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We are mercifully coming to the end of an election cycle filled with white-hot, red-meat rhetoric relentlessly spewed by pundits across the political spectrum until they were blue in the face. It is time to return to what matters most for our nation and for our communities. It is important to note, particularly with political speech, that after all is said and done, much more is said than is ever done. Even positive and elevated oratory, civic dialogue and political speech must be backed with action for it to have any meaning at all.

A good friend recently reminded me of the words of Saint Francis of Assisi who said, “Always preach the gospel; when necessary use words.” That might be the best description ever given for what we must do in order to improve the direction and course of our country. We could say it this way, “Always declare the principles of freedom, and when necessary use words.”

Real leadership, nationally or locally, is about doing – not just talking. Our words must always be followed by a wake of deeds that stand as a witness to what we declare as the principles we hold dear.

Leadership in action is not a partisan issue. This year the major political parties have been attempting to ride a populist wave fueled by frustration and anger. Political candidates at both the national and local levels have professed their commitment to help “the little guy,” to lift those in poverty and to stand with those fighting for a better future. Lofty rhetoric has been heard in abundance, but what about the actions?

For example, if Democrats are really for helping those in poverty – shouldn’t they evaluate every government agency to ensure they are providing results that actually make poverty temporary instead of just tolerable? Or if Republicans really have compassion for those struggling on the streets – shouldn’t they evaluate what the government can and should do for those who are suffering? There are countless other examples – including healthcare, military spending, tax reform and immigration – where we can rightly, and often sadly, compare the political rhetoric of both parties against the practical results.

The test for the American people is to challenge our political parties, political leaders, and ourselves really, to demonstrate behavior that lives up to what we profess to believe. Our true commitment to freedom will be revealed not by what we declare, but by what we actually do.

Millions of Americans will head to the polls this week to cast important votes for vital leadership roles in our country. Most will walk into a voting booth or fill out their ballot with the sound of political rhetoric reverberating in their minds. We would be wise to also see with our eyes what that rhetoric has wrought by way of results. The future of our nation depends on what gets done, not what gets said during elections.

It is easy to get caught up in the hype and hyperbole of campaigns. We should also remember that America always rises on the tide of good deeds, done by good and decent people – not government – every day.

Our future as a land of liberty will be dependent on how well we as Americans live this motto: “Always declare the principles of freedom, and when necessary use words.”

For Sutherland Institute, this is Boyd Matheson. Thanks for engaging – because principle matters.

Boyd C. Matheson is president of Sutherland Institute, a Salt Lake City-based think tank advancing free markets, civil society and community-driven solutions.

This post is an edited transcript of Principle Matters, a weekly radio commentary broadcast on several radio stations across the country. The podcast can be found below.

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