A Voice in the Wilderness In Defense of "Mere Conservatism"


Prodigal Politics

By: R.J. Moeller

Luke 15:20     And the son arose and came to his father.  But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.

Something remarkable happened to me the other day while watching MSNBC, and I feel like it would be worth sharing with you.  Let me begin by assuring you that the reason I was watching MSNBC in the first place had nothing to do with my being held for coercive interrogation by Jack Bauer-type federal agents who discovered that after a few hours of Rachel Maddow I would be willing to take responsibility for both the Great Chicago Fire and JFK assassination.

I was watching MSNBC because I know my Sun-Tzu and he taught me to “know thy enemy.”

Anyway, I was taking in an episode of Hardball with Chris Matthews when all of the sudden and out of nowhere, Matthews – one of my least favorite political commentators on the planet – said something extraordinary that rocked my political world.  In analyzing a speech President Obama had just given about tax-cuts, the man who claimed to “get a chill” down his leg whenever he heard Barack Obama speak in public, had to this to say about his beloved president:

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: I have one small tweak to make to what the president said today — he should stop saying that giving people tax cuts is giving people money. It`s their money! A tax cut is when the government doesn`t take our money. It`s an important distinction.

He talked today, for example, about people getting a check from the government in the form of a tax cut. That`s not the way it works. If tax rates are kept lower, it`s a matter of the check going to the government being smaller. Again, it`s an important distinction.

I was floored upon hearing this.  My jaw dropped, my arms raised above my head, and out of my mouth came these words: “Sweet Lord, he’s seen the light.”

I recognize that Matthews’ words may not seem like much to the casual observer, but it was a wonderful moment of clarity on a show not particularly known for it.  For the first time in a long time – maybe ever – I actually hoped that other people were watching MSNBC.

Not only is what Matthews said an important distinction in fact; it is the distinction between Right and Left in this country.  When you boil all of the Tea Party vs. Union Rally, Palin vs. Pelosi ideological battles down, the Left believes that the government is almost always the solution (and therefore needs more and more of our money) and the Right knows that the government is nearly always the problem (and therefore needs to focus like a laser-beam on meeting its Constitutionally-prescribed duties before venturing off into the production of Broadway musicals and space-alien exploration).

The president believes a tax-cut is when you have money taken out of your paycheck by Uncle Sam, where it is pilfered and laundered by largely incompetent, ineffective, and ethically-challenged congressional committees and federal bureaucracies, and then a rebate check is sent back to you (and millions of people who didn’t pay any taxes) months later.

I, and apparently now Chris Matthews, believe that a tax-cut involves the reduction of our middle-men friends in Washington D.C.  A tax-cut is keeping the money you earned.  It’s a self-made stimulus.

The difference between these two positions is the distance between the correct answer on a quiz and the wrong one.

But it wasn’t simply the economic truism Matthews shared with his audience that got me so excited.  As I thought about it more, what struck me most was the deep, genuine respect and admiration I felt at that moment for someone like Matthews, who is diametrically opposed to my positions on the issues, for merely being intellectually honest enough to clarify an important point like this.  I was instantly ready to look past all of the ideological differences and embrace him as a brother-in-arms.

I literally wanted to give the man a high-five and “Atta boy” to go with it.25d547cf-ef65-439a-1b92-cbdb60de6d01-news_fb_ChrisMatthews

But how could this be?  How could one such seemingly insignificant paragraph of words from the lips of an ideological enemy invoke in me such a pleasant, welcoming emotional reaction?  How could someone getting one thing right out of a thousand things wrong wash away the fortified walls of scorn and contempt in my heart like a flood?

It was then, sitting in my living room on an otherwise typical day, that perhaps for the first time in my life I caught a real glimpse of what the biblical story of the Prodigal Son is all about.

