Losing Economic Faith and Hope

Despair and LonelinessThe man who won the presidency with a message of faith and hope doesn’t seem to know how to govern by those principles.

If the first month of the Obama administration has any early trademark, it’s that faith (Yes we can!) has been replaced by fear, and hope by the looming shadow of Big Government. This is a stunning turn of events for the man that captivated America with a big smile and rhetorical visions of promise.

It’s also a lousy way to lead–and because of it, the markets continue to lose value, the financial confidence of the business community is teetering, and consumers aren’t spending. For the first time in my lifetime, our nation seems to be losing its economic faith and hope.  This could be disastrous if Barack Obama continues to flail in his leadership. Good Leaders inspire confidence; Poor leaders create fear.

Yes, we understand that Barack Obama inherited a serious recession caused by three major factors:

  • Thirty years of liberal over-regulation of the housing market that created the monstrosities of Fanny Mae and Freddie Mac and forced other lending institutions to compete with them in selling bad loans to people who couldn’t pay their mortgages. The federal government is the biggest culprit in the current financial shake-up and the world’s largest debtor.
  • Some businesses followed the government greed into bad loans and excessive debt.
  • Some American consumers bought homes they couldn’t afford, maxed their credit cards to the hilt, and also ran up excessive debts.

So we can’t blame the president for this toxic mix of stupidity, but we can for his early governing response to it. He has done nothing but multiply fear and hopelessness so far.

In a speech last week in Colorado, President Obama, who would like to be known as a 21st century Franklin Roosevelt, did exactly the opposite of his esteemed predecessor. In less than thirty minutes of oratory, he called the current financial recession a “crisis” no less than twenty-six times–promoting fear and unease in the hearts of his listeners.  Wasn’t it FDR who said during the dark days of the Depression and World War II that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself?” President Obama seems to think that the only way to get out of this mess is to play the fear card again and again.

Before that, and many other speeches on the subject, came the infamous “Stimulus Bill”–really a  Democratic wish list of social programs, paybacks to unions and other special interests, with a stealth universal health care provision. In the court of public opinion (a dismal 37% approval rating) and the only real polls now being taken–the voting of the financial markets–the “Porkulus Bill” bombed.  It also produced such disdain and loathing that it even elevated CNBC’s Rick Santelli to instant rock star status with his tirade before the Chicago stock exchange on February 20th. Here are his words which echoed the frustrations of a nation:

“The government is promoting bad behavior! We certainly don’t want stimulus pork and give people a whopping $8 or $10 in their check and think that they ought to save it. And in terms of modifications, I tell you what–I have an idea. The new administration is big on computers and technology. How about this, Mr. President and new administration. Why don’t you put up a website to have people vote on the Internet as a referendum to see if we really want to subsidize the losers’ mortgages? Or would they like to at least buy cars, buy a house that is in foreclosure … give it to people who might have a chance to actually prosper down the road and reward people that can carry the water instead of drink the water?”

“This is America! How many people want to pay for your neighbor’s mortgages that has an extra bathroom and can’t pay their bills? Raise your hand! President Obama, are you listening? You know Cuba used to have mansions and a relatively decent economy. They moved from the individual to the collective. Now they’re driving ‘54 Chevys. It’s time for another tea party. What we are doing in this country will make Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin roll over in their graves.”

Wow. Even former president Bill Clinton was concerned about Barack Obama’s current lack of positive leadership. Clinton said he was glad that President Obama “shot straight with us” about the economic crisis, but added that “Obama should also offer Americans more hope.” Clinton said he would like to hear that Obama “is hopeful and completely convinced we’re gonna come through this.”

Maybe he’s not convinced because he’s either a star-struck rookie still learning how to govern (something he’s never done before), or he just doesn’t have the faith himself. He should take a lesson from the last US president who presided over an economic recession–Ronald Reagan–who guided us steadily out of the malaise of the Jimmy Carter years into the greatest economic boom in history (1982-2007). Here are Reagan’s faith-stirring words:

“Whatever else history may say about me when I’m gone, I hope it will record that I appealed to your best hopes, not your worst fears; to your confidence rather than your doubts. My dream is that you will travel the road ahead with liberty’s lamp guiding your steps and opportunity’s arm steadying your way.”

Another person who understands the place of faith in economics and American history is author and political consultant Doug Simpson who ran my 2006 legislative campaign. In his wonderful book, Looking for America: Re-Discovering the Meaning of Freedom, Doug shares a magnificent perspective on faith and economics, hope and freedom. Here are some of his inspiring words:

  • “Faith allows creativity, where fear does not. Faith always finds a new idea to make things better, to grow and multiply. In a word, faith is creation. Fear holds back, shrinks into bitterness and stifles new ideas…Faith loves and believes in the future, where fear covets and can only see the reality that exists in the present.”
  • “The secret to the success of capitalism and free enterprise is faith. The secret to the failure of socialism and its children is fear.”
  • “Faith cries out and innovates. It believes that even failure can be transformed into success, as long as you get one more shot at it. The key to the success of opportunity has always been faith. Fear cannot see opportunity, therefore it merely prophesies failure and, in the end, guarantees disappointment.”
  • “Free market capitalism should be the eighth wonder of the world. It has been the primary economic governing system responsible for creating the wealthiest nation in all of history…Our poor are richer than the rich of the majority of foreign countries…We have produced an endless list of wonders of creation–creation born out of a desire to make life better and receive an achiever’s reward. That is what America is about.”
  • “So what do we have that others don’t have? It’s on our money–In God We Trust–Trust means faith…When free market economics are coupled with faith they are an unbeatable combination.”
  • “The reason why the free market has worked so well in America is not because we were a Christian nation by label, but because we’ve lived by the principles of Christianity of which the primary characteristic is faith. In other words, the system that we know as capitalism is a faith-based system.”

Let’s pray for President Obama–that he would stop speaking about fear and the need for ever-increasing government and lead us into the light of faith and freedom.  If our president will find his own faith, and lead us back to God, trust, repentance, hard work, liberty, and the economic blessings that follow those principles, then we can begin to believe in him.

And then we can all say, ”Yes We Can!”

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