Finding Authentic Hope in a Miserable Mess

Today, Scooter Libby, Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff, was indicted. Those on the political left are calling for heads to roll. Yesterday, those on the political right made their claim to the Supreme Court by undermining the nomination of Harriet Miers, who finally withdrew. Meanwhile, the national debate over “poverty” in the weeks after Hurricane Katrina is now nowhere to be heard; finger-pointing and blame-placing are the new order of business. And while we can’t seem to rebuild the Gulf Coast, more and more people are wondering how we can continue efforts to rebuild Iraq.

All of this tumult led a reporter on National Public Radio yesterday to say that President Bush is close to being a lame-duck president, if he isn’t already, only some 300 days into his second term. The Democrats, the so-called opposition party, seem only to know what they are against: They are anti-Republican. It is less clear what, if anything, they stand for.

Why am I going through this litany of bad news about our political state of being?

It is not to pile on. Believe me, I have heard clearly and documented at length people’s dismay over the state of politics and public life in our land (see Hope Unraveled: The People’s Retreat and Our Way Back). When people look out into public life and politics, they do not see their reality reflected; worse yet, they feel it has been distorted. That is the bottom line of all of these recent fracases. People have thrown up their hands in disgust and retreated into close-knit circles of family and friends. Who will lead us out of this miserable mess? My answer is plain and simple: We will. By that, I mean there is no one leader who can right our course. Instead, leadership must come from people scattered across our country – from non-profits and community foundations; from United Ways and from faith-based organizations.

It must come from everyday people who make their voice known; who say they want to pursue an alternate path for politics and public life. Believe it or not, the very first step is one of expression – people articulating what they want and believe to one another; people raising their consciousness about the need for a different path; people letting their voices be heard so that their sentiments can bubble up through public opinion polls, talk shows, letters to the editor, and through other venues.

Let me be clear: I believe that the American people would welcome, for instance, a real debate on poverty in the aftermath of Katrina. People sense that something went awry in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast – that so many people were left behind, that so much work must now be done. The question is how can we move ahead? The debate that followed Katrina is a national disgrace – a farce of political discourse and problem solving; a ruse of addressing real issues in America; a hoax of political statesmanship.

Let me be clear: authentic hope is what people seek in politics and public life – not the false hope that so many political leaders, pundits, and pollsters peddle.

  • Authentic hope comes when we engage with one another, even when we sharply disagree, but despite our differences stay devoted to figuring out a path forward.
  • Authentic hope comes when we recognize that change will take time, but that we persevere in our pursuit of the public good.
  • Authentic hope comes when we cross the boundaries and dividing lines that people have drawn and insist on maintaining for their own narrow gain, which only keep us separated from each other under false pretense.
  • Authentic hope comes when we express clearly our convictions – not as a way to push others away or to denigrate and demonize them, but rather to be clear on our own beliefs and where we stand – all as part of an effort to engage with others, even win for our position.

Such authentic hope might seem nearly impossible to find on days such as today in our current madness of politics and public life. What has the far right been up to on the Miers nomination? Maybe she was not the best nominee, but to what extent have they made a contemptuous claim on this Supreme Court seat, as if their narrow interests reflect that of all of America? Still, where have the Democrats been, seemingly twiddling their thumbs on the sidelines, offering no leadership?

Authentic hope is what people seek. And its demise is not only to be found in our nation’s capital, but all across America, in towns big and small. People are frustrated over the state of politics and public life.

It is we – people of goodwill, people of the public good, people of civic faith – who must get out of our spectator seats, step forward, raise our voices, and act within our daily spheres of influence to change our course. Real change will take time; but that time will not come unless we make a start. That time is today. Let us begin so we no longer have to reside in this miserable mess.