As most of you already know, the parable of Christ that I am referring to involved a wealthy man whose wild and selfish son disrespectfully demands his inheritance before his dad is even dead.  The son quickly squanders the money his kind father has given to him, and after hitting emotional and financial “rock-bottom,” decides that he will return to his father and ask that he be made a servant (as he now understandably feels unworthy to be given the same position in the family).

In Luke 15 we read of the father’s response:

21"The son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.[b]'

22"But the father said to his servants, 'Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. 24For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' So they began to celebrate.

The father hadn’t naively forgotten all of the things his rebellious son had done since they last saw one another.  The father wasn’t trying out some new-age parenting tactic he saw on Dr. Phil.  He simply loved his son more than he hated what his son had done.

I was excited to hear Chris Matthews speak the truth, despite all of the times he had spouted things I know to be incorrect, because if someone can speak the truth once, there is hope that they can speak it again (and again).

The truth, once realized and understood, is more powerful and important than all the lies in the world.  I believe that one moment, one act can change a life for the simple fact that I believe that one act saved the world from its sins.

I fully appreciate the differences between my brief flirtation with feeling fond of Chris Matthews, and the biblical account of the Prodigal Son.  And I certainly do not intend to equate myself with the father in the story and Chris with the son.  It’s weird how certain circumstances or events can unpredictably open your heart and mind to revelations.  Usually these moments of clarity occur while in the midst of some trying incident, or while out among the wonders of God’s created beauty in nature.

But sometimes they occur while you are watching a cable news network you loathe like the plague.

PH2008103001906I want to be the type of conservative (and more importantly, person) who is more concerned with getting it right, than with who got it right.  If a liberal Democrat such as Senator Joe Lieberman (D-CT), who was his party’s vice presidential nominee in 2000, is willing to announce publicly that he supports the military efforts in the War on Terror, I want to be there to shake his hand and welcome him to the ranks (even if only on that one issue).  If President Obama says something regarding education or energy policy that I agree with in a State of the Union Address, I want to have the humility and integrity to acknowledge that and commend him for it.

How one reacts when their enemies disagree with them says something about them.  How one reacts when their enemies agree with them says everything.  Anyone can be mad at an enemy when in the heat of battle, but it takes a truly wise, genuinely humble individual to be kind to that enemy should they ever switch sides.

My encounter with Chris Matthews has caused me to once again take a self-inventory of my motivations for being involved (in an admittedly small way) with offering up commentary on the cultural, political landscape of this great nation.  Do I really want people to see the validity of the tenets of my worldview, or do I just want to be heard?  Do I care if hearts and minds are changed in the name of my (religious) conservative convictions, or is it all a ruse to get praise from like-minded readers?  Am I happy when fellow conservatives are successful in getting our message out, or do I selfishly insist on only finding joy in the furthering of my own name?

If we on the Right, especially the “Religious Right,” fail to remember that, but for the grace of God, we would be as lost as Michael Moore, or as confused as Rachel Maddow, or as incorrect about economics as Barney Frank, then our brand of politics will perpetually be as petty and pedantic as that of the far-Left’s.

Comments (13) Trackbacks (0)
  1. R J – Talk about Christianity in action. Thanks for the reminder and admonition to be the ‘bigger’ person that we can be with the knowledge we have from our Creator. Your comments about congratulating our adversaries reminds me of another Biblical principle–heaping coals of fire on our adversaries by being kind to them.
    Romans 12:19-21
    Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:
    “If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
    In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

  2. Wonderful essay here. I just sent it to a bunch of friends who need to hear your message. It’s not about being weak or giving in on your beliefs, and I appreciate you clarifying that. Peace through strength, as a wise man once said.

