Making stuff up: Obama and the myths of America

When my daugher Lydia was a little girl, she succumbed to the charms of Santa Claus.  What healthy child hasn’t?  But it wasn’t long before Lydia realized that grownups didn’t believe in the man at the North Pole.  Unbidden, Lydia shared her verdict with her parents.  “Some people believe there is a Santa Claus,” she explained, “and some people don’t.  I choose to believe because it’s more fun.”

It wasn’t long before Lydia was exposed to the magic of mass marketing in the cuddly form of a little doll named Rainbow Brite.  Rainbow Brite shared a magical land with a vast array of cute little horses (each sold separately) and two ineffectual antagonists named Lurky and Murky.

Once again, Lydia felt moved to share her personal philosophy.  “I like Rainbow Brite better than Jesus,” she informed us, “because she’s more interesting.”

Barack Obama has been in a funk ever since his big speech at the Democratic convention in Denver.  Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen wonders if the once-charismatic candidate is “too cool to fight.”  Obama does fine on the stump, Cohen says, but when he appears in a more intimate setting, like across the desk from George Stephanopoulos, the pugulist becomes the professor.  In interviews, Obama occasionaly looks “sad as a lonely little wrinkled balloon” as Paul Simon put it in one of his wistful songs.

Cohen isn’t alone.  “Whoever slipped that Valium into Barack Obama’s coffee needs to be found and arrested by the Democrats,” the Times Thomas Friedman asserts, “because Obama has gone from cool to cold.”

They chattering classes have this one right.  I listened to Keith Olbermann’s interview with Obama the other night and found my mind wandering.  Obama was cool, likeable, observant, cautious, and dull.

Fear is a big part of the problem.  Obama knows that anything he says can and will be used against him in the next McCain attack ad.

But it goes deeper than that.  Obama has been hoping that the recitation of undeniable truths will confirm his date with destiny.  John McCain endorses economic and military policies that have reduced a once-proud nation to an international laughing stock.  Ergo, no one should vote for McCain unless they like economic stagnation and national humiliation.

The mainstream media is amazed by the blatant untruths the McCain-Palin ticket has been repeating ad nauseam on the stump. Sarah claims she said “thanks but no thanks” to “that bridge to nowhere” when the record shows she was for it before she was against it.  John McCain says Barack Obama would raise taxes on the middle class when everybody paying attention knows it ain’t so.

“I mean, you can’t just make stuff up,” Obama tells the crowd. “You can’t just recreate yourself. You can’t just reinvent yourself. The American people aren’t stupid.”

Which takes us back to Ron Suskind’s famous quote from an unnamed Bush operative: “The aide said that guys like me were ‘in what we call the reality-based community,’ which he defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.’ . . . ‘That’s not the way the world really works anymore,’ he continued. ‘We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality-judiciously, as you will-we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.'”

This is the genius of Lee Atwater and Karl Rove: they realize that, yes, you can make stuff up . . . so long as you are telling people what they want to hear.

Lydia chose to believe in Santa Claus because it felt good.  She (briefly) preferred Rainbow Brite to Jesus for the same reason.  Jesus, like most progressive candidates, was all about hard (and very adult) realities.  Rainbow Brite was about flash, dazzle; the Queen of Cute.

Sister Sarah isn’t saying much these days (apart from repeating questionable assertions from her boffo acceptance speech), but that just adds to her appeal.  Flip between cable news stations and you are sucked into an endless loop of Sarah waving to the crowd, Sarah hugging McCain’s neck, Sarah beaming in front of the microphone.  The woman is incandescent.  She’s fire in a bottle.  She has more raw appeal than all the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders put together.  Even the telegenic Obama can’t compete with this.

“But what about all that crazy stuff she believes?” liberals bleat plaintively.  “She’s a creationist, and she speaks in tongues (or hangs around with tongue-speakers–which is just as bad), and she doesn’t believe in global warming and she calls the war in Iraq a divine enterprise.  That’s just crazy talk, right?”

So the reality-based community believes.  Unfortunately, as Barack Obama is coming to realize, the reality-based folks no longer call the tune in America.

