Do tax cuts for the wealthy represent the will of God?
What might normally be an impertinent and perhaps offensive question suddenly seems entirely reasonable after hearing George W. Bush’s ungrammatical but passionate pledge to defend the tax cuts his administration provided to the richest, smallest segment of American citizens, at the cost of his own life if need be. The vow he uttered during his town-hall meeting in California over the weekend-“Not over my dead body will they raise your taxes!”-was the strongest he’s made on any subject since his promise to deliver Osama bin Laden to justice “dead or alive.”
Even allowing for hyperbole, such edgy remarks indicate what matters most to Mr. Bush. For the moment, however, he appears more capable of fulfilling the former promise than the latter. And since it has lately become respectable to discuss his elevation to the nation’s highest office as a matter of divine will, Mr. Bush’s deep determination to empty the Treasury into the pockets of friends and supporters may likewise signify the unknowable agenda of the Almighty.
Unbelievers will scoff at such notions, but in the wake of Sept. 11, the idea that a higher power ordained the inauguration of Mr. Bush is no longer confined to the loonier fringes of the religious right. While the President and the First Lady modestly demur whenever this topic comes up, others around the Oval Office assert that they are convinced. “I think President Bush is God’s man at this hour,” a top White House aide told a religious publication not long ago. Ralph Reed, the former director of the Christian Coalition who now chairs the G.O.P. in Georgia, says his fellow evangelicals believe God selected the President because “He knew George Bush had the ability to lead in this compelling way.”
Nor is this revelation confined solely to Protestant conservatives. Two days before Christmas, Rudolph Giuliani, a devout but not excessively rigorous Catholic, announced his own opinion that “there was some divine guidance in the President being elected.” In this sentiment, the Time magazine “Man of the Year” was swiftly seconded by a Catholic bishop. (Again, a skeptic might impiously wonder why the Lord didn’t simply bless Mr. Bush with the actual majority of votes. But faith is nothing without mystery.)
The implications of all this are obviously profound. If the President is indeed guided by Providence in lavishing additional billions upon those who already enjoy so much material abundance-even while the numbers of unemployed, uninsured and homeless soar-then his ascension may represent a millennial reversal of heavenly policy.
Until now, few directives have been clearer than the guidance enunciated by prophets of both the Old and New Testaments regarding earthly greed. “Woe to you who are rich,” Jesus told his disciples, “for you have already received your comfort.” The impoverished carpenter also reportedly informed a well-heeled acquaintance that it is “easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” His best-known speech included the admonition that “you cannot serve both God and Mammon.”
Universally familiar as those statements are, they are reliably among the most widely ignored. Entire schools of theology, across all ecumenical lines, have long been devoted to parsing a convenient loophole in such injunctions. They aren’t the sort of Biblical quotations that politicians try to post in public schools, or that televangelists cite as evidence that Republicans are the party of God. What a relief it would be if the tax policy of the Bush administration means that we no longer have to worry about worshipping the golden calf.
Divine inspiration may not be a persuasive explanation for Mr. Bush’s fiscal schemes, which are pushing the government into deficit and threatening to prolong the recession. It is indeed hard to imagine that any omniscient power would prefer a $254 million tax break for Enron to a cut in payroll taxes for the working poor. But it’s just as difficult to credit any of the more earthly justifications emanating from the White House press office.
In any case, not all branches of the federal government have awakened yet to the new dispensation. On the same day that Mr. Bush made his “dead body” remark, a report issued by the Congressional Budget Office disparaged his tax cuts as useless for reviving the economy. According to the C.B.O. analysis, better results would ensue from more progressive cuts in payroll and sales taxes. While the nonpartisan report appropriately said nothing about theology, its recommendations were highly reminiscent of that old-fashioned scriptural preference for the poor and the toilers.
So perhaps Mr. Bush’s supporters should reconsider their political epiphany. The followers of the last public figure who claimed to be executing God’s will are now dodging daisy-cutters.