Archive for March, 2009

Strife

Sunday, March 29th, 2009

“He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings. Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself. But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.” I Timothy 6:4-7

The one issue of abortion raised it’s head again in the form of a commencement invitation to President Obama.

There are a lot of things that you can draw from this, but let me take a shot at a couple.

First some background.

The controversy is that the invitation was from Notre Dame – a private Catholic institution. So, the thought goes, the University should pick commencement speakers that reflect the position of the Catholic church. Because President Obama does not support the Catholic Church’s position on abortion and stem cell research, many including South Bend Bishop John D’Arcy have said that they won’t attend.

The curious thing is that President Obama is not the first pro-choice commencement speaker at Notre Dame. Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Pierre Trudeau are just a few who have been invited to speak to Notre Dame graduating classes. I wonder if Bishop D’Arcy skipped those too.

It’s also interesting that 54% of Catholics across the country voted for Obama in the most recent election going against the advise of many of their Bishops. The Democrat Obama carried Indiana for the first time in forty years. He also carried St Joseph’s county were Notre Dame is located.

So what’s going on?

One thing for certain is that Catholics as a group appear to have a larger political agenda than just abortion. They may be influenced by the president’s commitment to extending health insurance to children, rectifying imbalances in a tax code neglectful of the working man, and persuading Congress to allocate abundant resources for educational reform. These all coincide strongly with church teaching. The president and the Catholic Church are also both on the same side in their early opposition to the Iraq war, exploitation of immigrants, and global warming.

What else may be going on?

Notre Dame has roots in the Catholic Church, but it is a private institution in the greatest traditions of any University in the country. That means that they embrace diversity and encourage dialog. It was not an accident that they invited Obama or an accident that he accepted. They knew it would cause the controversy that it has, and they welcome it. That’s because it sends the message that issues like abortion SHOULD be discussed if we ever hope to resolve them.

Finally, I think that we are starting to see the seeds of the end of the culture wars. Some have gone as far as to predict the impending collapse of the evangelical movement. The reason is that that people are tired of the politics of division and demonization. They are moving to the center and increasingly rejecting the strident rhetoric of both sides.

If this comes to pass, the polarized positions and the groups that support them will be increasingly regarded as damaging the larger common good. Radicalism will give way to conformity. The old battle lines will disappear and just like the fifties, public policy will reflect our new shared vision of social order rather than an attempt to impose a particular morality. Our kids will resolve the Pro-Life/Pro-Choice debate and wonder why we all wasted so much time and effort on it and ignored so many other more important topics.

Poor

Tuesday, March 10th, 2009

“Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.” Matt 19:21

I’ve had some comments lately that I’m spending too much time on looking backward and not enough time looking forward, so I thought I would spend a little time responding.

First, if you read the title of this blog, it is about a progressive point of view.

In other words, I support what the current administration is doing and want it to succeed. I believe that there is a role for government to play. I believe that success can’t come at the expense of another, in other words it can’t be a zero-sum game. It has to be an expanding-pie game. We individually succeed when we collectively succeed. I also believe that the best economic growth comes when those who have the least gain the most.

The best long-term hope for that sort of transformation for the poor comes from education. As I’ve posted before, a college degree virtually erases any economic disadvantage the parents of that graduate may have experienced. The problem is that a child’s educational success is intimately tied to where they live and the ability of their parents to be involved in their education. When those parents are struggling to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads, they aren’t often able to be as involved as the need to be.

So how does government help?

Since it is not a level playing field for all members of our society, I believe those who have enjoyed success have responsibility to help those who are struggling. Government does this through a tax policy by taxing people according to their ability to pay.

Some people are poor because they were born to poor parents and never had an opportunity to escape. Some are poor because they are physically or mentally challenged and simply can’t support themselves. Some are poor because they have made bad choices, turned to crime, or became addicted to drugs.

Jesus didn’t distinguish. He said that we give to all poor people because they are our brothers. Jesus was a “needs-based” healer. He didn’t ask how you came to be in need. He didn’t withhold his help from those who were in need because of the bad choices they made. He only asked if you were ready to be healed.

So if we follow the Bible, the next question is how do we use the money to help the poor, because they’re ready!

Well the Bible is helpful here too. We have to make sure that they have something to eat, clothes to wear, and a safe place to sleep. We also are obligated to help them escape from poverty by teaching them how to support themselves.

So how does that translate to today?

A lot of the stimulus package is going to the poor and working poor. Hopefully that will translate into the immediate needs of food, clothing, and shelter. Many economists have said that the fastest way to get money into the economy is to give it to poor people because they will spend it. The challenge with the current package is going to be getting into the hands of those who need it fast enough.

We need more jobs and the stimulus package is designed to do that too, though the majority of the construction jobs are short term. The real transformative jobs will come as energy and healthcare reforms kick in. Something as simple as reversing the stem cell research ban is going to spark our economy here in Michigan with high paying research jobs. Those jobs will allow graduates from our top universities to stay in the state, buy homes, and start businesses and families. It’s this sort of progress on a local and regional level that helps us as a country to climb back out of the hole that we have dug for ourselves.

Finally, we need good schools. That was cut out of the stimulus package, but the current administration has that on their agenda as well.

This is a challenging time, but it is also a time a great promise. What I find interesting is the same people who criticize the Obama administration for too little change on the political front, are apoplectic over the sweeping social and economic changes and the pace with which he is implemeting them. In fact, he isn’t making any of this stuff up. He is doing a great job of keeping the promises that he made to those who elected him.

Savonarola

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009

“But these, as natural brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed, speak evil of the things that they understand not; and shall utterly perish in their own corruption;” II Peter 2:12

Well it has happened again.

The newly elected head of the Republican part, Michael Steele, took on Rush Limbaugh. He took objection to Rush’s criticism of the President Obama using words like “incendiary” and “ugly”. When asked if Rush was the defacto leader of the Republican Party, Steele replied, “He’s an entertainer” and “I’m the de facto leader of the Republican Party.”

Less than a day later, he was calling Rush to apologize.

So who IS your daddy?

The deeper question of course, is why has Rush Limbaugh become the defacto leader of the Republican party?

My sense is that it has to do with the nature of modern conservatism. It is no longer a political movement. It has become a religion.

Rush is the Republican Savonarola. He is the one filling the power vacuum because he is willing to condemn the unbelievers. He is the one who is willing blame the failures of the past eight years on Bush. According to the gospel of Rush, it was corruption that led the Republicans astray. The conservative policies themselves are still strong and would have worked fine if Rush had been at the helm.

He is the one who is advocating wholesale revolt among the electorate. Rather than simply rail against policies which he doesn’t believe in, he openly supports resistance. In part, I think it is because if President Obama does succeed, it will herald a long period of liberalism and Democratic dominance.

So Rush has gathered his small band of true believers and they will drag the Republican party into the cold dark desert of extremism. They will purge the party of non-believers and those that consort with the enemy. They will marginalize themselves as they self-righteously predict a failure that will never come. If the story plays itself out in classical fashion, at some point Rush’s followers will turn on him and the self-proclaimed leader of the Republican party will meet the same fate as all other bullies and tyrants.