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The Messiah Government

posted by David Kuo

John McCain is under attack from Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in a rare moment of Democratic unity.

In an economic speech on Tuesday, McCain (Ariz.) said he supports government assistance for Americans facing home foreclosure because of the turmoil in financial markets. But he declined to embrace the kind of government intervention for individuals and institutions favored by Clinton and Obama, arguing that “it is not the duty of government to bail out and reward those who act irresponsibly, whether they are big banks or small borrowers.”

Is McCain really wrong?
I don’t know.
Certainly if his attitude was that the government had no real responsibility to the economy or to suffering people he was wrong. But I don’t think that was his point. I think his point had to do with responsibility as well.
One of the vital lessons of life is that actions have consequences. It is not hard-hearted to say that. We teach it to our kids. We’ve all learned it ourselves. If I eat too much – as I have been doing – I will gain weight. If I gain weight there are potential health consequences. If I develop heart problems because of my diet, well bad on me. I would hope that doctors still treat me. I would hope that my family would help me. But at the end of the day I would have to face the fact that I brought it on myself.
Similarly, if I go credit card crazy buying a bass boat and an HDTV and a vacation to Guam, and don’t have the money to pay my bills, that would be an exercise in irresponsibility and the blame would be squarely on my shoulders.
If that happens, is it really the government’s responsibility to take care of me?
If I buy a house that is way beyond my ability to pay for it and suddenly I can’t afford to make payments anymore isn’t that my fault? Sure, people may have enticed me into buying the house but then again drug pushers would also like to get me to try crack.
Is it the government’s job to bail me out?
I don’t think so.
The more that government behaves like it is the answer – bailing out corporations or individuals who have behaved irresponsibly – the more it sends precisely the wrong messages to people… the message that actions do not have consequences.
The more that message is sent the less incentive there is for people to behave, to live, responsibly… AND, more importantly, the less incentive there is for people to actively engage in each others lives. Why should they? The government will do it.
We are addicted to government. We are in danger of believing that government really is the answer to most questions. It isn’t. Increasingly we bow before a Messiah Government that will save us from all of our problems. In so doing we miss the true power of the true God.
Churches should be at the forefront of caring for people who are struggling. People of faith should be there helping to pick up the pieces of broken lives.
There is SO much wealth in this country. There is SO much wealth in our churches – one local church recently spent more than $100 million on its new compound. $100 million. It didn’t really have too much of a problem raising that kind of money. How much more could it, should it, raise to help people pay their mortgages? To help people reorder their broken lives?
Compassion literally means to “suffer with.” I think we need a bit more compassion and a bit less of Messiah Government.



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Brian Horan

posted March 28, 2008 at 1:05 am


David,
Ever heard of Wall Street/corporate socialism? Look at the pharmaceutical bill the Republicans swarmed in support for – taxpayers are subsidizing everything and getting no value.
Dick Cheney’s Halliburton at one point in the Iraq orgy was giving back 50 cents for every federal dollar received.
Republicans are full fledged supporters of corporate welfare.
Do you think that missile defense which Republicans have poured billions of dollars into will really work if physicists say it won’t and we can’t even shoot a satellite out of the sky unless it’s sunny? It’s corporate welfare and Republicans get their gravy train from defense contractors.
The problem is that Republicans have trusted folks who say government is evil, but are right at the trough.
Injecting moral absolutism into political rhetoric has made Republican sheep buy into some the dumbest most contradictory ideological shenanigans you’ve ever heard of… like a bridge to nowhere or getting rid of the 40 hr. work week.



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Brian Horan

posted March 28, 2008 at 1:10 am


Republicans worship from the government trough. Where else will they get they’re blood and treasure to satisfy upper-middle-class suburban Evangelical blood lust?



