(November 4th, 2011)
There seem to be many "talking points" thrown around in this war of words perpetuated by our political leaders to stir up "great contentions" among the people. To an ordinary person, these terms can seem to be quite confusing. Basically, the source of contention is simple. Both sides claim they want to "balance the budget", which means they want to alter our laws so that America not only gets rid of it's deficit (the amount our government spends each year beyond what it actually has, in other words, the amount of money our nation borrows every year to pay its bills) but also actually pays it's incredible debts down (something I personally feel is likely to be impossible at this point).
The first question many might ask is "What is our debt?". Our national debt, as of the moment of this article (and it goes up by the second) is just under 15 trillion US dollars. To put that in perspective, our GDP (Gross Domestic Product, i.e. the total value of everything made in the US in a year) is just over 15 trillion dollars. Our tax revenue (the amount of money the government has to spend in any given a year) is about 2.3 trillion dollars. So, imagine the amount of money you make in a year. Multiply that by 6.5, and then imagine that this is the total amount of your personal debt.
The next question one might ask is "How did it get so high?". That's actually an interesting point (in the current political situation here). In the 1970s, the national debt wasn't even measured in trillions yet. It was measured in billions. The national debt rose above 1 trillion in or around 1981-2 (just after the presidency of Jimmy Carter, a Democrat, and at the start of the presidency of Ronald Regan, a Republican). By the time President Regan left office after his two consecutive 4-year terms, our debt stood at around 2.75 trillion US dollars (yes, it nearly tripled, i.e. it increased by 175%). The next president, serving a single 4-year term, was also a Republican (George Bush, the first one). By the end of his presidency in January of 1993, the debt had risen by 53% to around 4.2 trillion dollars. The following president was a two-term Democrat (Bill Clinton). By the end of his presidency, the debt had risen a mere 35% (1.5 trillion) to a total of 5.7 trillion dollars. The following president was a two-term Republican (George W. Bush, son of the first one). By the end of his presidency in 2009, the national debt had risen to around 11 trillion dollars (yes, it basically doubled again). Despite the whole matter of the 700 billion dollars (0.7 trillion) President G.W. Bush left to the banks as his parting gift (without any strings attached such as accountability or paying it back) and the costly war in Iraq mess he left for the next president to solve, the national debt during the single term of our current president (Obama, a Democrat) has risen by about 35% to 15 trillion. It never ceases to amaze me that the Republicans stand on their high horse about the national debt when it seems that their presidents are the largest promoters of the debt (yet they seem to fall silent about debt when Republicans are in office).
Now, some might ask why this is relevant to us today. One of the largest points of contention in current US politics is figuring out how to "live within our means", i.e. spend less than we make in a year. Any reasonable person will tell you that if you have a lot of debt and spend more than you make or get in a year, then you have to either increase your income or decrease your spending (or, preferably, both). This is where we hit the impasse. The Republicans primarily represent the rich, the upper 1-2% who own something like 90-95% of resources in America (and they also tend to gain a lot of support from "mainstream" Christianity, but I'll come back to that later). The Democrats tend to represent the poor and the minorities (people of races other than White European, and/or religions that aren't Protestant Christian, with a few exceptions on both sides). The Republicans (and those they represent) do not want the rich to have to pay their full share of taxes (90-95%, since taxes are based on material possessions, of which they own the greatest portion) nor do they want to give up government programs that help the rich (such as highly lucrative military contracts and other such back-room deals). The Democrats don't want to increase taxes on the struggling poor, nor do they want to give up the government programs that help the poor and are funded by tax dollars. With neither side willing to give much on this issue, it's unlikely to be resolved, no matter who wins our next presidential race.
But this brings us to an interesting subject, namely that of religion and US politics. As I mentioned previously, Christians seem to be largely in the camp of the Republicans, something that personally boggles my mind. We are talking about a political party that honestly feels the people at the bottom of our society, people who make choices every day between medicine and food, who struggle to keep a roof over their heads, who work 2 or 3 jobs just to survive, should pay more taxes. Forgive me for saying so, but where did Jesus say, "If a man have two coats, let him take the rags from the beggars" or "If a man have meat, let him take the crusts of bread from the orphans"? Instead He said, and I quote, "He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise." (Luke 3:11 KJV). So, if Christians believe that Jesus was, at minimum, a wise man, shouldn't they desire political candidates who try to follow His teachings?
However, Republicans don't frame the issues as "take from the starving to buy a yacht for the rich". No one would vote for them if they did. They tell stories about people on drugs or welfare buying big screen TVs (which have, incidentally, come down quite a bit in price in recent years). I could point out that a struggling family might save a lot of money watching rented DVDs on a nice media center at home instead of going out to cinemas at $10 a head, but the point they are really making is that the poor shouldn't have any luxuries, not that they are saying the rich live without luxuries or calling all those who have two flat-screen TVs to give one to him that has none (or only an old box TV). They use terms like "class warfare", i.e. the poor "persecuting" the rich (it never seems to be used when the rich profit from the poor because that's called "Capitalism" or "good business").
Now I'm going to ask some admittedly "charged" questions. First, should a "good business" be defined as the business that makes the most money annually or the one that best serves the people, both customers and employees? Second, is Capitalism (a system centered around the laws and ordinances of the "almighty dollar") really compatible with Christianity (which centers around the laws and ordinances of an almighty God who counseled us to "sell all and give to the poor" and whose followers lived with "all things common", i.e. shared, among them)? How can we claim to be a Christian Capitalist country? Isn't that an oxymoron, like calling someone a militant pacifist or a democratic dictator? Third, do we really want to live in a country that turns its back on the poor? Would we really rather trade, for example, food, housing, and medical care for a year for a hundred homeless, even if they are high on drugs and/or drunk on moonshine, for another sea-side vacation home for one more rich businessman? Is this the kind of society we really want?
More and more these days, I find myself wondering what or who we support as the God of America. If it really is the Christian God, we have a funny way of showing it. We twist His words to attack science classrooms and Stem Cell Research, but we support the decadent lifestyles of the rich. It seems to me that if our actions were used to elect the God of America, money would defeat the Judeo-Christian God by a landslide (I doubt God/Jesus would even have enough votes to get on the ballot). Unfortunately, the "god" behind the love of money cares nothing for good judgment, mercy, compassion, or peace. Following him will lead us, as it has nations before us, into utter ruin.