What Does Obama Have Against Charity?Policy

Ok, I admit it. I titled this post to be deliberately provocative. I don’t actually think Barack Obama is against people helping each other. But is that his end, however unintentional?

The more I hear about his budget, the more disturbed I get. As much as I’d like to focus on the evils of Cap n’ Trade (and I do mean evils — it hurts the poor most), I’ll put that one on hold for now.

So here is where my thoughts have been going lately. I’d love for some of you to tell me whether I’m off base.

I have to file my taxes next month. I keep procrastinating. I dread doing it. I’m always worried about making a mistake and I’m not rich enough to hire it out to the tax prep professionals.

Now, I hear three very interesting things.
1 – Obama is going to reduce the charitable tax deduction.
2 – Obama is going to substantially increase funding for Americorp to pay a quarter of a million volunteers
3 – Obama is going to grow entitlement programs, including eliminating successful welfare reform.

As a conservative, I think the entire tax code is too convoluted. I’d be open to either a flat tax or a consumption tax in one of the many iterations that they have been proposed. I’m aware that either of these would eliminate the charitable deduction in most models I’ve seen.

But, as much as I would like to see a few IRS agents find a new line of work, it’s probably more likely that Roe v. Wade will be overturned in the next 20 years than that the tax code will be substantially simplified.

So, I’m not inherently opposed to getting rid of the charitable tax deduction – as long as every other deduction and privilege disappears along with it and I end up paying less overall. Since, that idea belongs in fantasyland for the forseeable future, we are left with our lovely tax code as the playground for politicians social engineering schemes.

And, I have to say that scares me. Obama’s reduction of the charitable tax deduction is conservatively estimated to reduce charitable giving by about $9 BILLION every single year. This, when charities are already struggling in a recessionary economy – and the poorest Americans most need the help many of these charitable organizations provide.

But, never fear, the President’s budget comes to the rescue. If charities can’t help the poor, government will. Government will pay volunteers. Government will expand entitlements. The soup kitchen disappears. But you’ll be eligible for food stamps as long as you need them. In a bad economy, volunteerism suffers. Don’t worry, Obama has an army of them on the payroll. Oh, one caveat, the government volunteers can’t help faith-based organizations. (no biggie, right?) Non-profit professionals on unemployment when fund raising lags and charities can’t meet payroll? No big deal, big brother will be extending those unemployment benefits for a long time.

Am I imagining things, or is the net result of the social engineering in the Obama budget a usurpation of private charity by a government that sounds increasingly like that predicted benevolent despot?

….[the new despotism] likes citizens to enjoy themselves provided that they think only of enjoying themselves. It willingly works for their happiness; but it wants to be the unique agent and sole arbiter of that; it provides for their security, foresees and secures their needs, facilitates their pleasures, conducts their principal affairs, directs their industry, regulates their estates, divides their inheritances; can it not take away from them entirely the trouble of thinking and the pain of living?…. - Alexis deTocqueville

See, I knew there was a reason I liked that Frenchman, deTocqueville.

So, would it be entirely too cynical to suggest that such a new despotism – one that cultivates dependent citizens – tends to empower one particular political party at the expense of another?

  • Mark

    I thought the reduction in the charitable deduction had already been killed? If not, I completely agree that our tax code should encourage charitable giving, not discourage it.

    As for AmeriCorps, the very expansion of a quasi volunteer/ paid organization goes against the thrust of your piece. AmeriCorps relies on the dedication of Americans who are willing to make money for college, where they can better themselves, while working for the betterment of the community. If you actually investigate the program, it’s not the dreaded government program you want to make it out to be.

    Finally, I was struck by your propagandic misuse of de Tocqueville to claim, as too many on the right have, that President Obama aspires to be a despot (this is particularly ironic after 8 years of an executive that was blunt in admitting that it did believe in expansive Presidential powers). Regardless, if you want to study de Tocqueville, I’d recommend reading a bit more of his Democracy in America. From the author:

    “What is most important for democracy is not that great fortunes should not exist, but that great fortunes should not remain in the same hands. In that way there are rich men, but they do not form a class.”

    Also consider your reactionay thoughts:

    “I cannot help fearing that men may reach a point where they look on every new theory as a danger, every innovation as a toilsome trouble, every social advance as a first step toward revolution, and that they may absolutely refuse to move at all. ”

    Isn’t that exactly what the GOP is doing right now?

    Finally, one to grow on – de Tocqueville predicted the “unitary executive” of Bush and Cheney:

    “All those who seek to destroy the liberties of a democratic nation ought to know that war is the surest and shortest means to accomplish it.”

  • http://bearingdrift.com DCH

    making vets pay for their own health care was a short-lived idea, but as far as I know the charitable tax deduction was still in there on Friday. I’ll have to double check.

    I’ll certainly acknowledge that government does a lot of things worse than Americorp. I just had this odd juxtaposition in mind hearing about expanding Americorp while reducing funds available for private charity.

    And, Mark, I’m glad you know your deTocqueville, but I do fear you misunderstand his soft despotism passage. He is not saying that despotism with all of its horrid connotations will be the AIM of the persons involved in establishing it. Indeed, the intention may well be benevolent and I would credit Obama and many in the Democratic majority with such goodwill. But the end of such a quasi-paternalistic government, however well intentioned, will be, he suggests, to re shape the people into those who are dependent on government, rather than its owners.

    Certainly you are correct in your implications regarding the quote on war. It has, after all, been mostly under Republican administrations that war powers here at home have been expanded, to the endangerment of civil liberties. I think from Lincoln onward, these Republican administrations have been soberly aware of the danger of what they were doing but believed the times demanded it. Whether they were right, time alone will tell. War tends to destroy liberties because in wartime people crave security and will trade much liberty for it. Thus, war must be carefully conducted for the preservation of liberty if we are to attempt to avoid this danger.

    Your deT social advance quote appears totally out of context. I don’t fear Obama is moving us toward revolution but toward dependent lethargy. And, I wouldn’t call what he is doing on the domestic front “advance” at all.

  • http://www.amit-singh.com Amit

    I think there is a fundamental difference in how some people believe neighbors should help each other. Through a bureaucratic system such as the Peace Corps and AmeriCorp, the rigid rules put in place restrict the volunteers ability to address specific issues. The way you tutor math to a kid in the inner cities is different than how you help clean up someone’s home after a hurricane. Locals know their needs and logistics the best. That is not to say they cannot learn from other localities through the media, internet and Kiwanis club newsletters, etc. To think volunteerism will be more efficient if run by the Federal govt is like saying a drunk makes a better bus driver.

  • http://www.shaunkenney.com Shaun Kenney

    Great post, DCH.

  • http://bearingdrift.com Brian Kirwin

    Seems there are a lot of things floating around that could make a new Contract with America, and this is one of them.