Whatever party or candidate one supported during the recent midterm elections, what is consistently more amazing than any specific outcome is that we continue to transfer power in our democracy without resorting to guns or coups or rigged elections. This is something quite remarkable in the course of human history, and we should not lose our appreciation for it. 

At the same time, the actual practice of democracy sometimes takes a tough stomach to watch. The grotesque exaggerations, the scaremongering, the ridiculous promises and the pandering are all part of the process these days, along with lots and lots and lots of cash to spread these messages around. 

For some years now, Americans have been oscillating between ideological extremes. The electorate increasingly tilts independent, and independents appear to be a fickle lot. This has given more than a few politicians heartburn as they try to read the will of voters who vacillate between “Yes we can” and “heck no.” 

Now that the election is over, and there is a new, and newly chastened, Congress, we’d like to issue our own exhortation to our elected leaders. 

First, may our elected leaders keep foremost in their minds and hearts the common good. While it is a ritual of politics to reward friends and punish enemies, always mindful of what satisfies the voters back home, we are living in an age that cries for a strong sense of the nation as a whole. This means above all a concern for the weakest and most defenseless among us: the unborn, the aged and the elderly, the handicapped, ethnic and racial minorities, and the immigrant, the poor. As Catholics, we believe that the concern for the common good is a hallmark of an ethical government. Catholics have a strong sense of community, and while we do not expect the government to replace the necessary roles of church and neighborhood, we also recognize that some of the challenges we face are beyond the capacities of local or voluntary organizations to address effectively. 

Any laws which make abortion more available should be resisted. Federal tax dollars should not pay for abortion. At the same time, America has built up a social safety net through Social Security and Medicare that lifted the elderly and the chronically infirm out of the ranks of dire poverty. As a nation we made a commitment that should not be reversed. 

Pope Benedict XVI recently addressed from the perspective of Catholic principles the issue of immigration, which has challenged Europe as well as the United States. “The challenge,” he said, “is to combine the welcome due to every human being, especially when in need, with a reckoning of what is necessary for both the local inhabitants and the new arrivals to live a dignified and peaceful life.” 

Two key issues of the last election were jobs and the growing national debt. Perhaps nothing is so important for the stability of families and the strengthening of the local community as good jobs that pay a living wage. The current high unemployment has had a devastating impact on families and communities and is a top social priority. 

At the same time, as a society we have grown accustomed on both a personal and a national level to living beyond our means. Experts will argue about the impact of addressing the national debt in a recessionary environment, but the moral challenge is to recognize that it is unacceptable neither to impose huge burdens on succeeding generations nor balance our budgets by restricting aid to the most needy. 

The election is over. May God grant us the strength, sober spirit and grave resolve to accept our responsibilities while always thinking first of those less fortunate than us.

Editorial Board: Greg Erlandson, publisher; Msgr. Owen F. Campion, associate publisher; Beth McNamara, editorial director; John Norton, editor; Sarah Hayes, presentation editor.