A New Era?

Toby Young:

What a contrast last night’s Inaugural Address was compared to the one President Obama gave four years ago. Gone was any attempt to reach out to his Republican opponents. In its place was an aggressive assertion of modern liberalism, with the emphasis on gay rights, gun control, gender equality, combating climate change and – if his remarks about Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and income inequality are anything to go by – redistributive taxation. This is a fully-fledged socialist agenda that will leave the the 47.2 per cent of Americans who didn’t vote for Obama feeling ostracised and angry. If this is going to be the tone of Obama’s second term, the next four years are likely to see America more divided than at any time since the 1960s….

The vision outlined by Obama yesterday was, in its own way, as ambitious as anything set out by Lincoln, Roosevelt or Johnson. But there’s no corresponding historical crisis to provide Obama with the political opportunity to realise that vision. In the absence of that, Obama has little hope of getting a programme of liberal legislation through Congress. I’m even sceptical about the passage of a gun control bill. Instead, Obama will just end up dividing America – or, rather, make the existing divisions even more bitter and rancorous. He is leading his forces into a civil conflict he cannot possibly win and unless he reverses course the next four years will be among the ugliest in America’s history.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • http://bookwi.se Adam Shields

    I keep hearing this word socialist thrown around and I think people don’t understand what it means.

  • PJ Anderson

    Apparently if we call something a Democrat is doing “socialism” that means we don’t have to engage intellectually with it.

    I’m not a fan of the agenda the President outlined in his address. However, it is exactly what he has always said he’ll do and most of it won’t get done…well not until 2014 when the RNC loses the House. What is going on in Washington DC right now is downright idiotic and contrary to the ideals of our founders. We need people to be willing to meet halfway. We need leaders.

    President Obama definitely has a plan to change the direction of the country. It will be fun to watch how he attempts to get it done. This whole process is just an extended comedy of errors at this point.

  • http://byzantium.wordpress.com Kullervo

    “I keep hearing this word socialist thrown around and I think people don’t understand what it means.”

    Amen.

    Also, I will remind everyone that it was the Republicans who decided to stop playing ball. In order to function at all, our political system requires either (i) compromise or (ii) broad social consensus. When a party doesn’t have (ii) and refuses to (i), the mechanism grinds to a halt.

  • Sue

    “No corresponding historical crisis”? Oh, I see, Toby Young must be one of those in the 1%.

  • Randy Walberg

    I find it interesting that justice and equality are labelled a ‘liberal’ agenda with the idea that these are a bad thing.

  • Peter Stone

    If you want to know what socialism means just come to Europe. In the UK the welfare state is so bloated that in some cases it is better to be unemployed than to work as you will be better off. I work with homeless people in Belfast on some of them get more in benefits a week than I earn. Just look what happened to Greece and Spain and you will see what the results of socialism look like. In many countries accross Europe many people are turning away from socialist parties towards more right leaning parties. From what I can see most Americans don’t know what socialism is because you haven’t experienced it yet (even under Obama) and you should thank your lucky stars that you haven’t. But it will come and in probably about 20 to 30 years the USA will need to be bailed out big style much like the PIGS countries of Europe. If you don’t know what that is just google it.

  • phil_style

    Was listening to some friends discussing how a film was bad because it was “socialist” the other day. The film was mainly about protecting our natural environment, given the services it offers to humans. A very conservative economic concept indeed.

    I suspect these people really had no idea what “socialism” means, and simply use the word as a bogey man to scare off anyone or anything their either don;t like, or don’t understand.

    I’m not sure the author in this piece is doing the same, but I would add that forming an argument around the word “socialist” without taking time to identify any specific negative points therein is flimsy.

  • kent

    It is more evident than ever that govermnment will not be the solution to the ills of this nation. It is going to be the people who often, oblivious to most people, do the work that is necessary. They will feed the hungry, care for the sick, work with the helpless. I hold no hope for either party. I have hope in the church.

  • Jag

    Well, at least your health care isn’t tied to how much profit the insurance company and doctor make from you. Our “free market” approach means we pay more for less health care than any nation in the world, 20+% of the children in this state go to bed hungry at night, and the minimum wage is lower than the poverty line. Life is cheap here in the good old USA, and getting cheaper with every unregistered AK and 30 round clip sold for cash.

    The people have spoken, and firmly too: Without redistricting and gerrymandering, Congress would also be controlled by the Dems.

  • Randy Gabrielse

    With all due respect, I am worried that Toby has not heard much of the news in the last four years. During that first term, President Obama pled, and pled, perhaps even begged for the Republicans to work with him, but they refused. Instead they spent time questioning his citizenship and repealing his signature health care reform (23 times). The GOP has split the country. Or, to take a quote by the billionaire Warren Buffet, “Yes, we have had class warfare and my side is winning!”

