Recently, I caught the final segment of a CBS Evening News broadcast in which CBS anchor Scott Pelley was discussing the economic situation with a panel of business and community leaders and ordinary citizens.
Each of the panel members had a slightly different take of what was required to get the economy back on track and put people back to work. Nothing illuminating or novel in any of the observations, to be frank, but the comments of one business man, in particular, made me sit up and take notice. He said that one of the things Americans are not comfortable with is that capitalism involves “winners and losers,” intimating that that’s the way it is. End of story.
Fortunately, that’s not the end of the story. And it isn’t in the best traditions of American capitalism, nor is it in the best traditions of the GOP before it was hijacked by the Tea Party and the extreme right, including the religious right.
Prophetic voices from organized religions and other sources, including politics, have usually been there to summon us to our better selves when the danger of unbridled capitalism has become acute, as it has now. The Vatican has long spoken out on this issue, as it has again recently, and religious voices are being raised today by the “Circle of Protection” campaign in this country, for example, involving evangelicals, Catholic bishops, and Protestant leaders.
As the Rev. Richard Cizik, an evangelical minister and president of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, writes in a recent Washington Post opinion piece: these religious leaders are not buying into a narrow political agenda that “embraces radical individualism and rejects the ethic of collective responsibility” for the common good.
“At a time when our nation is plagued by the worst poverty rates in decades,” he writes, the Circle of Protection is defending “government programs that provide a basic measure of dignity and security to those struggling to make ends meet.” He also states that “data from Public Religion Research Institute and other polls consistently show that a majority of Christians care about a broad set of moral priorities” that include protecting the poor from harmful budget cuts.
And that’s where the dilemma of more budget cuts versus raising taxes on the wealthiest of Americans comes in. That’s what the 2012 election and Barack Obama’s reelection chances are all about. It’s about the role of government in the lives of ordinary people, a legitimate topic of debate in any election. But, with the rising poverty rate and the increasing gap between rich and poor, it takes on special urgency this time around. The President’s opponents can talk all they want about “class warfare,” but this is not just a fiscal or a social issue. It’s a moral issue as old as the Scriptures and rooted in the best traditions of care and compassion for the underdog that has always defined us as Americans.
Gerald E. Lavey