Instances of Discovery

Since August 2007 I have been a monthly columnist for the St. Cloud Times. My theme, taken from the mission statement of the Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research, is “the renewal of human community.” The columns are republished here with permission of the St. Cloud Times.

Colulmn #008. First published in the St. Cloud Times Mar. 25, 2008

The renewal of human community is my column's theme. I make no claim to having all the answers, but proposals for renewal that are grounded in fantasy need to be called to account.

First, a reality check. Ron Suskind, in the Oct. 17, 2004, New York Times Magazine, recounts a conversation with a senior aide to President Bush. The aide drew a distinction between the reality-based community, inhabited by people who think that a judicious study of discernible reality is a precondition for solving problems, and the community of history's actors, such as the administration, who create their own reality.

The presidential aide didn't intend this as a compliment to the reality-based community.

As Americans and as Minnesotans we have been hypnotized by slogans that masquerade as realities, perhaps even "new realities," but which are every day proving to be fantasies, at sharp odds with "discernible reality."

The "new reality" sold to us the past few decades is the demonizing of government, with its corollary, the categorizing of taxes as evil. Less government and lower taxes, we are told, will foster both human fulfillment and sustained prosperity.

Well, a judicious study of discernible reality — reading the paper and paying at the pump and noticing the "bank owned" signs appearing on front lawns and bank collapses on Wall Street — suggests a different result from our president's tax cuts for the wealthy and our governor's recent assertion in face of the state's budget deficit, "I think we have to start with the premise that we're not raising taxes."

Today's reality is what you get when you don't regulate and don't invest. The claim that an unfettered, deregulated market is the key to social and economic flourishing doesn't pass the reality test of the mortgage and credit meltdown. Inadequate public investment in education, transportation and health care is not a savings; we pay in debt passed on to our children and in lives cramped by foreclosed opportunities.

Current tax policy, national and state, is skewed to favor the wealthy. If taxing were fair and designed to stimulate healthy communities for all of us, we would have the resources to invest properly, benefiting not only the generations after us but ourselves. Remember — public money is a common investment in our community, our state, our country; it doesn't disappear from the economy.

Morality, for many of us, is a big part of our reality. Evangelical leader Jim Wallis asserts that "Budgets are moral documents," and the governor's proposed budget doesn't pass the morality test.

Brian Rusche, executive director of the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition, a collaboration of the Minnesota Catholic Conference, the Islamic Center of Minnesota, the Jewish Community Relations Council, and the Minnesota Council of Churches — representing almost 80 percent of Minnesotans who claim a religious identity — said this: "It is not moral to extinguish the possibilities of health care for people or economic opportunity through jobs and training. It's not moral to limit services to the disabled such as being proposed here. The governor's solution to not even look at raising fair taxes is morally bankrupt when we look at these consequences."

It is fantasy — morally bankrupt fantasy — to suggest that the renewal of human community can be paid for by reductions in services to the most vulnerable — that is, by assaults on the common good. What have we become if we can even bear to listen without outrage to proposals to cut health care for the poor?

Getting our moral bearings again will take a while — decades of rhetoric have infected us deeply — but there are things we can do right now. Here is one: Urge our legislators to enact the Minnesota Health Act, SF 2324, HF 2522.

This bill, endorsed by the Greater Minnesota Health Care Coalition, which has an office in St. Cloud, would create a statewide, uniform public health insurance system with comprehensive, affordable coverage for all Minnesotans.

"Government is bad" has produced an unworkable and harmful discernible reality. Let's try a reality that has brought prosperity at other times — a common good reality.