A reader writes:
In your post there was a small but odd detail that caught my eye. You write "until Christians start condemning the greed and debt and consumerism of the past two decades as morally wrong, they have no standing on other moral questions that are now in play."
Why two decades? Why not three, four, ten, or two hundred? Was it an offhand choice of words, or do you actually think American "greed, debt, and consumerism" somehow started about one year into the first Bush administration? In particular, was your choice of "two decades" an attempt, conscious or unconscious, to downplay the role of Reaganism in the care and feeding of American greed? Or, was it that you didn't arrive in the USA until roughly two decades ago and didn't see firsthand the greed, laziness, and magical thinking underlying the Reagan revolution.
Avarice and sloth have always been with us, but the Reagan years deserve special mention for it was then that we replaced the unsustainable "tax and spend" with the even less sustainable "borrow and spend." It was then we gave up any pretense of seriousness in budget policy: tax cuts would raise revenue painlessly. If tax cuts somehow didn't raise enough revenue, the budget could still be balanced painlessly by cutting foreign aid and cracking down on welfare cheats (if you were a Republican) or cutting wasteful military spending (if you were a Democrat). And if that didn't work, hey, how about this nifty state lottery? Reaganomics and the heralded Reagan optimism was all about believing you could have everything you wanted while someone else paid the bills and made the sacrifices.
By putting two wars on tab while cutting taxes, Bush II may have raised magical economic thinking to an art form, but it was the Reagan-era supply-siders and deregulators who laid the political and rhetorical groundwork that made it possible. The greed and debt of the last two decades are a major part of the legacy of Reaganism.
My reader is reading too much into my dates. I do think Reagan's supply-side hooey was instrumental in propagating the idea that money grows on trees and the tax cuts always mean higher revenues. But the cumulative damage of the thrift-aversion seems to me to have taken off in the past two decades most markedly. The failure of the churches to warn of these deep dangers of this kind of worldliness with anything like the passion they have deployed against the sexual lives and choices of individuals is a lost opportunity. Yes, John Paul II and Benedict XVI have indeed maintained their moral critique of modern capitalism. But it didn't permeate; and America's evangelical movement managed to turn a family-less hippie commie of the first century into a God-fearing, family-obsessed subprime borrower of the twenty-first.