Beliefnet
God-O-Meter

gerson.jpgThe media is covering the Huckabee-Thompson duel for religious conservatives in South Carolina, God-o-Meter thinks it has glossed over an important distinction in the two candidates’ approaches on the stump. Huckabee comes across as a populist “compassionate conservative,” while Thompson comes across as what Michael Gerson calls in today’s Washington Post a “callous conservative.” Gerson beats up Thompson over a recent response he gave to a question on the government’s role in combating HIV/AIDS, but God-o-Meter noticed this same seeming insensitivity during a day and half with Thompson on the campaign trail. Elderly voters would complain of expensive prescription drug prices and Thompson basically told them to suck it up.
The meat of Gerson’s piece:

At a campaign stop attended by a CBS reporter in Lady’s Island, S.C., Thompson was asked if he, “as a Christian, as a conservative,” supported President Bush’s global AIDS initiative. “Christ didn’t tell us to go to the government and pass a bill to get some of these social problems dealt with. He told us to do it,” Thompson responded. “The government has its role, but we need to keep firmly in mind the role of the government, and the role of us as individuals and as Christians on the other.”
Thompson went on: “I’m not going to go around the state and the country with regards to a serious problem and say that I’m going to prioritize that. With people dying of cancer, and heart disease, and children dying of leukemia still, I got to tell you — we’ve got a lot of problems here. . . . ” Indeed, there are a lot of problems here — mainly of Thompson’s own making.
While he is not an isolationist, he clearly is playing to isolationist sentiments. His objection, it seems, is not to government spending on public health but to spending on foreigners. But this is badly shortsighted. America is engaged in a high-stakes ideological struggle in Africa, where radicals and terrorists seek to fill the vacuum of failed and hopeless societies. Fighting disease and promoting development are important foreign policy tools in this struggle, which Thompson apparently does not appreciate or even understand.
Thompson’s argument reflects an anti-government extremism, which I am sure his defenders would call a belief in limited government. In this case, Thompson is limiting government to a half-full thimble. Its duties apparently do not extend to the treatment of sick people in extreme poverty, which should be “the role of us as individuals and as Christians.” One wonders, in his view, if responding to the 2004 tsunami should also have been a private responsibility. Religious groups are essential to fighting AIDS, but they cannot act on a sufficient scale.
Thompson also dives headfirst into the shallow pool of his own theological knowledge. In his interpretation, Jesus seems to be a libertarian activist who taught that compassion is an exclusively private virtue. This ignores centuries of reflection on the words of the Bible that have led to a nearly universal Christian conviction that government has obligations to help the weak and pursue social justice. Religious social reformers fought to end child labor and improve public health. It is hard to imagine they would have used the teachings of Christ to justify cutting off lifesaving drugs for tens of thousands of African children — an argument both novel and obscene.


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