Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Obama's Christianity

Newsweek's Richard Wolffe has a fine piece in the recent edition of Newsweek which probes Senator Obama's religious history and convictions. It's a helpful article and Obama comes across in it as a man for whom the Christian Gospel plays a central role in forming his life and his politics.

I'm curious, though, as to why there has been so little vexation on the left over the strong influence exerted by Christian belief on Obama's worldview. When George Bush was running for president there was much hand-wringing about how Bush "talks to God" (Obama says he prays every day), and the impression was given that because Bush was a devout Christian he was either delusional or his election would be at best religiously divisive and at worst push us to the verge of a theocracy.

Now comes a Christian who expresses the obligations his faith imposes in ways just as all-encompassing as Bush did but in ways more overtly compatible with leftist sensibilities, and it seems as if even the secular left is willing to overlook this unfortunate eccentricity in Obama's character.

The reaction of the left to Obama's Christian committment is perhaps similar to their reaction to the involvement of Christians in the public square. They're often outraged by the involvement of Christian churches in conservative politics or in public education, and demand that the wall of separation have a few more rows of legal bricks and mortar added to shore it up, but they're enthusiastic about the far more blatant political involvement of liberal white and black churches and preachers who often line up with them on the issues.

All of which is to say that when the left is complaining about religion in the public arena there's a good chance that what they're upset about is not so much the religion, nor the transgression by the church into the domain of the state, but the ideological flavor of the particular transgression in question. It is conservative points of view, the political beliefs of people like James Dobson, Pat Robertson, and Jerry Falwell, that they want silenced. Contrarily, the wall of separation is as porous as the Mexican border to the views espoused by religious figures on the left such as Jeremiah Wright, Fr. Pfleger, Jesse Jackson, et al.

So, we're not holding our breath waiting for the stories to come out about the threat Obama's "fundamentalism" poses to our nation's freedoms. They're as likely as a story in the liberal press about the threat to the nation posed by the sentiments expressed by Martin Luther King in his Letter from a Birmingham City Jail.


Real Change

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich has written a book titled Real Change in which he lays out a vision for America's future. His vision seems eminently desirable, and in a better world than this one it would also be fairly easy to attain. Yet it seems to cynical old me that, given our political culture, it's highly unlikely that what he proposes will ever be realized.

Before talking about what that vision is, Gingrich tells us how both the GOP and the Democrats stand in the way of its being achieved. Simply put, the Republicans too often fail to govern consistently with their principles, and the Democrats too often do succeed in governing consistently with theirs. Even so, despite the enormous blame that must be laid to the charge of our political leaders, I think most of the fault lies with us, the electorate.

Gingrich cites poll after poll which reveals what the American people favor and blames our political leadership for not giving it to us, but the problem is that though the American public may know what it wants, it doesn't vote for it. It doesn't have the foggiest idea who in Congress stands for what, and consequently it elects people who actually oppose the very things that Americans say they want. For example:

  • Ninety six percent want the Social Security system fixed now.
  • Seventy one percent want a flat tax.
  • Sixty five percent want nuclear power plants built.
  • Eighty seven percent want English declared the official language.

Yet Congress is run by people who refuse to do any of these things.

Gingrich rightly faults Republicans for failing to lead on these and other issues when they had the majority, and he rightly faults Democrats for thwarting reform largely because they're beholden to bureaucracies, unions and interest groups which would lose power and money were real reforms to be enacted. But he nowhere faults the American people for their slothful approach to politics and their indifference to the responsibility imposed upon them by the rigtht to vote.

To take just one example of the many he offers of how bureaucracy is slowly crippling the American system of governance, he notes that Medicaid fraud and abuse siphons off $18 billion just in New York every year, but there is little or no will to do anything about it because powerful bureaucracies and unions and their lackeys in the legislatures fight reform and punish legislative reformers. He cites case after case of how left-wing ideology and entrenched special interests are ruining cities and states all across the nation. New Orleans and Detroit are served up as two examples of cities which have been devastated in different ways by political failure and bureaucratic incompetence.

He also has a chapter on how liberalism, bureaucracy and unions have all but destroyed education in most of our major cities.

In the remainder of the book he talks about how we can move from the world that fails to the world that works and argues that government can learn much from studying entrepreneurs and free markets. For example:

He writes that "in free markets, customers define the value of goods and services and make their own decisions. They are always free to look for better or cheaper alternatives. Entrepreneurs must know their markets and provide customers with goods and services they will voluntarily purchase. In bureaucracies, by contrast, bureaucrats define the rules and make the decisions. Recipients must wait for bureaucracies to decide to pay attention to them, and they must accept the bureaucrats' conditions to get the goods and services they want."

He might've also added that in a free market there are tremendous incentives for competence and efficiency and tremendous disincentives for failure to please the customer. In bureaucracies there are no incentives or disincentives at all. There are no real consequences for bureaucratic failure and thus we get plenty of it.

He goes on for the balance of the book applying his model of the entrepreneurial principles in the world that works versus the world that fails to Iraq, immigration, social security, health care, energy, the economy, and so on.

Real Change is a book every political candidate should study and certainly every voter should read. It lays out two different philosophies of governance and two different kinds of futures. The governance we have now is leading us to a future that looks depressingly bleak, but don't take my word for it, read the book (It can be ordered from Hearts and Minds Bookstore)and see what the world our children will inhabit could be like.