    As for “socialism” President Obama did not nationalize the Oil Corporations or even the Banks. The auto manufacturers made so much money under the bail out that they have been able to buy back the stock the government held in them.

    Peace,
    Randy Gabrielse

  • Larry Barber

    Yeah, there goes Obama again, acting like he thinks he won an election or something.

    “Divisiveness”is just a variation on the “class warfare” themes that the right wing likes to throw out whenever anybody has the nerve to suggest that the super-rich pay even a tiny bit more of their bloated salaries in taxes. We’re already divided, but now the side crying “divisive” is the one pushing division, it’s much easier to do if only side is doing it.

    Of course, “socialism” functions for the right much as “fascism” does for the left, merely a way to express displeasure or fear without actually having to thing about it.

  • nathan

    Generally, if someone uses the word “socialist” to describe this President or complains about China owning our debt (as if Bush went hat in hand for some bling to finance a couple wars, nevermind that China is the 3rd largest holder of US debt), I take that rhetoric to be their invitation to me to put down the article, or walk away from the conversation. It’s clear that, at best, they have a gross misunderstanding of our situation or, at worst, are dishonest.

    There’s a ton to not like about this President, but it seems that the Right can’t really get a clue as to what it is…

  • allthecommonthings

    I think Randy (#10) basically made my point but I’ll pile on. This smacks of “blaming the victim.” With reports surfacing that the GOP had agreed (on the night of the inauguration in 2008) to oppose the president on literally EVERYTHING (even if it was something they agreed with) then it’s not clear what he’s supposed to do. I don’t blame him. Sure I’d love for him to double down on grace and reach out again. But in the political climate we have it’s asking a lot of a political pragmatist.

    To the notion that “there’s no corresponding historical crisis to provide Obama with the political opportunity to realise that vision” I would strongly disagree. I could not help feel like we were re-litigating the dynamics of the Civil War in the last election cycle (just swap “healthcare” for “slavery”). The recent aggression coming in response to the bland and largely impotent gun policy set forward last week–note the invocation by Rand Paul, etc. of “king” language in reference to the actions of the President–coupled with the economic brinksmanship of the past 18 mos by the right, all seems very much like the makings of an impending “historical crisis” to me. One strictly of the right’s making (no, I’m not going to equivocate here, there is no comparing the actions of the President in the past 4 years with the actions of the intransigent right). I get they are hemmed in by their constituents and they can do little else. But the only response to that is what the president set out on Monday a marginally left of center (this is me rolling my eyes at “socialism”) speech with hopeful but by no means guaranteed policy objectives. Young is right to doubt they will pass but apparently blaming him for not coddling more (from the president’s perspective) political nonsense is extraordinarily unfair.

  • Bill Crawford

    Socialism is usually defined as the government *owning* the means of production. Insofar as that is accurate, then the President nor his policies are very socialistic.

    What the President seems to want is the government *controlling* through regulations more and more of the economy and society.

    I think that is called “fascisim.”

  • Jeff

    Sorry, it’s not Republicans who stopped playing ball. There really wasn’t much compromise on the health care agenda and many other issues from President Obama; but the reality is, neither group was willing to compromise past a certain line. Both groups were at fault.

    This is a common ad hominen logical fallacy. Imagine two sides 100 feet apart trying to come to some understanding. One side says, “we’re willing to move X feet.” Another side says, “We’re willing to move Y feet.” But, neither one of those gets to a spot (and it need not be in the middle) where they are together. They are still, say, 50 feet apart. Then the other said says, “We compromised and you stopped playing ball” – it’s utterly fallacious. Whether its R’s blaming D’s or vice versa – neither side is willing to budge past a certain line of demarcation and that’s the problem with compromise. The reality is there are many R’s who are more libertarian oriented (not all of them, mind you) who feel the current system of gov’t is already a huge compromise with their perspectives.

    Further, compromise is not a requirement for Gov’t – it never has been in this political system. In fact, the American system is set up such that the founders fully recognized compromise might often not happen. It’s checks and balances.

    As far as the “Socialism” label is concerned this is, indeed, often thrown out to end an argument or label. Democrats don’t like it because it’s generally a negative label. But, the same Democrats do the exact same thing by calling someone a “right-wing extremist” – equally pejorative. Those who lament the President being labeled a “socialist” should first seek to remove the beam of “right-wing extremist” vocabulary and insinuation from the President’s eye.

