharing them with the world. I can’t say for sure if the mayor already tried to do this and had to resort to airing his concerns on Meet the Press, but think about it this way: Drawing on the previous example, if your friend is cheating on her boyfriend, do you tell her to get right via Twitter or over a one-on-one brunch? Obviously, the personal, less-public option is the only way to go if you have any interest in preserving the friendship.

So, Mayor Booker, I agree with what you said; I just question if the setting was right.

Meanwhile, Mitt Romney’s campaign now has a new star in their most recent attack ads against President Obama — the one and only Honorable Mayor Cory Booker.

Who. Woulda. Thunk?

If nothing else, this little episode tells us we should be gearing up for an ugly presidential election. Which is exactly what Cory Booker was trying to avoid.

‘Hope’ Without Jobs Is Dead

‘Hope’ Without Jobs Is Dead

REDISCOVERING HIS SWAG: President Barack Obama presents his jobs speech before a Joint Session of Congress on Sept. 8, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

As one of my Facebook friends posted last night, “President Obama has got his swag back.” And right on time, too. Although President Obama has been criticized in recent months for being long on compromise and short on muscle, he combined both in his jobs speech to Congress last night. Like the refrain in a treasured hymn, Obama repeatedly charged Congress to “pass this jobs plan right away” as he laid out the “American Jobs Act.”

In his characteristic commonsensical approach, Obama also told Congress and the country that nothing in his bill was controversial or had not been passed by some of these very Democrats and Republicans in the past. Some of the perks in the bill include: payroll taxes cut in half next year for small business owners, the repair and modernization of at least 35,000 schools, rehiring of laid off teachers, tax credits for companies that hire veterans and people who have been looking for a job for more than six months and a $1,500 tax cut for a typical working family. So what’s not to love in this bill?

After touting some of the benefits that everyone could agree on, Obama got into the nitty-gritty, attacking the sacred cows of the opposing sides. To the Dems, he said that Medicare needed to be reformed point blank and that “we are spending too fast to sustain the program.” And to the Repubs, he said “a few of the most affluent citizens and corporations enjoy tax breaks and loopholes that nobody else gets.” To drive home his point of irony, he mentioned that Warren Buffet has a lower tax rate than his secretary. Can we say a collective and prolonged, “Ouch?!” I’ll wait …

And Obama had a word for the rabble-rousing Tea Partiers too: government, in and of itself, is not evil. He reminded us how government built the transcontinental railroad, launched the National Academy of Sciences, set up the first land grant colleges, passed the GI Bill, and funded research leading to the creation of our beloved Internet. 

And all of this hope and change comes with a price tag of reportedly $447 billion in tax cuts and government spending.

Although Obama attempted to steer the conversation away from an election still over a year away, I can’t help but wonder if his “Clint Eastwood-esque” speech, a speech reminiscent of his best election speeches, is just the bullet he needed to have a fighting chance in the 2012 election. After the debt ceiling fiasco, I’m thinking Congress better act in a balanced way toward this bill (i.e., putting the welfare of Americans first and their political careers last). If not, they will face the biblical principle of what is first being made last. For the GOP presidential candidates, their refrain is the same: spending bad, Obama bad. No surprise there.

The president’s speech may be a good start, but you know what they say about action versus words. In other words, faith without works is dead (James 2:14-26). If a person needs a job, and we shout, “This person needs a job,” but then no job is offered, what good is shouting? Good deeds must follow faith. Abraham followed up his faith by his willingness to sacrifice his son. Rahab the prostitute followed up her faith by hiding the Hebrew spies and leading them to a safe path.

What got Obama elected in the first place was not just his impassioned speeches but the fact that he was not a member of the commanding party that failed to act for the people (instead the corporate elite) as the economy tanked. While Obama will always be remembered as a great orator and even the president that passed health-care reform and took down bin Laden, if he does not inspire Congress to act in a way that produces tangible economic results — i.e., jobs — that can be listed 14 months from now, Obama’s reelection campaign might be dead on arrival.

Of course, the reality is that neither Congress nor the president really controls jobs or the economy. But as Obama’s renewed urgency suggests, that fact doesn’t mean anything to the American voters come Election Day. Likely, the only thing that will matter then is whether they — and their laid-off neighbors and their kids who just graduated from college and their friends from church whose companies went out of business — are working.

The Journey to 2012

The Journey to 2012

Welcome to that crazy point in the American political cycle where chatter and buzz about potential presidential candidates swell and subside at a seemingly nonstop rate. Over the last few weeks, we’ve seen prominent GOP personalities of all stripes announce their addition to or subtraction from the 2012 conversation at a steady clip. Meanwhile, President Obama’s reelection campaign is on. But even after his triumphant takedown of Osama bin Laden, there’s no surefire guarantee of his 2012 success, and poll numbers reveal that the bump in his approval ratings following bin Laden’s death is already waning.

