With two presidential debates and one vice presidential debate already behind us, fact-checkers across the nation must be pulling their hair out. A brief survey of factcheck.org sheds some important light on the many claims and figures that have been tossed around in the last two weeks, revealing little concern from either ticket for the facts of the matter. Why is this the case? And must we simply resign ourselves to this dismal state of affairs? (more…)
One line from last night’s debate leapt out at me. It wasn’t a stumble amidst the cut and thrust of open debate. It was during President Obama’s closing statement—400 words that I’m guessing he and his staff crafted with painstaking care.
About half way through his summation, the president gave his vision of government in a nutshell. He said that “everything that I’ve tried to do, and everything that I’m now proposing for the next four years,” was “designed to make sure that the American people, their genius, their grit, their determination, is – is channeled.”
In that one word, channeled, President Obama distilled the problem. It isn’t his job to channel America’s genius, grit and determination anymore than it’s a traffic cop’s job to tell you where to go when you hop in your car. The police officer has an important role. Government has an important role. But it isn’t to channel.
That isn’t how you free a country for greatness; it’s how you suffocate it, by having politicians and bureaucrats endlessly picking winners and losers, inserting themselves into the middle of every market bigger than a lemonade stand. (Oh wait, they got to the lemonade stand, too.)
President Obama quickly went on to explain what he meant by the federal government channeling, but the gloss was cold comfort. The good parts of the gloss—“everybody’s getting a fair shot,” “everybody’s playing by the same rules”—had nothing to do with channeling. And the part that was all about channeling—the government making sure that “everybody’s getting a fair share, everybody’s doing a fair share”—was just same failed, slightly creepy vision of an all-embracing nanny state that has Europe on the brink.
At least Obamacare comes at us head on. The greater legislative threat may be the one that most Americans have never heard of. Economist Scott Powell and Acton friend Jay Richards explain in a new piece in Barron’s:
While Obamacare received more attention, the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, also known as Dodd-Frank after its Senate and House sponsors, … unleashed a new regulatory body, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, to operate with unprecedented power.
Dodd-Frank became law in 2010 and is supposed to avert the next financial crisis. Yet banks are still too big to fail and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac remain wards of the state, while the CFPB has been given sweeping authority over consumer credit and other financial products and services that played no significant role in the crisis of 2008.
Powell and Richards then offer some specifics:
A video surreptitiously filmed during one of Mitt Romney’s private fundraisers was leaked and captured the Republican presidential nominee talking to donors last April in a Florida home (watch below) during a very candid moment.
While Romney states the facts and opinions as he sees them regarding the prevalent public welfare culture in America, he quotes figures that will surely stir animosity from within the Obama administration and his loyal Democratic voters.
Here’s a summary of what Mitt Romney told his campaign donors:
There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what…There are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it. ..They will vote for this president no matter what… And so my job is not to worry about those people. I will never convince them [that] they should take personal responsibility and care for their own lives. What I have to do is convince the five to ten percent in the center, that are independents, that are thoughtful, the look at voting one way or the other…
Over at the Christian Post, Napp Nazworth does a good job summarizing some of the political jockeying that has been going on ahead of and now in the midst of the release of the latest Batman film, “The Dark Knight Rises.” He includes the following tidbit:
Chuck Dixon, the comic book writer who created Bane in the 1990′s, did not like the idea of comparing his villainous creation to Romney. Calling himself a “staunch conservative,” Dixon said that Bane is more of a “Occupy Wall Street type” and Romney is more like Bruce Wayne, a billionaire philanthropist out to save his city.
Advocates of the rhetoric of class warfare have their work cut out for them in trying to use “The Dark Knight Rises” to turn the masses against the 1%. Bane becomes what I call a kind of “Che Guevara on steroids” in this film.
My own take on “The Dark Knight Rises” is up over at the Comment magazine site, “Batman from Below,” and I explore how Batman/Bruce Wayne represents the 1% in a variety of ways, making him “a remarkably apt vehicle for reflection on the dynamics of contemporary society and an image for sacrificial love.” Economically Batman is even in the 1% of the 1%!
