Steven Waldman

Steven Waldman

Obama’s Health Care Pitch Should Be Less, Er, “Christian”

moses.jpgUntil recently, Obama has emphasized two rationales for health care reform — reducing the burden on the economy and providing universal coverage. One attempts to appeal to our sense of fiscal responsibility, another to our conscience. “The cost of our health care has weighed down our economy and the conscience of our nation long enough,” he said in February. Both require us to think long term and altruistically — admirable but not traditionally the best way to mobilize public opinion.
If he’s looking for ideas on how to craft his national message, I would suggest he not copy the rhetoric of the increasingly-energized religious left. The liberal Christian group Sojourners emphasizes Jesus’ injunction to help “the least of these.” In a letter on behalf of the Catholic Bishops Conference, Bishop William Murphy wrote, “Reform efforts must begin with the principle that decent health care is not a privilege, but a right and a requirement to protect the life and dignity of every person.”
This is certainly what you’d want Christian leaders to say — and will be effective, one would hope, with many of the devout — but if the argument for health care comes down to helping people other than yourself, we’ll get many good sermons and no health care reform.
Obama and the religious leaders would be wise to marry an appeal to self interest with a moral message based on justice rather than altruism.
For instance, here are some moral statements more likely to appeal to those who have insurance (the majority):
–A system is immoral if it allows (or encourages) insurance companies to turn you away exactly when you need help most. (Thanks to exclusions for “pre-existing conditions.”) That’s unfair.
–A system is immoral if it allows (and incentivizes) insurance companies to write policies full of fine print that leaves shocked patients with devastating bills. That’s dishonest.
–A system is immoral if it means that losing one’s job means not only losing income but the ability to take your child to the doctor. That’s cruel.
–A system is immoral if it forces people to stay in jobs that they hate because they don’t want to lose their health coverage. That’s tragic.
These moral statements may resonate more broadly because they emphasize the universal value of fairness, rather than compassion. Forgive my gross theological oversimplication but I suspect the message needs a bit less Jesus and a little bit more Moses; a bit less New Testament, a bit more Old; a bit less love and a bit more justice.

Comments read comments(15)
post a comment

posted August 3, 2009 at 4:31 pm

“I would suggest he not copy the rhetoric of the increasingly-energized religious left. The liberal Christian group Sojourners emphasizes Jesus’ injunction to help “the least of these.“”
Is there a religious middle? I do not understand why the “least of these” does not appeal to all Christians’ conscience. Matthew 25 is very clear that not helping the sick means eternal damnation.
I agree that Obama has to go light on the Christian message, but I think his examples of real individual’s health care problems are a valuable learning experience.
Obama has been using all of the above examples in Town Hall Meetings, except maybe the last one about staying in a job that an individual hates.
Has the “religious right” done anything for health insurance reform?

report abuse

P. Edward Murray

posted August 3, 2009 at 5:55 pm

Why go “light”?
I have absolutely no understanding of this at all.
As a Catholic Chrisitian I can say that we are taught to live our religion and that it should “inform” our decisions.
A heck of a lot of folks just don’t do either.

report abuse


posted August 3, 2009 at 7:00 pm

In Chicago:
“The Time is Now”
Tuesday, August 4, 2009, 4:30 PM – 6:00 PM
Federal Plaza
(CTA stops: Monroe Blue Line, Monroe Red Line)
U.S. Representative Jan Schakowsky
& Others To Be Announced!

report abuse


posted August 3, 2009 at 9:59 pm

Perhaps these moral statements will in fact be “more likely to appeal” or will “resonate more broadly”. Are they true?

report abuse

Faithful Progressive

posted August 4, 2009 at 11:29 am

It is stunning that a Christian blogger denies the will of Jesus and invokes old testament condemnation to halfheartedly endorse health care for all Americans. The problem is, secularists masquarading as Christians for cosmetic reasons, as politicians pandering to voters.

report abuse


posted August 4, 2009 at 5:01 pm

The other problem, besides secularists masquerading as Christians, is conservative Christianists who, for whatever reason, seem to be trying to “escape the unambiguous obligations set forth in the Sermon on the Mount” (quoting Fred Clark’s post last Friday on Slacktivist,

report abuse

Scott R.

posted August 4, 2009 at 6:23 pm

Hey Faithful,
He’s not a Xian blogger – he’s Jewish.
What interest could he (or we) possibly have in the “new” testament?

report abuse

Margaret Placentra Johnston

posted August 4, 2009 at 9:28 pm

This post does not speak well of the general mindset of our society, if we need a selfish rationale to spark interest in something that would benefit everyone. But this post does speak the truth about some of the evils of the insurance companies under the current system.
I say, whatever type of rationale works (compassion, fairness, selfishness) to get health care reform going, let’s just do it!

report abuse

Your Name

posted August 4, 2009 at 10:24 pm

The sooner this becomes a matter of justice and fairness (which nearly all religious traditions affirm) instead of deficits and partisan politics (which have squelched much of the progress so far), the better.
Wake up Democrats! You can ignore Fox News and talk radio, but you still need the blue dogs to come around.
For sake of our most vulnerable brothers and sisters among us, we cannot squander this rapidly closing window of opportunity. It’s time to abandon the single-payer fantasies and hammer out a compromise with the moderates.
The perfect must not be the enemy of the good.

