Republicans and the Quality of Sodom (Chapter II)

It’s About Policy, Not Charity

Gershom Gorenberg

My latest at The Daily Beast, on why “getting government out of the way” defies Judaism’s insistence on social solidarity:

Allow me to talk about Sodom again.

A few weeks ago, I argued on this page that the Republican Party is committed to the “quality of Sodom” as that quality is described in Judaism: the conviction that “what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is yours.” Sodom, I wrote, is Jewish shorthand for a polity where redistribution of wealth is seen as immoral, where the government’s role is to protect private property but not but not to insure the well-being of the people.

Despite provoking some fire-and-brimstone responses, I didn’t plan to look back at Sodom. But Mitt Romney has since chosen a veep candidate, Paul Ryan, who was an acolyte of Ayn Rand, apparently until he noticed her atheism. Together, they’re running on a platform of cutting taxes for the rich and cutting holes in the safety net for the sick and old. More than ever, what the Republicans are offering runs counter to a Jewish understanding of just politics. Allow me to answer a couple of objections to that claim.  …

The more trenchant and subtle criticism was that Republicans aren’t bad people. A blogger at Commentary argued that conservatives give generously to charity. They just want government to get out of the way so that individuals can do well and choose to help others.
Voluntary giving and voluntary organizations are great. But what if, by chance, well-meaning individuals don’t give enough to house the homeless or provide long-term care for the infirm elderly? What if philanthropists prefer giving to the philharmonic, to their alma mater, to their religious congregations, while taxes have been cut too deeply to pay for elementary schools? What if charity—giving out of love or noblesse oblige or religious commitment—doesn’t go far enough?

To understand what’s wrong with the voluntary model, I suggest reading the recent book Justice in the City by the scholar and activist Aryeh Cohen. Reading the Talmud and later rabbinic writing, Cohen shows that they obligate society to feed and clothe the hungry, and to provide homes for the homeless. The obligation must be carried out through political institutions

Read the rest here.