Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Snake and the Stone of Spiritual Abundance

I didn't watch or listen to Obama's State of the Union speech, but I did find this status message on Facebook today from my minister friend:
Praying for President Obama as he prepares the State of the Nation address for tonight. We need to be challenged, asked to sacrifice, in good ways for the future of the republic. Debt is going to swallow us if we don't all take a slice of the pie of sacrifice.
This reminds me of an exchange from Firesign Theatre's Don't Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers! I quote from memory: a woman on a TV game show trades everything she's won so far for a little bag, but after she opens it, she protests, "But -- but -- this is a bag of shit!" The Master of Ceremonies replies, "But it's really great shit, Mrs. Presge!"

Or, as Jesus once said, according to Matthew 7:9, "Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask for bread, will he give him a stone?" And if millions of Americans are out of work and have been so for a long time, and if many more have lost their homes in foreclosures of dubious legality, what man out there will then offer them "the pie of sacrifice"? But it's really great sacrifice, Mr. and Mrs. America, and it will be good for you, all the way down!

My old friend seems to have a thing for this kind of sacrifice. Just about a year ago he quoted a column by the New York Times's Bob Herbert, and complained "few of us [are] willing to sacrifice today for a better tomorrow." I thought he was full of shit (but really great shit) then, and I think so now. And remember, this guy isn't a fundamentalist -- he's an organization man in a mainline Protestant denomination, who was appalled by Pat Robertson's nasty remarks about Haiti after the January 2010 earthquake but still thought that the US should go easy on the aid until the Haitians got their act together and learned how to do an economy right.

We know already that Obama is ready to dish out big slices of the pie of sacrifice to most Americans, in the form of later retirement and cuts in Social Security benefits; he's already begun his assault. I wondered what Bob Herbert was up to these days, and by an interesting coincidence his latest column was on Social Security, opposing any such assaults on America's elderly while carefully not mentioning Obama's name.

The deficit hawks and the right-wingers can scream all they want, but there is no Social Security crisis. There is a foreseeable problem with the program’s long-term financing, but it can be fixed with changes that do no harm to its elderly beneficiaries. One obvious step would be to raise the cap on payroll taxes so that wealthy earners shoulder a fairer share of the burden.

The alarmist rhetoric should cease. Americans have enough economic problems to worry about without being petrified that their Social Security benefits will be curtailed. A Gallup poll taken recently found that 90 percent of Americans ages 44 to 75 believed that the country was facing a retirement crisis. Nearly two-thirds were more fearful of depleting their assets than they were of dying. The fears about retirement are well placed — most Americans do not have enough to retire on. But there should be no reason to believe that Social Security is in jeopardy.

The folks who want to raise the retirement age and hack away at benefits for ordinary working Americans are inevitably those who have not the least worry about their own retirement. The haves so often get a perverse kick out of bullying the have-nots.

You know those "deficit hawks"? One of them is named Barack Obama. In fairness I must stress that I don't know what kind of filling my minister friend has in mind for the pie of sacrifice, since he was (probably deliberately) vague on details, but given his adoption of deficit-hawk rhetoric, I have to suspect that that's part of what he has in mind. It's a perfectly middle-of-the-road position, after all. I wonder what sacrifices he has in mind for himself?