This ad is at the center of a new uproar in the presidential campaign. In case you can’t watch it (or don’t want to), the ad features a man who was laid off when his factory was closed. There’s a lot of questions about whether Mitt Romney was even at Bain when the factory was closed. I think that’s entirely irrelevant. The ad itself is an ad against freedom, and advocating slavery.
If I lay someone off as a legitimate business decision, they might lose their access to health care, and someone might die as a result. That is true. So what the ad is saying, is that business owners have an obligation to employ their employees, and are responsible for whatever happens if they do not. This is an ad against the free market, against the rights of business owners and employers to make decisions that are good for their business.
Let’s say this ad actually represented the way our market was supposed to work. If a business owner can rightfully be held responsible for anything that happens to any of his employers once they work for him, even in a non-legal but moral sense, then an employer essentially could not employ anyone. How could you take the risk? How could you be responsible for everything that might happen to that employee if your business fails or if the employee is no good and you have to fire him? Can you justify being responsible for murdering someone, or someone’s family member, because they weren’t good at showing up on time? No employer is going to accept that kind of risk, of being made responsible for everything that might happen to someone once they are employed by him.
Not only does this ad advocate slavery for the business owner (since he is now forced to make economic decisions for the benefit of other people, not for himself), it also advocates slavery for this worker.
See, if the employer is responsible for providing healthcare coverage for this employee, then the employer has the right to control all of the decisions that affect that coverage. If an employer is to remain in business, he must control his costs, and cannot be expected to make open-ended commitments to people without the ability to control the costs of those commitments. So he will make sure the employee is exercising and eating right. If he cannot fire the employee, since if he does he will then be responsible for anything that happens to the employee, he will keep the employee on forever, but will then essentially own that employee, making all the decisions for him and protecting him (or claiming to) from every risk. This is the logic of this ad.
The ad is saying that this employee can’t be expected to take care of himself and make his own decisions; men like Mitt Romney must do it for them. It is an argument for slavery, for lords and vassals, for turning over all our responsibility to powerful men who will make all our decisions for us and protect us from every danger. This is the argument that tyrants and emperors have always made.
Liberty can only exist when people are willing to take responsibility for themselves. This man’s employer made a contract with him, to provide him with compensation in exchange for labor. That contract was not perpetual; either side had the right to end that contract whenever they so chose. Saying that this man’s employer essentially had a moral obligation to provide employment forever is saying that freedom itself is immoral.
But no man really can provide everything for you. No man can protect you from every danger. The claim that someone can is the claim of a false Messiah, the claim of a man trying to usurp the place of God. There is always a question at the heart of these kinds of debates, and that fundamental question is, who can save us? Who can provide us with security and safety? There are three basic possible answers to that question- man can save us, nobody can save us, or only God can save us.
The second answer, that nobody can save us, is a recipe for nihilism and despair. Nihilism usually doesn’t get too many votes in politics. So the choice is always between man and God. Those that advocate for government programs that can preserve us from every possible danger are saying that man can save us. They put the source of their hope in the actions of men, and it makes sense then to look to the greatest possible collection of the power of men, which is government.
The conservative Christian answers that only God can save us. The problems of this life- disease, poverty, war and the like are all the result of sin, and only God can save us from sin or from any of its consequences. We look to government then to do only what God has called for it to do, which is to protect the innocent from evildoers, to the best of its ability, to provide some sort of order and stability in which society can function, because this is the God-given function of government (Romans 13). We do not think that the government can protect us from every possible ill, and we know that anyone who claims that they can is a con-man, a shyster, a would-be tyrant who hopes to rob us of our liberty with promises that he can never keep.
This is more than just a dirty ad. This ad is a good indication of what this election is really about, and what is truly at stake in these political discussions. Will you trust God, and reject any claim that other men can ever safeguard your health, your safety, your prosperity, your importance in life? Or will you trust men, and turn your liberty over to them, to willingly make yourself their slaves, so that they can provide you with everything you need? The tyrants of the world always claim to be looking out for the little guy, like the man in this ad.
When government does only what God says it should, it can be reasonably effective, though still never perfect, not by a long shot. When government usurps authority that God never gave it, and starts seeking to provide wealth, health and happiness to its population, then that government sets itself up in the place of God, makes slaves of the people and inevitably fails to do what it claimed it could do anyway, because the government isn’t God, and it doesn’t matter how much power or wealth we give it, it will never be God. The last three years should show us that; the fall of the Soviet Union and every other totalitarian regime should show us that. Government isn’t God.
Bible-believing Christians should always support limited government and reject these messianic claims, that men somehow can. Governments cannot eliminate the effects of sin; only Christ can do that.