What do we do now?

Now that the election madness is over and we have chosen our leaders, this is a good time to step back and think rationally about the principles that should guide our nation. We have two years before another round of elections and we can look behind the attack ads and concern ourselves with the deeper issues. The following are a few principles that could be considered.

First, all legislation and government action should be based on the truth about the human person. For example, the truth that life begins at conception and every human person is of infinite value and the truth that men and women are equal but different and marriage is the union between one man and one woman. Calling something else a marriage distorts the meaning of the word. A government where judges reject the truth about the human person and impose lies on the people is tyrannical. None of us can rest until these abuses of power are reversed.

We must defend the freedom of individuals to act, to speak, and to think as they choose, so long as they do not actively harm another person. Freedom to choose includes freedom to choose things that are unhealthy and unwise. If people have freedom of speech, there are some who will say things which are stupid, hateful, and cruel. There will necessarily be arguments and heated discussions. Some people will say things that hurt other peoples' feelings; in fact it often happens that truth spoken lovingly is perceived by some as hate speech. This is the price of freedom and we must be willing to pay it.

We need to defend the equality of all persons, which would include equal rights, equal treatment under the law, and equal opportunity, recognizing, however, that true equality will not yield equality of results. Any attempt to manipulate outcomes to achieve equality of results will result in injustice.

The great debate during the next year will undoubtedly be over the role of government in establishing the common good. The battle is brewing between those who believe that government should be bigger and those who believe government should be smaller; those who think government is the solution and those who think government is the problem.

Two principles might help in this debate: subsidiarity and solidarity.

Subsidiarity is the principle that the power to decide should be situated at the lowest level of authority possible, starting with the individual, then the family, then private associations, institutions, and corporations (including the religious institutions), then local and state government, and finally, as a last resort, the federal government. This is based on the belief that those who are closest to the problem are best able to solve it. Of course, they need the resources to act and if all the money is swallowed up by the federal government, it makes this difficult.

Solidarity is the principle that the various classes and elements of a society should work together and each group should consider the good of others, not narrow class interest. We must stand against those who would foment class struggle and set rich against poor, capital against labor, men against women, race against race.

Freedom of religion is essential to a free people, and includes not only the right to believe and worship as you choose, but the right of the Church to speak prophetically to the society and to the government, the right to engage in acts of charity and the right to educate the children of believers. When the state tells a Church that it must arrange adoptions which place children of believers in families which disdain the Church's fundamental teachings or tells Catholic hospitals that they must provide abortion and contraceptive services, the state has overstepped its authority.

The Church has always defended the importance of caring for the poor and the needy, but our compassion must be prudent. Too often we have seen government anti-poverty programs begun with the best of intentions which ended up creating dependence and destroying families.

The problems we face as a nation are difficult and solutions require a careful balancing of rights and principles and a healthy dose of common sense. We must pray hard for our leaders and keep watch on all their actions. We need to remember the old saying: politicians often don't see the light until they feel the heat.

Dale O'Leary is an internationally recognized lecturer and author of "The Gender Agenda: Redefining Equality."