Saturday, November 10, 2012

Post Election 2012 - Rethinking and Recalibrating

This week I have been giving a lot of thought about why we saw the election results we did. I think it's time to rethink priorities in light of the results.

In 1997 George Will wrote the following:
"True conservatives distrust and try to modulate social forces that work against the conservation of traditional values.” That is a fine and noble cause as a Christian because traditionally those values are founded on Biblical precepts – ideas such as truth, honor, integrity, duty, family, community and personal responsibility. But Will goes on…
“But for a century, the dominant conservatism has uncritically worshiped the most transforming force, the dynamism of the American economy. No coherent conservatism can be based solely on commercialism, but this conservatism has been consistently ardent only about economic growth, and hence about economies of scale, and social mobility....Conservatism often has been inarticulate about what to conserve, other than “free enterprise,” which is institutionalized restlessness, an engine of perpetual change. But to govern is to choose one social outcome over others; to impose a collective will on processes of change. Conservatism that does not extend beyond reverence for enterprise is unphilosophic, has little to do with government and conserves little."
Almost 40 years ago Will wrote the above and it still rings true today, so for nearly 140 years Conservatism has frequently come up short because of the primary focus on “free enterprise” or the simply making the economy the main issue.  Not that the economy is not always a major issue but when it is the primary issue we end up conserving little. This is one of the reasons why Romney lost. Another is that Conservatives remain “inarticulate about what to conserve.” For instance when was the last time a “conservative” politician talked about truth? There were important issues of truth to talk about in this election. Romney completely forgot about Fast & Furious and the President's lack of transparency. He said little of any consequence about what many are calling the biggest cover-up in our history – Benghazi. The conservative pundits are saying that Romney lost because he wasn't Conservative enough. But I think that's missing the point. Repeatedly there was but one conservative issue painted as the only one to be concerned about - a "reverence for enterprise," meaning the economy, and it became a losing issue.

The dominate competing argument was one of raising taxes on the top tier income earners back to what they were before 2000 against cutting taxes on all levels of income including that top tier.  Barrack Obama was able to show how his plan won back in the 1990s, bringing in President Clinton under whose term it did work, and won about 51% of the vote. Obama was able to show how Romney’s plan and conservative thinking is seen as protecting one class, rightly or wrongly, and leading to the issues we face as a nation. When Obama could point to Clinton's success with the higher rate it became a losing issue for Romney. But when it's the only issue that Romney tried to communicate it becomes a losing issue for Conservatives.  Romney pretty much agreed with Obama on many other issues, unable to articulate other conservative principles.
Republicans have held Congress hostage over this same issue for the past few years, claiming that it will hurt the economy to raise taxes on the top tier earner. Democrats have said that they would compromise on spending if taxes would return to the 1990's level for those earning over $250,000. Conjecture was on the side of the Republicans, argued against the factual evidence of the 1990’s (even if much of what happened in that decade was built on bubble economies.) One main selling point of course was the balanced budgets and budget surpluses of the late 1990’s. It is difficult to win an argument when the evidence is on the other side. Yes, Republicans could point to the runaway spending of the past four years, juxtaposed against an improving economy, but the challenge in doing so was in demonstrating how the Bush era tax cuts weren’t part of the issue. Romney failed to communicate that in a way that was convincing and arguing “I’m different” without showing how is disingenuous. The issue of cutting taxes needs to be rethought but I have nothing to offer on the subject since I am not a policy wonk. I do think however that we will now find out if higher taxes work the way Republicans fear.

The point here is the economy should never be the only issue or even the main issue for conservative values. That’s Will’s point. Notice that for the most part there were was no conversation about social issues that are tearing our nations apart. Now we have 4 new states that passed same sex marriage as the will of the people. Did you know that was on the table? Now 2 states have legalized marijuana, who knew? We know those are the big issues along with abortion but what about fatherlessness, unemployment in the Black community, increased gang violence or even a sensible approach to immigration reform (by the way – when did it become not conservative to protect the alien in our midst when the Bible so clearly speaks to it repeatedly, assuming that is the basis of our traditional values).
As a Christian first, we must put social issues at the forefront, regardless of how culturally unpopular for as Will says – “to govern is to choose one social outcome over others.” Because we have made the election a referendum on the economy all our other social ills have only increased. As Conservatives we must be coherent about what to conserve and we must conserve what is right or our people will continue to fall for what is wrong. It’s not an easy argument to make these days but it is an important one to live out. Conservatives love to complain about the entitlement mentality in this country but haven’t clearly articulated a solution. Conservatives love to talk about the decline of social values but only contribute to the problem.  Shouting at the darkness doesn’t bring light. But as Will points out, “Conservatism often has been inarticulate about what to conserve,” other than what serves our economic interests. I hope we have learned that is no longer sufficient.

Evil has won the day. No, I’m not calling Barrack Obama evil, though I would argue that he is an unrighteous leader who supports some evil policies. As one example, we know abortion is a great evil and his record is an appalling one on this issue. Rather what is evil is the the pursuit of economic prosperity as the single most important conservative principle, just as Will wrote about 40 years ago. I know that’s not popular to say but here’s the rub – as most conservatives claim to be Christian, we should know what the Bible has to say about uncritically worshipping  “the dynamism of the American economy.” Many will no doubt object and claim that Will is wrong, or I am for agreeing, claiming they don’t worship the American economy. But when we can’t articulate a response to the slogans such as “it’s the economy stupid” with other more important issues of our time and the economy takes center stage, can we really deny that we worship the “dynamism of the American economy?” Worship is devotion and there is great devotion to our economy and a diminishing devotion to God from whom all blessings flow.
Jesus did tell us that we could not serve both God and money, right? Our Lord also told us that “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.” And, we should know that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. Christians need to ask ourselves what is more important - our economic prosperity or our Biblical values? We need to ask ourselves what is more important for me, my personal prosperity or the common good of our nation? We need to ask ourselves who we are serving, God or mammon? Then we need to articulate why we think so, speaking the truth in love. But more importantly, we need to live sent today, in a counter-cultural way, lovingly rebuking the evil of our time through a message of grace, peace, restoration and yes even prosperity based on putting the Lord first in our lives. Then if we fail at least we can say we are on the Lord’s side and there is nothing more important than that, is there?

Unless we do form a coherent conservatism, solidly Biblically based, rooted and established on all that honors our Lord, Conservatives may not succeed in another Presidential election, until the people cry out for mercy. We need to discerningly weigh what all leaders, pundits and prognosticators are saying when they are not saying, “trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge me and I will direct your path.” What if more who claim to be Christians actually believed this was true and lived like it? There is of course much more to it which is why I am blogging through the Mission of God’s People. I’ll pick that up again this next week.
One last point, for Christians who voted for Obama, you too need to ask yourself how your vote lines up with Biblical values, other than what you perceive to be reflective of Matthew 25. There is much more to the Good News than care for the truly poor. We live in a fallen fall but we shouldn’t add to the fallenness.  The liberal message is even more inconsistent with Biblical values than the conservative message has been.  If we are Christ followers we need to recalibrate our lives around what God says is important, not what we think is.

Even after the Israelities had gone their own way and were about to be sent into captivity for 70 years due to their national sin, God said to them,

Even now,” declares the Lord,
“return to me with all your heart,
with fasting and weeping and mourning.”

Rend your heart
and not your garments.
Return to the Lord your God,
for he is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and abounding in love,
and he relents from sending calamity.
(Joel 2:12-13)
We need to think long and hard about what the Lord is saying here for living sent today.









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