report abuse

Joe White

posted August 5, 2009 at 12:07 am

I thought liberals believed in separation of church and state. (?!)
Are we now gonna get WWJD as the reason to pass Obamacare?
Why is fulfilling the commands of Christ as a rationale for government policy acceptable suddenly to the left?

report abuse


posted August 5, 2009 at 7:33 am

Joe …
I agree and don’t … in the public policy sphere (the senate or a political blong) the arguments ought to be accessable to everyone i.e. secular and logical (and their are tons of those too … and to be frank justice, fairness and equity are among them) …. but in a dicussion, like this one, among religious people WWJD is a perfectly acceptable argument

report abuse


posted August 5, 2009 at 7:35 am

Pardon me … blog not blong and that should be the ‘the other steve’ i.e. not our host

report abuse


posted August 6, 2009 at 11:20 pm

Julie, as a member of the dreaded and apparently hated “religious right,” I’ll tell you what I do for health care reform:
1. I live a responsible life, going to work every day and always, always paying for my own health insurance so that no one else is obligated to pick up my tab.
2. I give 10% or more of my NET income to charity or ministry.
3. I volunteer for a healthcare nonprofit organization, and my company, UnitedHealthcare even supports my efforts.
4. I give generously to others, sharing my time and money (for which I don’t receive a tax deduction) with others less fortunate than myself.
I’m sure you’re as generous and kind as I am, but we differ in one respect: I don’t dismiss your work as anything less than the altruistic efforts that they are and you sneeringly dismiss mine as pitiful and ugly.

report abuse

Your Name

posted August 20, 2009 at 2:14 pm

Carolyn, your hardwork and volunteerism are definitely positive and necessary components of creating a more compassionate and upstanding society that cares for its less fortunate. However, that alone is not going to solve or even begin to address the major issues that are the root of the problem that are forcing so many people into poverty and incredibly unfortunate circumstances due to illness or causing people to be denied healthcare to begin with.
I’d also be interested to know where the funding for this nonprofit healthcare organization you volunteer with comes from. It wouldn’t happen to be grants from the government, corporations and the wealthy, would it?

report abuse


posted August 26, 2009 at 7:39 am

Bishop William Murphy wrote, “Reform efforts must begin with the principle that decent health care is not a privilege, but a right and a requirement to protect the life and dignity of every person.”
But that is not what ObamaCare does. There is not enough money in the world to meet that lofty objective. But instead of increasing spending for the people who need healthcare the most, Obama (HR 3200) is cutting $500 billion in Medicare over the next ten years. This is heartless. He is not doing it to keep the program viable. He is taking money from the elderly to give to illegal aliens, young people rich enough to afford it but choose not to, among others. It is clear from his actions that Obama does not like old people. His health advisors do not believe age discrimination is evil. What would Jesus do? Jesus would ask Obama where his birth certificate is!!

report abuse

Post a Comment

By submitting these comments, I agree to the terms of service, rules of conduct and privacy policy (the "agreements"). I understand and agree that any content I post is licensed to and may be used by in accordance with the agreements.

Previous Posts

More Blogs To Enjoy!
Thank you for visiting this page. This blog is no longer being updated. Please enjoy the archives. Here are some other blogs you may also enjoy: Top Religious News Most Recent Inspiration Post Happy Reading! ...

posted 6:00:22pm Apr. 20, 2012 | read full post »

Good Bye
Today is my last day at Beliefnet (which I co-founded in 1999). The swirling emotions: sadness, relief, love, humility, pride, anxiety. But mostly deep, deep gratitude. How many people get to come up with an idea and have rich people invest ...

posted 8:37:24am Nov. 20, 2009 | read full post »

"Steven Waldman Named To Lead Commission Effort on Future of Media In a Changing Technological Landscape" (FCC Press Release)
STEVEN WALDMAN NAMED TO LEAD COMMISSION EFFORT ON FUTURE OF MEDIA IN A CHANGING TECHNOLOGICAL LANDSCAPE FCC chairman Julius Genachowski announced today the appointment of Steven Waldman, a highly respected internet entrepreneur and journalist, ...

posted 11:46:42am Oct. 29, 2009 | read full post »

My Big News
Dear Readers, This is the most difficult (and surreal) post I've had to write. I'm leaving Beliefnet, the company I co-founded in 1999. In mid November, I'll be stepping down as President and Editor in Chief to lead a project on the future of ...

posted 1:10:11pm Oct. 28, 2009 | read full post »

"Beliefnet Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief Steps Down to Lead FCC Future of the Media Initiative" (Beliefnet Press Release)
October 28, 2009 BELIEFNET CO-FOUNDER AND EDITOR-IN-CHIEF STEPS DOWN TO LEAD FCC FUTURE OF THE MEDIA INITIATIVE New York, NY - October 28, 2009 - Beliefnet, the leading online community for inspiration and faith, announced today that Steven ...

posted 1:05:43pm Oct. 28, 2009 | read full post »


Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.