In light of this looming political crossroads, we asked three Christian commentators to offer their thoughts on Barack Obama’s presidency thus far, what he must do to be reelected, and how we can begin changing the polarized atmosphere in America today. Our panel of contributors includes R. Drew Smith on theologian Reinhold Niebuhr’s influence on Obama’s presidency; Larycia A. Hawkins on how Obama’s reluctance to embrace his “blackness” hurts his presidency; and Andrew Wilkes on why it’s imperative that all Americans take responsibility to “do good” in between elections.

Barack Obama and the Niebuhr Presidency
By R. Drew Smith

Barack Obama has noted the influences on his thinking of prominent, twentieth-century theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. More than one recent president has cited Niebuhr’s influence, but Obama’s presidency has more strongly embraced core tenets of Niebuhr’s realism about the political importance of approximating rather than absolutizing our political ideals, and about the willingness to take required actions (even when inconsistent with our deeper purposes and preferences) in pursuit of those proximate objectives.

Niebuhr’s analysis provides reinforcement to the adage “politics is the art of compromise.” Most American presidents have been clear on this point — although there have been strong arguments for at least two recent exceptions. The presidencies of Jimmy Carter and of George W. Bush, who both cited Niebuhr as influential in their thinking, were much less given to a Niebuhrian approximation of good than Obama seems to be. Both Presidents Carter and Bush were sharply criticized for their uncompromising leadership styles. Ironically, President Obama has been equally criticized for his compromising style.

For Niebuhr, compromise was not something pursued for its intrinsic value (i.e., compromise for the sake of compromise), nor merely out of a desire to achieve or retain positions of leadership. Compromise was a means for achieving a common good. Similarly, Obama has understood that, in politics, you rarely get everything you want and, in order to set some of what you want, and to govern on behalf of all of the people, you may have to swallow some things you find unpleasant. This has been his approach in each of his major legislative initiatives and in the battles over the federal budget — with his end results being successfully formalized policies that in each instance have been decried on several fronts for their presumed deficiencies.

Here Obama is not being inconsistent with what he projected during his presidential campaign. He was elected in large part because he symbolized a change from politics-as-usual. He represented a bigness in his projection of ideals at the heart of the American political imagination — ideals related to being a nation fundamentally committed to rights, freedom, and opportunity for its citizens and for the world. Obama’s health-reform bill, his economic stimulus program, his budgetary battles over key educational and social-service assistance he believes are definitive of American government, and his diplomatic or military pressures in support of political reforms in Egypt, Libya, and Ivory Coast are more suggestive than not of the idealism supported by voters in 2008.

Obama has certainly not been pitch-perfect in the compromises he has reached. The current budget’s draconian cuts to safety-net programs such as Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) smack of a familiar calculation about the political expendability of the poor — or, in Obama’s own words, “asking for sacrifice from those who can least afford it.” Should programs effectively responding to persons most in need have been non-negotiable items in Obama’s budget, and in his presidency? Asked another way, was acceptance of the funding cuts to a program like WIC in the interest of a proximate good, or was it an unwillingness to take required actions for achieving that proximate good?

American presidents possess significant leadership capital, and how they choose to expend that capital is what defines their presidencies. What defined Obama’s candidacy was that it embodied something more in the eyes of voters than his personal quest for the office. The fact that he has been able to achieve constructive compromises within America’s polarized, zero-sum political context is a feat for which he deserves applause — and one for which he was singularly well-suited. Nevertheless, his presidential term, and his prospects for reelection, will turn on how well he connects his political actions to a broader good and how well the American people understand those connections.

Dr. R. Drew Smith is Director of the Center for Church and the Black Experience at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary and Scholar-in-Residence at the Leadership Center at Morehouse College. He has edited numerous volumes on churches and public life, including Black Churches and Local Politics: Clergy Influence, Organizational Partnerships, and Civic Empowerment and New Day Begun: African American Churches and Civic Culture in Post-Civil Rights America. He is currently writing a book on black churches and contemporary public policy activism.


Can I Get a Black President?
By Larycia A. Hawkins

Perhaps Barack Obama’s strategy of racial transcendence during the 2008 presidential campaign was understandable. As an outsider candidate with little name recognition at the provenance of his bid for the White House, Obama had to fashion a broad, patchwork base of the American public. So above the racial fray he went.
But as a former community organizer among black communities, surely he could code switch, that is, speak to the black community in familiar tones (when on the Southside, do as the Southsiders do), galvanizing black support by highlighting particular black concerns, right?

