What kind of America do you want?

Eric Cantor, House Majority Leader, recently said, “Listen, we’re going to have to come to grips with the fact that these programs [Social Security and Medicare] cannot exist if we want America to be what we want America to be.”

That raises a fundamental question, a complex question not easily answered with simple, sixty second sound bite. What is it that we want America to be? This is a question that goes beyond cutting funding for Planned Parenthood, Public Broadcasting, or eliminating Social Security.

Representative Cantor did not go on to explain his idea of what it is he thinks we all want America to be. My guess is that we don’t all want the same thing as he does. I have no desire to own a multinational corporation or to be one of the world’s riches people. I do want to be allowed to earn enough money to pay my bills and to have enough left over to feel like I can be generous to others.  Some people want big cars, others want to own famous pieces of art. Some people want to live by themselves in the woods. Most of us want an America which enables us to better ourselves and to give us a secure, comfortable lifestyle.

Maybe we come to the answer by asking ourselves more questions. Do we want America to be place where the rich have all the advantages? Do we want an America where money makes more money without regard to the costs to the common good, to the environment or by exploiting the labor of others? Do we really believe that we would all be better off in a “you’re on your own” society where each person looks out for their own well being and pays no regard for others?

That was the philosophy of writer Ayn Rand. Born in Russia in the early 1900’s Rand’s family lost everything they had when the Soviet Union took over all private property. She left Russia and made her home for the rest of her life in the U.S. Along with several plays, screenplays, and essays she wrote several novels, including “Atlas Shrugged” and “The Fountainhead.” Her philosophy of life is called Objectivism. One of the major beliefs of Objectivism is that no man is a means to the ends of others. Everyone is an end in themselves and each person “must exist for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself. The pursuit of his own rational self-interest and of his own happiness is the highest moral purpose of his life.” Rand believed that only by rational self-interest could society prosper. Rand was a devout atheist. She saw religion as nothing more than mysticism and believed pure capitalism was the only economic system that worked. Ironically, she accepted her own Social Security check when she was old enough to qualify.

Rand’s philosophy of self-interest is in direct conflict with the Christian teachings many believe that our country was founded on. Yet, many political positions advocated for currently seem more closely aligned with those of Ayn Rand than of Jesus Christ who taught that we are all part of one body, we are not on our own. Repeatedly, the Bible teaches that we are to care for the widow and orphan, the sojourner and guest. We are to love our neighbor as ourselves and that we should even love our enemies. We are taught not to put our faith in ourselves and the barns we have put up to hold our worldly goods. We are commanded to trust a higher power to take care of our needs not our own will or effort.

Which kind of America do we want? One where everyone is on his own and the common good has no place? One where business and consumption take precedence over caring for each other or for God’s creation?

What would American look like if you were to design it?  Would we let an attitude of scarcity keep us from being generous with those among us who have not had the opportunities and good fortune we have had? Will we allow fear and a mentality of jealousy and hate take over?

This country is not broke. We have vast resources and hard working, imaginative, innovative people.  Our country’s wealth is becoming increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few and the opportunities for the many become harder to attain every day.
Social Security is not broke and won’t be for decades. There are ways to fix it without eliminating or privatizing it.

If, as Rep. Cantor maintains, we can’t have Social Security what is the alternative? Do we let grandma live in a homeless shelter? Should aging Americans who have worked hard all their lives move in with the kids? Without their Social Security checks, nearly half of all of the elderly in this country would be living below the poverty level. If Social Security is eliminated, will that percentage include some of the people you love?

What kind of America do you want? Do you want one based on the “you’re on your own” philosophies of atheist Ayn Rand or an America based on the Christian commandments that we love our neighbor and care for those who are hungry and poor and disadvantaged?

Copyright © 2011 Janet Jacobson and Sustaining the Northern Plains

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