Fundamental Question for Presidents and Ourselves

FILE - The White House in Washington, in this Tuesday, Nov. 18,2008 file photo. The Secret Service confirmed Tuesday Nov. 15,
FILE - The White House in Washington, in this Tuesday, Nov. 18,2008 file photo. The Secret Service confirmed Tuesday Nov. 15, 2011 a bullet hit an exterior window of the White House and was stopped by ballistic glass. An additional round of ammunition was also found on the exterior of the White House. The bullets were found Tuesday. The discovery follows reports of gunfire near the White House on Friday. (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)

Does good conquer evil? This is a fundamental question all of us -- individually and as a society -- struggle with and ultimately must answer. Does good win? Not just as an existential deliberation or concept or something to be achieved in the afterlife, but here and now on Earth. The world is in spiritual crisis and this answer will give us a path.

How one answers this question is a telling insight into the view that person has on hope, faith, and the power of love -- and actually on power generally. This question also underlies whether we see people as basically good or basically bad. It tells us whether we are willing to risk or whether we seek security as our fundamental drive. It is revelatory about the beliefs we have about the role of government and authority in America. It also tells me whether you believe in the power of social entrepreneurs.

Understanding that each of us has elements of good and bad, light and dark, beauty and ugliness -- do we in the end think the good triumphs in the long run, that light wins over dark and that beauty overcomes ugliness? Not that bad is eliminated from society or ourselves totally, but that the movement is towards good?

Ever since I was a child I have believed good conquers evil and that while people make mistakes and do bad things at times, they are basically good. Maybe evil seems to win in the short term, but in the long arc of history, I believe, good triumphs. And when one looks at the data available over the last few thousand years, it shows humanity as a whole has moved slowly and inexorably towards compassion, more broad-based well-being and to good.

Though our airwaves seem filled constantly with murder, mayhem, war and terrorism, the world in general has become a much safer and humane place. The rate of death and injury due to war and crime has dropped in a fairly dramatic way over the last millennium. While moments of tragedy and violence happen, the trend line is clear. We are a less violent and more compassionate species than we were. Slavery, acceptable a few hundred years ago is outlawed. The rights of women and children have broadened and they are freer from harm today than ever before. Violent behavior that used to be acceptable is no longer.

Trust me -- moments have happened in my life where I have deeply struggled in this belief of good conquering evil. Losing a daughter at a very young age and her twin sister being in the hospital for nearly a year tried my soul. Losing a younger sister to drug and alcohol addiction tested me. Having my oldest son enlist and be sent off to Iraq for 14 months gave me doubts. Divorce and grave disappointment in a President I helped elect and worked for made me wonder. But deep down I have a faith that good wins.

As we look at many of the leaders of both political parties I often wonder where they fall on this fundamental question. Do they ultimately believe good conquers evil here on the beautiful planet? It seems many -- coming from both sides of the aisle and from the left and the right -- don't believe this.

Many politicians on the right react to terrorism and violence in the world by immediately advocating a violent response. War is much too ready as an option and negotiation is seen as weakness. Many are too willing to sacrifice our civil freedoms for security. They also think that religion is to be used, as a way to keep folks from doing what they feel are "bad" things. The vehement opposition to gay marriage to me is an indicator that they believe love isn't the most powerful weapon, but that rules need to be in place to protect us from our own inherent flaws.

Many on the left advocate for a larger government and deeper involvement because they think the mass population can't be trusted and that left to their own devices they will do very bad things. This has become what many consider a nanny state where government needs to tell us what to eat or drink, whether we can smoke, whether we can own a gun or how we should spend our money. Many also think religion and faith are crutches that restrict thinking.

Yes, I believe there should be certain rules in life, but I think they should be limited. Yes, I believe that we should be able to protect ourselves in confronting terrorism, but there may be a better way than war to solve this problem. I think we should have reasonable gun regulations, but they will never stop a mentally ill person from doing damage. My faith and the Catholic religion that I practice and was raised in is incredibly important to me and I want them respected, but we all must realize there are a thousand paths up the mountain -- and that love is the greatest religious principle.

In asking questions of potential presidents maybe we should ask some of the same probing questions we ask ourselves. Do you believe good conquers evil? Do you believe people are basically good -- or not? How have you struggled in your life when your beliefs were tested -- and what got you through? What ultimately do you have faith in and how will that inform you in the tough moments?

These are the questions I have struggled with in my adult life and would love to understand in the person who is to lead this great country of ours. I don't care who plays you on Saturday Night Live, whether you or your spouse got parking tickets, or whether you have a college degree. I do care whether you think good conquers evil. That will tell me much about your approach to life and leading.

There you have it.

Matthew Dowd is an ABC News analyst and special correspondent. Opinions expressed in this column do not reflect the views of ABC News.