Thursday, June 22, 2006

A Different Perspective on Saving the Family

The debate over the Federal Marriage Amendment has the nation talking about family values. I think it’s important in these debates to recognize that almost no one is “anti-family”. Good people can disagree on the method while sharing a common goal of strengthening the family. There is no question that the family is the most important unit in our society, and that we need to come up with effective solutions to solve some of the tremendous challenges the traditional family is facing, such as high divorce rates, children being born to and raised by young, poor women without fathers, and the continuing scourge of abuse.

As an engineer, I’m trained to look for results. If a particular approach to a problem is not working, I start looking for different root causes and different solutions. In this spirit, I think it’s appropriate to ask a few questions. Utah’s citizens have largely voted Republican the last twenty years because of the impression that the GOP shares their values on things like abortion, the sanctity of marriage, and the assault of the popular culture on old fashioned family values. My question is simple: Have our votes for Republicans yielded results? Is the American family better off today than two decades ago? The answer is self evident. I know Republicans are truly sincere in their feelings about American family values, but it is clear the approach isn’t working.

So, what’s wrong?

What is the root cause of the problem? What has been the common factor in cultures disintegrating throughout history? If we look at the Greeks, the Romans, the Byzantines, and even in the scriptural record, the common well from which all other iniquity springs is pride, greed and inequality.

Well known LDS scholar Dr. Hugh Nibley illustrates this in the following quotes:

“…Drugs, sex, gambling, anything that comes under the heading of iniquity are all the inevitable adjuncts of national depravity,…but the real culprit of which they are but the faithful attendants, the seat of infection and the root of evil (is) the desire to be rich and successful, ‘to get gain, to be praised of men’”

“God has no objection to man’s enjoyment of the good things of the earth. What he condemns in the strongest and clearest language is the unequal enjoyment of them.”

“Again, the usual explanation is given for the increasing iniquity in society. It is nothing but the desire ‘for power, and authority, and riches, and the vain things of the world’”.

Is it possible that the root cause of America’s descent into decadence is the same as in previous ages of the world – i.e., excessive materialism and the pride and greed of a small elite, seeking to accumulate excessive riches and power over others?

Today’s national Republican Party consists of a curious alliance: the marriage of fundamentalist Christianity with big business interests and the wealthy. This is a fairly recent phenomenon. For example, William Jennings Bryan, one of the most radical political figures in American history, was a fundamentalist Christian. Our nation has a rich history of devout Christians being the leaders in progressive government policies. But in the latter quarter of the twentieth century, the new Republican alliance did a good job selling itself as the sole protector of American family values – and the Democrats, temporarily distracted by special interest politics that were interpreted by some Americans as anti-family, failed to counteract this message.

What we’re left with is a strange electoral phenomenon – the Republicans running on moral issues, and then essentially doing nothing about them until it’s time for the next campaign. What happens between election cycles is the promotion of those very things that history and sacred writ warns against: Helping the rich and powerful become even richer and more powerful. The statistics are clear. Our nation’s wealth is becoming more concentrated in fewer hands every year, and the gap between the richest and poorest continues to grow. And amazingly, as this happens, the government’s main economic goal appears to be to exempt the wealthy from their tax burden – by running our grandchildren into debt.

Author Thomas Frank put it very bluntly:

“Their grandstanding leaders never deliver, their fury mounts and mounts, and nevertheless they turn out every two years to return their right-wing heroes for a second, a third, a twentieth try. The trick never ages; the illusion never wears off. Vote to stop abortion; receive a rollback in capital gains taxes. Vote to make our country strong again, receive de-industrialization. Vote to get government off our backs, receive conglomeration and monopoly everywhere from media to meat-packing. Vote to strike a blow against (liberal) elitism, receive a social order in which wealth is more concentrated than ever before in our lifetimes, in which workers have been stripped of power and CEO’s are rewarded in a manner beyond imagining.”

What has happened is that the great civil compact, the American notion of the common good fostered by Presidents Roosevelt and Truman that created the most successful middle class the world has ever known, has been under attack. During the eighties, the proponents of unfettered get-rich-quick capitalism coined a motto for this new phase in our economic history: Greed is good. I’m sorry, but no. Greed is not good. Greed destroys societies and families. The good people of Utah need to wake up and realize it is big business that is the author of the decadent, Me! Me! Me! consumer culture that has been foisted on our nation – not some “liberal elite”. And the way back is to start re-creating that civil compact, to start wresting control of our nation back from the powerful and returning it to the people. As this happens, the family values we cherish will return with it.

This has nothing to do with “tax and spend liberalism”. Government spending as a percentage of GDP is just as high as it ever has been. It’s as much about attitude as policy. It’s convenient when one’s political philosophy claims the only reason we have poor people is excessive government welfare. It means all we have to do to stop poverty is to quit helping poor people. It’s convenient when we believe the rich “got theirs” through their own efforts only. It leaves us free to enjoy the good things of life guilt-free, without giving a thought to the less fortunate, except for tossing a few coins to charity when we feel like it. But deep inside the hearts of most Utahns, I think there is a dissonance between these views and what is in their hearts. There certainly was for me, which is the reason I became a Democrat. Our value system teaches us “ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain”. Our common sense tells us that a culture of greed is poison to old fashioned family values. The facts tell us that the concentration of wealth and creeping loss of middle-class purchasing power is putting a tremendous financial strain on American families.

The illusion has gone on long enough. It’s time for a change.


At 4:33 PM, Blogger Derek said...

Excellent entry, Steve. We need to do more to see this sort of conflict of interest among the conservatives and Republicans. Their positions is full of such inconsistencies, and simply don't stand up to critical analysis.

I look forward to supporting you in your challenge to Rob Bishop.

At 12:02 AM, Blogger Emily For Utah Senate 28 said...

Man, I wish I could vote for you, Steve. Once again you have hit the nail on the head. Thanks for your good example and leading the way!

At 10:28 AM, Blogger RightDemocrat said...

I am a social traditionalist who is pro-life and pro-family. The Republicans are using social issues to win the votes of working and middle Americans while they advance the agenda of big business. To have family values, we need to have adequate wages and benefits to support a family.


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