Obama’s right, the American people aren’t stupid.  But we are a nation of myth-makers and once a myth is made it takes decades to unmake it.

Prior to WWII, America was in isolationist mode.  We didn’t like what Hitler and his legions were doing in Europe, but it wasn’t our problem.  Then the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and everything changed . . . permanently.  Before long, John Wayne was gracing the silver screen as a courageous, tobacco-chewing, tough-talking American marine.  My generation of males grew up playing with GI Joe (I was an exception–my father hated guns and macho militarism).

People ask why conservative voters love John McCain so much when they despised John Kerry.  Weren’t both Johns decorated war heroes?

True, but the Democratic John came home disillusioned with the men who led the march to war; the Republican John came home “in love with America,” convinced that, had we only kept our hearts in the fight, we could have left Viet Nam in victory and honor.

That’s the kind of John Wayne American we have learned to love.  Which is why American politicians treat the military with the sort of respect and deference Sarah Palin’s handlers are currently demanding from the press.  That’s why a call to arms from the Commander in Chief, no matter how foolhardy, receives overwhelming support from the electorate.  This time, we tell ourselves, it’s going to work.  We are an empire and that means we can create reality in our own image.

Mythological thinking spreads disaster in the real world; but it’s magic on the stump.

Sarah Palin is an evangelical Christian.  So am I.  I don’t speak in tongues, but I have prayed to receive “the gift” (ever hopeful that my prayer would go unanswered).  I don’t believe you can find a coherent “Rapture” theology in the Bible, but I have preached to those who do.  I understand Sarah Palin’s world too well to despise it.

Evangelical Christians aren’t stupid, but no group in history has ever been told what they want to hear more than evangelicals.  For a time, evangelical opinion leaders like C.S. Lewis tried to live in peace with the reality-based community.  We believed in creationism and evolution.  We prayed that the missions movement would usher in the kingdom of God, but in a polite, this-worldly sort of way.

Then we realized that we didn’t have to play footsy with the smart-ass secularists.  Hell, we could just make stuff up.

If people have a hard time adapting Genesis to Darwin, just toss out Darwin.  If the folks in the pews are perplexed by the ancient world of science, tell them the planet was birthed six thousand years ago (ten thousand at the outside).

If people have trouble condemning gays for doing what comes naturally, tell them that homosexually is just a perverted “lifestyle” choice.

If the faithful don’t want to give up their gas-guzzlers, tell them global warming is a liberal hoax.

If the congregation seems uncomfortable with the cheek-turning pacifism of Jesus tell them to turn in their Bible’s to the book of Revelation.  There, the Good Shepherd appears as the cosmic avenger, sword dripping with pagan blood.

And what if folks seem uncomfortable with a Jesus who welcomes home the Prodigal Son, forgives the thief on the cross and hangs out with tax collectors and prostitutes?  Simple, you give them a Dirty Harry Jesus toting a 44 magnum.  If Jesus is going to toss his enemies into the Lake of Fire at the end of the millennium, who can blame us for locking up poor people.  Civil rights and civil liberties are reserved for law abiding people (unless we’re talking white collar crime).

When half of adult America can’t define the term “due process” (it’s true) the phrase looses its meaning.

I am not saying that all McCain-Palin supporters think this way.  Most don’t.  But the reality-based community must understand that general elections are now determined by white evangelicals who have been told for several generations that reality is whatever feels good.  The theology proclaimed from Megachurch pulpits has been carefully market-tested.  Most Republicans aren’t comfortable with this reality; but so long as it keeps them in power they can’t argue.

So what’s a guy like Obama to do?

Obscurantism is a fact of life in America and no politician can change that in one election cycle.  So don’t try.  Cut loose.  Enjoy yourself.  Go with your gut, laugh, smile and don’t give in to despair.  Trade in the quizzical smirk for the hearty belly laugh.  Hammer the issues, but know that’s not enough.  American’s like John Wayne, but they also like Jimmy Stewart.  Tell us your dreams and visions.  Let your idealism show. Tell us about the America you believe in.  That’s what got you this far, and that’s what will take you home.