The basic conflict between Bane and Wayne is the central dynamic of the film, as Wayne and Batman have withdrawn from their larger public responsibilities. As I conclude, “Bane becomes the demon that haunts a society that forgets this fundamental lesson, and Batman becomes the only one who can exorcise this scourge on Gotham City.”
But how Batman accomplishes this, and what it means for everyone, is what is really worth considering. “‘The Dark Knight Rises’ is in fundamental ways about the profoundly destructive consequences of individuals, whether of the 1% or the 99%, thinking that they do not have positive social obligations towards their neighbors,” I write.
Or as Ben Domenech writes, “There’s always something you can do.”
On Sunday Saddleback Church pastor Rick Warren appeared on ABC’s This Week and was asked if he agreed with President Obama’s economic gospel. As Kathryn Jean Lopez says, “I’m thinking the president probably wishes he picked a different pastor for the inaugural prayer.” Warren’s answered the question by saying:
Sam Gregg’s response to President Obama’s latest invocation of the “my brother’s keeper” motif brings out one of the basic problems with applying this biblical question to public policy. As Gregg points out, the logic of the president’s usage points to the government as the institution of brotherly love:
But who is the “I” that President Obama has in mind? Looking carefully at his speech, it’s most certainly not the free associations and communities that Alexis de Tocqueville thought made 19th-century America so different and alive when compared to his own already state-centric native France. No: Our number-one “keeper,” in our president’s mind, is the federal government.
Or more to the point: Who keeps the keepers?
This week has seen some pretty substantial Constitutional drama unfold in the chambers of the United States Supreme Court as the constitutionality of President Obama’s signature legislative accomplishment is put to the test. Relevant Radio host Drew Mariani called upon Acton’s Director of Research, Dr. Samuel Gregg, to give his thoughts on the course of the arguments so far and his thoughts on how Catholic social teaching applies to the issue of health care in general.
The interview lasts about 20 minutes; Listen via the audio player below:
Jordan Ballor has already ably commented on President Obama’s recent comments on taxation and Christian social responsibility. Acton President Rev. Robert A. Sirico now joins the fray, having been called upon by Fox News Channel to add his insight to the discussion. In case you missed yesterday’s appearance on “Your World with Neil Cavuto,” we’ve got it for you.
Much has been made already about President Obama’s comments yesterday at the National Prayer Breakfast concerning the Christian faith’s teachings about social responsibility. During his time at the breakfast, the president opined that getting rid of tax breaks for wealthy Americans amounted to a Christian obligation:
In a time when many folks are struggling and at a time when we have enormous deficits, it’s hard for me to ask seniors on a fixed income or young people with student loans or middle-class families who can barely pay the bills to shoulder the burden alone. And I think to myself, if I’m willing to give something up as somebody who’s been extraordinarily blessed and give up some of the tax breaks that I enjoy, I actually thinks that’s going to make economic sense. But for me as a Christian, it also coincides with Jesus’ teaching that, from to whom much is given, much shall be required.
As Breanne Howe has pointed out (HT: The Transom), the text itself has to do with the basic idea of stewardship (the best resource for exploring the truly biblical conception of stewardship in its fullness is the NIV Stewardship Study Bible). I do think Howe draws a bit too sharply the lines between obligations and giving, as she writes, “Giving out of obligation is not truly giving, it’s merely following the rules.” There’s a complex relationship between legal requirements, moral obligations, and Christian gratitude that can’t be summed up by simply juxtaposing Christian charitable giving and government taxation.
But at the same time, paying your taxes can’t be simply conflated with meeting Christian social obligations, either. Christians are to pay taxes, certainly, but that doesn’t mean that Christian social responsibility is reducible to paying taxes.
More problematic, perhaps, is this latter identification, with our responsibilities before God being transferred to our responsibilities to government. If the president can use a text like Luke 12:48 to argue for progressive taxation, then what kind of tax policy should we implement on the basis of Luke 19:24-26?
Then he said to those standing by, ‘Take his mina away from him and give it to the one who has ten minas.’
“‘Sir,’ they said, ‘he already has ten!’
“He replied, ‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what they have will be taken away.
It’s too easy and sometimes irresistibly tempting to move directly from the text of Scripture to the text of legislation.
Prooftexting for the purpose of political posturing does violence to the Scriptures and damages our public discourse. That might be the most important political lesson arising from yesterday’s breakfast.