I understand and I appreciate the rationale that drives the fiscally conservative Republican agenda. I have never understood how our country can treat its budget so completely differently from the way my family has to treat ours. And I have always understood (whatever the party affiliation of the current president) that the national debt will create huge problems for our children, our children’s children, and our children’s children’s children. And yes, that does mean I find it highly suspicious and revolting (no, that’s not too strong a word) that politicians weigh in on this particular challenge only when the sitting president is of the “other” party.
To extend the family budget paradigm though, facing times of financial stress and uncertainty, while we absolutely do need to rein in our spending, why would we not also absolutely need to collect all that’s owed us? I don’t understand appealing for cuts to the family budget that cannot sustain spending over income on the one hand, but then turning around and denying the need to collect legitimate debts owed that haven’t been paid up, on the other. I know—I know, why expect consistency and common sense?
If the problem is systemic (and it is) then any solution must be systemic as well. That means the budget cuts go across the board—not applied only or primarily to the programs favored by the other party. If our politicians are only willing to sacrifice the sacred cows of others, they are (whatever the rhetoric) still less interested in the problem than their own ideology. Not that they’ve asked for my advice, but politicians risk an important message indulging too much ideology. If fear-based motivation always trumps possibility-based motivation then we condemn ourselves to the powerful lobbyists of those who peddle fear.
A word of advice to some of the louder voices among those conservative Republicans whose fiscally conservative agenda I appreciate. Don’t sound so mean. Don’t sound so selfish. There are those of us who really do actually believe there is a bigger picture than the individual—certainly the privileged individual. I read recently that one of Ron Paul’s favorite authors is Ayn Rand. The article I read referred to perhaps her most well-known book (Atlas Shrugged), but I find another of her titles more illuminating: The Virtue of Selfishness. I really can’t do any more than just mention Rick Santelli’s obscene scapegoating of those he calls “losers.”
I don’t know if some of these folks consider themselves “realistic” or if that’s part of their political ideology or even strategy—their economic theory. As a minister I would simply say it cannot be reconciled with the teachings of Jesus who though well aware of the limitations of social programs (the poor you will always have with you, Mark 14:7, Matthew 26:11) knew the true measure of a society is by how it treats its weakest members (attribute that, as you wish, to Ghandi or Churchill or Truman or Dostoevsky … or to Jesus).
I understand the crucial imperative to rethink our budget. As a minister, one representative of the way of God we seek to follow, I cannot afford to ignore the imperative to remind us that any rethinking of a budget is by implication a rethinking of our priorities. Our budgets (be they family or national) are, in truth, moral documents, and while it is immoral to postpone into some future time the difficult and unpopular decisions that must be made, it is also immoral to focus primarily on slicing the budgets of programs that benefit the least privileged of our society.
If we are going to have substantive talks about cutting back on welfare, then let’s put corporate welfare on the table as well. If we’re going to take away subsidies for housing for some, let’s also eliminate tax deductions for a second million dollar house for others. If we’re taking away food stamps from some, shouldn’t we take away corporate tax breaks for entertainment expenses for others? Entitlements are not just for the poor. I know—I know, why expect consistency and common sense?
It’s not just arguing that our society benefits most from the most privileged and needs to protect them so they can continue benefiting, it’s also asking how much benefitting do the most privileged need before it starts making more of a difference for the least privileged? Because if this trickle down theory never actually trickles down, I’m sorry, that theory’s no good.
And I am curious. How many of our political leaders of whatever partisan persuasion actually worry—actually have to worry about paying their bills? How many in Congress have to worry about retirement? about whether or not they’ll be able to afford the latest health care hike? How many have to worry about their kids’ education? Because I’m not thinking many do, and how then, do they represent me? How are they a representative body? I’d like to know. Also like to know the annual charitable donations of those who think the least privileged can and should be supported through charitable giving alone.
One stress of a particular way of being is the cost of being who we want to be or feel we are called to be—the stress of maintaining an identity above and beyond survival. That is a question we’re not asking and answering as a country. Are we still the land of “the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to be free” or have we become the conquering Colossus (look up the inscription on the Statue of Liberty)? Are we those who uphold truth … or expedience? Do we listen to the voice of individuals or does money talk loudest? Do we practically prioritize freedom of speech or the power of rhetoric? Is there a morality to which we adhere … or just non-threatening circumstances in which we take the “high road”? Easier just not to ask the questions, right?
I was reading Family Circus on the comic page of The Baltimore Sun the other week.
One of the children asked, “Is Prince Charming really charming or is that just his name?” Are we really all that we believe the United States of America represents or is that just our name?