Wrong. Even when engaging the black community on issues of black concerns, candidate Obama spoke the racially patronizing language of personal responsibility. Translation: white middle-class values are the standard of societal respectability, and African Americans? They are a hot mess. During his June 2008 Father’s Day speech at Apostolic Church of God on Chicago’s Southside, Obama did not parlay the pulpit into an opportunity to cast a vision for how he planned to address black concerns, but he instead disregarded a black agenda in favor of castigating black behavior.

The primary glint of a black president has been Obama’s cadence, which when in black communities does sound like that of a black preacher. So, black concerns he will not emphasize, but the black church he will use as a resource when it suits the moment.

President Obama is certainly cognizant of the fact that some policies are of heightened import to black communities. Indeed, in his famed race speech in March 2008, Obama recommended that black Americans, “…(bind) our particular grievances — for better health care, and better schools, and better jobs — to the larger aspirations of all Americans — the white woman struggling to break the glass ceiling, the white man who’s been laid off, the immigrant trying to feed his family” (emphasis added).

The President’s conflation of black grievances and broader American grievances–which he personifies as white–is in short, grievous. While joblessness is undoubtedly painful for all Americans, joblessness plagues the African American community with furious ferocity given that black unemployment is double white unemployment. While white women may still struggle to shatter the glass ceiling, black women must still struggle to get a foot past the interview door given the fact that their ethnic names render them less likely than white women to get an interview in the first place.

Can I get a black president who does not talk down to the black community, but who rather acknowledges the peculiar burden of race and the double burden of race and gender?

Can I get a black president who does not capitulate to the post-racial cacophony that renders race irrelevant to crafting policies about problems that differentially affect white and black and Latino Americans?

So what must President Obama do to be successful in 2012? Where race is concerned, nothing is ever simple, but an acknowledgement of the utility rather than the futility of a black agenda will improve the President’s standing among black communities and with the Congressional Black Caucus. Yes You Can be a black President for black concerns, Mr. Obama.

Dr. Larycia A. Hawkins is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Politics and International Relations at Wheaton College. She is a co-editor of the book Religion and American Politics: Classic and Contemporary Perspectives. Her research includes projects exploring black theology and its relationship to political rhetoric and black political agendas, like those of the Congressional Black Caucus and the NAACP. Prior to academia, she worked in state government administering federal programs, including the Social Security Disability program and the Community Development Block Grant.


A Civic Altar Call
 By Andrew Wilkes

The race for the 2012 presidential election is in full swing. President Obama recently commenced his campaign, released his first ad, and convened a $30,800-per-plate fundraiser in Harlem. On the Republican side, former Governors Tim Pawlenty and Mitt Romney have both established exploratory committees — which, in plain-folks’ English, means they’re running for President. As we move towards 2012, our attention will increasingly shift towards the drama of electoral politics.

But what if all of us — and not only politicians — are elected for public service? What if God created us in Christ for good works? St. Augustine envisioned sin as the state of being turned inward upon oneself. Given this portrayal, the implication is that election is not only about our hearts flowering open to God, but also about our hearts pivoting, in love, towards the neighbors, enemies, and strangers in our midst.

In a representative democracy, we often assume that our elected representatives will handle all of our public concerns. Everyday folks, we surmise, have to take the kids to school, perform well at work, and wake everyone up for Sunday service. We consider ourselves to be exemplary citizens, moreover, if we watch a presidential debate or two, read a candidate’s policy platform, and set aside the time to vote. Both concerns are legitimate. Private matters should not be sacrificed on an altar of the common good. Informed electoral participation is indeed commendable.

A fuller sense of human flourishing before God, however, involves taking responsibility for our communities between election cycles. The work of democracy relies on a voting public, but also includes the tasks of board governance in nonprofits, broad parent engagement in local schools, and sustained involvement within — or perhaps the reform of — public institutions like libraries, hospitals, and prisons.

Presidential elections are critical inflection points within our society. What happens in November every four years impacts the national budget, the operation of federal agencies, and the resources of state, county, and local governments. Their importance, though, does not depreciate our sacred summons to “do good to all as we have opportunity” (Gal. 6:10). God is issuing a civic altar call to those with ears to hear. Our communities, our congregations, and our precious children await our response.

Andrew Wilkes is a Coro Fellow in Public Affairs, as well as a contributing writer for Sojourners Magazine, and a Huffington Post blogger. A graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary and Hampton University, he has worked as a Freedom Schools teaching intern for the Children’s Defense Fund, a policy and organizing fellow for Sojourners, and a policy intern during the first administration of Newark Mayor Cory Booker. You can follow him on Twitter: @andrewjwilkes.