38 thoughts on “Making stuff up: Obama and the myths of America

  1. Nail being hit on head !!!
    Rev. Bean, your article today, as always, is so clear headed — and the quote from R. Suskind a good wake-up. And, so many years ago, Marshall McCluhan was going on about the “medium being the message” and it doesn’t get much louder as it does during these elections. This power of the image makers is truly frightening. I guess being cognicent of what’s ‘hitting us’ is a start, a step toward warding and looking again for what is closer to truth. Thank you very, very much.

  2. Religous Extremism ( Not Religion) in all of it’s negative forms (Christianity, Islam, Hiduism, Judaism, etc) has and is still creating many problems for the peoples of the world. One wonders, why they speak of a Good God, when their actions are akin to Satanism. Bush did a very nasty job of Americans for 8 years aided and supported by Religous Extremists, who proclaim the coming of the Kingdom of God.. Bin Laden did and is still doing a murderous job on us in the name of Allah(God). Now John McCain and Sarah Palin want to “Bomb, Bomb, Iran and continue the War in Iraq because “It is the Will of God”. I wonder if Americans are so guillable or are so racist that they will elect a pair of Christian Extremists instead of a bright Progressive Young Man of mixed Race(Obama) and an experienced Senator who strive to bring World Peace(Biden). Is it that Americans prefer War and Economic Pressures instead of Peace, Economic Improvement, Health Care for All, Relief from Housing Foreclosures, Educational Opportunities for All and other improvments? We shall soon know.

  3. You’re so absolutely right about this. I agree with you as well as the two times article. If Obama wants to win this, he has to be clear and passionate. Many of us have known for years that plenty of people make up plenty of things. Unfortunately, people say and do what they have to in order to win or get something they want. I just hope Obama realizes this before it’s too late because 55 days isn’t long and if he waits to late much of it will be considered truth.

  4. Very insightful. I am in the reality-based community, and as such I am doomed to minority status. On the political science web site The Volokh Conspiracy, one Republican was decrying the Palin choice over others such as Romney and Kay Bailey Hutchinson. His colleague commented, “But Dave, you’re assuming the election will be decided on the basis of facts and issues.” The truth implicit in that observation obviously wasn’t lost on the McCain campaign. A Democratic friend asked me, “What do you think the Republicans would say if Obama had chosen someone with so little experience?” Leaving aside the obvious comparison to Obama himself, I said, “They would scoff and rage powerless at the huge bump that Obama would get from it.”

  5. Startling, refreshing, perceptive analysis. I love how you’ve framed the two camps: reality-based vs. myth-based.

    And I don’t want to overlook your inclusion of “most Republicans” in the group that’s uncomfortable with the myth-based strategy.

    My question is, how can we begin to persuade people that they have the tools to cope with reality other than dogma, fear, prejudice and denial?

    I’d like them to awaken like Dorothy and her magic slippers that could have brought her back to certain comforting realities all along, even though she may have chosen to dwell in Oz for a while.

  6. Not only the republicans, but the media (CNN in particular), would be the biggest scoffers. They would also question his judgement in picking someone with even less experience. I try to tune out the political race because of all the mud slinging.

  7. Alan: What you are overlooking is the incompetence and pandering of the media in this “dumbing down” of the American electorate. The sad fact is that you can make stuff up and get away with it in America, and the press allows it! And…unfortunately, you’re right about Obama’s level of excitement—the only time I have seen him really righteously angry in public was in his acceptance speech–he just seems tired (and probably is, after the exhausting primary process).

    But the role of evangicals is, sadly, the mean and vicious role that religous zealots have played over history–from the inquisition, to the Salem witch trials, to the discrimination against Baptists in early 19th century America. At some point–and Dr. King found this point–you have to bring Christianity to bear on social issues in a rational and meaningful way–and put aside your own biases and try to live out Christian love in a way that will change history–but most of the time these people (evangelicals) are too busy bashing gays and supporting wars, that they forget about peace and love, and turning the other cheek. So what’s new? JCB.

