Tuesday, July 18, 2006

'How would Jesus vote' continued: The Truth of the Matter

This is the latest response in my continuing discussion with my friend Brian about which side of our culture wars, the right of the left, more closely approaches the message that Yeshua of Nazareth, that great teacher, set out as he walked the land of Galilee millennia ago. I believe that the truth behind the debate is past the shades of obfuscation by the right that have clouded the minds of people who otherwise have a love of truth, justice, and compassion in their hearts--among those mislead of which I myself have been. Once that is understood, the question isn’t about two different ways to address the problems that plague our society. It’s about whether to proactively address them or not really address them at all.

Brian’s original point was that:
It is entirely Christian to lift the poor and afflicted, etc., but it's not the government's job to do that. America's heritage of charitable giving existed long before the federal government stepped in. . . . It's great that we have a government that does that, however, enforced giving (taxation) forces people to give in ways they may not like.
Mine was:

It is exactly the government’s job to help its citizens and enable the oppressed and afflicted to pursue their own happiness. . . . Even with all the charity and government money that is given for social programs, millions of people, including millions of children, live below the poverty line, don’t receive the quality of education as children in areas of higher socioeconomic classes, and usually live the lives of ignorance, poverty and/or crime that those factors so often predict.
Brian answers:

This is exactly the point... There is no amount of money large enough anywhere to remedy these problems.
That is exactly the point that I already addressed in my last response, when I wrote that it is the programs’ cutbacks by conservatives that prevent progress from being made, and that it is hard to accomplish something when you’re hands are constantly being tied behind your back!

Brian continues:

Even in those nations that have socialist/communist governments, poverty is rampant. The Soviet Union, East Germany, Yugoslavia, Red China, North Korea, even Cuba, all are communist/socialist states, using the resources of government to 'take care' of everyone. Yet poverty is worse there than in any free-market nation.
You are now arguing against something that has nothing to do with my argument. First of all, I said nothing against the free-market: I am for the free-market! You don’t have to be laissez-fare to be free-market. Second, these countries have nothing to do with what I’m talking about. The Soviet Communist countries and the governments modeled after them, like China, North Korea and Cuba, were/are dictatorial countries with a political system I despise! They have taken the writings of Karl Marx and turned them on their head; they have done what I say the Christian Right has done to the teachings of Yeshua. Autocracy and oppression have nothing to do with social and economic progressivism, but are obviously contrary to it. If you read the Russian history that encompasses the period before, during and after the Revolution, which involves a lot more factors than just the ideology of socialism/communism, you’d understand a lot better how and why it played out the way it did and led to the wrong kind of government and the wrong kind of example. The Revolution (aside from the notable fact that it wasn’t non-violent) began with virtuous, moral, and just potential, but the course of history was changed when it was taken out of the hands of Leon Trotsky, an idealist and true Marxist socialist, by his betrayal from his more sinister and less-idealist co-revolutionary Joseph Stalin, a tyrant in waiting.

Don’t throw out the red herring of Soviet Stalinist Communism to mislead the debate; talk about the governments that really model social progressivism, such as Norway, Sweden Denmark, Canada, and even the northeast and northwest United States. Poverty in such places is not rampant but is much less than in most places, and the standard of life is much better than most places. People have access to the food, medical treatment, and services they need for a suitable quality of life, and there is a high and a middle class and the ability to become or remain rich, but there is a much smaller low, poor class.

Brian had before written:

The largest single government welfare program was President Lyndon Johnson's "Great Society." and its "War on Poverty".... The result of the Great Society is abject failure. With the exception of the Civil Rights Acts... little good has come. Government agencies that govern these Great Society programs are models of inefficiency, waste, pork-barrel spending, and all manner of nonsense.
To which I responded:

Ah - taking one of President Johnson’s greatest accomplishments and calling it an abject failure--touché.
He answers:

I believe President Johnson's greatest accomplishment (and greatest failure) was that little todo over in French Indo-China commonly called the Viet Nam War.
I’m not exactly sure what you mean by his greatest accomplishment. Actually, I can’t see any accomplishment in that part of his presidency. Going completely away from Kennedy’s example of reaching out and forming a dialogue, and going against the advice of and letting go of his capable Secretary of Defense, Joseph McNamara, was his greatest failure, hands-down. It contributed to nearly another decade of unjust and unnecessary war and the loss of many thousands more lives. To quote the man whom I consider to be the greatest Christians of his time, and one of the greatest Christians ever, Martin Luther King, Jr., “The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” I find it every bit as applicable today as when it was spoken.

