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President, Savior, or Santa Claus? By: Dr. Mark W. Hendrickson
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, January 15, 2008


Let’s consider a simple question: What exactly are we electing when we choose a president of the United States? The traditional answer would be: “Commander-in-Chief of our armed forces and the CEO of the executive branch of government.”

Those two roles alone make the president the most powerful person in the world, but for some Americans, the presidency has taken on an overtly messianic character. One of the leading candidates for the next president, Hillary Clinton, once stated, “I can’t save every undercapitalized business in America.” Question: Since when was it the president’s job to “save” businesses? Apparently, the notion that consumers are supposed to sort out the winners and the losers in the competitive marketplace is now regarded as old-fashioned, even outdated. The traditional concept of a president being entrusted to preserve our freedom so that we can achieve whatever our God-given talents and individual ambition make possible to us has been supplanted by a pagan superstition: The president plays a deific role in deciding who is saved (on earth, not in heaven, of course) and who is not.

This candidate’s statement is not the most extreme example of the president-as-savior school of thought. In fact, acknowledging that some special interests won’t find a place to gorge at the government trough is a relatively centrist position. The most breathtaking declaration of the quasi-divine concept of the presidency was uttered by Barack Obama's wife: “If we win Iowa, then we can move to the world as it should be.” The scary part of such a statement is that there are Americans who really believe that. Where earlier generations prayed to the Almighty for assistance in meeting our human needs, millions of Americans now offer obeisance to the proverbial strong man (or woman) of government in exchange for providing for our wants. The Apostle Paul’s exhortation that we pray “for all that are in authority” (1 Timothy 2:2) has morphed into a pagan tendency to make supplications to those in authority. To many Americans, salvation is not of the Lord, but of government. Heaven help us!

Today’s presidents may have far more power than earlier generations of presidents, but in actuality, with members of the legislative branch and also the “permanent government” of massive federal agencies and departments having their own agendas, the will of the president is frequently thwarted. And in terms of our international relationships, in a world full of conflicting interests, fickle allies, implacable enemies, evil individuals and divergent values, presidents are all but powerless to make “the world as it should be.” Presidents are not saviors.

Having said that, the next president will be the first one ever to oversee the spending of three trillion dollars per year. This president won’t be a savior, but will play the role of Santa Claus to a lot of people. Witness the way the candidates are tripping over each other in their haste to promise relief to homeowners who are having a hard time making their monthly payments.

In the Wall Street Journal, Barack Obama wrote that these individuals deserve government assistance—especially since they also are struggling with soaring college tuition, “skyrocketing medical bills” and under-funded retirements. While such promises of financial relief will undoubtedly win political support for this candidate, two important truths are omitted from the discussion. (Such omissions are due either to economic ignorance or a desire to deceive voters, either fault being sufficient to disqualify such a person from being president in my eyes.) The first omission is that government “assistance” to higher education and health care is a primary cause of their rapidly rising prices, and that the government’s Social Security program has undermined Americans’ retirement prospects. As Ronald Reagan used to remind us, government is the problem, not the solution. The second omission is any mention of who will pay for the proposed federal bailout. Unlike Santa Claus, government can only give people wealth that it has taken from others. If presidential candidates were totally honest with us (I know, that’s a HUGE “if”) they would tell us that the rest of the middle class will have to bail out their debt-ridden fellows because there aren’t enough rich people to pay for all of Uncle Sam’s extravagant programs.

The Santa Claus approach to government being touted by several of this year’s candidates can be encapsulated in this pithy political slogan: “From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.” OK, I admit it’s not original, but hey, it fits. But would Americans really elect a pied piper offering communism on the installment plan? We will find out in November. As H. L. Mencken once observed, “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard.”


Dr. Mark W. Hendrickson is a faculty member, economist, and contributing scholar with the Center for Vision and Values at Grove City College.


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