    That said, Mr. Obama is moving in the direction of socialism. Socialism involves not only government control of production; it also involves forced redistribution of wealth to bring about a kind of forced equality of income. The latter is what is in mind with those who use the term “socialist” with respect to the President’s agenda. Further, the more deeply the government is involved in such redistribution policies the more they dictate what happens in the market and the decisions of independent businesses. The more freedoms of operation are restricted and the more control a government has.

    The deeper debate is: Is it better to have a “command economy” (the government has a heavy hand in various areas of the economy) versus a “demand economy” in which everything is tied to demand in the marketplaces?

    Of course, both R’s and D’s want to curb freedoms. Typical R’s want to curb on moral/social issues; D’s on economic issues.

    While I believe strongly in helping the poor and lament that Evangelicals have attached themselves to one wing of politics (R’s); I think it’s just as bad that many have just shifted over to the other (I don’t think Jim Wallis “gets it right” nor even “gets it” – really). As if the government is what Jesus or Paul had in mind when they talked about helping the poor. They had God’s people in mind, not changes in the system of government (Paul never instigated marches on Rome whether of the pro-life kind or gay rights kind).

    I’m not opposed to good government that helps personal freedom (such as the Civil Rights Act; and think Christians should want – out of love – for those who are homosexuals to have equal rights – even if they disagree with the moral practice. I disagree with adultery – it doesn’t mean I want the government to outlaw it!). But I think we should be far more cautious in jumping into a government solution every chance; and in assuming that NT Christianity is all about getting the government to act. It’s about radical sacrifice of the community to show the glory of Christ.

  • Marshall

    “… gone was any attempt …”

    Well, last year he tried to give away the store and those guys wouldn’t even bite the hand feeding them. Might as well try to work around them. I think the question we should be asking ourselves is, Is this country a democracy under the hand of a trusted God or not? and, Who do those guys think they are?

  • allthecommonthings

    “it’s not Republicans who stopped playing ball”

    Draper’s reporting on the meeting the GOP leaders had on the night of the inauguration in 2008 falsifies this. They agreed to stop playing before the end of Day 1. (I’m not able to put a link in without it refusing to upload. Sigh. Well, you all know how to use the internet . . .)

    Anyway: False. Equivalency.

    Compromise is necessary in a republic such as ours and sure to never please either side. HOWEVER, doing things like refusing to meet your constitutional obligations (i.e., debt-ceiling brinksmanship) all while piously reading the Constitution every two years is not “legitimate philosophical differences” it is political hostage taking of a pernicious and insidious sort. It cannot apparently be reasoned or worked with. Because it doesn’t want to be.

    Fine. But my point is Young’s wrong to sigh and lament O’s unwillingness to play THAT sort of ball anymore.

    I would also agree with the assertion of “fascistic” tendencies in Obama’s presidency but not in terms of “forcing you” to buy health insurance (which is a really weird complaint) rather we can see it more clearly in his foreign policy behavior. But in that he’s simply carrying on the policies (with a tad more sophistication) of his predecessor and it doesn’t seem necessary to single it out for any special or unique censure (except to say that I expected better . . .).

  • http://bookwi.se Adam Shields

    @Jeff, you define socialism as the government ownership of property and then you redefine it to mean government redistribution of income. Which is a pretty big redefinition.

    It is clear that the government does not own a significant portion of property or production in the US.

    It is true that Obama is in favor of some re-distribution of income. But taxes are not by definition redistribution. The military is not about redistribution of income, and about 1/3 of the US budget pays for military and related costs. The interest on the debt is not redistribution of income and that is about 8% of the cost of govt. The courts, medical research, Congress, Education, etc are all not redistribution of income.

    When you look at atual redistribution of income is a pretty small percentage of government. (I exclude social security because even if it is unsustainable it is not intended primarily as a redistribution program but as an old age retirement program, medicare and medicaid are not redistribution programs they are health care programs one based on age, the other on income.)

    I fully agree that not all blame should rest on Republicans for things not moving in Washington. But the way to solve false characterizations of other is to not engage in them yourself and offer the real meanings of words in your own characterizations.

  • Joe Canner

    Jeff #15: There are certainly examples where neither side has budged far enough to meet somewhere between the extremes. But there are also examples where the GOP has not budged at all:

    1) During the fiscal cliff negotiations, Obama raised the definition of rich from $250K to $400K. Boehner eventually countered with $1M but then couldn’t muster the votes for it. The House then had to settle for $400K in order to get the deal done in time. One wonders if Obama should have stayed at $250K, given the all-or-nothing approach by the GOP.

