The 2004 presidential election has been depicted as pitting those of faith against secularists. But this is really inaccurate. Every human being has faith. No one could function without it. It is not faith that distinguishes one person from another, but what it is they have faith in.
I call it the "faith factor" that now distinguishes many in the Republican Party from many in the Democratic Party, and it's the key factor that Democrats should be examining as they assess the crisis of existence that they now have on their hands.
The "faith factor" problem of some Democrats is not that they do not have faith. It is that some have faith in the wrong things.
The Democratic gospel preaches an all-encompassing faith that politics and government will solve our personal problems. Not earning enough money? Don't have a high-school diploma? Not happy with your insurance policy or retirement plan? Is your daughter pregnant? Feel in general that your life is out of control? Turn to President, Senator or Congressman Democrat and get it solved.
Many Democratic leaders and pundits are expressing consternation at Republican Party claims that it is the party of values. They claim that Democrats have the moral high ground and that their problem is communication. But check out what they call values: Government-run health care, government-run schools, government-run personal retirement and a politically defined and managed overall sense of social justice.
This stuff simply doesn't work, and more and more Americans understand this. The Democratic Party is now perceived, for good reason, like a late-night infomercial selling products that will make you instantaneously rich, thin and beautiful. All that you need is faith that the salesman is telling the truth and a credit card.
Social Security is a perfect issue to look at to understand the difference between the Republican and Democratic takes on the world and to understand the great Democratic credibility gap.
Edward Prescott, this year's winner of the Nobel Prize for economics, recently summed up the problem with our Social Security system this way: "Government has made promises it can't keep." Prescott then goes on to accurately convey what Americans have been hearing from business-as-usual politicians about this issue: "Don't worry. We'll figure something out. You'll get your Social Security payments. Trust us."
This is exactly what Americans heard from John Kerry about Social Security in this recent presidential campaign and this is what they are hearing from the Democratic Party today.
Social Security is not an issue that requires abstract thought and philosophy to figure out. The key questions just require simple arithmetic to answer. Regarding the system as a whole, are there sufficient funds committed to meet the anticipated obligations? On the individual level, how much did I pay in, what can I expect to get back _ and is this a good deal? The answer to both these questions is "negative." The Social Security Administration itself can provide the numbers to any interested American that in another 15 years the system goes massively into the red. On the personal dimension, anyone can calculate, or get help to calculate, that if they invested the funds they pay into Social Security in risk-free government bonds, they would have twice the funds at retirement than Social Security promises (but doesn't have).
Can it be a surprise that more Americans were attracted to President Bush's honesty on this issue? Social Security has been a sacred cow. It has taken great political courage on the part of our president to be clear with us that this system is broken and that we need to take a new approach by allowing Americans to invest in their own personal retirement account. Despite the simple arithmetic that clearly shows that we have a problem, what did we hear from Sen. Kerry? "Don't worry. I won't raise your taxes. I won't cut your benefits. We'll figure something out. We don't have to change the system. Trust me."
This is the "faith factor" crisis that has bankrupted the Democratic Party. Democrats refuse to let go of the secular religion that they have long been hawking, that Americans should place their faith in government to solve their personal problems. Marketing this illusion has paid the salaries of many Democratic politicians over the years. But illusions have a limited shelf life.
Fewer and fewer Americans are being seduced by the line that their children are not being educated because not enough money is being pumped into the public school system or that health care costs too much because government is not spending enough. More and more Americans are appreciating that no one but they themselves can think about what will happen if they or their kids don't get a good education or about being prepared for life-interrupting occurrences like loss of a job.
The "faith factor" that distinguishes Republicans from Democrats today is a faith in personal responsibility vs. a faith in dependence and government.
The problem for Democrats is once they come clean about the truth here, they'll all have to become Republicans.