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Linda Sue

posted March 28, 2008 at 8:37 am


I am a little trepidatious about wading into these vitriolic waters. I work in the real estate industry. My personal belief is people should make mistakes and learn from those mistakes. We have to also consider another factor, the mortgage banking industry and the federally insured lending business have federal government oversight and regulation. The federal government/bureaucracy is responsible for a big chunk of the mess from mortgage lending practices because of their failure to oversee. Not sure outright stopping foreclosure and costing the lenders their rights to exercise foreclosure and gain money back for THEIR investors will be the correct way to go – mortgages are long term debt and short term fixes could be disastrous. I keep thinking about the rule of unintended consequences? Tinkering a bit to relieve short term misery could collapse the whole structure down the road. Possibly freezing adjustable rates with extended the time for refinancing and/or a one time grant to homeowners who are at least 3 months behind (seems to be the point at which they give up or sink under the flood). The grant would allow them to refinance with no closing costs,not adding costs to the LOAN because it only makes things worse in the borrowers’ efforts to regain a position of equity. My comments are not political party oriented – I work with people day in and day out who are financially clueless up so I am responding from my experience as a REALTOR®. We spend more than half our time with clients teaching them the basics of home buying, it is rewarding but also the exception.



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Doug

posted March 28, 2008 at 9:13 am


Obviously I agree, David. I own a home I can afford unless my income drops in which case I’ll be in trouble. But it will be my trouble. The intercessionary step always begins with demonizing someone not human seeming, so we will hear much about predatory lenders who did not explain how payments would balloon but the truth is no one that I’m aware of has been forced to take a loan. I suppose if the loan documents are fraudulent, the loanee has a claim but if the truth was told, whatever the practice and even if a person was “steered” toward a more expensive, riskier loan than the best one they qualified for, it really isn’t the government’s job to fix it.
There’s another side to the story, I understand, which is that if the whole system collapses under the weight of too many bad decisions then we all pay for those decisions the same as if the government tries to rescue borrowers, so I suppose a case can be made for some government intervention if things get bad enough but that’s a practical not a moral case and, further, we should ask ourselves why 5 or 10 or 30 billion dollars should be spent rescuing homeowners if we do much less for the homeless.



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Charity

posted March 28, 2008 at 9:16 am


I think Linda Sue has a really good point – one of the foundations of this housing credit crisis is the de-regulation of the financial institutions.
I’m in a different field – academics – but we are currently undergoing our 3 cut of professional journals in 10 years. We are at the point that we are cutting core professional journals necessary for research. Why? Because 20 + years ago when we heard the mantra “the private sector can do it cheaper than the public sector” University presses had to sell their journals to commercial publishers. Now, they have a captive audience who has to pay – academic libraries. The costs have risen well over 1000% in the last 10 years along – well above inflation. And continue to rise at a rate of about 7-10% a year. But government funding for education has stayed static.
My point is that because we have two extremes – either government protects the corporations from regulations or imposes them – we have this mess. There is an appropriate balance, I feel, that we need to find.
And IMO – we shouldn’t be bailing out any industry while deneying children health coverage and our returning vets health care and an oppurunity to get a paid-for education.



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Alan

posted March 28, 2008 at 10:50 am


I take it Brian doesn’t like Republicans. :)
As for the current housing/mortgage crisis, I remember stories our financial adviser told about the clients he had or was referred to that had the McMansion in the expensive suburb, two SUV’s, a boat, a cabin and were sitting on plastic lawn furniture because they couldn’t afford anything more, and this was in 2001.
We Americans just want more, more, more and finally, our house of cards has collapsed. Unfortunately, our churches are teaching this garbage as well (Prosperity Gospel, anyone?). We love to rail on the other sins of everybody else but forget one that requires us to look in the mirror; GREED.
I can see helping people who were given a mortgage they couldn’t afford due to predatory lending practices some relief but for people who were flipping homes or always thought their home would increase in value 20%/year and were tapping equity loans for more cars, boats, trips and now their homes are suddenly worth less on paper than their mortgages, I don’t feel sorry for them, I really don’t. At some point, we need to address personal responsibility and the choices we make and the consequences of those actions.
I applaud Linda Sue about educating her clients about home buying. I wish more education about home buying, personal financing and debt was available or required learning in school as it appears there are a vast majority of people who don’t know the very basics.
Government money isn’t going to solve this problem because we simply don’t have enough and between the fiscal irresponsibility/nanny-state wants of BOTH parties, we will be heading for some dark times if we can’t get our house in order.



