The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

Might vs. Right

I don’t think I’ve ever blogged about campaign finance reform, and I’m not really blogging about it now. But in my wanderings around the blogosphere, I came across this post at A Tiny Revolution that set the gears in my brain to grinding when I read about Jonathan’s frustration with the political influence of a boneheaded billionaire like Haim Saban.

Haim Saban is a billionaire. (He made his money from the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.) Now he has enormous political influence. As he mentions in this interview, he’s good buddies with the Clintons. And he’s the guy who paid for the Saban Center for Mideast Policy at the Brookings Institution. Kenneth “Has Made a Few Minor Errors” Pollack is its Research Director.

One thing. A recent study said that intelligence is not a prerequisite for wealth. In other words, if a person is wealthy it does not automatically follow that they are necessarily intelligent or knowledgeable about politics or anything else.

Some very wealthy people are intelligent, but some very intelligent people are not wealthy. Some people are born to wealth they didn’t earn through their own work or ideas. Other lucky people, like Saban, may have one good idea that makes them wealthy but not much else. But great wealth does not necessarily imply great ideas.

Therein lies the problem.

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One thing I’ve never understood is why more politicians don’t support campaign finance reform. You’d think they’d care most about the boot-licking their jobs currently entail.

We are, in this country wedded to the idea that might — in this case, economic “might” — makes right. Or as George Lakoff puts it:

Worldly success is an indicator of sufficient moral strength; lack of success suggests lack of sufficient discipline. Dependency is immoral. The undisciplined will be weak and poor, and deservedly so.

… The role of government is to:

* Promote unimpeded competitive economic activity so that both the disciplined moral people and the undisciplined immoral ones are able to receive what they each deserve, based on their own choices;

… The Economy and Business: Promoting unimpeded economic activity means favoring those who control wealth and power, who are seen as the “best people,” over those who are unsuccessful, who are seen as morally weak. Corporations are more heavily favored than non-corporate businesses, because big businesses (like wealthy people) have gotten big precisely through working hard and being disciplined.

And my best shot at paraphrasing it.

The better off are so because they are better people. Thus if the poor were better people they would be better off. Therefore, there are very few good people who are poor, and probably even fewer well-off people who are bad.

The “weak” then (in terms of wealth, in this case, but that could easily be expanded to those who are “weak” in terms of numbers, military strength, etc.) don’t inherit shit. Or, as I noted before, God is on the side of the strong.

Over the years, others have had uneasy doubts about the Narnian brand of Christianity. Christ should surely be no lion (let alone with the orotund voice of Liam Neeson). He was the lamb, representing the meek of the earth, weak, poor and refusing to fight. Philip Pullman – he of the marvellously secular trilogy His Dark Materials – has called Narnia “one of the most ugly, poisonous things I have ever read”.

Why? Because here in Narnia is the perfect Republican, muscular Christianity for America – that warped, distorted neo-fascist strain that thinks might is proof of right. I once heard the famous preacher Norman Vincent Peale in New York expound a sermon that reassured his wealthy congregation that they were made rich by God because they deserved it. The godly will reap earthly reward because God is on the side of the strong. This appears to be CS Lewis’s view, too. In the battle at the end of the film, visually a great epic treat, the child crusaders are crowned kings and queens for no particular reason. Intellectually, the poor do not inherit Lewis’s earth.

And, as I noted in another previous post, Peale’s brand of “the gospel of wealth” is still appealing.

Mr. Dollar, whose Rolls-Royces, private jets, million-dollar Atlanta home and $2.5 million Manhattan apartment, furnish proof to his followers of the validity of his teachings, is a leading apostle of what is known as the “prosperity gospel.”

It is a theology that is excoriated in many Christian circles but is becoming increasingly visible in this country, according to religious scholars. Now, it is beginning to establish a foothold in New York City, where capitalism has long been religion.

…It is the connecting of religious faithfulness, especially in giving, to material riches that causes many Christians, including other evangelicals, to accuse prosperity teachers of verging on heresy.

“There’s no question that almost every Christian leader – reformed, Pentecostal, however you want to call it – sees it as a blight on the face of Christianity,” said Timothy C. Morgan, deputy managing editor at Christianity Today, an evangelical magazine. “Yet it’s so seductive.”

The theology taps into the country’s self-help culture, said William C. Martin, a professor emeritus of religion and public policy at Rice University in Houston. “One of the goals of America is for you to become prosperous,” he said. “For the church to put a blessing on that and say, ‘God wants you to be rich,’ is quite appealing.”

It’s appealing, for sure, to be told that “God has made you rich” because of your righteousness. It’s even more appealing to be told that “God wants you to be rich” and that all you have to do is believe and wait for the blessings to hit your bankbook.

The Andersons started attending World Changers last summer. Mrs. Anderson, 29, discovered Mr. Dollar on late-night television. When the couple learned he had started a church in New York, they decided to visit. On their first Saturday, Mr. Dollar preached about loving others.

“I thought, ‘Are you kidding me?’ ” Mr. Anderson said. “You’re preaching on love to a bunch of New Yorkers?”

Mr. Anderson said he started to apply Mr. Dollar’s teachings on love at his job, trying to be more helpful to people. The couple also started to apply his teachings on tithing.

But just as they started to give, their children became sick, and the family began to fall badly behind on the bills. “Things went from bad to worse,” Mr. Anderson said.

A few weeks ago, they had no food and no money. A concerned neighbor, however, surprised them with groceries. Another friend offered winter coats for their children, ages 5 and 7.

The Andersons attributed the unexpected gifts to God’s provision and said they looked to the testimonies of others in the church for inspiration.

Maybe. Or maybe their neighbors just saw cold, hungry, sick children suffering and decided to do something about it, and probably wandered back to the their apartments after dropping off groceries and winter coats, muttering to themselves about what the parents could possibly be thinking giving their money to some church when their own kids were suffering.

But that’s the power of belief, and the power of distraction. As long as the Anderson’s believe that God bestows wealth on the faithful, and that wealth is a sign of moral virtue, their failure to achieve the same wealth as others is as much a sign of their “backsliding” or character failings as the wealth of others is a sign of their moral and character strength. Not to mention God’s favor. So, they have only themselves to blame. Or possibly Satan. But never any other factors. Know what I mean?

(It reminds me vaguely of the “ex-gay” ministries, which claim “God wants you to be heterosexual” or “God can make you heterosexual,” but if you don’t succeed in becoming heterosexual it’s because you didn’t try hard enough, didn’t believe hard enough, or are so deeply flawed that God has “given you up” to “unnatural desires.” Maybe it’s because in both scenarios, only one party is required to change, and it isn’t the one that holds the most power.)

What does this have to do with campaign finance reform? Well, if wealth is a sign of strength, virtue, and moral discipline, then it stands to reason that those who have the greatest wealth deserve to have the greatest influence. Their wealth just proves that they are worthy of wielding more influence than those of who aren’t as well off. After all, if we were better people we’d be better off. Perhaps we’re worth less because we’re worthless.

We buy into the culture of domination inherent in all of the above, especially if we believe that doing so is the path to gaining power within that paradigm. If we believe, then we’d be loath to abandon it, even it it’s as troublesome as it is tantalizing, because it’s what we know. The ambiguity inherent in abandoning it to build a new system, the outcome of which we can only guess, is too great a risk. Even for some Democrats.

That’s my take, anyway.

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