by Bill Press
A deal President Obama struck with Republican leaders last week will extend tax cuts across the board including, controversially, to the richest Americans.
Some politicians argue that religious values should be reflected in the public square. Should this faith-based view of politics be applied to the economy? Jesus said, “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”
In a time of economic turmoil and record poverty levels, are tax cuts for the wealthy moral?
As with many faith-related questions, this one’s not as easy to answer as it might seem.
Nor does it stand alone. It’s just one more real world test of the fundamental question facing Christians, Muslims, and Jews: How one’s faith should influence one’s politics, either as a practicing believer or as a practicing politician. That question has dominated American politics since our founding. John Adams struggled with it. So did John F. Kennedy and Geraldine Ferraro. Just as Barack Obama struggles with it today.
There is no hard and fast formula to the faith/politics question. My own belief is that one’s faith should certainly inform one’s politics, or else faith doesn’t mean anything at all. At the same time, faith should not dictate one’s political decisions. Else, in the case of an elected official, one’s sworn duty to serve the best interests of the people means nothing.
We must also be careful in over-using the “M” word. Not every political issue is a “moral” issue. Some clearly are: the death penalty, any form of discrimination, and the use of nuclear weapons being indisputably so. Some clearly are not: in which category I would place offshore drilling and speed limits. I may care strongly about those two issues, but I would not honor them with the cloak of morality.
Other issues fall somewhere in-between. And that’s where I’d put tax cuts for the wealthiest of Americans. This is clearly one issue on which people of faith can, and do, sincerely disagree – and are free to vote for or against, without the fear of burning in hell because of it.
Are tax cuts for the rich immoral? Not always. Certainly, when the government enjoys a big surplus, having captured more of taxpayers’ dollars than it needs to pay its bills, an across-the-board tax cut to all Americans is one of the best, and most morally justifiable, public policy options.
When the country’s facing a big deficit, however, as we are today, it’s a different story. That’s when difficult choices have to be made. And that’s when one’s faith, it seems to me, must come into play.
For Christians, especially, the message is clear. Read the New Testament. Jesus paid special attention to the poor and expected his followers to do the same – even to the point of shedding all their worldly possessions to help the poor. That same theme of helping the less fortunate permeates both the Old Testament and the Quran.
In light of that clear moral imperative, those who would burden our grandchildren with paying for tax cuts for today’s millionaires – or demand tax cuts for the wealthiest of Americans as a price for helping the poor and unemployed – either ignore the teachings of their faith or are deliberately throwing faith and morality out the window.