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Friday, May 28, 2010

The Proper Role of Government.

It was suggested that I might be Socialist because I had advocated that there is a strong role for government in our society to protect those disadvantaged and disenfranchised.  This particular issue has become a hot-bed issue of late with the tea-party movement and the nomination of Rand Paul, with their express vows of less government.

Let me also note that this is not simply limited to the tea-party and libertarians but touches many within the right who have taken a limited-government stance.

There is an excellent article today by Jim Wallis on Huffington Post entitled "How Christian Is Tea Party Libertarianism?" (  It is well worth reading in its entirety, but I wanted to pull a portion of it out to highlight an issue I have previously discussed.

In the article, Mr. Wallis says:
The Libertarians' supreme confidence in the market is not consistent with a biblical view of human nature and sin. The exclusive focus on government as the central problem ignores the problems of other social sectors, and in particular, the market. When government regulation is the enemy, the market is set free to pursue its own self-interest without regard for public safety, the common good, and the protection of the environment -- which Christians regard as God's creation. Libertarians seem to believe in the myth of the sinless market and that the self-interest of business owners or corporations will serve the interests of society; and if they don't, it's not government's role to correct it.
But such theorizing ignores the practical issues that the public sector has to solve. Should big oil companies like BP simply be allowed to spew oil into the ocean? And is regulating them really un-American? Do we really want nobody to inspect our meat, make sure our kids' toys are safe, or police the polluters to keep our air clean? Do we really want owners of restaurants and hotels to be able to decide whom they will or won't serve, or should liquor store owners also be able to sell alcohol to our kids? Given the reality of sin in all human institutions, doesn't a political process that provides both accountability and checks and balances make both theological and practical sense? C.S. Lewis once said that we need democracy not because people are essentially good, but because they often are not. Democratic accountability is essential to preventing the market from becoming a beast of corporate totalitarianism - just as it is essential for the government. And God's priorities should determine ours, not the priorities of the Chamber of Commerce.
I echo his comments and believe that because human nature often promotes one's self interest over that of society (which is not always a bad thing - we must provide for our families and we want our families and to prosper and succeed) that it is essential  that a political process that provides both accountability and checks and balances make not only practical sense but is necessary to avoid the excess that results from unfettered self-interest.

Another aspect of the tea-party movement that I find troubling, and one which Rand Paul and his anti-Civil Rights Act and anti- American With Disabilities Act position most recently has been called out over, is this notion that even if there is discrimination the government should not intervene.  As I previously said, I think it is our moral duty to protect those less fortunate and disenfranchised.  In his article Jim Wallis also condemns this but based upon the ideals of Christianity.  From the article:
The Libertarian preference for the strong over the weak is decidedly un-Christian. "Leave me alone to make my own choices and spend my own money" is a political philosophy that puts those who need help at a real disadvantage. And those who need help are central to any Christian evaluation of political philosophy. "As you have done to the least of these," says Jesus, "You have done to me." And "Blessed are those who are just left alone" has still not made the list of Beatitudes. To anticipate the Libertarian response, let me just say that private charity is simply not enough to satisfy the demands of either fairness or justice, let alone compassion. When the system is designed to protect the privileges of the already strong and make the weak even more defenseless and vulnerable, something is wrong with the system.
Then lastly he raises another issue which I have also have wondered and find disturbing.
Finally, I am just going to say it. There is something wrong with a political movement like the Tea Party which is almost all white. Does that mean every member of the Tea Party is racist? Likely not. But is an undercurrent of white resentment part of the Tea Party ethos, and would there even be a Tea Party if the president of the United States weren't the first black man to occupy that office? It's time we had some honest answers to that question. And as far as I can tell, Libertarianism has never been much of a multi-cultural movement. Need I say that racism -- overt, implied, or even subtle -- is not a Christian virtue.
When I hear the phrase "we need to take back the Country" I cringe.  Take back from whom?  The black man who is President?  It seems Mr. Wallis agrees with me that there is something that is just not "right" with this.

Racism is unfortunately alive and well.  While I agree that all of the tea-baggers are not racist, xenophobia and racism are a prime under-current which drives these people.  They hate that a black man is President.
Jim Wallis is the author of Rediscovering Values: On Wall Street, Main Street, and Your Street -- A Moral Compass for the New Economy, CEO of Sojourners and blogs at

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