Thursday, March 31, 2011

Government Involvement, Personal Freedom, and God's Purposes

OK, I'm going to go out on a limb here and post something more political. Fee free to skip if you wish. I'm one of that rare breed: a moderate Republican. Even rarer, I'm a Republican for Obama. I'm certainly not rare in that I'm (obviously) a Christian as well as a Republican. I do believe in limited government and that, in many cases, government has overstepped its original mandate to "establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, [and] insure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity..." (constitutional preamble). Just because a law can be passed or a program can be funded doesn't mean that it should.

That being said, I'm increasingly feeling like my fellow Republicans are using the current state and federal fiscal crises as a "license to kill" any program that they've wanted to do away with for years for ideological reasons, regardless of its costs and benefits. A perfect example is the program whose board I sit on--Live Oak Adult Day Services. It is a program that provides care for seniors who would otherwise need constant care from relatives or would be relegated to nursing homes. From a fiscal point of view this is a complete no-brainer: the support that government entities, foundations, and individual contributors give to this program is infinitesimal compared to the amount of money saved by allowing caregivers who would otherwise need to stay home with these folks the opportunity to work, by keeping these seniors out of (often Medicare-funded) nursing homes, and delaying the need for (often expensive) in-home care. If you look at the cost/benefit analysis, this program work and has good "bang for the buck". Yet cities that are strapped for cash are having a hard time finding even the limited funds now used to support the program. The key words here? It isn't a mandated program.  Other things are.

The whole problem with the personal freedom vs. government involvement debate can be illustrated on any public school playground. Left to themselves, people will generally act in their own short-term self interest. They will spend money now rather than wait and perhaps have to spend less later. They will not think about what they might need 5, 10, 20, or even 1 or 2 years out. Government exists, then to "promote the general welfare" by mandating that we take care of each other and of the instituions that will (God willing) take care of us when needed. Government funds alternative energy not because it is cheaper now than fossil fuels (although we're getting there, on both sides of that equation) but because it is in our long-term interest to develop alternative sources of energy. Government mandates energy efficiency (like increasingly efficient light bulbs) because we cannot sustain our current rate of energy consumption over the long term. Government funds programs like senior care, schools, and other service not because it has nothing else to do with the money, it does so because we need those institutions, either now for ourselves, our children, our parents, or our friends, their children and/or parents, or for us when we get to whatever stage in life that requires such services.

On the flip side, my fellow Republicans appear to have absolutely no problem continuing, even expanding, tax breaks for wealthy individuals and corporations, some of whom have even said that they don't need them! If "no government involvement" is good policy for social services, why isn't it good policy for corporate subsidies and tax breaks? The double standard is stunning.

OK, enough ranting. My hope and prayer (and it seems like more of a prayer than a hope) is that we will elect (and re-elect) those folks who are willing and able to rise above partisanship, to cut spending on or fix programs that are ineffective, to "promote the general welfare" by taking care of the most vulnerable folks around is (and, equally important, help them to help themselves), and "insure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity (i.e. future generations)" by tackling and solving major problems before our entire social and governmental fabric collapses--which seems increasingly likely as the days and weeks go on.

What does all of this have to do with God, one might ask. God allows us to make our own choices in this world. God also works through both individuals and institutions to accomplish God's purposes. God is especially concerned with the plight of the poor and powerless and has very little concern for the rich and powerful, except to warn them that their wealth and power are fleeting and are to be used for good and not for selfish ends. To say a policy or law is "Christian" that does not align with that concern for the poor and responsibility of the rich means one is being extremely selective in their Bible reading. No, we don't have unlimited funds or unlimited energy. We do have to make choices. May they be choices that are both in our long-term interest and also reflect God's concern for those without a seat a the table.

1 comment:

Andrew said...

I can echo many of your statements, Father. I find that Politics have less and less meaning to me. Prayers for your Adult Day Service. It sounds magnificent.

I think at the core of my being, I'm really a Libertarian. But, because of conviction, I'm more of a Socialist (or whatever it is that the Tea Party call us these days).