People mocked Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney for their religious backgrounds often during the presidential campaigns, but at least they never claimed to be on a mission to save the souls of Americans through government action. Oh, people accused them of wanting to do so -- to impose Southern Baptist or Mormon theology on an America that wants relentless secularism, but in point of fact both men gave stirring speeches on how their faith informs them personally but not their governance.
One campaign really has explicitly claimed to be on such a mission, however. Michelle Obama gave a speech at UCLA earlier this month in which she told supporters that her husband was the only man who could fix American souls -- if we elect him President first. Here's the transcript:
In 2008, we are still a nation that is too divided. We live in isolation, and because of that isolation, we fear one another. We don't know our neighbors, we don't talk, we believe our pain is our own. We don't realize that the struggles and challenges of all of us are the same. We are too isolated. And we are still a nation that is still too cynical. We look at it as "them" and "they" as opposed to "us". We don't engage because we are still too cynical. ...
Americans are not in debt because they live frivolously but because someone got sick. Even with insurance, the deductibles and the premiums are so high that people are still putting medications and treatments on credit cards. And they can't get out from under. I could go on and on, but this is how we're living, people, in 2008.
And things have gotten progressively worse throughout my lifetime, through Democratic and Republican administrations, it hasn't gotten better for regular folks. ....
We have lost the understanding that in a democracy, we have a mutual obligation to one another -- that we cannot measure the greatness of our society by the strongest and richest of us, but we have to measure our greatness by the least of these. That we have to compromise and sacrifice for one another in order to get things done. That is why I am here, because Barack Obama is the only person in this who understands that. That before we can work on the problems, we have to fix our souls. Our souls are broken in this nation.
It's hard to know where to start in with this speech. First, what evidence does Mrs. Obama have that the largest part of credit card debt goes to health care? Second, if she has seen the standard of living get progressively worse during her lifetime, she needs new glasses. The living standard of even those classified as poor now have per-person expenditures of the American middle-class of the early 1970s, according to the Census Bureau. Eighty percent of the poor live in air-conditioned housing, 43% of them own their own homes, and the average poor American has as much living space than the average individual living in Paris, London, Vienna, and Athens. Only 3% don't own a color TV.
But it's the notion that only Barack Obama can save our souls that is the most offensive part of the speech, by far. Government doesn't exist to save souls; it exists to ensure domestic tranquility and provide for the common defense. If I feel my soul needs saving, the very last place I'd look (in the US) for a savior would be Washington DC or Capitol Hill. I'll trust God and Jesus Christ with my soul, and I'm not going to mistake Barack Obama for either one.
This, though, is the religion of statism distilled to its essence. Only a government can rescue people from the consequences of their own decisions. Only government programs can provide for your every need, and only government can use your money wisely enough to ensure that your needs get covered. Individuals cannot possibly manage to help their neighbors through their churches or community organizations, let alone encourage people to do for themselves.
And all you need to enter the statist Utopia is to sell your soul. So that it can be fixed.
No, thank you.
UPDATE: Ron at Liberal Values implies that I'm a hypocrite. Ron's a good guy, but he's wrong. People rely on their values to formulate policy, and religious values are just as legitimate as others for that purpose. People who claim to know the status of my soul and promise that they can fix it through government intervention -- on either side of the aisle -- explicitly have crossed a line, not to mention exhibited arrogance in diagnosing the status of my soul.
When Republicans talk about broken souls in the context of civil society, the nutroots start screaming about the obliteration of the church-state line.
When the Obama campaign uses the same rhetoric to get him elected to the White House, everyone swoons.
I'd rather both just stick to policy, and let me worry about the status of my soul.