Even at its best, politics offers continual use of force to achieve good

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State senate candidate Andrae McGary, father of five, has an intergenerational stake in the future. He is holding Eden; his wife, Cheryl, clutches Isaiah. In front from left are Zion, Imani and Elijah.

In the post below, Todd Gardenhire (whose senate campaign has no website) tells why he’s the candidate who deserves to win. When I asked the Republican about differences in perspective with his rival, he answered not in the realm of ideas, but as regards the calendar.

He is 64, seasoned, well connected, he says. His opponent, Andrae McGary, a former city councilman and once a popular conservative talk show host in the Democrat party, is a feathery 33.

Mr. Gardenhire, who is his own biggest donor, giving nearly F$80,000, is well known in Republican circles. A Baptist and diligent party worker, he’s been rewarded with advisory posts at federal agencies. He was chairman of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. and held titles under the federal labor department.

Mr. McGary does not appear to be a doctrinaire Democrat who condescends to everyone as a defender of the nanny state. The former Chattanooga city council member, a Roman Catholic,  thinks in terms of a Christian framework, though he tends to give far more credit to the state than it is due. The impression he made on WGOW talk radio is that he prizes some of the same things as do free marketers and conservative supporters of the family. He and his wife, Cheryl, have five young children, and thus a generational stake in the future.

Quiet disdain for local economy

While the contenders differ on laws they might support, they share what I’ll call the paramountcy of the state. That is, the notion that the magistrate, as the Bible terms him, is competent to solve any problem.

The claim of statism is ultimately religious. The modern humanistic state has absorbed into itself innumerable aspects of the doctrine of predestination.‡ Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that either candidate would favor absolutism where all is determined by the state. Still, the idea of the centralized state is long enculterated among Americans, reinforced daily by school and mass media.

Todd Gardenhire is a Republican candidate for the state senate.

We shouldn’t fault either candidate for assuming the paramountcy of the state, and its great role as benefactor to all. High rhetoric in politics is expected. Political consultants specialize in it. The marketing of politics makes elections and government about us, and about our unfulfilled needs that government yearns to satisfy. Campaign ads pitch the political myth as well as a given candidate.

In our interview, Mr. Gardenhire smartly ignores a question about the nonvoting majority in Tennessee. These people are irrelevant to his campaign and not a target of his efforts. But as a Christian, Mr. Gardenhire might want to consider that the modern state is losing credit. A failingn god, its power to heal is waning, and resentment against its profligacy is rising. Christianity with its gospel of repentance and self-correction, builds civilization. Nation states, with their immoral welfare systems, massive debt and foreign wars, destroy it.

I asked Mr. Gardenhire about his erstwhile senatorial hands gripping the “levers *** of power and coercion.” His answer is eminently reasonable. If a program exists, he will use his authority and influence in the Senate for its right use to benefit constituents. The levers of power and coercion are fundamental to his job. He is the people’s representative on the use of coercion, ostensibly for public safety and the common good. “ If the laws are on the books, the programs already done, then you have to make as much use of those programs as possible. You can’t just turn your eye and say, well, I don’t like that program so therefore I’m not going to do anything to participate in it.” In other words, the levers of power are going to be used by somebody; why not by someone whose ideas embrace liberty and the free market?

The local economy perspective very likely annoys office seekers because it is based on fixed principles. It is antipolitical, non-political, a substitute for politics and coercion within law. Candidates, whether GOP or Democrat, conservative or liberal (as we say), don’t operate in the realm of principle, but in that of outcomes. They are pragmatists.

In a brochure, Mr. Gardenhire says, “it’s his professional resume and his blend of political and financial prowess that will move Tennessee forward. His plans for strong economic development will bring home jobs. *** His concern for our quality of life will ensure smart planning.” He is described as having “genuine enthusiasm for government.” His appeal is that we see him as a leader, a powerful man even while he has “promising qualities” fitting for a “public servant.”

Mr. Gardenhire the Morgan Stanley Smith Barney fund manager may love free markets. But his pitch appeals to pragmatism and operates apart from principles of free market and liberty. But it cannot really be any other way, and we should not fault him. After all, the concept of the free market is most poignantly visible at the point where it is breached by statist intervention — in the political realm.

A Democrat’s arguments

On his website Mr. McGary favors “good jobs, living wages, affordable healthcare, public education, protecting teachers’ pensions, collective bargaining” and “small business & small business owners.” He favors expanding the scope of government child care and cheerful submission to the U.S. Affordable Care Act.

He backs entrepreneurialism:

[W]e must also train people how to be entrepreneurs — whether to be self-employed full-time or to generate income for the household budget. A new emphasis on entrepreneur training as well as increased effort to provide dollars for worker-training programs custom tailored by businesses and partnered with by the state are a must.

Entrepreneurship, yes. But how can anyone in government teach genuine entrepreneurship, unless it be to create grant-seeking state contract-dependent outfits?

Political solutions will not cease

The modern notion of political salvation is virtually impossible to avoid if one is running for office. That’s true for whomever is running, but especially among Democrats.

Political economy — the world of Messrs. Gardenhire and McGary — dilates the ministry of the sword to influence or supervise any conceivable problem.

In contrast, local economy (free markets, applied Christianity lococentric commerce) sees a limited role for the use of coercion in society. It shrinks the role of the magistrate. In local economy’s perspective, the state’s duty is to enforce contracts and punish crime equitably. In the nonpolitical argument of local economy, government does not go into business, picking winners and backing its pals as a commercial actor. Local economy is the genuine free market, not just big talk about it.

 

The Christian sect most jealous of the authority of God to predestine and superintend the destinies of men and nations are the Presbyterians, whose doctrines of the civil magistrate undergird the concept of resistance against tyrants, constitutional rights, divided government and service-minded capitalism.

 

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A note from Mr. McGary:

Couple of thoughts born from reflection:

1. I do not subscribe to an idea of the priority of the state. My faith and experience teach of the dignity of the human person and as such the state cannot and should not substitute for human action. This leads to my second point:

2. I have never advocated that government should be the teacher of entrepreneurism. It is a false equivalency that suggests that simply because I favor entrepreneurs that I think government should create them. An oxymoron of oxymorons!

Here’s the upshot:

3. Perhaps what is lacking most in current religious thought, particularly amongst evangelicals, is a commitment to justice.
“In Catholic social thought, love of neighbor is an absolute demand for justice, because charity must manifest itself in actions and structures which respect human dignity, protect human rights and facilitate human development.” Human beings created in the image of God were never designed to realize their destiny alone. “It is not good that man be alone.” It is role of government in its purest sense to establish and protect institutions which work to lead to the development of man both individually and as a community–locally, nationally, and globally.

In short, I do not presuppose the inefficiency of government. Theres is no need for such a pessimistic view. Rather, I began with a positive view in the God-given dignity of man. Man therefore is able to utilize government for good only so long as government is not utilized to control and to act on the part of man. Government that works best celebrates individual initiative while acknowledging we are indeed our brother’s keepers by calling for shared responsibility.