Senator Mike Lee is a man to listen to. Washington, D.C., Congress and some Republican senators are not the most popular people in America today, but suspend your judgment for just a moment. Consider his indictment -- of American politics and even conservatism -- and his vision for the future.
At the Value Voters Summit, held during the final days of the government shutdown, the junior senator from Utah cautioned against something we had been witnessing in the media over the last weeks. "Conservatives," he said, "often fall into a trap -- defining ourselves by what we are against: Big government, debt, higher taxes and regulations, Obamacare. But we haven't invested nearly as much time and energy in communicating what we conservatives are for. I'm talking about more than simply the policies we advocate. Conservatism is not about the bills we want to pass, but the nation we want to be."
It's worth noting that strategic misfires are sometimes born of true conviction. Much of MSNBC these days consists of assuming Sen. Ted Cruz was simply trying to advance his presidential primary credentials by talking down Obamacare and tolerating a shutdown. But his intention is to address existential threats born out of fundamental questions about who we are and where we are going.
During his speech, Lee addressed this: "Too often in this town we stop thinking about the things that matter most. We get so caught up in the thick of things that we not only stop thinking big -- we often stop thinking at all -- which leads to other things -- like $17 trillion debt, widespread dysfunction, and much more."
It's not just a Washington problem, is it? We get set in our ways and stop realizing our lives can be different, better and about something more than the coming -- or missed -- deadline. Further, we can help others: out of poverty, out of depression, out of feeling alone in the world.
Seven months into the papacy of Pope Francis, the media seems much more interested in figuring out what political label he falls under rather than actually listening to what he says. But what he says is: Be who you say you are. And you can't be who you say you are if you don't know who you are! And you can't help your brother if you don't even look at him, if you're completely indifferent to him, if you don't even notice him, never mind fail to weep for his pain.
In remarks in an aptly named "Room of Renunciation" in Assisi earlier this month, Pope Francis advised: "For everyone, even for our society that is showing signs of fatigue, if we want to save ourselves from sinking, it is necessary to follow the path of poverty. That does not mean misery -- this idea should be refuted -- it means knowing how to share, how to be more in solidarity with those in need, to entrust oneself more to God and less to our human efforts."
Earlier this year, Lee explained what it is we need to consider as we move forward in debates about the economy, health care, immigration, religious liberty and the very future of America: "The alternative to big government is not small government. The alternative to big government is a thriving, flourishing nation of cooperative communities -- where your success depends on your service. It's a free enterprise economy where everyone works for everyone else, competing to see who can figure out the best way to help the most people. And it's a voluntary civil society, where free individuals come together to meet each other's needs, fill in the gaps, and make sure no one gets left behind."
He further emphasized: "Our ideals demand we identify even more with those Americans still on the bottom rungs, where the climbing is harder, dangerous and lonely."
In freedom is duty, a duty that encourages and challenges and loves. Today's challenges require a human encounter that no government or politician can lead; it involves an integrity deeper than any ideology and a commitment well beyond any news or campaign cycle.