Jesus has been enlisted, yet again, into the service of a political philosophy. This time, according to former Bushie Michael Gerson, it’s Senator Tom Coburn’s alleged claim that Jesus was a libertarian.
Gerson’s piece is a rambling paean to the virtues of “compassionate conservatism,” one of George Bush’s signatures from the beginning. In theory, this sort of conservatism is just another way of restating that the state must step in to help those in need when such needs can not be met privately.
To which I agree in principle. In practice, the Bush administration has shown little restraint in its so-called compassion, spending monies that the government should not on politically expedient causes such as more benefits for the wealthiest segment of our society: seniors (the Medicare expansion).
Then there’s the stupidity of the No Child Left Behind act. Yes, George, all of our children here in Lake Wobegon, a/k/a the United States, are above average. Then there’s the notion that the government must bail out the stupids: folks who fell for mortgages they should have known would baloon; folks who knowingly “bought” houses they could not afford, all with the tacit approval and encouragement of a “compassionate” administration; folks in poverty and on welfare for five or more generations in New Orleans, suddenly expected to drive out of town in vehicles they did not own, then being coddled, with the Feds taking over as the welfare state in lieu of the city or state of Louisiana.
None of this is conservatism, and, in the real world, not compassionate, since it rewards individual failure. Thereby assuring such failure will happen again. And again.
As for Jesus’ role in any of this, it is not apparent. Jesus did tell us to care for those most in need. Jesus did not mention word one about any government doing so. The basics are in Matthew 22:36-40, but how we are to love our neighbor as ourselves is left to how we interpret the rest of Scripture.
Michael Gerson cites some Old Testament, and he’s not wrong. On the other hand, neither is Tom Coburn wrong when he cites Jesus’ parable about the rich man selling all his possessions. Coburn, as quoted by Gerson:
“show that true giving and compassion require sacrifice by the giver. This is why Jesus told the rich young ruler to sell his possessions, not his neighbor’s possessions. Spending other people’s money is not compassionate.”
Tom Coburn is exactly right. Spending someone else’s money isn’t compassion. It’s government. And government may accomplish good things; necessary things. But private monies, motivated by compassion, are much more likely to find their target.
It’s misappropriation by the government.