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Similarly with hope. Hope is not mere wishing. It is a reasonable expectation based on past experience. It is not reasonable for me to hope to win the lottery, because I have no experiential or mathematical reason to think it will happen. It is reasonable to hope that America will be more just tomorrow than it is today because we know from history and experience that America is capable of acting justly, even if it has never succeeded in being completely just. We know that people have worked and sacrificed for justice with significant success, and so we can rightly hope to go even further (or to recover lost ground) in that direction.

This ability to inspire hopefulness, of course, must be influenced by practical wisdom, and not be mere blinkered cheerleading. Hope is an expectation of future good that is mingled with the understanding that good is never guaranteed and that the obstacles are many. Ronald Reagan's famous slogan, "It's morning in America," expressed perhaps his greatest virtue—the ability to engender hope. Again, Martin Luther King ("we shall overcome") was doing the same thing. Both had to back up those words with actions in order to make such hope a reality. If Obama is the candidate most identified with hope today (as was Bill Clinton, "the man from Hope"), he will have to do more than talk about it—hope is not a plan—and that will be a test of his character, not just of his rhetoric or policies.

Love has its ultimate expression in the things of God and the Spirit, but it is relevant to our political and social lives as well. If love is the greatest of the biblical virtues, it is possibly also the ultimate home for all the virtues. We are courageous in order to protect people and things we love. We fight for justice for those we love (even at a distance). We exercise the self-control of moderation and seek to bring wisdom into the world for the sake of what and whom we love. Our earnest love for a certain kind of world gives us faith and hope that such a world can be brought into being.

It is very difficult to assess the quality of love in political candidates. Perhaps one manifestation of it is passion. Passion comes from the Greek word for pain or suffering. To say we love or are passionate about something is a declaration that we are willing to suffer for it. What are candidates passionate about? That is, what are they willing to suffer for? What have they spent their lives doing apart from jobs and political office? What loves or passions made them pursue political office?

Virtue trumps policies and ideology

It would of course be a false dichotomy to suggest that one must choose between assessing virtue and assessing policy or ideology. Virtue and character can and should express themselves in both policy and ideology. One's virtue as a leader is inescapably revealed by ideological stances and policy decisions on, for instance, partial-birth abortion or the need for health care for all citizens. If so, why not let policy be the objective index to personal qualities and focus on such concrete things, rather than get into the messy subjectivity of virtue and character?

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