American Sacrifice

During his keynote address last night at the Republican National Convention, NJ Governor Chris Christie laid out a particular vision for America.  In short, it was the kind of economic perspective that headed very clearly in a direction regularly favored by the Republican party.

As he gave his speech, however, he sounded forth a theme that spoke on a different level: the theme of sacrifice.  Remembering his mother’s maxim that it is better to earn someone’s respect than have their love, Christie said that it was no longer time for pandering.  Hard truths needed to be given that would require Americans to make tough decisions for the common good of our country.

From the Republicans’ point of view, these hard choices and sacrifices mean that government needs to be smaller and thus do less for the average citizen.  State, local, and personal responsibility need to rise up in the place of what Christie and others consider an unwieldy, unbalanced, and unhealthy federal behemoth.

Yet at the same time I can’t help but think that the idea of sacrifice is one that Democrats could ask of Americans as well.  Instead of inviting us to forego government services, they might in their own way assert that for the good of country, taxes must go up.  From their point of view, for Americans to have the kind of society they ought, we must all give a little more.  For all Americans to have adequate healthcare, for example, hard choices need to continue to be made.

Though I don’t have his exact words in front of me, Christie last night basically said that the age of politicians telling us only what we wanted to hear needs to end.  Now.  That bread and circuses may satisfy for a moment, but will provide no long-term fix for the problems that face us.  Regardless of what direction we are asked to sacrifice, it is my hope that Republicans and Democrats alike, together with all citizens, might indeed think about tough decisions, hard choices, and necessary sacrifices in the times ahead.  Whatever direction we decide to move, we need to pay something for it.

It is a stark call and not one that we want to hear.  But it is definitely one we need to heed.


4 comments on “American Sacrifice

  1. wcosnett says:

    I think you’ve outlined the baseline of the two parties publicly stated economic policies, just stating them in terms of sacrifice. At the simplest, fundamental level, if you have a budget deficit you either have to spend less, or make more. So the argument is the government either has to increase revenue (taxes) or cut spending (programs). One of the issues that I don’t think you highlight is that different groups sacrifice more depending on what you do, and I think that is where the conflict lies. If you cut social welfare programs, lower incomes sacrifice. If you raise the capital gains tax, those who are well off sacrifice. One issue I feel I’ve seen repeatedly is that people talk of fiscal responsibility, the details are usually more about their agenda or their political base than actually doing any good.

    • Will, I hear what you are saying. In truth, I feel, though, that if government spending is trimmed, it needs to be trimmed in ALL areas (including the military), which many are very reluctant to do. This might help balance out some of what you’ve said, but something the Republicans are hesitant to do, either because of conviction or their base.

      From the other side, the debate is constantly one between tax amounts paid (on an individual basis, the rich pay way more in actual dollars) versus tax rates (sometimes loopholes allow them to pay relatively low percentages). The tax code needs to be looked at carefully.

      The ideal solution (that will never happen unless we REALLY sacrifice) is that everything is reevaluated, changed, and as a consequence programs and taxes are kept in balance.

      Then, of course, there is the issue of the effect of tax breaks or government spending. Some would say that lower tax rates spur growth and ends up bringing in more revenue in the long run. On the other side, some feel that government spending can “prime the pump” of growth and more than compensate the initial outlay.

      One would think that economics would be more scientific, like meteorology. We still can’t predict the weather exactly, but we have a good enough idea. If people tend to behave in regular patterns, couldn’t we have a better system?

      But then, of course, I’m just rambling.

  2. Anna says:

    In theory, I really like the idea of individual, local, state level and church responsibility for caring for society, because I think that local responsiveness is often more appropriate to local need, and can adapt more quickly to changing need. But I often become pessimistic about our ability to do so. As a Christian, I believe we have to account for the role of sin in our economic lives. Ideally, we would give generously according to our means and beyond our means for the well-being of our neighbors. If I knew that tax breaks to wealthier members of the church would become increased giving to ministry, or to the organizations that help those in need, I’d be much more likely to vote for this ideology. My experience tells me a lot of us sinful people aren’t going to increase our charity as much as our taxes decrease. Government is the only entity that can COMPEL us to collectively provide care for others. And in that sense it is law – forcing us into good actions we sinful humans may not in fact undertake on our own.

    Next week I will write checks for quarterly taxes. As I do so, I will remind myself: public schools (which my children attend), my sister is alive today because of government mandates on insurance companies, roads are paved, clean drinking water, basic protections of civil rights. I guess I tend toward liberalism because I am willing to have governments oversee and provide for those areas of our common life.

    • Thanks, Anna. The idea of government compelling us to avoid or sinful tendencies (and boy, do we have them) is an interesting one…but (from the other side) one that can definitely be debated. What, after all, counts as sin? What sins should the government regulate? Again, these are just questions, for which different individuals could derive different actions.

      Reframed non-theologically, I would say that the government ought to keep us from the worst in ourselves. But then there need always be vigilance in this…because the government, ultimately, IS us.

      As with you, I don’t have too many problems paying taxes. I kind of like the quote from Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.: “Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society.”

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