The Tragedy of American Politics

The tragedy of American politics – especially of the Republican party – is that it has glimpsed a part of the Judaeo-Christian understanding of God, but not the whole.

The Republicans are the idealists of the present scene.  They believe in the potential greatness of human beings, made in the image of God.  Give human beings their freedom, the Republicans urge, and we can return to Eden.  Sin, for them, has no reality.  Give us freedom, they argue, and all will be well.  They are the heirs of the Puritans, who came to New England for freedom from oppressive government.  But the Puritans also knew the reality of human sinfulness and created their own oppression to restrain it.  Nevertheless, the vision of freedom drove idealists ever westward to find a place where no government would restrict them.  With the disappearance of the frontier, the idealists found themselves confronted with the reality of government and have been in a state of rebelliousness ever since.  It is surely significant that so many of the Republican candidates this year come to us with no previous experience in government. Typically they are millionaires who made their money by avoiding governmental regulations and are determined now to make the world a better place by removing as many restrictions on their freedom as possible.  The freedom they offer is an illusion since they are unwilling to use government to help free others from the oppression of  poverty.

The Democratic party, on the other hand, has focused its attention on the Biblical injunction to care for the widow and stranger, the poor and the outcast.  Sin, for them, is real and evident in the human need that surrounds us.  Typically they offer candidates who have dedicated themselves to the task of alleviating that need by careers in government.  Their greatest weakness is their apparent blindness to the weakness of government as a tool and forgetfulness of the vision that first inspired them.  In the debate over health care reform, we have heard all too little of the vision and far too much of the  uninspiring mechanics of taxes and regulations.  Experienced in government as they are, the Democrats have concentrated on the necessary compromises by which progress is made and come away looking like career politicians instead of visionaries.

So here we are, poised to lurch again from one side to the other as we have done throughout our history.  This time, it seems, we are doomed to lurch back into the Republican freedom that has given us the Great Depression and the recent recession.  How desperate must conditions be before we lurch back toward a government concerned to serve people?   Or will we, as has happened so often in Europe, lurch back toward a dictatorship that offers the good things of life to those who surrender their freedom?

Why is it that this most Bible-reading of nations is unable to understand the Biblical balance between  the reality of human sinfulness and the vision of life renewed and accept the need for a government  limited in its ability to control our lives but still enabled to provide decent living conditions for its citizens?

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