On Tuesday President Obama visited Georgetown University to give an expansive speech — “A new foundation for the economy” — promoting his domestic policies. The speech deserves the attention of concerned citizens.
The speech begins with a potted history of the financial crisis originating in the housing market. Obama omits any mention of the Community Reinvestment Act, the Federal Reserve or Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac in creating the housing bubble. Rather, Obama points his finger at Wall Street. Obama finds Wall Street culpable for the growth of subprime loans. According to Obama, “the reason these loans were so readily available was that Wall Street saw big profits to be made.”
The housing bubble led to the recession in which we are mired. Obama gives a standard Keynesian account of the need for government spending to pull the economy out of the recession and then defends the “broader rationale” of the TARP program. As is his wont, he holds himself out as choosing the middle between those (unidentified) who advocate doing nothing and those who urge government takeover of the financial system. He expresses absolute agreement that our long-term deficit is a major problem that we have to fix.
The financial crisis has extended beyond the banking system, and so has the government’s response. He expresses a fervent hope, for example, that GM will develop a business plan that will put it on a path to profitability without endless support from the American taxpayer. And the financial crisis has extended beyond the United States, so he has coordinated a global response to the recession.
The multifarious programs promulgated by his administration share a Keynesian rationale: “They have been designed to increase aggregate demand, get credit flowing again to families and businesses, and help them ride out the storm.” But all this is not enough. Obama means to ensure that “to make sure such a crisis never happens again.”
Before he explains the five parts of his domestic program that are supposedly justified by this preventive rationale, Obama draws on the Christian Bible. At the heart of his speech Obama borrows from Jesus to support his domestic program:
There is a parable at the end of the Sermon on the Mount that tells the story of two men. The first built his house on a pile of sand, and it was destroyed as soon as the storm hit. But the second is known as the wise man, for when “…the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house…it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.”
We cannot rebuild this economy on the same pile of sand. We must build our house upon a rock. We must lay a new foundation for growth and prosperity – a foundation that will move us from an era of borrow and spend to one where we save and invest; where we consume less at home and send more exports abroad.
Obama’s foundation has five pillars:
It’s a foundation built upon five pillars that will grow our economy and make this new century another American century: new rules for Wall Street that will reward drive and innovation; new investments in education that will make our workforce more skilled and competitive; new investments in renewable energy and technology that will create new jobs and industries; new investments in health care that will cut costs for families and businesses; and new savings in our federal budget that will bring down the debt for future generations. That is the new foundation we must build. That must be our future – and my Administration’s policies are designed to achieve that future.
Georgetown is of course run by the Jesuit order. Obama’s citation of the Sermon on the Mount must have been calculated in part to appeal to his audience at Georgetown. CNSNews provides an interesting footnote on Obama’s speech. It reports that, at the request of the White Hosue, Georgetown covered over the monogram “IHS” (referring to Jesus) that is inscribed on a pediment on the stage where Obama spoke. According to CNSNews, the White House asked Georgetown to cover up all signs and symbols behind the Gaston Hall stage. Query: Why would the White House ask? Why would a Catholic school accede?
Invoking the Sermon on the Mount, Obama offers his big government policies as the new foundation. Why not simply quote Jesus’ admonition to render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar rather than offer himself up as the new redeemer? The presumption and, well, audacity of Obama’s invocation of the metaphor on behalf of his policies are striking, to say the least.
The suggestion that Obama’s big government schemes offer secular redemption combines hyperbole and sacrelige in equal measures. Erick Erickson explicates the sacrelige from the point of view of a believing Christian in “Obama’s house built on rocks will fail.”
Drawing on the biblical Book of Proverbs, T.E. Lawrence offered Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Obama offers five pillars of unwisdom. Is more government regulation necessary for Wall Street “to reward drive and innovation”? Is more government spending on education likely to “make our workforce more skilled and competitive”? Is more government spending on energy schemes that cannot support themselves a productive use of resources? Is a new government health care program really going to “cut costs for families and businesses”? Is there anyone in his right mind who believes that under Obama “new savings in our federal budget…will bring down the debt for future generataion”?
Rather than the Sermon on the Mount, Obama would more appropriately have invoked the famous misquote of Tertullian’s profession of faith in support of his five pillars. The famous misquote holds “Credo Quia Absurdum” or “I believe because it is absurd.”