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Jewish World Review Oct. 25, 2000 /24 Tishrei 5761

Cal Thomas

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Economic prosperity doesn't solve moral deficit --
VICE-PRESIDENTIAL candidate Joseph Lieberman has taken to using G-d as a campaign surrogate to bless his and Al Gore's policies. That some Republicans have done this is no justification for Democrats doing it. This cynical tactic has been rightly denounced by liberals when religious conservatives try to co-opt G-d for their agendas.

In a comment about the environment last week, Lieberman implied that George W. Bush is outside of G-d's will because Bush is, in Lieberman's words, "a friend of polluters.'' In the gospel according to Lieberman, "the environment is a work of G-d (and) if you believe in G-d, I think it's hard not to be an environmentalist.'' To Lieberman's mind, perhaps Al Gore's book, "Earth in the Balance'' (recycled ideas printed on recycled paper), should be considered a holy book.

Some religious conservatives have implied that material gain is evidence of G-d's blessing, though in Scripture the poor come out better than the rich in G-d's eyes. While Lieberman has not made a direct connection between G-d and mammon, the gist of his message is "elect us and we'll keep the prosperity going.''

Peculiar, but not unusual, that politicians and even preachers invoke G-d when they think it suits their purposes and ignore Him when his view is inconvenient, or even opposed, to their political agendas.

Take prosperity. Is there anyone who believes that making more money in a nation already gorging on record wealth will emancipate us from our moral deficit? More spending hasn't improved education. More income hasn't enhanced the quality of family life. Great wealth has failed to cure our cynicism about nearly everything. Increased net worth has done nothing to improve the level of truth-telling in politics. Money has given us more freedom, but we have less commitment. We are more tolerant, but less able to tell the difference between right and wrong, which was crystal clear as recently as our grandparents' generation. We have more technology, but far less responsibility. We enjoy new conveniences and more leisure time, but have less time for developing our character and human relationships. Might prosperity contribute to many of our social ills rather than cure them?

My preacher last Sunday spoke of our impatience and preoccupation with earthly pursuits. He used an analogy about dancing swarms of Mayflies, called Ephemeroptera, that as adults live only to breed and never even to feed. There are people like that, he said, restless and frustrated men and women, who flit from one thing to another, seeking an elusive satisfaction.

Why have we not heard much from the politicians this year about what we should be doing for ourselves? Instead, they flit from one promise to another, seeking our satisfaction. They count on our voting for the one with the most promises. We hear too much about keeping the prosperity going, as if the warning about the love of money being the root of all evil has been repealed.

Since Lieberman has taken on the role of itinerant Jewish evangelist, what does that book in which he says he believes have to tell us about riches? Plenty.

Psalm 49:12 says: "But man, despite his riches, does not endure; he is like the beasts that perish.'' The lesson of Proverbs 11:28 is: "Whoever trusts in his riches will fall.'' Moses warned a people, when all was going well for them and their barns were full and they were satisfied, "do not forget the Lord your G-d'' (Deut. 6:12).

So why is Lieberman focusing on things that perish rather than things with lasting value? It is the first commandment of politicians: Tell the people what they want to hear and give them what they want to have (except a tax cut for everyone, in the case of Gore and Lieberman). Never tell the people that their inclinations are wrong. Is this what we call leadership?

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