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From Where Will America's Salvation Come?

Since Ronald Reagan’s 1976 indictment of the “welfare queen”—a figurative woman from Chicago who received numerous government checks and drove a Cadillac—Republicans have been seen as insensitive and uncaring defenders of the rich. This characterization is not entirely unfair, as much of the right’s rhetoric welcomes it. Mitt Romney’s comment about the “47 percent” was another infuriating example that bolstered this stereotype. Are conservatives actually hardhearted and self-interested? Do they really not care about the poor? Of course not. Conservatives have a legitimate reason to oppose welfare spending and advocate for its reform, but their messaging needs to change to better communicate their actual ideology: That alleviating poverty is not accomplished by creating a welfare state. According to research done by Republicans of the Senate Budget Committee, in 2011, $61,194 in government money was spent per household in poverty. That figure is “three times the amount of money that the average poor family lives on per year.” The numbers clearly show that welfare programs are not effective or efficient; adequate money is being spent, but the results do not reflect it. Apart from the rhetoric, it is ridiculous that conservatives are seen as unsympathetic protectors of the wealthy for not supporting governmental welfare programs. But unfortunately, this is only one illustration of a broader national trend. More often than not, Americans—including many conservatives—view government as the ultimate problem-solver.  We approach societal problems by looking to Washington first. We ask: What legislation can we enact to secure the change we desire? What governmental programs can fulfill the needs that we have? This is why politics are such a big deal in America—why millions of dollars are spent every election and why some of us slip into mild fits of depression when the other party’s candidate wins. Though widely embraced, this approach is misled. Why? Because politics is downstream from culture, particularly in a democratic nation. When we try to fix the latter through the former, it’s simply a lost cause. There are certain things that government will never be able to accomplish—ending poverty is probably one of them. Though I do not often agree with him, Jim Wallis of Sojourners made the same point when he was recently interviewed on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. He said, “Our decisions will really change a culture, and that’s what changes Washington. Washington will change last, never first.” If that is true, where should our primary focus lie? From where will America’s salvation come? Two primary sources: from the family and from the church. In my next two posts, I will explore these institutions and explain why they are central to any effort to save America and ensure its continued prosperity.