Don’t blame Uncle Sam

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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Ed Morrissey is out with a must-read column over at The Week today, responding (in part) to my post — which was written in response to Ross Douthat’s Sunday New York Times column.

If this all sounds very meta, it is. But the fact that so much ink has been spilled over this debate implies it is significant, or at least, interesting.

If you haven’t read it yet, Douthat’s original thesis was, as Morrissey notes, that: “Catholic influence has waned due to scandals, and that overall, Christian thought on what makes a properly ordered society has been largely abandoned by both parties.”

Morrissey also acknowledges and worries about this trend, but he doesn’t blame the rise of Catholic scandals (as Douthat does) or an increasingly secular culture (as I do), but instead, the politicians who continue spending money we don’t have — and then lie about it.

“The real issue isn’t Rand vs Aquinas,” Morrissey avers, “but Diogenes and his search for honesty in public discourse.”

An aside: Here’s the problem with writing a column. You can never really complain that 750 words were taken out of context, but the truth is that no one column can ever tackle all the complexities required of a serious discussion. And I lament that Morrissey has beaten me to the punch in making his point about our politicians — which I believe is not only astute, but entirely consistent with my larger argument about culture.

How does Morrissey’s argument jibe with my cultural criticism?

Spending our children and grandchildren’s inheritance is a moral issue. Knowingly failing to tackle our nation’s most dire challenges — the debt, entitlement and tax reform, etc. — is a moral crisis. Allowing the social safety net to become unsustainable is a moral failing.

Politics is downstream from culture, and at some level, our culture is to blame.

In a perfect world, we would have a responsible society that is simultaneously compassionate in taking care of the truly needy. But when one side of the equation (the big spenders) abuse the system, it creates an equal and opposite reaction. This backlash is entirely predictable and understandable — this is a point Morrissey implicitly (and I think, correctly) makes.

The end result has been that nobody looks good — not the people who spend money like drunken sailors — and certainly not the people who go to the opposite extreme.

But blaming the politicians is facile. You can’t blame people you only tell you what you really want to hear (that you can have your cake — and eat it, too.)

Political courage is admirable, but we generally don’t reward the truth-tellers. We generally don’t reward those who tell us “the emperor has no clothes on.”

Our politicians literally represent us. We created them.

Matt K. Lewis