    2) During the health care negotiations, Obama pushed for Medicare-style alternative for those of all ages who didn’t have adequate insurance. The GOP protested, Obama backed off, and then the GOP voted against it (again and again…). Again, one wonders whether Obama should have stood firm, given that the GOP voted against him anyway.

    Compromise means two sides give up ground and *agree* on the finished product. It does not mean one side gives in while the other side continues to disagree.

  • RobS

    I’m with Kent (#8). I hold no hope for either party.

    To begin a solution, they’ll both likely have to stop “making points” that potentially alienate and cause friction. If they both sat down and took realistic views, we would probably make more progress. For starters, they should both agree to stop doing split screen TV interviews where talking loud and whining about the other guy drives the discussion. Less fight, more solutions.

    I still like the idea of term limits in some way, as well as doing something to disconnect how the government spends money that influences voters. That’s hard, but something to disconnect the two more. Finally, no smart phones for welfare (housing, food stamps, social security disability, etc) recipients. I know that’s not equality, but such is life.

  • T

    I think Young’s point is a little silly. As others have pointed out above, the President does not have, nor did he speak about a “fully fledged socialist agenda.” Obamacare isn’t socialist. Immigration reform isn’t socialist. Environmental regulations aren’t socialist. Restrictions on guns aren’t socialist. Even raising the top marginal income tax rates to 39% isn’t socialist. Perhaps the largest socialist enterprise we actually do have right now is K-12 education (in which the bulk of schools are government owned and operated), but I don’t see either party pushing to divest the states from that enterprise.

    The fact is that the President just won a second term, fairly decisively, while campaigning on many of these issues, and his party gained seats in Congress to boot. What do we expect in such a situation, from any president, regardless of party? Furthermore (and I don’t agree with the President on several issues), the majority of Americans are with the President on many of the issues he named (immigration, gun regulation, safety-nets, etc.) The fact is that the Repubs (and I still am one, though perhaps in name only at this point) need to deal with that larger problem, namely, that they are increasingly on the opposite side of the majority of the voting public when big issues arise. I have seen a couple glimmers of wisdom and temperance from the Repubs since this last election and I hope they can build on that.

  • Ruth Anne shorter

    Where in the world do you get your information? You can be idealistic, live in a fantasy world, throw around definitions, but please pray for wisdom. I have said this before, but if you do not work with the poor, you have not a clue how much help they get. It is the lower middle class who receive no help. I taught at a title 1 school, students received free health and dental services. The clinic was located right near the apartments ( old ones torn down and brand new ones built), free breakfast and lunch. It is choices made by individuals. Do you know any of these individuals who do not have huge television and smart phones? They had ones I did not choose to purchase as I had children to take care of and save for college. Obama is socialist and everything he does confirms this. I really want him to read The Little Red Hen and the rest of you (not all, of course), read The Emperor’s New Clothes. This is way too simplistic, but I could not resist with my elementary education background. I am trying hard to not laugh at some very foolish beliefs here and comments. But , it is not funny but sad. Ten years from now I do not want to hear you cry for your children. Do you not think it is so sad that a pres has to have a cross covered or he would not speak there? This happened at a local prestigious college where I live. You all know the many incidents like this. They pile up on a plate like well you fill the blank. How many of you are personally aware about Venezuela ?

  • Richard

    From an Australian viewpoint, it seems to me that American politics has become deeply ideological when in the past it seemed to be far more pragmatic. No doubt Obama has captured the imagination of an increasing proportion of the populace, and it’s laudable that he is willing to do something about gun laws and improve access to health care, but what I find so alarming is his hypocrisy with respect to the sanctity of life. How is it possible for a President to be so pro-abortion and force that ideology on other countries, bomb innocent children to pieces with remote controlled drones, and yet (and I believe genuinely) care about the safety and security of children at American schools.

    I cannot help but think he is held hostage (or deceived) by socially liberal ideologues in his own party. Conversely many in the Republican are also held hostage by competing ideologies when it comes to economics and the military. It seems there is little room for pragmatism now.

  • Ruth Anne shorter

    Please get involved with a local ministry, and I don’t mean a once in a life time visit. Go weekly for months until you can see who the regulars are and listen to them. The first stories may be what they wish it to be, but by you letting them into your life ( seeing you regularly) you may hear these stories change. You will be really surprised at what you learn. The soup kitchen, the union missin, or whatever you choose will appreciate your help. Do not be surprised if some, not all, dress better than you or your wife. Or that they choose to leave the kids at hme while they go “out”. Ask them questions, listen attentively as they are important to our Savior. You will soon eventually learn that only hearts changed by the King, will have different attitudes and behaviors. Just like our missionaries have learned in various countries, only what is earned is valued, not free gifts. Oh, do not get me wrong we should give generously but not as enablers. Do everything as for Christ and praying for guidance and wisdom.

