It’s important to know where President Obama is leading the country. But it has been hard to tell — until now.

His major achievements have been as a writer and speechmaker, not as a doer. But even his speeches don’t offer much.

It is telling that he is very good at commanding the respect of the audiences who listen to him, but doesn’t offer much to the audiences who only read him. His voice is deep and resonant, but is his content?

Compare Obama’s February address to Congress to Bill Clinton’s congressional address in 1993. Both have the same general theme: Change; better government; hope. But Clinton’s 1993 speech is preoccupied by details. He names the programs he hopes to enact. He fleshes out his plans with proposals.

Obama, however, keeps to themes and doesn’t fill them in. To the extent he does, he tends to say things that almost anyone would agree with.

He did the same thing in his campaign. As one commentator pointed out, by the time Election Day came, it seemed that John McCain and Barack Obama were agreeing on just about everything except abortion. They both supported the bailout response to the financial crisis. Obama deliberately changed his tone to sound more bellicose; McCain began sounding dovelike notes. They had nearly identical positions on immigration and education.

Obama’s supporters bucked up their spirits, however, by telling themselves he didn’t really believe the things he was saying.

The one thing we know about Obama is that he is good at keeping himself from being known. But we need to know where Obama is leading the country, because we have seen how frightening some of the potential places are.

In his book Modern Times, Paul Johnson writes that in the wake of Darwin, three new ideologies twisted nations’ destinies in the 20th century. Because of Marx, many thought of people as economic units, and we got communism and consumerism. Because of Freud, we thought of people deterministically, as a product of forces beyond their control, and got the sexual revolution. Because of Einstein, we began to think of everything in the universe as relative — and then added moral relativism to his equation.

In any human endeavor, the fundamental question is: What is a human being? What is his purpose and his worth? Get the answer right, and much good will follow, even if your means are ineffective. Get the answer wrong, and no matter what you do, you will make the human condition worse, not better.

How does Obama answer that question? From his words and actions, an answer is emerging: It seems that he thinks of people in a materialistic way.

He said so. “I know that for many Americans watching right now, the state of our economy is a concern that rises above all others,” he said in his address. “And rightly so.”

Consider that. He’s right in one way: In a time of economic crisis, it’s understandable that the concern about the economy is foremost in many of our minds. But is that really “right”?

Think of the crises our nation faces.

Obama may be right that George Bush’s approach to the crisis of terrorism was the wrong one. Or Obama may be wrong. But wasn't Bush’s prioritization of it right? Wasn’t Bush right that terrorism is a central threat today?

In Bush’s second inaugural address, he spoke about how he would promote freedom by helping human rights movements abroad. We praised that approach at the time and pointed out that it was the winning strategy of Pope John Paul II in Eastern Europe.

Shouldn’t Obama be placing a higher priority on that?

A second crisis to consider is the crisis of morality.

In America, 1 in 10 public school children is abused, pornography has become commonplace in office places and on children's computers, casual sex is common from a young age and leaves people emotionally damaged, suicide rates are rising, divorce rates are high and not declining, and fathers abandon their wives and children at an alarming rate.

All of this immorality feeds on itself in a vicious cycle, and the human wreckage of broken hearts and broken families is enormous. Yet we continue to act as if the economic crisis is the real crisis of our time.

When a house is foreclosed on, a family faces a major setback. When a family is foreclosed on, society faces a series of major tragedies.

This immorality feeds the financial crisis, too. The largest and fastest-growing segment of poverty is unwed mothers. Family instability hurts savings, home ownership and productivity.

Where is that crisis on Obama’s priority list?

You can also tell what Obama believes by what he has done.

He characterized what he has done in office this way: “As soon as I took office, I asked this Congress to send me a recovery plan by Presidents Day that would put people back to work and put money in their pockets. Not because I believe in bigger government — I don’t.”

Apart from the logical inconsistency in that statement (if he doesn’t believe in bigger government, he’s got a strange way of showing it), Catholics are aware that the economic package was not his first priority. Before he started the “stimulus” bill, Obama first expanded government into an area where it had been restrained before: abortion and killer human research.

If you believe in the right to life and the dignity of the human person, you won’t pay for people to be killed. Once he had the power of the presidency, the first thing he did was pay for the destruction of human beings.

Will Obama follow in the footsteps of those who laid nations in ruins in the last century?

We would propose that another figure of the 20th century is far more worthy to follow: Pope John Paul II. He laid out a cogent view that made him a respected moral leader to nearly every nation and religious tradition. His highest priority: the infinite dignity of the integral human person.

We already tried treating people in purely economic terms. We will never solve the problems we face until we understand who we are — and how a child is worth far more than a bank.