“The choice you make this November will shape great things, historic things, and those things will determine the most intimate and important aspects of every American life and every American family.”

That sentence could have been uttered by just about any politician, candidate, or pundit in the nation—-and that’s a problem, Greg Weiner argues  on the Liberty Law blog.

As it happens, the statement  came from Mitt Romney —-allegedly the more conservative of the two main presidential candidates. Weiner says that if Romney actually believes the claim, “he ought to be waging a full-throated campaign against its premise”:

No serious person can possibly believe the intimate contours of every citizen’s life will be indelibly shaped by the next President.  Nor can serious people want that to be the case.  We can be seriously sure, however, that the next President—whether Obama or Romney—will encourage that perception.

He connects that (erroneous) perception to politicians’ own love of power and the public’s judgment of politicians by the amount of change their administration causes—-a standard that “leaves little room for mere governance and none at all for what Aristotle and Burke called the seminal political virtue: prudence.” In reality, as Weiner points out, our most difficult problems (a sluggish economy, unrest in foreign countries, the threat of terrorists) are not all controlled by the White House.

He goes on to say that a more modest view of presidential power could help reduce our current political polarization. I’d add that it may also encourage us to place our hope somewhere more secure than the government—-to embrace the religious virtue of hope and to live rightly in our own communities rather than relying on politicians to fix all that ails us.

Alan Jacobs made a related point on his blog earlier this week :

We are too prone, I believe, to think that voting is the definitive political act. That would be true only if politics simply belongs to the government. There is a far vaster sphere of politics—the life of the  polis —that belongs to everyday acts of ordinary people.

To be sure, the election results (as always) will shape public policy on some crucial issues, which is why I don’t expect to stop voting anytime soon. But we shouldn’t forget that doing the right thing, shaping the character of the nation, and contributing to society are activities not confined to the ballot box.

Articles by Anna Sutherland

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