The Interminable Obamacare Drama

A lot of voters had high hopes that Obamacare might be on the verge of extinction. Have you ever heard of hope deferred?

Democrats, of course, despite all the evidence to the contrary, think they have given the country a wonderful healthcare plan. Maybe it just needs a little tweaking, they say, but it’s fundamentally sound.

Try telling that to those who have seen their premiums skyrocket and deductibles so high they will never get any benefit. If only Republicans would work with them, Democrats claim, we could get the job done right. Right.

Let’s be honest. For many Democrats, Obamacare was to be the first step toward complete government control of healthcare.

Republicans campaigned on ridding us of this sick attempt at healthcare. They apparently didn’t think any further than the promise of getting rid of it. The most amazing thing, to me, is that they weren’t prepared for how to do so. This is political incompetence of the hightest level.

Promises, promises. Cartoonists have not shied away from exposing this hypocrisy.

So what have we seen this week thus far? The Senate, only with the aid of VP Pence’s tie-breaking vote, was allowed to go forward to discuss the issue. Then two votes were held. The first was on the Obamacare-Lite bill that was at least somewhat strengthened by Ted Cruz’s amendment allowing more choice for the consumers. Defeated.

Then there was the resurrection of the bill that every Republican senator voted for a couple of years ago, the one that came much closer to outright repeal (though not fully). If passed, the Senate then could have proceeded with a new plan for replacement.

Defeated again. The saddest spectacle was the “no” vote of a number of Republicans who had voted for the same bill previously and who had promised their constituents they would do so again.

If many Republican voters are angered by this display of hypocrisy, it would be understandable. What is to be done?

Yes, it’s a problem with hypocritical politicians, but it’s also a problem with gullible voters who keep believing their promises. Don’t take their words at face value; examine their records. Be an intelligent voter.

Where will the Senate go from here? Will it pass anything, just to say it did something? Will it then go to conference with the House version (also not very good)? If you have two bad bills going to conference, you end up with an even worse one afterward.

This drama will not be played out soon.

Examining a Paradise Lost

In my ongoing quest to read everything C. S. Lewis wrote, I have not yet gotten to his preface to Paradise Lost, and I decided not to read it until I had first read the poem myself. So I’ve been wading through Milton’s epic.

It’s not an easy read, but I’m getting the hang of it. Every once in a while, I come across some pearls, both theologically and in Milton’s choice of words. For instance, now I’m aware of where one quote comes from that I’ve heard all my life. Here’s a comment from Satan, speaking to the fallen angels who joined in his revolt:

Here at least we shall be free; the almighty hath not built here for his envy, will not drive us hence: Here we may reign secure, and in my choice to reign is worth ambition though in hell: Better to reign in hell, than serve in heaven.

Later, Milton compose a soliloquy from God the Father to the Son, making it clear who will be to blame if man gives in to sin:

Whose fault? Whose but his own? Ingrate, he had of me all he could have; I made him just and right, sufficient to have stood, though free to fall.

Such I created all the ethereal powers and spirits, both them who stood and them who failed; freely they stood who stood, and fell who fell.

We always want to blame someone or something else for our failure to obey God. That doesn’t work; we choose our path.

I also found it rather fascinating when Milton attempted to show Satan’s own reaction to the possibility of repenting for what he had done. He gives us an interesting back-and-forth in the mind of Satan as he contemplates the awfulness of his rebellion:

Is there no place left for repentance, none for pardon left? None left but by submission; and that word disdain forbids me, and my dread of shame among the spirits beneath, whom I seduced with other promises and other vaunts than to submit, boasting I could subdue the omnipotent.

Ay me, they little know how dearly I abide that boast so vain, under what torments inwardly I groan: while they adore me on the throne of hell, with diadem and scepter high advanced the lower still I fall, only supreme in misery. . . .

But say I could repent and could obtain by act of grace my former state; how soon would height recall high thoughts, how soon unsay what feigned submission swore: ease would recant vows made in pain, as violent and void.

For never can true reconcilement grow where wounds of deadly hate have pierced so deep: which would but lead me to a worse relapse, and heavier fall.

I’m in book six of twelve and unsure how long it may take to finish, but I’m going to persevere. How often I have personally bemoaned (how’s that for a poetic word rarely used nowadays?) the poor education I received in my formative years. Now, in my sixties, I have this yearning to make up for what I’ve missed.

So, as much as I want to read Lewis’s preface to this work, I believe I have to devote myself to the poem itself first. As I find more pearls, I may share them with you.

Our Nation’s Political Health

Fair and balanced. I’m using that phrase today to make it clear that I am doing my best to be impartial in my analysis. An honest critique should always be acceptable to those who value honesty.

Let’s start with the Democrats.

They have been in an almost-insane froth ever since the election, convinced that Hillary should have been the easy winner and that only some kind of massive corruption could be responsible for the loss.

They have focused, along with their media allies, on Russian influence on the election despite the complete lack of evidence that even one vote was tampered with and that no amount of influence from Russia made any difference.

They are a party bereft of anything beneficial to offer America, choosing instead to promote abortion, same-sex marriage, and other moral aberrations (not to mention their pervasive “progressive” socialism).

