Wednesday, June 10, 2015

A Quick Note on John Kasich, Obamacare, and the Christian Coalition

My latest post is inspired by this column on John Kasich.  Kasich is a Republican politician of moderate prominence.  He served in the U.S. House of Representatives in the 1980's and '90's and was noted for his integrity and for taking the deficit seriously.  In 2010 he was elected Governor of Ohio as a Tea Party candidate and attempted to bust the unions (make Ohio a right-to-work state) but failed.  After that he turned moderate and accepted the Medicaid expansion in Obamacare.  Naturally, that makes him radioactive with the Republican base.  He is nonetheless making an utterly futile bid for the Republican nomination.

But, the column points out, what makes him doubly toxic is that he not only accepted the Medicaid expansion but his reason for doing so.  He saw providing healthcare to poor people as a moral issue. Even a religious issue.  As he put it:
Now, when you die and get to the, get to the, uh, to the meeting with St. Peter, he’s probably not gonna ask you much about what you did about keeping government small, but he’s going to ask you what you did for the poor. Better have a good answer.
Pardon my saying, but in this Kasich reveals himself to be a Catholic.*   No Evangelical Protestant would ever fall for such a line.

First of all, every Evangelical Christian knows that when you knock on the Pearly Gates, St. Peter won't ask what you did at all.  He will ask just one question -- have you taken Jesus Christ as your personal savior.  Whether you get in depends on how you answer.  What you have done is completely irrelevant.

Nonetheless, you have to do something between taking Jesus Christ as your personal savior and going to heaven, so you might as well put the time to good use.  And doing something for the poor is definitely putting your time to good use.  In fact, Evangelical Christians are generous in their donations to charity and proud of it.  But here is the thing.  They regard what you have done for the poor only as a matter of what you have personally done out of your own pocket.  Supporting government programs for the poor counts for nothing at all and is most likely seen as downright evil.

The reason is best explained, as I have before by a comment by a rabbi I recall reading.  The rabbi said that charity has two purposes, to provide for the poor, and to teach us to be generous.  The Jewish approach focuses more on providing for the poor and the Christian approach more on teaching us to be generous.  Or put differently, balancing the rights of the giver and the needs of the recipient is a difficult and delicate task.  The Jewish approach, perhaps, leans too far to the needs of the recipient and ends up with the schnorrer -- the beggar with an obnoxious sense of entitlement.  Too much focus on the rights of the giver can lead to some godawful condescension and a lot of unmet needs.  Drawing the right balance is difficult.

But Evangelical Christians aren't interested in drawing the balance at all.  They see charitable giving as exclusively about the rights of the giver and about teaching us to be generous.  The needs of the recipient simply do not enter the moral equation.

Or perhaps I am being overly harsh.  The matter is one of priority.  The top priority is ending any sort of government programs for the poor and ensuring that charity is strictly private.  If the goal is to teach us to be generous, then only voluntary giving counts.  Using taxpayer money defeats the whole purpose.  That is primary.

How much people give is secondary.  Clearly if the purpose of charitable giving is to teach us to be generous, then it isn't much good unless people are actually learning to be generous.  Evangelical Christians are, indeed, generous and proud of it.  I have no doubt that if there were too communities which we will call Community A and Community B, and if both had no taxpayer-supported service for the poor, Evangelical Christians would have no hesitation in preferring the community that gave more generously.

The needs of the recipient could fit in next, after first ensuring that all giving is voluntary and second teaching people to be generous.  Suppose that Community A and Community B both have ended taxpayer financed aid to the poor and are both equally generous in their voluntary donations.  But in Community A the voluntary programs are poorly administered and the recipients benefit very little from them, while in Community B voluntary programs are well administered an really know how to get the most bang for the buck.  Presumably Evangelical Christians would agree with most people that Community B is preferable.  But that is at best a tertiary concern.

And that it presumably the honest answer that you would get if you really pressed on the issue of accepting the Medicaid expansion.

*According to Wikipedia, although Kasich was born and raised Catholic, he has since become an Anglican.  Close enough.

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