  8. Thanks to all for these excellent comments. The media will be the topic of another post, but I think much of blame goes to the format of cable news. The media is supposed to be impartial and unbiased. Since somebody has to voice an opinion, you call in a rabid lefty and an even more rabid conservative (you have to be vociferous to get on these shows) and the talking heads yap at each other for two minutes. This passes for balanced coverage. Unfortunately, when somebody really goes over the top (as McCain is currently doing) the media has a hard time calling them on it. The columnists weigh in, but the above-the-fold coverage can’t even hint at disapproval.

  9. I consider Palin pallid and puerile. At best she is bland. I was disappointed today at work when co-workers I admire said they thought she was charismatic and sassy, and didn’t wear pant suits and have a big ass. (and this was said from a female retired military colonel who is also a nurse and my superior). A doctor said he finally saw the wisdom in McCain choosing Palin and I said I didn’t see any wisdom in Palin. The more Obama supporters even give mild credibility to her style and sizzle, the more we take away from Obama and his platform. The only platform Palin has might be in her shoes.

  10. Obama definitely needs to just stay the course and no matter what, do not change up. While the acquisition of Sarah Palin is a very good strategic move, it was a bold one that I believe was made out of desperation. Desperation results from fear (in this case, of losing the election), while truth brings security. The way I see it, he doesn’t feel the need to lash back because he believes in his heart that what he stands for is the right thing. Sarah Palin is significantly help McCain, but I still think that they are simply delaying the inevitable.

  11. I find it interesting that you fail to mention that Democrats have managed to invent their own reality also. Many Democrats attempt to sell universal health care and redistribution of wealth and other programs as cures for all ills, failing to mention that the programs have failed miserably in other places, most notably Europe. And, interesting also is the resemblance which your article bears to Obama’s comment about working-class Americans clinging to guns and religion and opposition of homosexuals.

    Hey, you are entitled to believe anything and everything you want to believe, but be honest about it – about your willingness to accept science over faith, man’s rationale and traditions over revelation from God. Don’t try to reconcile the two, and then pat yourself on the back at how well you’ve pleased the God who’s revelation you’ve rejected. With all your half-ass and hell comments, at least have the balls to come clean about your rejection of much of Scripture, and your embrace of man’s reason. Your elitist mindset is as irreconcilable with Jesus as the cosmic avenger image.

  12. I’m not sure what some call “reality-based” is really reality. I found the article rather enlightening on the one hand, but also pretty belittling of those who disagree with the author. Elites might call these people “the common folk.” True, many people just hear what they hear and don’t investigate, so perhaps that’s all you mean by “reality-based.” But there is more to Palin’s position on the bridge to nowhere, so no “reality” was examined here (no mention of Obama and Biden’s vote of “no” for those same funds to be redirected to Katrina victims, to name one part of the issue).

  13. I think we get it. If you ascribe to a more progressive evangelicalism and believe in Darwin, global warming and that ‘whitey’ is keeping down the poor people, then you are more thoughtful, intellectual and compassionate just like Obama. Otherwise, you are a non-thinking simpleton who is addicted to the opiate for the masses. Since when was questioning whether global warming is real or not considered sinful? Since when was questioning Darwin’s premises an affront to God? Since when was believing in Creationism a blasphemy?

    This line of thinking is getting tiresome. Looking down your nose at those who thoughtfully and out of conviction disagree with you is no more noble than what you are attacking. Guys like you never mention Obama’s stance on abortion or some of the questionable relationships he has had. Instead, you only point to what you like about him. Isn’t that fair for the other side to do the same thing?

  14. Thanks to all for your thoughtful comments. Some have accused me of being an elitist. I’m not sure, in this context, what that means. I will assure “tired of this” that I have nothing against those who thoughtfully reject some of Darwin’s ideas after careful consideration and study. I have some problems with evolutionary dogma myself. My concern is with preachers who know very little about the scientific evidence telling the faithful that evolution is a myth. Scientists can be wrong, but it is generally best to leave scientific questions to people who have taken the time to dig the deepest. I am a creationist in the sense that I believe God created the heavens and the earth. My concern is with megachurch pastors who turn their young earth theories into matters of dogma.

    I want a president who is smarter than I am. Does that make me an elitist? If so, then I must accept the label. I have always thought that to qualify as an elitist one must, at the very least, belong to the elite. In that sense I don’t qualify.

