Q & R: A Tea Party Supporter asks some good questions – Part 1

I’ll respond to various subjects raised in this letter piece by piece.
Here’s the Q:

I’m a big fan of yours having bought and read two of your most recent books.
One thing that I’ve always loved about you is that you are careful not to be dogmatic about things that God has not explicitly communicated.
I think you and I might agree that Jesus’s harshest criticism was of the religious leaders of His day because they declared the laws of men to be the laws of God.
But I don’t see you refraining from such dogma in your recent post about the debt debate in Washington:
I assume that the zealots that you are referring to are the tea partiers. I don’t see how you can call them a zealot faction threat to our economy when they are the ones calling for our nation to spend within our means.
What if someone brought in a homeless family? Would you accuse that person of being a zealot because they drew the line at taking more homeless families in beyond their ability to support?

Here’s the R:

First, thanks for this good question and the wonderful tone of your inquiry.
You might be surprised to know that I firmly agree with you that a nation must spend within its means. But I’m sorry to say that I don’t think that’s the Tea Party’s only concern.
Now I imagine it is the only concern of many good people like yourself. But the Tea Party, behind its simple message, seems to have a well-thought-out political ideology. This is especially true in light of a main source of funding for the Tea Party. I’m concerned that multitudes of Tea Party supporters are being used by powerful billionaires to be their foot-soldiers in their attempts to continue to rig the system to their advantage and their political ideology.
Just one quick example: behind the simple and legitimate challenge to the nation to live within its means, the Tea Party philosophy has a hidden message. They don’t simply want to reduce the size of government, but rather they want to reduce or eliminate the specific parts of government that have the ability to hold powerful billionaires and corporations accountable by reducing government oversight. They only talk about how these powerful elites create jobs, ignoring the fact that more jobs are produced by small business than big business, and ignoring the ways that these powerful elites practice a kind of socialism – socializing costs (it’s called “externalizing” in economics) and privatizing profits.
I am against unaccountable big government. That’s why I value and participate in the political process. Dialogues like the one we’re having are part of the way we hold government accountable. But I hope you can see that there’s a way to “make the federal government insignificant” (I think those were Rick Perry’s recent words) and in so doing leave billionaires and big corporations unaccountable. And they can cause no less damage to you, me, and the poorest and most vulnerable than governments can. Because I believe in the reality of sin, I am distrustful of unaccountable government AND unaccountable corporations and individuals … and good governance (not big, not small, but accountable and good) is one of the ways we hold those big corporations and powerful individuals accountable. Does that make sense?
So I am not critiquing the desire to live within our means. It’s the means of doing so I’m concerned about.

Imagine someone who has been borrowing money to feed the poor & the downtrodden. Imagine that this benevolent person runs out of credit. Would you advise them to continuously extend their credit through other creditors and accuse them of not caring about the downtrodden when they drew the line to preserve their personal finances?

Let me agree with you from another angle. Imagine a nation who has been borrowing money to go to war with other nations. Imagine this militaristic nation runs out of credit. Would you advise them to continuously extend their credit through other creditors and accuse them of not caring about national defense when they drew the line to preserve their military-industrial complex?
I appreciated what the President said a few weeks ago: progressives should be even more concerned about fiscal sustainability and debt reduction than conservatives, because progressives believe government has an important creative and productive role in society (infrastructure development, social safety nets, etc.). The more a government is saddled by debt, the less freedom it has to do creative good.

Our nation has put in programs and has been giving money to help the downtrodden, the poor, senior citizens, etc… But there is a point where any nation has to draw the line. If you don’t think that a 14 trillion dollar debt and defecit is that line, where do you think line is?

Again, I agree with you that there is a line. And if that line is not drawn at 14 trillion, it needs to be drawn soon after. But again, I would rather stop invading countries and find another approach to national defense than shut down what we do for the downtrodden. That’s not to say that some social programs are poorly run and counterproductive – there always must be careful evaluation and accountability for social programs … just as there must be for military spending and deregulation. But reducing spending is not the only issue.
By reducing taxes on the rich, by allowing corporations to socialize costs and privatize profits, by rigging the rules to reward companies who ship jobs overseas and so on, we reduce national income and well-being, which contributes to that 14 trillion debt. My concern is that we are asking the downtrodden to pay more and more in order to give more and more to the rich. This strikes me, as a Christian, to be wildly counter to the biblical witness, starting with Mary’s Magnificat.

If you think that there is no line, then haven’t you set up the Government to be God? Isn’t God the only one who has unlimited resources?

I’ve already made it clear that I do think there is a line. It’s just that that line is created by both income and expenditures, and I think the Tea Party either doesn’t see or isn’t talking about the whole equation that moves that line. There is a very coherent philosophy behind their methodology for reducing the deficit, and I think we need a better, more moral, more equitable philosophy than theirs.

The terrorists on 9/11 attacked the World Trade Center because it is a symbol of our economic strength. Bin Laden understood that our economic strength feeds our military strength. Al Quaida is an enemy of Israel’s and see this ‘little Satan’ as being fed by big Satan’s wallet’.

I wonder if you would read my book Everything Must Change. I think it might help you see some other dimensions of the problem.
You’re right that bin Laden saw how our economic and military strength were related – hence the second attack on the Pentagon. But (please understand I have no wish to defend any terrorist, but rather to help you see that there’s more to the story) what many people around the world resent is not that the US is prosperous or strong, but that we are prosperous and strong at the expense of their own countries and economies. I hear many Americans complain that China maintains unfair trade relations with the US, so perhaps we understand in some small way how other nations have felt about us for decades – but multiplied many times in intensity because of the disparities in size. Are you aware of the ways the US is experienced by much of the world as a self-centered bully – whether through direct military invasion or covert CIA operations, or through economic interference and dominating market control? No doubt, some of this is appearance without reality, but on the other hand, there is also reality that goes unseen … so this is part of the equation that many of us Americans don’t see. It’s part of the answer to “Why do they hate us?” that we seldom acknowledge.

The terrorists will win if our spending continues to exceed our nation’s revenues. This can’t go on forever. Not only is our nation’s economy at risk, but so is our national security is at risk. The solution is to spend less. The numbers do not support the idea that we can simply raise income taxes on the rich. Tax increases on the middle and lower classes will only augment our double-dip depression.

Again, I wish you would read Everything Must Change. This is exactly the age-old, time-tested terrorist strategy: use inexpensive provocations to tempt a nation to massive military expenditures and in so doing, get them to become so heavily militarized that they overextend and collapse. The solution is not simply to let the downtrodden be trodden further down, but rather to address five things in a balanced, rational, long-range, non-reactive way:
1. Military expenditures
2. Social programs
3. Taxation
4. Physical and social Infrastructure
5. Economic productivity
Ironically, the Tea Party seems to advocate reducing #2 only, without reducing #1 and potentially increasing #3 and #4 to stimulate #5. That’s not simply an economic policy: there’s a far-reaching political ideology behind it, and I find that ideology dangerous and repulsive, which is why I a) seek to understand it, and b) speak out against it.

I’m aware, and on guard of the ‘military industrial complex’ that you describe. Obviously Christ wants us to be peace makers. I do not endorse every military endeavor in which we are currently engaged. But as a follower of Christ, do you really believe that it is clear that peace is something a nation should never fight for? As a Christ follower, I don’t see the answer to this question as being clear enough to warrant the dogma you have expressed.

When the US military budget is near or equal to the entire military budget of the rest of the world, I think there’s something excessive – unless we are trying to rule the world as an empire. God save us from that!
Part 2 coming soon …