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Kevin

posted March 28, 2008 at 11:31 am


I have a friend who bought at the top of the bubble with an interest-only loan. He is an intelligent professional and his wife works in real estate… All their friends told them this was a bad idea–the market would have to go up continuously for the 10 years he planned to live there for it to work, and there were many signs that the bubble was collapsing. But he was convinced that real estate would never go down, and now he owes more than the house is worth so cannot refinance. Should the rest of us pay for his bad judgment? That’s what a bailout is–we, or in the case of deficit spending–our children, pick up the tab. And since every one of these interventions is accompanied by new rules and laws, we have our freedom curtailed a bit more to “protect” us from future bad judgments. It’s essentially government-as-parent.
It used to be that churches provided the safety net that prevented bad judgment from putting children, the infirm, or elderly on the street (many European hospitals began as Almshouses). But the more we expect government to do this, the less we give to charitable alternatives.



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Pete A.

posted March 29, 2008 at 11:52 am


Hi David,
A few years ago (well, about 15) I would have said almost exactly what you said about not helping people who make bad decisions. And, up to a point, I still do. But about then that point’s location changed a lot.
It changed for two reasons. First, one afternoon I was playing backyard baseball with my two kids, and tore a leg muscle. Tore it badly enough to be confined to bed for a month. After one day, I went “stir crazy.” For something to do, I leafed through my whole Living Bible, one page at a time, and jotted down a list of Scriptures about what the Bible itself meant by “loving our neighbors. A lot of what I learned was a complete surprise to me – things NO ONE in church had ever mentioned in the 40 years I’d attended.
Second, about that time we got caught in the tail end of the senior President Bush’s last budget, which laid off very large numbers of people (including defense workers, which I was then). The theory was,the Cold War’s over, we don’t need you guys any more, so goodby. We don’t care if that means you don’t have income to pay your mortgage, car payments, grocery and doctor bills, or anything else. The layoffs were far too big to “reshuffle”; the results were engineers taking jobs like cutting grass (as a friend of mine did). My family – my wife, myself, and two early-teen children – ended up living in a small tent trailer for 6 years, never able to get a home or even apartment, nor regular work. Eventually we did get “work” as traveling vendors in a discount chain, which made us go to a different city in any of 8 western states every week, paying for our traveling ourselves.
Those two things taught us a whole lot – the first, about what God really expects of us; the second, about reality. And not just our own reality. We met hundreds of other defense layofees who, like us, ended up living in campgrounds. They weren’t the kinds of people I expected – not the ones who made bad personal or business decisions. Just ordinary people, not alcoholics, drug addicts, or lazy – ordinary people who’d had the rug pulled from under them by events so major it didn’t matter how good their decisions had been. Events like our layoff; like sickness; like divorces.
There wasn’t much help. We applied for welfare and food stamps,but couldn’t get either one – because we still had the car and tent trailer, which was still our only home. Welfare told us that if we’d sell both the car and trailer and move onto the street with our kids, they’d help us. (But another welfare worker pulled us aside and warned us that if we did that – which we weren’t about to anyway – our kids would be taken away.)
That’s just a glimpse. There was lots more. But you can guess that changed us. We’d been conservatives; we no longer could be after that – but weren’t liberals either. Perhaps just political “lost sheep,” but with a strong belief in GENUINELY loving and helping our neighbors.
We gained the knowledge that love and help for our neighbors WILL require srong, realistic leadership by the church -but that the need is far too large for the church to do it alone. And THAT means meaningful, realistic participation by government too.
Bless you all – Pete A.



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Rocks In My Dryer

posted March 29, 2008 at 8:44 pm


Here’s the side of the coin that I’m seeing:
I’m a self-employed writer married to a small-business owner, and the biggest financial hit we’ve taken in the last year has NOT been high gas prices or a gimpy housing market (though both have burned)–it’s been our personal income taxes. Uncle Sam has kicked us right in the teeth in that department this year. It is endlessly frustrating that we have spent the last few years spending wisely, saving, and building a solid business, only to have our productivity penzalized (that’s how it feels) by our own government.
“Bail out” ideas are lovely, but I know that they are going to be funded by significantly higher taxes–and I’m honestly not sure how much more of a tax burden we can bear. That’s the biggest reason I simply cannot get behind Obama. I’m scared to death he’s going to *spend* my little family right into oblivion.
YES, my heart aches for those who are devastating financial straits, whether they’ve “brought it on themselves” or not. It’s a terrible place to be. But those of us who have been (and will continue to be) bearing the tax burdens generated by irresponsible spending are deserving of compassion as well.