    There is a lot at stake in this election, and it is natural for us to feel threatened by those on the other side of critical issues (like who will occupy the oval office in January). My goal wasn’t to mock Sarah Palin and to laud Barack Obama to the skies, and I don’t think that’s what I have done. Liberal Democrats are appalled by Ms Palin’s surging popularity. They can’t imagine why people find her attractive. Part of the answer, I freely acknowledge, is that she is an attractive candidate with an appealing personal story. But Palin’s success is largely tied to the cues, verbal and non-verbal, that she emits. She has been deeply influenced by religious ideas that have been shaped by market demand–that is, they make people feel better.

    Feel free to disagree, but try not to be snide and dismissive. If I have taken some cheap shots, I am sorry. That was certainly not my intention.

  15. In past campaigns Republicans determined that any assault on an opposition candidate was fair. It was not politically incorrect to besmirch Kerry’s service in the armed forces. It was fine to compare Barack Obama to brainless teen idols (sorry girls). It was fair to start the false rumor that Obama is a Muslim and call him ‘Hussein’. Character assassination is how the Republicans play the game; according to them,it is how the game is supposed to be played, and whining is NOT allowed.
    However, now, the Republicans are crying foul for Palin: screaming that she is a poor defenseless target of the sexist liberals (an oxymoron), and that she is being unfairly treated.They insist that she must be shielded from any investigation into her character: I guess because she is a woman? I mean REALLY, she IS an evangelical Christian which automatically says that she is pure of heart. If you don’t believe that ask Pat Robertson or Rush Lamebow. Everything she ever did in all the offices she ever held was aboveboard; she would not lie (even about the bridge). Only a diehard LIBERAL would question the motives and actions of such a pure-hearted Christian hockey mom.
    I seem to remember that Bush was also a born again Christian. He too was the genuine article. He saved us from terrorists by killing all of the terrorists he could find in Iraq and distroying that country in the process. Too bad that he mired our troops in Iraq when the terrorists we sought were holed up in Afghanistan, but he THOUGHT they were in Iraq…really really really!!! You can take that to the bank! You do believe me don’t you? So, why not trust another evangelical Christian, who espouses very primitive ideas. I mean, what is the worst that could happen if the oldest candidate we have ever had for president should be elected with the help of the religious right and then kick the bucket? If that is what Americans want, I hope they are not upset if the brand of Christianity espoused by Palin ends up exposing them to the same sort of oppression practiced by the Taliban. They may not make it explicit, but don’t the people of the religious right really want a theocracy in America rather then a free democracy?

  16. The reality is that this article is a vote for Obama is good and McCain is bad.

    You say “John McCain says Barack Obama would raise taxes on the middle class when everybody paying attention knows it ain’t so.”

    Well I am paying close attention and I believe that anyone who can add sees that Obama’s plan won’t balance, where will the money come from? the middle class. Now you may disagree with me, that’s political debate. The problem with the left is this, they cannot comprehend that anyone might disagree with them! that’s what the media coverage of Sarah Palin is all about. CNN lie night after night about Palin and they cannot believe that the people still support her and like her. Who in their right mind would support a gun slingin, moose huntin red neck – isn’t the problem with those people their guns and bibles – simple folk that’s all they are. Well this is the view of the media and Obama. People have said enough is enough. In Sarah Palin they see themselves. They see a person who isn’t going to allow the East and West coast elites to look down on them.

    Your article smacks of leftist political ideology. Leftist attitude is this – My position is the right position, how could anyone disagree? Ok so its couched in soft tones, with lip service being played to other sides of the debate, but the fact is you believe you are right and can’t believe anyone would disagree. Just like the liberal media and the coastal elites.

    The left in America, the liberal evangelicals in the church, people who see themselves as progressive in emergent church movements need to understand that debate is possible and here is a shocker for you – they might be wrong!

    I don’t want a President who is smarter than I am (for the record George Bush is smarter than most people on the planet and you clearly do not like him) I want a President who will allow me and my community to make decisions that affect us. I want a President that doesn’t believe that government is the answer to societies ills, I want a President who allows me to believe that Jesus is the answer and like it or not the McCain/Palin ticket is the option which allows for this, the option which, I believe, which will allow people to make such choices over what affects them.

