A stirring of citizenship

Globe editorial, 2/15/2000

ortune 500 corporations supporting campaign finance reform because they are sick of being ''shaken down.'' Religious organizations demanding that politicians stop taking the Lord's name in vain. A Web site aimed at seniors and soccer moms called ''overthrowthegov.com.''

What's going on here?

The talisman of tax cuts has lost some of its magic this season - in New Hampshire, where voters would rather pay down the debt, and in Massachusetts, where they would rather pay off the Dig. Voters weary of finger-to-the-wind politicians have stopped talking to pollsters in such numbers that candidates are advised to discount surveys with a sample of fewer than 1,000.

In disparate, inchoate ways, Americans are shaking themselves out of a long winter's nap, finding new ways to participate in a political system that once seemed hopelessly mired in business-as-usual. This week an array of religious groups will convene a Call to Renewal, designed to inject issues of poverty and race into the presidential debate. Similar efforts by other faith-based organizations have called the bluff of candidates who are mouthing personal pieties. Taken together these alliances may signal an end to an exclusive claim on moral issues by ultra-conservatives and a return to more mainstream religious values, such as Love Thy Neighbor.

Grassroots organizing is catching fire in unusual places. The Committee for Economic Development, which includes over 200 corporate members, has joined forces with Common Cause to fight the influence of money in politics. A handful of companies - Monsanto, Time-Warner, General Motors - have gone beyond grousing about political extortion to risk unilateral disarmament. They have stopped soft-money contributions, hoping to starve a corrupt system.

The signs of a nascent movement are always difficult to read, but this much seems clear: After a long period of partisan rancor, the impeachment follies, official mendacity, and abandonment, the political middle is pushing back.