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c kitty

posted March 29, 2008 at 11:10 pm


AS the last two comments demonstrate, this is not an simple problem with a simple or single answer. Yes, there are irresponsible people who now find themselves in trouble, but not everyone who is losing their home falls into that category. Anyone who has ever taken out a mortgage has experienced the frustration of trying to sort through the piles of paper with tiny print and incomprehensible language. You end up hoping you understand the basics and that the person you are dealing with has told you the truth. Unfortunately, those not inclined to tell the truth found a way to sucker a lot of people into hopeless situations.
But who should pay for the misdeeds of unscrupulous lenders? Maybe this would not be such a dilemna if the current administration had not diverted $3trillion to a foolish war and had not given huge tax breaks to those who didn’t need them. Of course, we wouldn’t dare suggest the banking industry bear the cost.
Ordinary people, taxpayers will pay the cost whether it is in the form of a bailout or not. If there is no help, the empty houses in our neighborhoods will sit there becoming a blight and causing the downturn in the property values in the neighborood. Eventually many of the houses will be bought not by people who want to occupy, but by opportunists. Either way, it is not fair to regular working people. And it’s not fair that the unscrupulous lenders who caused the problems are not required to pay the cost.



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RJohnson

posted March 30, 2008 at 2:50 am


I note that there has been little said about the corporate bailouts over the years. Corporations that made risky investments, unwise decisions, or allowed greed to overrule wise management ended up being caught by their own actions. Instead of being allowed to suffer the reward for their stupidity our government stepped in an bailed them out. Bear-Stearns is the most recent example of this.
Why is it that so many Christians have a problem with helping a foolish family deal with a $300,000 mortgage, but seem to have no problem with throwing $3 billion (or more) at a foolish corporation? If risk is a portion of our capitalistic economy, and these corporations took on the risk voluntarily, should they not be permitted to accept the failure of that risk?
We talk a lot about how we need to lower corporate income taxes. Why don’t these tax-hawks equally support ending corporate welfare?



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ando

posted March 30, 2008 at 8:38 pm


“It used to be that churches provided the safety net that prevented bad judgment from putting children, the infirm, or elderly on the street (many European hospitals began as Almshouses). But the more we expect government to do this, the less we give to charitable alternatives.”
Kevin – Perhaps you hit on the problem. Churches aren’t doing their part. I think the Religious Right has, in no small part, played a big role in this. The focus on certain sins to the exclusion of others — greed, avarice, etc. — has created a mentality in this country that as long as I oppose abortion and homosexuality, I can do pretty much whatever I want with my life. There is little to no sense of responsibility to others, even in the church today. Perhaps we need another Jimmy Carter to get us back on track to thinking more about others than ourselves.



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Eliot Ware

posted March 31, 2008 at 12:51 pm


I agree with David on this. However, I think the problem that many of us have is that too often those in power see the wisdom of holding people responsible only AFTER the powerful (corporations, etc.) have been bailed out. That doesn’t change the fact that we are held responsible for our actions. It simply means that we need to be more consistent in our beliefs and hold the powerful and the weak to the same standards. Being “no respecter of persons” is pretty good advice.



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Brian Horan

posted April 2, 2008 at 6:02 am


If you think government’s a problem –
then don’t use Interstate Highways,
don’t go to National Parks,
don’t use the airlines that our government is constantly bailing out, don’t send your kids to public schools or universities (or have your kids receive grants and subsidized loans),
don’t support the federally funded military,
don’t use medications or techniques that were validated with federal research grants,
etc.
Yeah, I understand the government doesn’t do everything and should be balanced from afar by market interests. But, government isn’t so monolithic like ‘Katrina’ when it’s run by competent leaders.
Republicans and Evangelical Christians have demonized government so much that parishioners vote against their own self interests.
Republicans and Evangelicals can freely turn down their Social Security and other federal government benefits if they really want to make a statement. I doubt that’ll happen. There’s just to much hot air inside these folks and they’re too lucky for their own good.



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