Came across a great column (http://nyti.ms/9gISFi) byNicholas Kristoff this morning about evangelical relief efforts. If more Christians were as Christlike as Kristoff maybe secular skeptics would be tempted to take the Gospel more seriously. Here’s a nice concluding quote from the piece:
If secular liberals can give up some of their snootiness, and if evangelicals can retire some of their sanctimony, then we all might succeed together in making greater progress against common enemies of humanity, like illiteracy, human trafficking and maternal mortality.
Slate’s Jacob Weisberg doesn’t think politicians are to blame for America’s woes. He lays the blame squarely at our doorsteps. The problem is the American public.
On any number of issues from the stimulus plan to how to handle deficits to health care spending, Americans are of a divided, and often contradictory mind, argues Wesiberg:
One year ago, 59 percent of the American public liked the stimulus plan, according to Gallup. A few months later, with the economy still deeply mired in recession, a majority of the same size said Obama was spending too much money on it. There’s nothing wrong with changing your mind, of course, but opinion polls over the last year reflect something altogether more troubling: a country that simultaneously demands and rejects action on unemployment, deficits, health care, climate change, and a whole host of other major problems. Sixty percent of Americans want stricter regulations of financial institutions. But nearly the same proportion says we’re suffering from too much regulation on business. That kind of illogic—or, if you prefer, susceptibility to rhetorical manipulation—is what locks the status quo in place.
At the root of this kind of self-contradiction is our historical, nationally characterological ambivalence about government. We want Washington and the states to fix all of our problems now. At the same time, we want government to shrink, spend less, and reduce our taxes. We dislike government in the abstract: According to CNN, 67 percent of people favor balancing the budget even when the country is in a recession or a war, which is madness. But we love government in the particular: Even larger majorities oppose the kind of spending cuts that would reduce projected deficits, let alone eliminate them. Nearly half the public wants to cancel the Obama stimulus, and a strong majority doesn’t want another round of it. But 80-plus percent of people want to extend unemployment benefits and to spend more money on roads and bridges. There’s another term for that stuff: more stimulus spending…The usual way to describe such inconsistent demands from voters is to say that the public is an angry, populist, tea-partying mood. But a lot more people are watching American Idol than are watching Glenn Beck, and our collective illogic is mostly negligent rather than militant. The more compelling explanation is that the American public lives in Candyland, where government can tackle the big problems and get out of the way at the same time.
William Galston wrote a really nice piece in The New Republic on the difference between liberal and conservative conceptions of liberty. The immediate context for his writing is the accusation that Obama’s health care proposals encroach on the liberty of the American citizenry. But he goes on to make a broader case for a progressive understanding of liberty and the governments role in securing it:
This brings me to the second question: If the issue is liberty, what is the nature of liberty, rightly understood? And does the Obama health care plan invade liberty, so understood?…To begin, experience gives us no reason to conclude that government is the only, or always the gravest, threat to freedom; clerical institutions and concentrations of unchecked economic power have often vied for that dubious honor. The unchecked market, moreover, regularly produces social outcomes at odds with the moral conditions of a free society. Capitalism does not reliably produce, or reward, the good character a free society needs: Perceptive observers from Charles Dickens to Tom Wolfe have given us ample evidence to the contrary. And, while it may be that long-term dependence on government saps the spirit of self-reliance that liberty requires, there are other forms of dependence—economic, social, and even familial—that often damage character in much the same way…At the heart of the conservative misunderstanding of liberty is the presumption that government and individual freedom are fundamentally at odds. At the heart of any liberal understanding of freedom is the proposition that public power can advance freedom as well as undermine it.