    You may not think you lauded Barack Obama to the skies, but you did. You may feel you allow people to disagree, but disagreement is viewed as snide and dismissive. The quicker people from left leaning/emergent/progressive or whatever way you want to describe your evangelicalism start to realise they may be wrong and that debate exists then we will always have these rather academic elitest views in the church.

  17. Thanks for your comment, Tim. My point has little to do with Barack Obama; I was talking about evangelical Christians who see no disconnect between Jesus Christ and the Republican Party platform. I rarely hear liberals (to use your term) claiming that true believers should vote Democrat. I rarely hear these folks claim that people of faith are idiots (although I’m sure many believe it). Barack Obama will give you free rein to believe that Jesus is the answer; I want to ask which Jesus we’re talking about.

    Like virtually everyone else in the blogoworld, I believe I am right. If I didn’t, I would keep my opinions to myself. I don’t like academic elitists any more than you do, and I do not see myself as their mouthpiece. In fact, abstractions like “academic elitist” generally serve as a substitute for real argument.

    Finally, I am not asserting that Barack Obama will be able to balance the budget; I am merely saying that his stated policy calls for tax cuts for the vast majority of tax payers and John McCain knows it. My real point is that liberals need to stop obsessing over the fine points of policy and understand that passions that inspire a significant portion of the conservative movement.

    I have no expectation that you will find these comments persuasive, but that’s just the point. Obama and McCain are well aware that a solid chunk of the electorate aren’t going to vote for them no matter what. BlogSgers like me must understand that many readers will take offense at what we write. Still, you took the time to read my comments and I genuinely appreciate that.

  18. Thanks for the reply

    I had a whole reply penned – but you know what – lets just agree to disagree and I mean this with all sincerity – lets just marvel that the Kingdom of God is here and is coming and that no matter what, come November, Jesus Christ will still be Lord and King of Kings. So lets just vote whatever way we feel led, after prayerful consideration acknowledging that no one has a monopoly on the truth – Jesus is the way the truth and the life.

  19. I think I see your point, but I also think there’s another option that shouldn’t be overlooked here: Obama should speak using both “reality” and the language of myths. In other words, to reach the “right-wing evangelical bloc” (have I said that right?), not only emphasize the simple facts of what results from many of the mistaken/missing policies (e.g. no health insurance, eroding real wages, military quagmires) but also mention the ways in which Obama’s proposals match up to a Christian perspective: concern for the entire world and the downtrodden, etc.

    It’ll be a harder task to convince them that the purpose of government isn’t to enforce holiness but to furnish a measure of social order. That conversation about paying taxes–“to Caesar what is Caesar’s, to God what is God’s” or the contrast of Augustine’s “City of God” and “City of Man” might be helpful illustrations. It seems to me that James Dobson’s radio comments on a past Obama speech stemmed less from irreconcilable theological differences than from a difference of opinion about the provinces of religion and government–Dobson for religious people enacting their beliefs via government activism, while Obama for religious people distilling secular & universal principles out of their beliefs (and using their freedom to live out their particular religion in the private domain).

  20. Honestly, just because one isn’t an “elitist” does not mean their rhetoric is not simply an elitist rhetoric. I’m tired of being condescended to by the left. I posted a blog article about my own political leanings (, and it reflects in general terms a different view from this post. As a Christian my duty to my country is to uphold the law of the land, not enforce my own views on others, even if they are the correct ones. The law of our land is the Constitution, and I’m tired of liberals dismissing it as archaic, out of date, or not modern enough for our tastes and 21st century thinking. I’d diatribe here, but you can visit my site.

  21. Doug:
    My advice for you is to avoid blogs you consider elitist or liberal. Liberals (the ACLU for instance) are the principal defenders of the constitution, or so I have always believed. I don’t like to spar with people since it rarely accomplishes anything. I write my posts, people comment, and I generally leave it at that. I’m not dismissing your contributions to the discussion; I just don’t want to irritate you any further.