  3. Well done. Part of me wants to leave it there because your point, at base, is very good. May I push it to one more level? Please remember that the ability of Matthews to have a moment of lucidity, is also our responsibility too. Recognizing that ‘our side’ is also ideologically tainted by blind spots and that The Truth is not owned by one side – usually thought of as our own. You see, the problem with the liberal camp is that they think their side is always right. And the right says the same because we really believe it. But are we living in a ‘us vs them’ world or is God even greater than our own version of conservative Christianity? (maybe we are quite liberal compared to what God really wants for us?) Do we have moments of lucidity when truth cuts our position to pieces? When was the last time we had to shift our thinking in the name of Truth? When Matthews sees the light, maybe he is not simply becoming one of us but maybe he’s becoming something even better than us in his ability to go beyond one’s own ideological camp.

  4. Robby, you are a brilliant man, but dont hold scorn and contempt in your heart toward the left buddy…I think they have wrong political views too, but there are sincere Christians who are politically liberal, and for that matter, we must even love our enemies who are not Christian. I know you know that though buddy, just reminding ya! See you round!

  5. Hats off to you, Mr. Moeller, for being willing to embrace Matthews’s insight and integrity. Hats off as well to Jim in his Oct 15th post for recognizing that “…our side’ is also ideologically tainted by blind spots and that The Truth is not owned by one side…” This sort of humility and generosity are the preconditions for frank, civil discussions on tough issues, discussions that we so sorely need.

  6. Found your blog posted in the comments section over at Townhall.com

    Glad I did! Very interesting take on the whole Right-Left divide in this country. We can be ideological enemies, but civil and kind countrymen.

  7. excellent article. There have been many times (unfortunately) that someone has ‘done me wrong’ (at least in my mind, more in a minute) and we tend to react emotionally, with anger. It’s always a struggle at the time not to react vindictively or physically. I have often times run into to those same people , sometimes years later , to see that they have grown up and changed for the better. It’s really great to see it and it makes it easier not to react emotionally to with people that make mistakes and hurt you.

    I think that we all want to be right and that we have the truth. However, truth is a funny thing , it reminds me of the story of the six blind men describing an elephant, one says it’s like a hose( the trunk), another like a rope(the tail) , another like a big leaf(the ear), another like a giant tree(the leg), etc. While they were all correct , they were all wrong at the same time. Sometimes it takes a long time to get all the way around the elephant.

  8. Aren’t you devaluing the actual point of the parable of the Prodigal Son?

    The point is that God accepts us as sons, not that we can turn away and then return to conservatism.

    We are continually accepted by God despite our sins; given your allegorical interpretation of the parable you strip it of the meaning that actually counts.

  9. yessssssssssss. amen, robbie.

  10. Bud-

    I get what you are saying, but parables can have side meanings as well. I think it is evident what RJ is driving at here. He’s not taking away from other, or even the main, points of the story. The father loved the son instantly…just from seeing him…RJ heard some truth from a source he usually doesn’t hear truth from and he instantly ready to accept Matthews as a “brother in arms.” I think its a really cool analogy RJ picked to use.

    This isn’t an exegetical blog. Again, I hear your point, and knowing RJ as I do, he would agree (and might comment himself about it) with your point as well. But I would say just enjoy the good writing and interesting take on the political divide in this country.

    Just my two cents.

  11. “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.”

    Most have moments of mental and moral clarity,
    Some just more than others.
    O to keep that focus,
    While temptation round us lies.

  12. When I heard the story of what Chris Matthews said about tax-cuts I immediatley wondered about the next (conservative) step. Sure it is the individual’s money to start with, but does he consider the rich should “pay their fair share”?
    As RJ points out perhaps I should have been happy just with the acknowlegement of personel ownership by individual taxpayers. I did not think Matthew’s ‘mea culpa’ was as complete as the prodical son’s. Never-the-less it is a starting point on which to build with continuing kind and loving guidance.
    God asks of us 10%–The government demands so much more.
    rcf in Colorado

  13. I commend you for a well written article and you have it right. I have rarely agreed with Juan Williams, but in his present problem, I agree with him and suggest he sue his former employer. Williams, I believe, is a good fellow and is not ignorant. To cop a line from Ronald Reagan, he just knows so much that isn’t so.

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