If you’ve seen a few presidential elections in the United States, then you’ve heard the question before.
Are you better off now than you were four years ago?
Every election cycle, the non-incumbent party trots out this tired cliché in an attempt to motivate voters who might answer “no.” The idea is to blame the incumbent for worsening circumstances and thereby get their own candidate elected. This year, the Republicans are asking the question; four years ago it was the Democrats.
But it is the wrong question.
The question assumes that the most important thing in any American’s life is to have constantly improving conditions for themselves. In other words, one’s standard of living should keep getting higher and higher or else the incumbent party has to go. One problem with this logic is that the president does not single-handedly control the nation’s economy. But the main reason this is wrong thinking is because it is self-centered and very “now-centric.” This attitude is the primary cause of the worsening condition of our society. In a word – selfishness.
The zeitgeist in America has changed from one of delayed gratification to instant gratification. If you are over 40 years old, this change has happened largely in your lifetime. In our grandparents’ time, most Americans just wanted the government to keep things fair so citizens could work hard to build a better life for themselves and their families. Nowadays, more people want government to give them a better life now and guarantee more in the future – without any hard work.
This difference in worldview is the difference between “I want it all; and I want it now!” and “I want everyone to have a fair chance.” One is a selfish child’s cry and the other, a mature perspective on government and free enterprise. A baby cares only that his physical needs are met now, while a father will work hard now and a mother will forgo comforts now with hopes for the future of their family.
In 1961, in his inaugural address, President John F. Kennedy famously said, “And so, my fellow Americans: Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” Such an idea is archaic today, and foolishness to the majority of Americans. As long as this is the case, America will continue to suffer decline.
Voters should not be asking, “Am I better off now than I was four years ago?”
What voters should be asking is, “What am I able to do that I am not doing, that will help make this country better?”
And it should be followed with,“Which candidate will work to ensure that our nation continues to offer opportunity to all her citizens fairly and responsibly?”
Our nation needs an attitude adjustment. It must begin with an exodus from selfishness and a journey toward altruism. The Bible says, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13). This is the very definition of selfless love. Every human being on earth regardless of age, race, religion or culture can agree with this unchanging truth.
Thankfully, dying isn’t necessary to reorient our nation (yet); we just need to be a little less selfish. Some need to be a lot less selfish. But that’s not going to happen until the problem of selfishness is recognized, exposed and understood.
Both major parties have their blind spots to selfishness.
The Republican Party is blind to the working poor, the environment and racism. If you are a Christian and are planning to hold your nose and vote for Romney (as I am), then you need to actively work against this blindness and serve the poor, be a good steward of our planet and fight institutional and personal racism wherever it is found [Prov. 14:31, Gen. 2:15, Gal. 3:28].
The Democrats are blind to fiscal irresponsibility, the sin of abortion and racism. If you are a Christian and are planning to pinch your nose, cover your eyes, plug your ears, hold your breath, curl up into a fetal position and vote for Obama, then you need to actively work against this blindness by fighting against unchecked spending, opposing abortion and stop perpetuating racism. [Heb. 13:5, Jer. 1:4-5, Col. 3:11]
Regardless of who wins in November, rest assured that God will use the election for His own good purposes. The outcome of this election will not surprise God, and He will not have to change His plans because of its outcome. As people of His Kingdom, let us remember that this nation, this world is not our home; it is just a temporary dwelling. Our ultimate good comes not from the state, not from any politician, but from God alone. Our salvation from the problems and sins of this world, comes not from any political party, but from Jesus Christ alone.[With thanks to Dr. David Wallover for an idea that helped me conclude this article.]