  22. alanbean:
    If a blog is outrightly elitist, then I already avoid it. I do not find this blog to be outrightly elitist. As for “liberal,” the ACLU is not classical liberal because they do not defend liberty, they defend the liberal-progressive vision of reality/society, and in some cases they end up defending liberty in the proces. But I digress on that.

    I don’t find your blog elitist, but I did find some elitist-like arguments in this particular post. I am very hopeful to find a blogger who believes in liberty and the pursuit of good Christian service without the necessity of government force.

  23. Well, Doug, whatever you’re looking for, I hope you stick around. You sound like a good guy and a faithful disciple of Jesus.

  24. Alan, (great last name by the way)

    I am a registered Independent and a solid follower of Jesus Christ. The reason I could never be a democrat is simple. In my opinion voting democrat GREATLY hurts the poor of this nation and poverty is a deep concern of mine.

    The Dems treat the poor as if they are animals in a zoo and the govts job is to feed them, cloth them and basically babysit them their whole lives. They expect nothing, zero, of it’s citiznes except blind obedience at the polls.

    The poor will never get out of poverty by being coddled and given welfare as a lifelong gift. I fear if Obama gets elected he will make the government become our savior and babysitter even more. We will rely more and more on the govt for all of our needs, becoming so dependent that we won’t be able to “survive” without them.

    This country has achieved what is has based on solid principals that are the complete opposite of the thing Obama proposes.

    Now, the Republicans haven’t exactly done a lot for poor people directly. BUT just like Christianity, true conservatism has rarely been practiced. True conservative principals of smaller government and fiscal responsibility work, period. If we could elect someone who was man or woman enough to stand up for conservative principals we could really get somewhere.

    To tax the rich (hello people who make over $250,00 are rich????? no they’re called employers) will just end up putting people out of work and driving up prices on goods we buy.

    Liberals have no idea how to truly help people stand on their own. Their elitism is one of: “you just stay in the ghetto or trailer homes and we’ll take care of you. don’t bother making something of yourself or you might end up moving into the suburbs with us.”

  25. David: Although I agree that Democrats have sometimes been guilty of superficial and inadequate policies that failed to grapple sufficiently with the harsh realities of generational poverty, I don’t think presidents like Bill Clinton or Jimmy Carter can be easily dismissed on those grounds. If taxing the rich at reasonable rates is such a bad idea, why did the economy soar under Clinton and tank under George Bush? Government is good at some things and not at others. The trick is to discover what government can do and then hold government accountable for doing it. At some point, taxing the rich can be counter-productive; but honest people can disagree about where that point is. I hope you’re not arguing that the wealthy shouldn’t be taxed at all. And, yes, $250,000 a year, over a period of a decade, will make any careful person a millionaire. That’s wealthy in my books.

  26. Bill Clinton inherited the booming dot com days. Once that burst it was back to normal.

    And those people making $250,000 are self-employed people who work their tail off 60 hours a week, who after paying a couple employees and equipment for their business end up bringing home $80,000 in income. Taxing them more just makes them not be able to hire more and puts a strain on their income to support their own families.

    I’d like for you to answer me 2 things:

    1) why do you feel we should tax those who make more at a higher percentage of their income than those who make less. is this fair?

    2) why should we give our tax money (welfare) to healthy abled-bodied men and women that don’t want to work?

    i went down to New Orleans after Katrina to help out. I was amazed at what I saw; men in the lower 9th ward just standing around drinking and doing nothing at 12:00 in the afternoon. Meanwhile there were Help Wanted signs all around them. Not only could they have made money but they could have gotten paid to rebuild their own neighborhoods.

    But no, they’ve been brainwashed by the Democrats to think it’s the govts. job to take care of everything.

  27. David: People who pay a lot of money have historically paid more income tax because (a) they are able to do so, and (b) whether they realize it, they owe a debt of gratitude to society for providing the social infrastructure that allows people to succeed in a big way. Those who argue that they succeeded in a social vacuum are kidding themselves.

    A word about Katrina. First, congratulations for going to New Orleans and helping with the recovery effort. I’m sure you are giving an accurate report. Why would able bodied men stand around drinking beer when there is work to be done? There are many reasons. Generally, these guys don’t get welfare checks–but their mothers, sisters and girlfriends do. That is a contributing factor, but I would suggest that the influence of welfare is relatively minor.

