10.31.2007

Republicans for healthcare, helping the poor?

Odds are, at this point, that we'll see a Democratic President elected next time around. Does that mean we'll have better social policies and a government that actually sets out to achieve social justice? Maybe. I think to get there we'll need political philosophies on both sides of the aisle that include social justice as its goal.

Thus far, the current crop of Republicans don't offer much hope. Appealing to the most conservative and libertarian base to oppose even expanding health care for poor children for fear that it might cut in to insurance company profits through undue competition.

Yet the times, they are a changing. The New York Times Magazine this week reports on a growing generational shift in the Evangelical movement. Younger evangelicals are calling for actions to help the poor, protect the environment and provide health care -- not just banning abortion and outlawing homosexuality and evolution in schools. In reading the piece, I can't help but feel they have the more compelling -- and the more Christian argument. After all, Christ didn't talk much about evolution in schools, but he waxed on and on about the poor, the sick, and the afflicted. Did Christ want tax cuts? The Gospel says he told his followers to pay their taxes.

So can Republicans find a philosophy that meshes with this new social argument for feeding the poor and treating the afflicted that also call back their Evangelical flock? The Washington Post's Michael Gerson has a good analysis and and answer -- if anyone is listening.

There are, in fact, two belief systems contending for the soul of the
Republican Party, but one is not liberalism. The two intellectually
vital movements within the Republican Party today are libertarianism
and Roman Catholic social thought -- a teaching that has influenced
many non-Catholics, including me. While it affirms the principle of limited government -- asserting the
existence of a world of families, congregations and community
institutions where government should rarely tread -- it also asserts
that the justice of society is measured by its treatment of the
helpless and poor. And this creates a positive obligation to order
society in a way that protects and benefits the powerless and suffering.

No presidential aspirant can win without a message of solidarity, a
vision of justice and hope that includes the whole country. A
Republican Party that does not offer a robust agenda on health care,
education reform, climate change and economic empowerment will fade
into irrelevance.

But the moral stakes are even higher. What does a narrow,
anti-government conservatism have to offer to urban neighborhoods where
violence is common and intact families are rare? Very little. What hope
does it provide to children in foreign lands dying of diseases that can
be treated or prevented for the cost of American small change? No hope.
What achievement would it contribute to the racial healing and unity of
our country? No achievement at all.


As the Republican candidates attempt to prove themselves the
exemplars of conservatism, they should consider what that philosophy
can mean: the application of conservative and free-market ideas to the
task of helping everyone.



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