Well a new celebrity was born last night, I’ll give McCain credit for that. And, through the guise of Joe the Plumber, a most important point was made, a point I might add that was not the intent of Senator McCain of course, but you know what they say about unintended consequences.
Let me digress a bit. Last Sunday, I was meeting with my adult ed class at Church. We were discussing the issue of poverty. One gentleman asked in genuine puzzlement, “how can people call themselves Christians, while seeing poverty across the US and the world, and then being against paying any taxes that are designed to alleviate these crushing problems?”
Ever one to be the first hand waving, I pointed out that one of the reasons that those who do indeed consider themselves fine members of the Christian community but also are staunch Republican votes against government programs designed to help the poorer among us, is this: They have bought into several myths that permeate our cultural landscape.( No doubt Libertarians would also agree with Republicans on this. Beware, I am talking generalities. No doubt there are Democrats, few I suspect, who also resent paying taxes for government poverty programs. )
One of these myths is that “anyone can grow up to be president.” This one alone is obviously false. With very few exceptions those that run and win this office come from generations of wealth and privilege. Secondly no woman my age ever thought for one minute that that statement ever applied to her as a young girl. No Black, Hispanic, Native American, or Asian ever thought so either.
Another myth is called the “Protestant work ethic.” This actually has an interesting history according to Wikipedia, so if interested go over there and read the entire thing. As some of you undoubtedly know, Catholicism believes in grace plus works as the means of salvation. One receives the grace of salvation as a gift from God, completely unearned in any way, yet one is expected to do “good works” as a way of living out this gift. The good works are directed toward those in need for the most part.
Calvin turned this idea on its head and suggested that “good works” were a duty, to be done as evidence of one’s personal salvation, and the diligent work was loosed from the requirement of being directed so much to the poor as to any work one does. It is heralded as the means by which the successful countries of the West became prosperous. We worked hard because we thought God required it. The fact that we, individually became successful and well to do, well, that was a nice by product it seems of a happy God.
Now there is plenty of criticism of this on philosophical grounds alone, but I’ll focus on the fact that perhaps there was some validity to it at one time. People migrated to this country because it offered opportunity. There was land galore early on, and untapped natural resources of many kinds. A man, could, reasonably speaking, work hard, and become well to do. Horatio Alger stories were common at one time in America. The myth has endured, as we all know. We hear it still today. Children are still taught it. Many, if not most still believe it.
The world, however has changed. There are probably 100 people who give it everything they have, yet remained mired in poverty for every “success” story nowadays. Perhaps the numbers are 1000 to one, maybe more. Resources are more scarce, there is no more free land, there is little credit available. The work ethic no longer guarantees success. This in the face of even the “Prosperity” Gospels being preached in mega churches by super rich pastors, made rich ironically by those who come to learn how to get God on their financial side.
A similar myth is the one called, “pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps.” This one requires the same hard work, but emphases that success must be gained by personal efforts without assistance from others. No government programs for you. It isn’t real I guess unless you do it the old fashioned way, and that manly way is by yourself. No “girlie girl” affirmative action or head start program for me!
I dare say that everyone is familiar with these ideas. And some if not most believe them to be true. And much pain and heart ache accompany those who do, and yet find themselves in failure, having, as I said, given it their all. The fact of the matter is, these myths are simply not true. They worked to a limited extent for a small percentage of white men, but they did so whether men admit it or not, by exploiting the labor of others who never were given such opportunities. Blacks and others of color, women, children, all have put shoulder to the wheel to afford white males the opportunity “to make it.”
A rightness thus attaches to these myths. Those who don’t make it, are perforce, lazy or don’t really want to attain such levels of success. Since it is thus a choice and not a lucky convergence of conditions, it is very easy to turn this into a reason to reject paying a small portion of one’swealth for the sustenance of those who fail in the great American experiment to go from rags to riches.
How does this relate to our plumber who shot to fame over night? Well Joe, it seems ran into Barack Obama who was out in the neighborhoods of Ohio pressing the flesh. What little I saw was simply this. Said Joe said, “I plan on starting a business. If I grow to make over $250,000 a year, you are going to tax me.” Senator Obama, acknowledged that was true, and said, “I may not get your vote. . . .” I did not hear any more of their conversation.
Now our intrepid John was as they say “johnny on the spot.” His hooligan caretakers found Joe, and he became the centerpiece of McCain’s claim last night that Obama is gonna tax Joe the Plumber. Course, as McCain’s doofus crew is wont to do, they didn’t bother vetting Mr. Joe too well. (News today is that Joe hasn’t paid taxes period, and doesn’t have a plumbers license.) It begs the question to use Joe as the poor businessman who is going to be taxed from existence by Obama. How many plumbers do you know who make $250,000 a year?
But be that as it may, let’s take Joe at his intent. He appeared across the media today, starting with GMA. Diane Sawyer interviewed Joe, and Joe said in perfect Republican mantra, “If I get my business above $250,000, then I have to pay taxes. Because I work hard, I get penalized. What is fair about that?” Joe it seems has accepted that he works hard, others can too, and it’s unfair for him to pay for others who are less fortunate.
The Contrarian describes the situation this way: The rich guy pays more for his first class ticket on the plane. We are both getting the same ride, but his is nicer. He expects to pay more for it. Well, the guy who works hard to build his business and becomes wealthy, he is getting first class treatment by the USA, and he should be willing to pay for that benefit. America provides him the place where he can do it. Not the most perfect analogy, but I think the point comes across.
Apparently the Christian stories of helping the widow and orphan and taking care of the stranger among you, and other such points in the bible are just forgotten. Christians are required to remember the dangers of riches and their obligations to the poor:
All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.
Here this word you cows of Bashan who oppress the poor, who crush the needy, who say to their husbands, “Bring something to drink!” The Lord God has sworn by his holiness: The time is surely coming upon you, when they shall take you away with hooks, even the last of you with fishhooks.
Luke 6:20, 24:
“blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God. . . . But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.”
Micah 2: 1-4
“. . . because it is in their power. They covet fields, and seize them; houses , and take them away; they oppress householder and house, people and their inheritance. . . .Now I am devising against this family an evil. . . they shall say. . . We are utterly ruined.”
For all those who claim the Bible is God’s perfect word to us, literally spoken exactly as He meant, then, well perhaps this trumps interpretations of the Bible by Calvin and other just plain wealthy folks who have a vested interest in getting you to think that you have to do it on your own? I would hope so at least. So if we are truly being Christian, lets stop all this nonsense that you can be Christian and also claim that what is mine is mine and if you want what I have, then get out and do it like I did. It’s simply not true in most cases, and you can’t evade your God by calling the poor lazy, and lacking in the desire to live with dignity.
If you are one of the lucky ones who lives the good life, then be quiet and pay up. We both know that you have been cheating all us little folks for a lot of years. We’re bailing your wrinkled asses out now, remember? When the playing field evens out again, then we can rethink your taxes. But right now, you got to pay. You’ve had the free ride way long enough. I just betcha that Joe the Plumber wishes McCain had minded his own business.