Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Casting shadows.


It’s better to speak dispassionately about what you believe is best for those in need than it is to criticize the politics of someone else. However, there are times when a person acts or speaks in such an ignorant and self-serving way that it is hard to resist a critique. Today is one of those occasions.

If you haven’t followed the debates between New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, it is probably good to come up to speed. Some days ago, in the context of discussing what to do concerning the invasions by the NSA, Christie attempted to put the debate into a tangible human context and said, “These esoteric, intellectual debates—I want them (referring to the ethereal, far removed congressmen and women in Washington) to come to New Jersey and sit across from the widows and the orphans and have that conversation. And they won’t, because that’s a much tougher conversation to have.” He was, of course drawing attention to the suffering of those in New Jersey whose lives were devastated by Hurricane Sandy. He specifically targeted Senator Rand Paul, as illustrative of those in his own party who exhibit callous disregard, accusing him of practicing a “dangerous brand of libertarianism.”

Not one to let an opportunity slide, Paul decided to respond. While speaking at a fundraiser in Tennessee, Paul said about Christie and New York Representative Peter King, “They’re precisely the same people who are unwilling to cut the spending, and their ‘Gimme, gimme, gimme—give me all my Sandy money now.’  Those are the people who are bankrupting the government and not letting enough money be left over for national defense.” As others have noted, our defense budget dwarfs every other nation on earth.  In fact, our defense budget is bigger than that of the next 13 nations—combined. Adequate funding is definitely not an issue when it comes to our national defense. The government ALWAYS taps public funds to pay for whatever they wish, which often times (too often) has little if anything to do with helping those in need.

It is not my place to judge the politics of our public officials. I can, however, point out the circumstances that may signal why Rand Paul speaks with such apparent disregard for the suffering of others. Nothing teaches compassion so well as the suffering that each of us experiences. I assure you that if Paul had lived in Hoboken New Jersey when Sandy struck, he would be singing a different tune. But the fact is he didn’t live in Hoboken, nor has he lived a life other than privilege. His father, Ron Paul, American medical doctor, author and politician, has for some years been a wealthy man. At last count his net worth was roughly $6.6 million and his son Rand likewise has amassed a net worth of  $1.3 million. He attended Baylor University and then the Duke University Medical School, his father’s alma mater. After receiving a medical degree in 1998, Paul pursued a general surgery internship at the Georgia Baptist Medical Center in Atlanta, Georgia and soon moved with his wife to Kentucky where he started his medical practice and entered politics.

Making money, even lots of money, is not a black mark against anyone. Unfortunately living in continuous luxury often time creates the callous disregard Paul is now expressing. Not ever experiencing suffering ill equips any and all from developing empathy, understanding and compassion. There is a growing and troubling gap between the wealthy and the rest of us, which is epitomized here with Rand Paul. A similar comment resulted in the demise of Mitt Romney when he was caught trashing the 47% of Americans “who pay no income tax” and “who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.” Romney and Raul seem to be of the mind that public funds belong to them to dole out as they wish whether or not it helps those in need. It was just such people that Jesus probably had in mind when he said, “…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.”

Many wise people have spoken about equanimous compassion. The Buddha said to have compassion on rich and poor alike. The advice is not all that different from the admonition of Jesus to first remove the log from our own eye before commenting on the splinter in the eyes of others. In similar fashion the Native American equivalent is, “Before we can truly understand another person, we must walk a mile in their moccasins. Before we can walk in another person’s moccasins, we must first take off our own.” In a certain way Pope Francis offered a similar comment this week with his statement regarding gay people. He said, “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” It remains to be seen if his wisdom translates into amended church doctrine but for the moment it’s a hopeful sign.

Regardless of source, the message is the same: Judge not lest you be judged. In the end each person, regardless of affiliation, will meet his or her just reward. That’s the rule of karma: what goes around comes around. The Buddha expressed it this way, “We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.” The question is thus: What kind of shadow will Rand Paul cast?


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