Trickle-Down Values

The term “trickle down” has been typically used to deprecatorily describe the Republican economic ideas. Its earliest usage can be traced back to William Jennings Bryan, in his speech to the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1896 — a speech that ultimately won him the Democratic nomination for president. Bryan, who would end up losing the general election to William McKinley, said: “There are two ideas of government. There are those who believe that if you just legislate to make the well-to-do prosperous, that their prosperity will leak through on those below. The Democratic idea has been that if you legislate to make the masses prosperous, their prosperity will find its way up and through every class that rests upon it.” President Obama spent a good portion of the 2012 election hammering the latest iteration of this straw man to great effect, attacking Republicans, saying, “We don’t need more top-down economics; what we need is some middle class-out economics, some bottom-up economics.”

While the term has never been used by conservative economists, and is a gross oversimplification of the economic policies advocated by the right, there is some truth to the idea behind the term. Contrary to Bryan and President Obama, you cannot legislate prosperity. It makes no difference if you are trying to start from the top down, the bottom up, or the middle out. What is true, however, is that the tone set “at the top” (in whatever circumstance that may be, not just economics) has a trickle-down effect on those below. To describe this phenomenon where the cause and effect are less than positive, there is a saying: “The fish rots from the head.”

The circumstance where this is most prevalent today is in the arena of values and morality. Many people bemoan the fact that it seems like the “public square” is becoming increasingly hostile to religion in particular and morality as a whole. The most recent annual Gallup survey that tracks this found 72 percent of Americans felt that the state of moral values in the country is “getting worse.” The second level of data, when analyzed, points to a substantial portion of this being due to the decline of values consistent with religion.

A direct correlation can be drawn between the decline of religious values in “the street” and the Obama administration’s policies in relation to those who practice it. The extent of this assault on religious liberty was strongly driven home by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal in an address at the Reagan Library last Thursday night.

Jindal took the opportunity of this high-profile speech to highlight the attacks on religious freedom being perpetrated by the administration, and the wrong-mindedness of their approach to the same.

“These days we think this diversity of belief is tolerated under our law and Constitution,” Jindal told the crowd. “But that’s wrong. This diversity of belief is the foundation of our law and Constitution. America does not sustain and create faith. Faith created and sustains America. President John Adams, in 1798, wrote to Massachusetts militiamen to remind them that ‘… Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.’ In 1798, this was simple common sense. In 2014, we are forced to confront a question that would have been unthinkable to President Adams … and President Washington, and President Reagan, and every other American throughout history who believed in America’s founding premise: What happens when our government decides it no longer needs a ‘moral and religious people?’”

Jindal explained that what we are then left with is “an idea, a wrongheaded concept, which President Obama apparently believes: that religious freedom means you have the freedom to worship, and that’s all.”

While the administration’s focus has been primarily on other religions, the effects of this “war” (as Governor Jindal calls it) can have real consequences on the Jewish community as well. In one of the current cases now being litigated in the Supreme Court, HHS (the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) argues that when a business is for profit and operates as a corporation, it loses any and all religious protections — regardless of the owners’ personal beliefs. And as Nat Lewin argues in the amicus brief he wrote on behalf of COLPA (National Jewish Commission on Law and Public Affairs): “This is a singularly confounding distinction for any religiously observant Jewish business-owner. His or her religious duty is totally unaffected by the existence of a corporate entity.” Mr. Lewin explained to The Jewish Voice: “It is important to convey to the Supreme Court that a bad decision in these cases could have a very harmful affect on the religious observances of the American Jewish community.”

Former Senator Rick Santorum in his CPAC speech last year, and many times since, has spoken about how the president seeks to change what he called “the why of America” for the “why of the French revolution.” Santorum points out that America is the only country that recognized in its founding documents that rights come from the Creator, and not from a sovereign. But in the French revolution, rights were not “paternal” but “fraternal.” “They replaced the sovereign king with a sovereign mob,” he says, “who could lord power over the people…. Modern-day Europe is simply a descendent of that bargain … a society … without faith — specifically [one that is] anti-clerical.”

Bearing this in mind, one can understand why the administration seeks to assert itself when it comes to issues of conscience. This is especially true when you consider that, as many have pointed out, there are simpler ways for the government to avoid these issues of religious freedom and accomplish its stated goal. But if the source of our rights were indeed fraternal, as it seems President Obama does believe, the government is where we get all our rights from. So the administration feels it is well within its rights to demand we subjugate our religious values to the will of the government; after all, what do we have that the government hasn’t bestowed upon us? This leaves the government in charge of deciding whether it no longer needs a “moral and religious people.”

And if that were allowed to happen, America would turn into Europe.