Some of their more fanatical adherents believe there is only one solution:

If successful, of course, that would give us President Pence. Maybe they haven’t thought through their strategy carefully, as that would put a more principled conservative in charge.

The Russia thing should have gone away by now if not for the foolishness of Trump and his family. Trump Jr. jumped on the opportunity to meet with a Russian who said he had dirt on Hillary and could help tilt the election toward his dad.

Anyone with any political sense at all would have avoided all such contacts; in fact, anyone with any moral sense at all would have reported the invitation to the proper authorities. Russia is not our friend.

It is an established fact that the meeting took place. The rationale for why it is no big deal is that it didn’t really offer anything of value to use against Hillary. So intent means nothing?

More than one political cartoonist picked up on that cookie jar theme:

Again, to be fair and balanced, the media had an entirely different level of interest in this fiasco than in previous ones:

But that still doesn’t erase the fact that Trump Jr. did a very stupid thing, thereby opening up the inquiry further. The whole Russia probe is partly responsible (only partly, though) for the inertia we see on the policy front:

The other reasons for inertia lie with Republican timidity in Congress (a topic to be covered in an upcoming post) and with Trump’s own unwillingness to concentrate on what is more important than his own ego. He may be willing to sacrifice everyone just to make sure he comes out ahead:

Why do I say that?

Just look at how he treats people in his own administration. He hired Anthony Scaramucci as his new communications director against the advice of his top-level officials (but apparently with the approval of his family) without informing Sean Spicer, the man who has been burdened with carrying the communications load for a president who keeps changing his rhetoric and undermining Spicer’s efforts.

Spicer resigned, and one can understand why. Scaramucci’s task will not be easy; he may be favored right now, but one false step can change that.

Scaramucci, by the way, is on record as pro-abortion, pro-same-sex marriage, and pro-gun control—a funny way to help promote the conservative agenda.

Trump has now begun lashing out against Jeff Sessions, his attorney general, for recusing himself from the Russia investigation. Sessions did the right thing with his recusal, but Trump is angered by the decision. I predict Sessions will be forced out shortly, despite the fact that he was the first senator to endorse Trump and has been loyal through all of Trump’s antics.

Shouldn’t loyalty go both ways?

One of the rumors circulating is that Trump may replace Sessions with Ted Cruz. My advice? Senator Cruz, don’t ruin your future by agreeing to join this circus.

Reports now indicate (and I’m not relying on “fake news” sources for this) that Trump’s entire cabinet is in turmoil over the way he is treating Sessions, as they wonder who will be the next to be thrown under the proverbial bus. Secretary of State Tillerson, by all accounts, is ready to throw in the towel, frustrated by how Trump family members’ views have priority over his with respect to foreign relations.

Both Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon are now apparently on the hit list, despite the fact that they are not exactly on the same page. All that matters is complete loyalty to the president regardless of what he does.

In short, this appears to be an administration in administrative chaos, caused by the super-thin-skin of the man in charge.

Thus far, one key individual has escaped Trump’s attempt at public humiliation:

How long that will last is anyone’s guess.

Both Democrats and Republicans seem to be dysfunctional. This does not bode well for our political health.

Saving Christian Conservatism’s Soul

Above all else, my identity is as a Christian—a follower of Jesus Christ in which I consistently acknowledge His lordship over all of life. I take seriously the admonition that our time on earth is temporary and that we are pilgrims on a spiritual journey. Our primary focus in not anything in this world.

However, I also take seriously the call for Christians to be salt and light in every situation in this world to help guide others into the truth. We don’t live in a corner somewhere, ignoring the world.

That’s why I’ve always been very involved in teaching Christians how to understand politics and government. Yes, those are transitory as well, but they have a tremendous impact on everyone’s daily existence. Government is a realm where Christians should make a difference.

At this point, allow me to recount my bona fides as a political conservative, especially as what I will say later may dismay some readers.

I have been a conservative in principle most of my adult life. I was conservative before many of you reading these words were even born. In the 1980s, I wrote for the Heritage Foundation and the American Conservative Union. In the 1990s, I chaired a county chapter of the Christian Coalition.

As a history professor, I’ve tried to communicate Christian conservatism to my students now for twenty-eight years. My book on Whittaker Chambers and Ronald Reagan grew out of what I have researched and taught for all those years.

I teach a course on Chambers specifically (who is considered practically the godfather of modern American conservatism) and another one on Reagan and the varieties of cultural and political conservatism that have developed since WWII.

My goal always has been to show students that, as Christians, our political beliefs should be grounded in Biblical principles, and that we should never be led astray into some kind of secular salvationism or put anyone on a pedestal, especially any political leader whose life doesn’t reflect Biblical principles.

I’ve attempted to instruct them on the distinction between a principled compromise and a compromised principle.

Have I made my point yet?

All during the presidential primary season last year, I wrote about and admonished my fellow conservatives, and Christian conservatives in particular, to be focused on principle and not simply jump on some kind of nationalistic bandwagon offered by any candidate. I also questioned quite pointedly the character of Donald Trump, issuing warning after warning that he was not a conservative and that his character (as revealed in the manner by which he campaigned) would do great harm long-term to conservatism as a political force.

