“Well, I gotta tell you, son, I’m not looking to spend any money right now.”
He is a southern gentleman, the good ol’ Texas boy, the owner of a small contracting business, just trying to make it any way he can, and he is Republican even unto his bones. His slow Texas drawl and easy manner, even while disagreeing with me, unite him to a culture that has similar characteristics. Not truly concerned with things lofty, things philosophic, most of the south, and maybe most people in general, just want things to be good enough that they can live in peace.
“Not ’til we get that Obama out of office, I can’t spend no money. You never know what he’s gonna do.”
i can certainly appreciate the sentiment behind this statement, even if not it’s facts. But i am not blind: there is a permeating uncertainty verging on fear which has radiated out from Washington and sunk its roots deep in the heart of Texans. By and large, with the possible exception of Austinites, most residents of this enormous state have a similar view. Economic times are slow, money is tight, and someone is to blame. Something has to change, particularly in the oval office, or things will only get worse.
Two things concern me about this attitude, and I am certain my opinions will not be met with rousing support here, but nevertheless i think they need to be expressed. First, a “tough economy” is extraordinarily relative. Granted, the job market and housing market are not what they were ten or even five years ago, and there is clearly a recession going on, but here in the south we have remained relatively isolated from its effects in comparison to the northeast and the far west coast. And though i certainly do not mean to make light of or in any way undermine the difficulty of situations in which people have experienced genuine hardship recently, the average person who experienced loss was really only brought back to reality. Our “good” economic times were so artificial and inflated that it becomes somewhat hard for me to accept that these times are truly bad, particularly here in the south. In fact it depends pretty strongly on your definition of good and bad. Though only an economic layman, I tend to be of the opinion that if we have experienced a deflation in the real estate market, it is probably overall for the best, though certainly there have been many people who have affected adversely by such a downturn. Nevertheless the hyper-inflated values and growths were not sustainable, and absurdly exorbitant loans that essentially crippled the financial flexibility of the individual are not good for the consumer, no matter what he may think. And really, do we all need half-million dollar homes? Something tells me no, though i know i am spitting on many people’s notion of the American Dream here.
But that’s just the thing: we have all, all of us, even those of us that dwell in one bedroom apartments, been living at a tremendous level of luxury here in America. Even the “toughest” economic times for us are just not that bad, frankly. It kind of cuts me to the core when i know there are millions of people starving to death around the world this very instant and from our air conditioned, perfectly safe, two car homes filled with TV’s and computers and refrigerators chock full of food that will go to waste, surrounded by perfectly clean water everywhere we go and public bathrooms and elegant restaurants from every single place in the globe all we can manage to do is say how “tough” the times are. i am guilty of this myself, and often. Again, i must reiterate that there are some very tragic events that have occurred in recent times in America. People have lost jobs, and lost homes, and even lost lives. These aren’t the circumstances to which i refer. i am speaking more to the man, myself included, who has had none of this transpire but has still nevertheless bought into the notion of “tough economic times” though he has remained employed and housed. Mostly, i just mean that it would do us all some good to try to remember that God has orchestrated these times to be just as they are, and that we still have it pretty dang good.
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, God is also in control of who our leadership is here in the U.S. Romans 13 makes this pretty clear: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed.” (vv. 1-2) Furthermore, several things are true about the President’s relationship to the economy. First, any current economic woes we are experiencing are the result of a myriad of factors, many of which occurred under the previous administration, and most of which are completely outside of the President’s control. The President has very little to do with the current economic state of the country, and most economists would concur with this assessment. There is a “substantial time lag between the adoption of…policies and their impact on the market,” according to Jay Hakes, a former administrator of the Energy Information Administration. [Washington Post, “Voters blame president for gas prices, experts say not so fast”] Many of the woes we are currently experiencing have more to do with abuses by large financial institutions than policy makers.
With election season looming, these conversations are on everyone’s lips, and it is easy to get carried away by the promise of the Next Big Hope. It is not a new phenomenon, by my estimation. Early into their occupation of the promised land the Israelites were already getting caught up in political ideologies and systems. Every one around them had a king, so they demanded one of their own. Additionally, the common Jewish interpretation of the concept of the Messiah throughout the centuries after that was that one would come to restore the physical/geographic Kingdom to the Israelites. Christ obviously was not this type of figure.
My point is, there just isn’t that much need for political extremism. It is a running theme of mine, but i don’t feel that i am beating a dead horse here when i say that i think these kind of ideologies do more damage than good. They are divisive at best, and indicate that our hope is in the wrong leadership. So much effort and money goes into political campaigns, and it is kind of staggering to imagine what we could do for people experiencing genuine economic woes (as in absolute poverty), genuine concerns with health care (as in having none available at all) if we were to focus our efforts in the right place.
i will vote, of course, and i will vote for who i think is best. But i have very little confidence that any leader of the U.S. will make much of an impact, regardless of his ideology. My focus instead is on the ground war: how can i impact the people around me? Good economy, bad economy, doesn’t matter. People need love more than they need money, even if they don’t realize it.
Ok, off my soapbox now.