By Simon Greer
president and chief executive officer
Jewish Funds for Justice
Last week, on his radio broadcast, Glenn Beck told me I was a bad Jew. And not just any bad Jew. A commentary I wrote for The Washington Post’s On Faith site included, according to Beck, “exactly the kind of talk that led to the death camps in Germany.”
So, what “kind of talk” was I guilty of? What words did I write that, if unchecked, would portend a second Holocaust?
My piece was a response to Beck’s earlier comments about the role of social justice in houses of worship. After Beck made it clear that people should run from churches whose websites mention the words social or economic justice, he said, “make sure your church puts God first and politics and government last.”
I responded by noting, among other things, that “to put God first is to put humankind first, and to put humankind first is to put the common good first.” It was this sentiment, about the common good, that led Beck to condemn me.
My parents immigrated to the United States from England. They lived through the Nazi threat in London, staying in bomb shelters, and grew up playing in the rubble of bombed out buildings. Other relatives were killed in the Holocaust. So we are intimately familiar with the dangers of fascism.
But if it’s possible, I’d like to move beyond Beck’s grotesque Holocaust rhetoric for a minute and turn to another substantive disagreement Beck and I have, not about the causes of Nazism but about the future of America.
On the one hand are those of us, including many in faith communities, who believe that government has a vital role to play in promoting the common good. As I wrote in the initial op-ed, “Government is one way which we care for our neighbors, and tradition tells me to care for my neighbor as I care for myself. Here’s what we do for each other as Americans: We grow food, we create jobs, we build homes, pave roads, teach our children, care for our grandparents, secure our neighborhoods. Government makes our country function.”
This reasonable sentiment reflects the values system of many Americans. It is true that government in the United States has always had its flaws. Jews and other communities have, at different times, suffered from these flaws. But when government is at its best, it is playing a powerful role in providing us with greater freedom, security, and opportunity.
And yet, when I and others speak of the common good, to Beck it doesn’t conjure up images of a society that makes sure the least of us are not left behind by economic and social forces beyond their control. To Beck, apparently, it conjures up… well, fascism.
Americans are facing very real problems. High unemployment, home foreclosures, state and local budget cuts, and rising personal debt, among many others. This debate about the role of government is proscribing how we respond to these needs. Mr. Beck’s theories are both appealingly simple and dangerously simplistic. His rhetoric provides targets for the growing anger in our country, but his commentary offers neither long-term solutions nor short-term relief.
Yet solutions are out there. At Jewish Funds for Justice, we are trying to do our part to partner with private enterprise, charities, and yes, the government, to do their part to advance the common good.
We are helping to turn the tide on foreclosures in Boston by working with Boston Community Capital to refinance mortgages and keep people in their homes. We are financing credit-starved small businesses in Louisiana by investing in ASI Federal Credit Union. We are generating bi-partisan support for the Homestar bill in Congress, which will create good jobs in the green economy for more than 160,000 Americans, while reducing our energy use and saving Americans money.
In addition to the work we are doing, there are many organizations and millions of people actively engaged in helping to solve the pressing challenges that we are facing and who understand the value of a strong and good government.
Americans need solutions like these. Unfortunately, what they are getting from Beck and others is scapegoats and scare tactics.
Given Glenn Beck’s self-professed fealty to the wisdom of the founding fathers, I thought he might appreciate these words from John Adams. “Government is instituted for the common good; for the protection, safety, prosperity, and happiness of the people; and not for profit, honor, or private interest of any one man, family, or class of men.”
Today, Americans need Adams’ government for the common good, to help provide real solutions to challenges we must overcome together. We challenge all of us to seek solutions that ensure America does live up to its promise and that our nation really does work for the common good, and yes, with a common decency.
Dangerously, Beck has it entirely backwards. Turning our backs on the common good is actually what leads to fascism. When we pursue the common good, we provide for ourselves and ensure our future prosperity.
Simon Greer is the president and chief executive officer of Jewish Funds for Justice, which works to create a just, fair, and compassionate America.