Friday, June 24, 2011


With candidates lining up for a chance to unseat President Obama, Republican rhetoric has begun to take shape. One of the key elements in that rhetoric is a distinct dislike for “government programs.” Mitt Romney, among others, has shown a fondness for stressing the supposed error of those who think government can do things better than private business. This is part of the standard Republican campaign message echoing a strong belief in capitalism as the solution to every problem and a belief that business, left to its own designs, will eventually rectify every ill. This message is then wrapped in the cloth of the Founding Fathers and presented as the great American gospel. It is a message echoed by conservative Christian organizations such as Eagle Forum and the Christian Coalition.

It is true that those who crafted the Declaration of Independence held government in disdain and were skeptical of government’s ability to do much besides wage war. But the men who drafted the Constitution were equally skeptical, not of the ills of government but of the ills of mankind. They knew that individuals and private business COULD solve any ill, but they were skeptical that they WOULD unless compelled. The government created in our Constitution emanates from their point of view. Men may consider lofty ideals for the common good, but they are prone to act from selfish motives.

Those who oppose government programs and regulations need only look to the reasons behind those programs to understand why they were created and why they must exist. Social Security was enacted because the nation’s elderly, most of who were from the working class, were forced to live an impoverished, miserable life after their bodies were spent from physical labor. Employers, who reaped great profits from the labor of their employees, had done nothing to address the situation. Medicare was enacted for much the same reason. Elderly, who faced greater medical challenges, found they were unable to acquire health insurance and unable to afford medical attention. Private insurers could have offered insurance to them, physicians could have solved the problem on their own, but they didn’t (or wouldn’t) because there was not enough profit in the age group. The EPA was created because industries and developers chose profit over the environment. Automobiles were regulated because manufacturers chose profit over safety. And the list goes on.

This same scenario was repeated in the area of civil rights. Southern states, left to their own devices, refused to offer equal protection to persons of color. Had they done so on their own, there would have been no Civil Rights era. But they did not. And so, the federal government stepped in. Desegregation, school busing, affirmative action and the like were all instituted because people left to themselves chose to do the wrong thing.

In more recent years, we saw an unregulated mortgage industry loan its way to the bottom of the housing market. Securities firms then purchased those mortgages, packaged them as investment securities and sold them to investment banks and mutual funds. Banks and funds then securitized the risk of default in the underlying mortgages and sold that risk to each other as credit default swaps. All of that happened outside the veil of government regulation and proved once again that offered a choice between profit and common sense, private business will choose profit every time.

The problems we face aren’t the work of a left-wing conspiracy out to regulate us into submission. The problem we face is the ancient problem humanity has always faced. Mankind has a profound propensity for choosing self-interest over common interest. Conservative Christians – that part of Christendom that actually believes in the authority of Scripture – ought to know this better than any. Classic Reformed theology is grounded on the notion that human nature is totally and absolutely corrupt. Yet, in the current political cycle, conservative Christians lead the parade chanting the Republican-Tea Party privatization-deregulation mantra. They, who ought to be wary of trusting their lives to any mere mortal, want to hand themselves over to the care and whim of Wall Street executives, captains of industry, and titans of retail sales – the very people who have proven time and time again to be incapable of acting responsibly and sorely in need of a watchful eye.

1 comment:

Scott Gardner said...

Thanks Joe for an insightful reminder. It's a challenge not to feel cynical in the face of those realities, but it's also insane to ignore them.