    If you talked to these guys I suspect you would discover that few of them finished high school and that most of them grew up in generational poverty surrounded by other people who have no memory of anyone in the family bringing home a steady pay check. Generational poverty is different from episodic poverty. Brief spells of hard economic luck don’t mess with fundamental attitudes toward work and self worth; several generations of extended hardship do. Eventually, it becomes very difficult for people to believe that they have the power to better their lot.

    Generational poverty–the kind we see in Appalachia and many inner city neighborhoods–is tied to major economic shifts like white flight. Entire neighborhoods are deprived of businesses and jobs, usually over a period of a decade or two. People with initiative adapt by going where the work is. But, for a host of reasons, there will always be those who cannot adapt.

    I also suspect that if you talked to these guys you would discover that most of them have done prison time and that some have spent most of their adult lives in and out of prison. When prison becomes a recurring theme in your life from late adolescence on bad things happen. For one thing, prison undermines self-reliance because everything is laid out for the prisoner; there are no real decisions to be made, the schedule is completely determined by others.

    Psychologists would say that generational poverty, welfare dependency and prison combine to undermine a sense of personal efficacy. Fatalism rules the day. This toxic mix can become so deadly that people will not help themselves even when opportunity is staring them in the face.

    This is one of the reasons that Friends of Justice is opposed to mass incarceration. Some people need to be in prison; but most of the young men we are incarcerating have been impacted by the forces described above. Intervention is needed; but long and repeated prison terms generally make things worse for the offenders and those who live near them.

  28. Alan, I agree 100% on your assessment of the generational poverty. the question is; how do we fix it?

    by asking nothing of them and having no expectations or by showing them the benefits of answering the help wanted sign that’s right in front of them?

    as for those with money “owing” something to society. give me a break!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    if anything, these people have taken out massive college loans, business loans and put so much money back in to the economy; much more money than you and i will ever put it in. These people employ people, giving them jobs and many times health insurance. The majority of these people have paid serious dues and were not born wealthy. My parents were on welfare as a kid, I grew up dirt poor and delivered pizzas and did landscaping when I got married 15 years ago. Now I am a successful business owner who has hired people and given them and their whole families health insurance.

    I paid my dues and really got nothing from society along the way. I honestly think you’re crazy on this.

  29. Had you been born in an isolated village in Zimbabwe you wouldn’t be where you are today–not with all the effort and good intentions in the world. You are where you are partly because you benefited in a thousand ways you don’t deserve and over which you had no control. Sure, hard work and determination played a big role as well. I’m glad you are able to hire folks and give back in other ways. I congratulate you for doing so. Still, most folks making the big bucks aren’t entrepreneurs; they’re working for big corporations and, in many cases they are making society worse (consider the current mortgage debacle) and have become very adept at tax avoidance. I agree that small business owners need tax breaks and I have no idea if Mr. Obama’s plan accounts for people like you. That really isn’t the focus of this blog, although it has a passing relevance. Please vote for Mr. McCain if you think that’s best. I don’t endorse candidates and am only interested in their views to the extent they impact issues I care about. Who you vote for is none of my business and I have no interest in influencing you one way or the other.

  30. is this fair?

    Here is a summary of the statistics for the distribution of wealth in the US as
    of 1998, the most recent information available that has been fully analyzed:

    % of US Population % of Wealth Owned
    Top 1% 38.1%
    Top 96-99% 21.3%
    Top 90-95% 11.5%
    Top 80-89% 12.5%
    Top 60-79% 11.9%
    General 40-59% 4.5%
    Bottom 40% 0.2%

    Is it fair I’ve worked a good salaried job for nine years at 45 hours plus a week and can’t afford home ownership in my area and have no prospects of retirement? I don’t want welfare, I just want to have the same chance my granparents had. They raised four kids on one income and owned their home. Grandpa didn’t have a college degree. You can work as hard as you want in this country now but very few of us are going anywhere. Yes, the wealthy should be taxed more and the middle and lower class taxed less. To see what you’ll pay in taxes under Obama go here:

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