Among the Intellectualoids

The Promised Land of Government Controlled Health Care

The evangelical left rallies to the president's cause.

By 8.13.09

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Evangelical Left activist Jim Wallis of Sojourners is rallying liberal wayfarers for the Promised Land of government-controlled health care, announcing his "40 Days for Health Reform" crusade during an August 10 media conference call. The media and political pressure campaign by liberal religionists represents a "massive escalation" for Obamacare, a news release promised. Evidently President Obama himself will join Wallis in his next media conference call on August 19, creating a political Mount of Transfiguration moment, with both the figurative Moses and Messiah (or Elijah?) joining to save their people from the Egypt of private health insurance.

Naturally, Wallis is upset that there is murmuring among skeptics who prefer the safety of bondage back under Pharaoh. "I see lies being told, I see fears being raised, and I see violence even being threatened at these mob sessions," intoned Wallis about angry town halls where the Land of Milk and Honey has been denounced by critics of government health care. "This moral issue cannot be demagogued in the street," he insisted, according to a report by my colleague Jeff Walton. These untrusting murmurers "want to shut down democracy," Wallis complained. This critique from the old SDS campus and street activist, himself having invited arrest in dozens of angry demonstrations across four decades, is humorous.

Wallis's Religious Left coalition is targeting about 100 members of Congress across 18 states in its "non-partisan" campaign for Obamacare, starting with national television ads this week, followed by local "prayer rallies," and "large-scale meetings" in "key states," and call-in campaigns. "Every so often there is an issue so clear and compelling, or so alarming and disturbing that it galvanizes the faith community," Wallis opined about the present moment. "The faith community is going to stand in the way of those that want to stop conversation," he promised, almost summoning up terrible visions of the Lawgiver calling down divine judgment upon the idolaters at the base of Mt. Sinai.

"We will be pushing, pulling, sometimes holding their hands, make sure they [lawmakers] do not succumb to intimidation," Wallis promised, a though speaking of the ancient Hebrews who were reluctant to cross the Red Sea, even with Egyptian chariots on their heels. Particularly determined to rally active religious believers, especially evangelicals, behind Obamacare, Wallis derided as "irresponsible" widespread "fears" that a government plan could compel coverage for abortion and euthanasia. "There are a lot of lies about healthcare reform and euthanasia," he bewailed. "A healthcare reform comprehensive plan will support the sacredness of human life, and there are those of us that will make sure that it does," Wallis said. "The key thing is that we do not want abortion to enter this debate and sabotage healthcare reform," he insisted. The Religious Left crusade for Obamacare "isn't political in a partisan way," Wallis declared. "This is a moral issue."

Messianic promises about Obamacare were not limited to Wallis' coalition. The United Methodist lobby office is hyping its "John 10:10" campaign, pointing to Christ's promise, recorded by St. John, "That I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly." According to the United Methodist Board of Church and Society initiative: "The next 10 weeks represent a rare window of opportunity to provide health care for all people in the United States."  Not many in the 2lst century typically equate government programs with "abundant" life. But much of the old Religious Left's statism has barely updated its rhetoric since the New Deal.

Chief United Methodist lobbyist Jim Winkler pronounced himself "baffled" over opposition to Obamacare, ascribing it to "talking points" from insurance companies, which "desperately do not want a public option to be provided by the government." After all, the insurance industry "skims" between 12-30 percent "off the top for profit," while government plans far more thriftily operate at only a 5 percent administrative expense, Winkler unblanchingly explained. But robots apparently wound up by insurance companies and "right wing radio" have generated ugly "ambushes at town hall meetings."

Winkler admitted distrust of government was understandable, given "Vietnam, Watergate, Iraq, decades of covert operations and government-sponsored assassinations and coups d'etats, and secrecy and lies, and oppression and imperialism have left our people confused and angry and jaded and distrustful where Uncle Sam is involved." He omitted distrust of Great Society domestic programs, which have often outspent the military, with sometimes far less to show. But the Religious Left, like much of the secular left, distrusts the U.S. Government on national security even while it messianically trusts the same government to seize and administer vast portions of the private economy. This schizophrenic view of the state almost completely inverts historic Christians teachings, which specifically assign to the state police and military powers, while reserving most other human responsibilities to private sectors.

Undoubtedly like Wallis and most on the Religious Left, Winkler would prefer immediate single-payer government health care instead of Obamacare's incrementalism. "I, too, am distrustful of the quality of health-care reform that may emerge through this process," Winkler tut-tutted. "It seems to me that placating the interests of the rich and powerful has been accorded far too much importance."

But especially for Wallis, pragmatism and deference to the Administration take priority over ideological purity. Even Moses was a realist as he led the often complaining former bondsmen across Sinai towards the Land of their Fathers.  Winkler warns that the progressive faith community, in its endless pursuit of justice, can always expect opposition from "those who have benefited from white supremacy, male superiority and American exceptionalism."

Such hyperbole undermines the quest by shrewder activists like Wallis to affect moderation. Meanwhile, an agency of the 16 million Southern Baptist Convention has released its own review (pdf) of Obamacare, or at least of the House of Representatives version, deriding its "increased bureaucracy and intrusiveness," not to mention higher taxes, likely rationing, lower quality, and potential threats to the unborn and the elderly.

Comparisons between the Southern Baptist critique and the Wallis/Winkler messianic faith might recall that when Moses led the Chosen People out of Egypt towards the Promised Land, it was slavish "bureaucracy and intrusiveness" from which they were fleeing, not seeking.

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About the Author

Mark Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington, D.C. and author of Methodism and Politics in the Twentieth CenturyYou can follow him on Twitter @markdtooley.