Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Jindal on Obama: A Betrayal of Catholic Tradition about the Role of Government

Returning for a moment to Andrew Sullivan’s blog today (here): Sullivan links to a discussion by David Brooks at Direct Democracy of Bobby Jindal’s response to President Obama’s speech last night (here):

Brooks argues against Jindal, and for government—and in doing so, he demonstrates the deep fissures developing these days between the hidebound ideologues of the intransigent right, and more moderate conservatives like himself who realize that the intransigence is a manifestation of intellectual bankruptcy on the right.

Brooks states (re: Jindal’s response),

But to come up at this moment in history with a stale "government is the problem," "we can't trust the federal government" - it's just a disaster for the Republican Party. The country is in a panic right now. They may not like the way the Democrats have passed the stimulus bill, but that idea that we're just gonna - that government is going to have no role, the federal government has no role in this, that - In a moment when only the federal government is actually big enough to do stuff, to just ignore all that and just say "government is the problem, corruption, earmarks, wasteful spending," it's just a form of nihilism (my emphases).

Precisely. This is why I’ve drawn attention to the rich strand of thought within some Christian traditions, including the Catholic tradition, about the necessity of government in a fallen world. As I noted some time back when I compared Mike Huckabee’s use of the two-cities metaphor of St. Augustine, Huckabee does not have a clue re: what Augustine was talking about in his classic City of God (here).

Augustine argued that, in a fallen world, the powerful will always try to lord it over the weak. In his view, the only safeguard against that tendency is to create strong governmental structures that hold in check the arrogance, greed, and inhumanity of the powerful, and that defend the weak.

The story I told in my first posting today, about how people of color were treated throughout the American South in the Jim Crow period, as the majority trampled on the rights of the minority and used law to justify its abuse: that’s a story about what happens when there is not a strong central government structure in a society committed to defending the rights of the weak against the powerful. It was not until the federal government stepped in and forced the Southern states to accord civil rights to black citizens and to integrate schools that things began to change.

In key respects, Catholic conservatives of the right who have bought into neoconservative ideology about government as the problem in recent years have betrayed Catholic tradition, though they frequently paint themselves as the only authentic Catholics left in the nation. Jindal is Catholic. He is a Catholic who would, it appears, refuse resources provided his state by the federal government to help those in need in his state, to prove an ideological point.

This is obscene. It is morally indefensible. It is a form of idolatry, a worship of a bloody idol who asks us to sacrifice the lives and future of those in need to uphold the claims of the ideological figure we worship.

It is not what the gospels are about, or what Christian tradition is about, at its best. As David Brooks says, only the federal government is big enough to get us out of the mess that several decades of hidebound neoconservative ideology have gotten us into, with the foolish claim that government is the problem, and the fatuous trust in the rich that this claim implies. It's a pity, indeed, that it has taken some of us so long to see this, while well-nigh irreparable damage has been done to our democracy and its institutions.