I enumerated the many contributions of the Great Society, most of which still provide the framework for the programs of social good that exist today:

Civil Rights; Head Start, and the Primary, Secondary, and Higher Education Acts; food stamps; Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid; the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting; the Department of Transportation and Federal Transit Administration (including the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act); numerous consumer protection acts; Clear Air, Water Quality and Clean Water Restoration Acts and Amendments, the Endangered Species Preservation Act and the Wilderness Act, and other measures.
Brian responds:

First of all, all of these programs have had some measure of good. There can be no denying that. However, where in the Constitution of the United States does it state that any of these things are the responsibility of the federal government? They simply aren't. Education is specifically left to the states.
You have to remember that the world is drastically different in 2006 from what it was in 1789! That is why the Constitution that was drafted in 1789 was seen by its architects as a starting point for the wonderful experiment of the democratic republic that was just sprouting in the world. Knowledge and information traveled and diffused slowly, and its acquisition was much more simple and less important for life as it was known at the time. A uniform quality of education wasn’t hard to achieve. The exact opposite for all of that is now true. Education is one of the most important issues for our country; the future depends on it. And all of the other programs, which you say have done “some measure of good” (actually a tremendous measure), simply would not have been taken up at all had it not been for the Great Society.


There are few success stories about Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid - the only news about them is that there is never enough money. And why not? Because throwing more money at these things doesn't solve the problems!
For someone who works around a lot of old folks (Brian works at a retirement home), that sounds like a startling position. There are plenty of success stories for those programs in the lives of people who have benefited from them! The only trouble they face in achieving their goals is that the conservative government is always trying to cut them, usually by finding ways to make a small number of rich people richer off what they do!

He goes on:

I personally enjoy the programs of the Nat'l Endowments for Arts/Humanities, and I am a regular listener/member of my local public radio station. However, even those programs are not government responsibilities. In fact, they flourish without government assistance. Since funding for NPR was cut by the Federal Government, NPR has gotten more aggressive in its own fund-raising from private ventures. They now exceed funding for programming than when they were on the government dole.
The fact that NPR and PBS is always on the chopping block of conservatives has more to do with the information and truth that comes from them, which they determine as a “liberal bias,” than the subsidy required to keep them up. If they were spouting out neoconservative cant, they’d be calling it an essential public service and doing everything they could to fund them and keep them alive. And as far as staying alive, they are not doing great. As it is, it seems every plea for donations from their listeners/viewers is more desperate than the last, and they have specifically mentioned the difficulty of the recent federal budget cuts for their programming.

Private contributions are helpful for public broadcasting, but it is still just that, public broadcasting, and it is that for a reason. By not having its funding come solely from private supporters and endowments, it is able to remain straightforward and unbiased, without worrying about courting or keeping the support of particular contributors.

He continues:

As for Food Stamps: When I was a child, with a single mother and a father who did not pay his child support, my mother NEVER went on welfare. Instead, she took a second job. My brothers and I took paper routes to make extra money. I went to work in high school as soon as I was ready. In my adult life, there have been several times when we earned less than the poverty level and public welfare was available to us. But I would never think it correct to take a hand out from the government when I am perfectly able to work and earn the money myself. I have taken second jobs, my wife has taken second jobs, and we have gotten along well without Uncle Sam.
I’m glad your story went well, but the fact is that there are many who certainly are not doing well at all. I have some places I’d like you to see to get an idea of what I’m talking about. They are places where people work 40-60 hours a week and still do not have enough to feed their kids. They are places where the kids grow up and learn that it is a lot easier to make their living on the streets selling drugs and stealing than trying to make a living in a world that is heavily slanted against them. And personally, if I was in a position where I needed public welfare and it was available to me, I wouldn’t hesitate to take it (I could certainly have used a lot more help, many times, in going to school. As you can see, I’ve had to--hopefully temporarily--drop out despite my honors GPA). And as far as high school kids with jobs--if it is for extra cash, or for their car, or to save for college, then that is fine. But kids should not have to get jobs to support their families; that is a time for them to focus on school and to prepare for their future--a future in which education is becoming more and more important.


When our children were little, my wife (who is a teacher), stayed home with them. There was no need for Head Start. The choices we've made in life made it unnecessary. We did without a lot - a second car, cable TV, computers, fancy clothes, travel/trips, etc. And yet those are some of the richest years of our marriage.
First your solution is for your wife to have a second job, then it is for her to have no job and stay at home with the kids. There is a need for Head Start in America, because for many of the children that benefit from it, it is the beginning of the determination of whether they do successfully in school or face developmental deficiency and eventually drop out. And, by the way, I’m not talking about helping people to pay for second cars and fancy clothes and vacations. I’m talking about food (and not the cheap crap most poor people eat--I mean healthy food), a place to live, medicine, and the means to obtain education.

Brian says:

...no organization with the notorious record that these bloated government bureaucracies have would be able to exist if they were operating in a free-market manner.
Unless you’re aware of some figures that I don’t have access too, that’s just more false and negative impression. The whole view, the whole picture, of inefficiency and “bloated government bureaucracies” is conservative propaganda. Even FEMA was a sufficiently resourceful until it met its match in a disaster bigger than any one the country has ever known. And now that those shortcomings have been discovered, the government is back at the drawing board to reorganize and recreate the agency to meet the bar that has been raised.

I wrote:

... it is not the amount of wealth that is the reason for poverty and hunger. There is more than enough to go around. It is the distribution of wealth.
Brian responds:

The point here is "who makes the distribution of the wealth?" I am not a wealthy man, yet the federal government takes almost $12,000 a year of my income that, frankly, I would like to 'distribute' myself. Why are the fat-cats in Washington allowed to rob me and other middle class people to pay for things we don't support? I can (and do) support many charities and we live a simply life style in order to do so.
The same holds true for the wealthiest and the poorest in America. Let them spend their own energies living their life as they wish.
Fat-cats in Washington? You’re talking about the Republicans with personal big-business interests! There are plenty of them, and they profit from their own legislation tremendously. This is the whole debate of a regressive versus a progressive tax system. In the regressive system, most of the tax cuts--like the current ones--wind up heavily favoring the rich and not doing much for the poor, except starving the programs that they benefit from. That actually diminishes the mere existence of the middle class. In the progressive system, taxes and tax-cuts affect people in a more balanced way. It sounds like you should be voting Democrat.

Private charities serve an important role in our society, and there are many that I believe more people should be supporting. However, if you let all charity go by who has the best platform and who has the best ads and ability to draw funding, then a lot of people and causes wind up not being noticed and falling through the cracks.

I had written:

The Constitution was written by men who envisioned a changing world, and allowed room for the governing of the nation to reflect that changing world and meet the needs of the people. At the time our nation began, life was simpler and more pastoral. Every family had the means to pursue their own happiness; there wasn’t
need for the government to do anything to enable them pursue it. However, the
Industrial Revolution allowed the means of production (power and wealth) to be concentrated in the hands of the few, at the expense of the many. It was a huge
change in the world, and a whole new ball game. Never before had barons and magnates been able to gain and wield so much political and economic influence.

