Do tax cuts for the wealthy represent the will of God?
What might normally
be an impertinent and perhaps offensive
question suddenly seems entirely reasonable after hearing George
W. Bush’s ungrammatical but passionate pledge to defend the tax
cuts his administration provided to the richest, smallest segment of
American citizens, at the cost of his own life if need be. The vow
he uttered during his town-hall meeting in California over the weekend
—"Not over my dead body will they raise your taxes!"—was the
strongest he’s made on any subject since his promise to deliver
Osama bin Laden to justice "dead or alive."
for hyperbole, such edgy remarks indicate what
matters most to Mr. Bush. For the moment, however, he
appears more capable of fulfilling the former promise than the
latter. And since it has lately become respectable to discuss his
elevation to the nation’s highest office as a matter of divine
will, Mr. Bush’s deep determination to empty the Treasury into
the pockets of friends and supporters may likewise signify the
unknowable agenda of the Almighty.
scoff at such notions, but in the wake of Sept. 11, the idea that a
higher power ordained the inauguration of Mr. Bush is no longer confined to the
loonier fringes of the religious right. While the President and the First Lady
modestly demur whenever this topic comes up, others around the Oval Office assert
that they are convinced. "I think President Bush is God’s man at this hour," a top
White House aide told a religious publication not long ago. Ralph Reed, the former
director of the Christian Coalition who now chairs the G.O.P. in Georgia, says his
fellow evangelicals believe God selected the President because "He knew George
Bush had the ability to lead in this compelling way."
Nor is this revelation
confined solely to Protestant conservatives. Two days before
Christmas, Rudolph Giuliani, a devout but not excessively rigorous Catholic,
announced his own opinion that "there was some divine guidance in the President
being elected." In this sentiment, the Time magazine "Man of the Year" was swiftly
seconded by a Catholic bishop. (Again, a skeptic might impiously wonder why the
Lord didn’t simply bless Mr. Bush with the actual majority of votes. But faith is
nothing without mystery.)
of all this are obviously profound. If the President is indeed guided
by Providence in lavishing additional billions upon those who already enjoy so much
material abundance—even while the numbers of unemployed, uninsured and
homeless soar—then his ascension may represent a millennial reversal of heavenly
Until now, few
directives have been clearer than the guidance enunciated by
prophets of both the Old and New Testaments regarding earthly greed. "Woe to you
who are rich," Jesus told his disciples, "for you have already received your
comfort." The impoverished carpenter also reportedly informed a well-heeled
acquaintance that it is "easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for
a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." His best-known speech included the
admonition that "you cannot serve both God and Mammon."
as those statements are, they are reliably among the most
widely ignored. Entire schools of theology, across all ecumenical lines, have long
been devoted to parsing a convenient loophole in such injunctions. They aren’t the
sort of Biblical quotations that politicians try to post in public schools, or that
televangelists cite as evidence that Republicans are the party of God. What a relief it
would be if the tax policy of the Bush administration means that we no longer have
to worry about worshipping the golden calf.
may not be a persuasive explanation for Mr. Bush’s fiscal
schemes, which are pushing the government into deficit and threatening to prolong
the recession. It is indeed hard to imagine that any omniscient power would prefer a
$254 million tax break for Enron to a cut in payroll taxes for the working poor. But
it’s just as difficult to credit any of the more earthly justifications emanating from
the White House press office.
In any case,
not all branches of the federal government have awakened yet to the
new dispensation. On the same day that Mr. Bush made his "dead body" remark, a
report issued by the Congressional Budget Office disparaged his tax cuts as useless
for reviving the economy. According to the C.B.O. analysis, better results would
ensue from more progressive cuts in payroll and sales taxes. While the nonpartisan
report appropriately said nothing about theology, its recommendations were highly
reminiscent of that old-fashioned scriptural preference for the poor and the toilers.
So perhaps Mr.
Bush’s supporters should reconsider their political epiphany. The
followers of the last public figure who claimed to be executing God’s will are now