  • http://bookwi.se Adam Shields

    @Ruth Ann, I have been involved in urban ministry for a long time. My wife has taught at a Title 1 schools for nearly 17 years. I have a very different view point than you and I am very concerned that you attitude toward ministry is so cynical.

    Are there people that abuse the system, of course. It is a system, people will abuse it. Is everyone abusing the system as you assert? Absolutely not.

    I can assure you that every low income home does not have a flat screen tv.

  • Ruth Anne shorter

    Thanks for your sweet comments and I would love to hear why you understand my ministry view as cyclical when if you choose to read the last sentences, that is my real ministry. Love them, point them to the King. You have not been involved long at all but blessings as you cntinue as we do. Point being is I had rather know Christ for my salvation and be dirt poor. He alone provides peace, joy, salvation AND meets every need. No social program can do that. Ministry done n Christ’s name alone is to glorify our Savior. He is a jealous God and we should not thnk our good works will save. Praise God my Redeemer lives! And yes, I do not know any one without a big screen tv– even multiples. @richard thanks!

  • John Duffy

    “Just like our missionaries have learned in various countries, only what is earned is valued, not free gifts”

    Ruth Anne Shorter,

    This doesn’t make sense. Salvation in Jesus Christ is a free gift and not earned, yet we Christians value it. I value many other things that I have not earned, that are free gifts: sunsets, the sound of my daughter’s voice, etc, etc, etc.

    Also, please try to write in paragraphs. More people will pay attention to your words that way.

  • Angela Kantola

    “No corresponding historical crisis”? Perhaps Toby Young denies the reality of anthropogenic global climate change.

  • Diane

    I do believe we are in a period of crisis, not only over climate change and natural resources running dry, which translates into changing how we live, but over ideology. Since the fall of the USSR in 1989, the far right, unrestrained by a competing ideological, has become more and more extreme. I too wonder at the ease with which “socialism” is thrown around without any understanding–often–and I do this–when asked to define what it means, people will define it such that any government action at all is “socialism”–ie, socialism IS government, or the opposite of socialism is anarchism. Or if you mention that the biggest socialist institution, providing cradle to grave care, since the fall of the USSR is the US army, people get enraged. If it is for “people fighting for their country,” then somehow it doesn’t count as socialism. It makes no sense. Somehow if it is a revision of the tax code or any laws that allow redistribution of wealth upwards, it is “socialism.” A working definition of socialism that actually makes sense and is value neutral–after all, for all the demonizing, it’s simply a way of organizing an economy–would be most helpful.

  • Diane

    I apologize for some dropped words in the last message.
    Ruth Anne, I do agree that no amount of wealth can fill the hole meant to be filled by God. But do you agree that in this country we sometimes confuse the word “poor” with the word “destitute?” To be poor is to have less than the average by some margin, not to have nothing.

    What I have seen of the poor, is that some really do put all they have on their bodies or upfront (say in a flat screen TV). That’s all they own. In contrast, the middle classes tend to be in a position to save for college or a mortgage or to pursue long term goals–and I realize that some of this is psychological, but part of poverty is a lack of hope. When I realized that, I became less judging. I feel perhaps more sorrowful for a person who doesn’t believe that they can have anything in life more than an expensive set of clothes. I think of how humiliating it can be to be poor–at least that’s how I, middle class, feel every time I fill out a FAFSA– and I think that maybe the poor need the clothes more than I know. I would more define my worth internally–but I have not be constantly told I am worth nothing.

  • Jag

    I’m closer to a socialist than I am a believer that the free market is God’s favored economic system. The reason the invisible hand is invisible is that often it doesn’t exist outside of textbooks and speeches; profit is as likely to flow to a financial MBA who adds no customer value as it is to a true producer of goods and services. I don’t believe that greed, the thirst for profit, the basis of capitalism, will always produce the best societal results, nor the concomitant belief that the private sector, with its billions siphoned off for mergers and wall street, can always do things better than the non-profit government. I believe that wealth and poverty are many times due simply to the luck of the draw; I’ve known some hard-working people who lost their homes and I’ve known some lazy fools who made millions. It matters not how hard and skillfully you play the game if you draw a losing hand. I don’t think that a man is an island, but that we must all live and work and support each other, for that is the very basis of civilization. When our national motto became “I’ve got mine Jack, get your hands off my stack” we ignored the interdependence between us all and forgot that your average billionaire would not be a billionaire in the libertarian paradise of Somalia :)


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