Brian responds:

Egad. That's why they sought independence? I thought it was so that everyone could seek their own way in life and to throw off the tyranny of an oppressive and draconian government. It seems to me that, as grandchildren of the Great Society, liberals have created and continue to feed tyranny of a different sort. Instead of a Monarch, the tyrant is bureaucracy.
I think you missed the whole point of what I wrote. One of the very first stated purposes of the existence of America as its own country was the pursuit of happiness--because they were being taxed, but their interests, and they, weren’t being represented. The Industrial Revolution allowed for the existence of what I described in my last reply, “oligarchy of a few rich businessmen.” You can’t pursue happiness without opportunity, and those few rich business men want to keep down their working class so they can maximize profit and maintain power. To call progressive ideas, the champions of people against that oppression, tyrannical, is just plain misunderstanding.

Drawing a page from a current issue, I wrote:

Let me remind you that a measure just went before Congress to raise the minimum wage of American workers, many of whom, at the current wage, are living below the poverty line. It was a wonderful opportunity to improve the lives of millions of hard-working, poor Americans, yet it was defeated--by the small-government, pro-business conservatives, at the opposition of the progressive, liberal lawmakers who introduced it. They did, however, vote to raise their own pay! I believe there is pinpointed the embodiment of your gratuitous back-slapping and monuments to ego and self.
Brian says:
I sometimes think you're arguing for my side, too, Joey.

(The feeling is mutual; as I said, you really should be voting Democrat).

Continuing, he says:

The minimum wage issue a case in point. Why is the government involved with that? You accuse the 'small-government, pro-business conservatives' for its defeat, yet isn't that what the government is supposed to do? Represent the constituents? And the constituents spoke up. At the same time, you argue my point exactly about smaller government. The Congressional pay raise was preposterous, unnecessary and exactly as you stated: the embodiment of your gratuitous back-slapping and monuments to ego and self.
Yes, the government is supposed to represent its constituents, and that is right now exactly what it is not doing. Those conservatives that voted the measure down were representing the interests of a very few number of their constituents, and doing something terrible for a much greater number of their constituents--whom they have been able to, by distracting them with “conservative values” campaigns and the illusion that they have anything to do with the teachings of Yeshua, convince to vote for them against their own interests! The constituents that “speak up” in cases like this aren’t the ones that speak in numbers; they’re the ones that speak with their many dollars. They are the ones that have spiritually bankrupted America.

And you say that, with the Congressional pay raise, I’m actually arguing your point for smaller government? How does that have to do with the size of government? Are you trying to say that you are in favor of the dissolution of Congress itself? The only congressmen that voted against that pay raise were the ones that were doing so in protest of the vote against the minimum wage raise--the Democrats and progressives. Things would be different if they were the majority--life would be better for a lot more people.

Expressing my central and underlying theme, I wrote:
The kind of government set forth in the Constitution, and the kind progressives strive for today, is government by the people, for the people. Considering the people he blessed in the Sermon on the Mount, and the people among whom he made his ministry, I think Yeshua would have related pretty well with the people of such a government. You might even say it more closely approaches the Kingdom of God of which he spoke.
Brian answers:
I think we're closer than you may think. The Kingdom of God transcends government and governments. Whether or not the federal government had it's Great Society, the Church has a responsibility to care for the poor and down trodden. In the communist government of China, Christians are obligated to stand up for the oppressed minorities (of every ethnicity and religion) that Hu and his cronies seek to obliterate. Under Hitler, it was Christians who created escape routes for the doomed Jews. It doesn't depend on the government to carry out the work of the Kingdom of God. It depends on Christians to do it.
Yeshua said the Kingdom of God was coming. What does that mean? Most Christians now think of it as something to hope for in the future, or after this life. I don’t think of Heaven as a place to go after you die, but a place to work on creating in this world we all share, and in the lives that all of us are living right now. Yes, it does depend on Christians to carry that out. It also depends on Jews, and Muslims, and Hindus, and Buddhists, and atheists, and agnostics like myself. It depends on everyone, and what we all have in common, our great society of people and the social web that binds us all together. That is, after all, why we are supposed to have a government that is by the people, and for the people.


Post a Comment

<< Home