When he became president, despite his many flaws, I made it clear that I would support him whenever he did something that aligned with sound policy, but that I would not be a cheerleader for him whenever his policies departed from principle or whenever his character undermined the office to which he had been elected.

Frankly, I don’t see how a Christian conservative can maintain integrity without that dual commitment.

I won’t go through a laundry list today of all the problems I see with Trump and his administration. It is sufficient to say that he continues to be his own worst enemy.

I know. His most ardent devotees will cry “fake news” about everything negative in the media. Is there a lot of fake news out there? Of course. Again, I will point to the fact that I’ve critiqued the media continually in this blog for the past nine years that I’ve written it.

Is there a double standard toward Republicans in general and toward conservatives specifically? No question about it. A political cartoon that came out back in 2007 makes a case that can still be made today.

Yet those who are defending President Trump, no matter what he does, are relying far too much on what some commentators have called “whataboutism.” Every time Trump does anything questionable, crass, or unprincipled, they cry, “Well, what about the Democrats? Remember what they did?”

While this might soothe some consciences, it doesn’t soothe mine. Wrong is wrong regardless, and if we want to be true disciples of our Lord, we cannot dismiss wrongdoing because the one involved in the wrongdoing is “on our side.”

I’m trying to be charitable here, and I hope you see it in that light. This is not a diatribe against those who are outraged at the obvious double standard and hypocrisy all around us.

But it is a caution, especially for all of us who call ourselves Christian conservatives. In the understandable desire to have a voice in the current political climate, we must not violate the trust God has given us to be His spokesmen. We must not sell our souls for transitory and ephemeral political clout. We must remember these exact words from the One we say we love and obey:

What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world yet loses his own soul?

Let’s not sell our souls and our birthright as children of the King for that which doesn’t truly advance His Kingdom. Be a voice of integrity in the midst of party spirit, acrimony, dishonesty, and unprincipled behavior.

By doing so, we save the Christian conservative soul and become the type of witnesses we are called to be.

Summer Holiday

I’m going to be very family-oriented the next two weeks, so Pondering Principles will be taking a break. See you again the last week of July.

Lewis: Delighting in God

Lewis’s exuberance in the faith shines through in many of his writings, whether they be apologetic or fiction. One of his later books, Reflections on the Psalms, contains nuggets like these:

The most valuable thing the Psalms do for me is to express that same delight in God which made David dance.

There . . . I find an experience fully God-centered, asking of God no gift more urgently than His presence, the gift of Himself, joyous to the highest degree, and unmistakably real.

My study of Lewis during my sabbatical helped me see his character more clearly then ever. Reading his letters to Americans provided insights into who he really was and what moved him.

What I love most about Lewis, I think, is that even though he was one of the most astute minds of the twentieth century, able to be classed with the best and the brightest, he understood that a rigorous intellect could be coupled with devotion and humility without any cognitive dissonance.

He was a man who realized that all talents and abilities, intellectual or otherwise, were gifts from God and should be treated as such. He was not embarrassed to show pure joy in contemplation of the nature of the One who gives all good things.

Pride and arrogance, be gone!

American Politics: Stranger Than Fiction?

I want journalism to be insightful and devoted to finding truth. That is the ideal, but it seldom is achieved. Those without historical context seem to think that there was a time when journalism was balanced and fair. As a historian, I can debunk that. From the first decade of the nation, in the 1790s, through the Civil War, newspapers were financed by one political party or another. Balance was in short supply.

Later, we got sensationalistic journalism that helped push us into the Spanish-American War. The 20th century has seen liberal/progressive “journalism” dominate. Sometimes, when the media attempts to shape the news, it gets some blowback, as the recent CNN woes indicate.

The Left nevertheless continues its crusade to remake our thinking as a nation, and media outlets like CNN and MSNBC cater to its peculiar logic:

Conservatives have tried to counter that Leftist perspective. Fox News became the favorite source for many conservatives because it allowed views to be expressed that were ignored in other outlets.

Then came Donald Trump, and a number of Fox programs (primarily the opinion-oriented ones) jumped on his bandwagon, promoting and excusing him no matter how indefensible his actions.

It’s becoming an old story now that Trump gets himself into unnecessary controversies through his tweeting. Even conservative cartoonists are calling him out for lowering the dignity of the office he holds:

He’s not exactly a role model:

Yet no amount of criticism dissuades him; he continues to create turmoil. His almost-paranoid obsession with hitting back at those with whom he disagrees is a major stumbling-block to doing his job, and it’s hurting the GOP’s agenda.

Is this where we are now?

We’re reaping the consequences of the seeds we have sown for many decades. We’re replacing the Biblical worldview and seeing the sad results.

I write about politics and government all the time, but I want it clearly understood that I don’t look to them for any kind of temporal salvation. Without the Biblical undergirdings, the system goes astray. While I continue to believe in the need for Christians to work in the political sphere, only an internal heart change based on Biblical principles will lead us back where we need to be.