01 July 2008

This Speech Makes me Sick

“The fact is, the challenges we face today — from saving our
planet to ending poverty — are simply too big for government
to solve alone,” ~ Barack Obama

From that banal premise Obama goes downhill and blathers on about relying on "faith-based initiatives" and establishing partnerships with "faith based groups." He is - following Clinton, Bush, Gore and other politicians - debasing our political language. He is talking about churches and religions and he should say so. The problem is that churches are largely conservative, if not reactionary, organizations. And it is impossible to implement a program of political-economic reform by relying on churches. Obama continues:
"Now, make no mistake, as someone who used to teach constitutional law, I believe deeply in the separation of church and state, but I don’t believe this partnership will endanger that idea – so long as we follow a few basic principles. First, if you get a federal grant, you can’t use that grant money to proselytize to the people you help and you can’t discriminate against them – or against the people you hire – on the basis of their religion. Second, federal dollars that go directly to churches, temples, and mosques can only be used on secular programs. And we’ll also ensure that taxpayer dollars only go to those programs that actually work."
So, what about the Catholic Hospital in Rochester that will not dispense birth control. How does that contribute to ending poverty? It doesn't. And having babies too soon is a quick path toward economic hardship for mothers and children. How does it help fight AIDS? It doesn't. Condoms are birth control. And Catholic hospitals and service agencies will not dispense condoms for just that reason. This is not proselytizing or discriminating. It is simply religious dogma standing in the way of sane policy.

How about the "faith communities" in Rochester whom charitable organizations fall over themselves so as to avoid offending. What does that mean? It means that United Way cannot or will not fund Planned Parenthood because the latter performs abortions or dispenses birth control.

How about the Catholic Schools that won't even offer sex education to the pathetic levels of the public schools in town because, well, because the church thinks you should just say "no." I suspect the other "Christian" schools in the area are no better. (Let's leave to one side the fact that "faith based" institutions - schools and hospitals - pay poorly and insist that employees toe the religious line.) In all these ways, relying on partnerships with major "faith based groups" is plain stupid.

Charity will not end poverty. And all churches do is hand out charity. Poverty will be ended, if it ever is, by reforming large scale political-economic arrangements. And most "faith based groups" will stand smack dab in the way of such reforms. And speaking of programs that "work," churches have been around for millennia claiming to care for the poor and to alleviate poverty. Have they been successful? You could have fooled me!

Hey Barack, let's think back to the mid-20th century in the U.S.; Which did more to alleviate poverty - Church based charity or the Social Security system? Private philanthropy or the WPA? I know where I'll place my money. And it is not in the alms basket.

End of rant.

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Anonymous Dawei_in_Beijing said...

What I find funny, in a tragic sort of way, is the reaction from the left leaning end of the political spectrum, who, just a few months ago, were treating this guy like he was the second coming. Let's face it, Barack Obama is a master politician. He has brilliantly seized this critical moment in American history, to his advantage, by framing some elusive narrative of "hope and change." And while I appreciate the fact that he has fired up many young people of my generation, and has, at least momentarily, made domestic politics interesting, I never bought into the hype. The people who did, though, and still do, will be hit in the face with a reality check. Mark my words: a Barack Obama presidency will not put a halt to globalization, or pull out of Iraq, or provide universal health care, or solve the energy crisis. Not because Obama doesn't want to do these things, but because he can't. No one can. America is facing an astronomical debt, a huge reliance on foreign investments, a highly competitive marketplace with many new players with many more emerging, lack of liquidity, and a changing global landscape where much of the wealth and influence is moving east. It's time for someone to be frank with Americans: the good times they have a cometh, and they have a goeth. The party is over, folks. The middle class will shrink, significantly, over the next few decades, as much of that was artificially based on credit, anyway, and was unsustainable in the long run. Even the nation's elites will find their net worth shrinking, as other global elites begin muscling them out of, what used to be, their exclusive industries. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying the U.S. is heading for Somalia-like conditions. The likely outcome is that we will become like Japan. That is to say, our economy will come to a screeching halt, like Japan's has, and will remain stagnant and heavily leveraged, like Japan's has. So, when I see or hear people jumping up and down, demanding extensive social programs, all I can do is shake my head. It's Economics 101, folks. It ain't gonna happen in our lifetime.

And thus ends my rant.

02 July, 2008 00:36  
Blogger Stan B. said...

Unfortunately, and not unpredictably, it's not his only proclamation that's got me illin', and there's yet more to come...

02 July, 2008 01:27  
Anonymous mymatedave said...

Couldn't agree with you more, I'm a Brit and although the political theatre in the US is always entertaining, it's interesting to see that Obama, for all his shinyness, is still just another politician. At least here the politics are far less dramatic.

02 July, 2008 03:32  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I actually am a big fan of Obama's position on religion and his outreach to religious americans.

Churches don't just hand out charity. My church offers a home for AA, it offers job training for the homeless, and offers super low interest loans for the hard up.

For me this speech by Obama explains his position on these things with much greater clarity than yesterday's speech:


02 July, 2008 11:41  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...


Thanks for speaking up. Unfortunately, I really have to say that nothing in your comment is terribly persuasive.

(1) AA treats symptoms and it does so by requiring adherents to accept god. That is true (I believe) of all these 12 step programs. So if that is a requirement - or at least an aspiration - religion is compulsory and the whole thing works on peer expectations (otherwise known, when speaking to teens and kids, as peer pressure).
Alcoholism etc. are medical problems and should be treated as such- absent proselytizing.

(2) Job training is great if there are jobs to train for. Churches typically don't provide the latter. And when they do, they provide them in religious programs that typically presume that employees toe the religious line. What about imparting skills and so forth through adult education in the public schools?

How about government - meaning public - job provision programs? How about living wage legislation? Both would be much more effective than church-based charity.

(3) The loans you talk about are due to the beneficence of the congregation. They re charity. How about setting up publicly backed revolving credit associations (like the Grameen Bank, etc.) that would not place borrowers at the whim of a church? That would be a proposal I could get behind.

Many surely will write and say, 'well my church does this or that terrific thing.' Do those terrific things come without religious strings? Does it mean that those things aren't charity with all the self-righteousness and sense of superiority that that invites? No and no.

Doesn't relying on churches mean we have given up on our duties as citizens to support programs that would afford economic opportunity and support for others as a matter of their status as citizens (in other words as equals)?

Finally, in my experience, as soon as a church becomes "political" instead of "philanthropic", the hierarchy of whatever denomination typically comes down hard - sometimes subtly, but hard nonetheless. This happened to the young priest in the parish where I grew up and it happened in the progressive Catholic parish in Rochester (even as the Diocese allows the reactionary parish in town to practice pre-Vatican II rites of various sorts).

02 July, 2008 12:49  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...

PS: In fact the US tax code that treats Churches as not-for-profits prevents (or at east heavily discourages)them from engaging in directly political activity.

02 July, 2008 12:51  
Anonymous PJ said...

Did you guys catch this?:

03 July, 2008 16:35  

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