The Proud Duck
Tuesday, January 18, 2005
On a news show the other night (I think it was "Hannity & Colmes; I wasn't paying close attention as I was just passing through the living room), I heard DNC Chair candidate Tim Roemer attribute the Democrats' loss in the Presidential election to their supposed failure to articulate their true philosophy. The implication was that it wasn't the Democrats' message that was the problem, it was their failure to get it across; the message itself being so manifestly desirable that no majority could ever oppose it.
Apparently hoping to get some of those "moral values" thingies that so many people cared about in the last election, Roemer remarked (I paraphrase from memory) that Jesus talked more about concern for the poor than moral issues.
As far as hackneyed transparent ploys for the Christian vote go, all I can say is that line is about as fresh as "Has anyone ever told you you look exactly like Britney Spears?"
The problem with Roemer's argument is that it presumes, as if self-evident, the proposition that only Democrats care about making a decent provision for the poor. Look, Tim -- all of us (hard-core Randian objectivists excluded) want to see that the poor, who are always with us, suffer from their poverty as little as possible. We differ as to the means for minimizing this suffering. Some of us Republicans think the best way to minimize the effects of poverty is to help people to stop being poor. That means supporting rational economic policies. There is a strong case to be made that the 1994 welfare reform (by putting time limits on people's eligibility for public assistance), by providing the impetus to seek employment, has lifted thousands of people out of poverty.
I look at the Democratic Party's present public proposals, and I see precious little in the way of anything that promises to provide real help for the poor. Most of the party's energy appears to be dedicated to expanding entitlements for the middle class or perpetuating government's control of such entitlements. (See Social Security and Medicare.) As for education, the party is so dominated by state-sector unions -- teachers' unions in particular -- that the party's only call is for more public money (which has consistently been increased without effect) rather than for substantive reforms that may actually help fix failing schools, which are disproportionately located in poor areas. Affirmative action slots go overwhelmingly to upper middle class students and business owners, and in the case of education, there is a strong case to be made that it does more harm than good.
The Democrats' problem is that the United States already spends buckets of money on programs ostensibly intended to help the poor. Poverty's persistence in spite of those programs suggests -- at least as one rational possibility -- that those programs are poorly designed or operated, calling into question the Democrats' judgment on how best to fight poverty.
So Ed Roemer presentation of a choice between one party which cares for the poor and another party that does not is a false one, and his claiming of a divine mandate for his political philosophy is rubbish. Jesus never advocated a welfare state, let alone one in which state-sector unions called all the shots and were entitled, without question, to ever-increasing funding without regard for results.
But back to his "Jesus talked more about helping the poor than about moral issues" line. While the statement may or may not be true (my past readings of the New Testament give me the impression that if it is, "helping the poor" doesn't beat the theme of living a holy life by too many references), the fact remains that Jesus did talk about "moral issues." In Matthew 23, Jesus condemned hypocrites for paying too much attention to religious formalities at the expense of the "weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith." He went on to say of those "weightier matters," "[T]hese ought ye to have done" -- but, significantly, adds "and not to leave the other undone."
In other words, by all means, remember that pure religion is to help the widows and fatherless in their affliction -- but don't forget the other stuff, either. The "other stuff" -- the "moral issues" that Tim Roemer seemed to denigrate -- is important, too. In fact, as the past half century has demonstrated, abandoning the "other stuff" -- the internalized moral restraints that help keep a society together and running smoothly -- tends to increase the number of widows and fatherless that need to be cared for. I have particularly in mind the damage left-liberal ideology has inflicted on marriage. Men don't need much of an excuse to revert to their natural horny state; reducing marriage from its original highly-protected status to a contract which may be breached with even fewer consequences than are triggered by breaches of ordinary civil contracts has had disastrous results in creating hordes of "fatherless" children.
So let's sum up. As far as "helping the poor" goes, what we essentially have is two parties that both strive for that goal, but differ in their proposed solutions. As far as the "moral values" issue goes, the Democrats have pretty much surrendered the field. In other words, on one side, you have an unambiguous "yes" on one question and an unambiguous "no" on the other. On the other, you have a "yes" on the first question (even granting for purposes of argument that Republicans "care" less for the poor than Democrats) and an unambiguous yes on the other.
What Roemer is saying, essentially, is that "sure, we think your 'traditional values' are medieval hogwash, but you should still vote for us because we're good on that other stuff Jesus talked about." Whether it's right or wrong, a religious voter isn't likely to buy this.
[UPDATE] I just noticed I referred above to both "Tim Roemer," which is the guy's actual name, and "Ed Roemer." I have no idea who "Ed Roemer" is, or why I typed that. Corrected.