Last Saturday night, when both John McCain and Barack Obama were interviewed by Pastor Rick Warren, one of the questions intrigued me: what do they consider America's greatest moral failure? That one got me thinking, and I decided to limit it to just actions taken during my memory.
My answer would be those times when we have given our word to other people, not kept that word, and watched them suffer for the folly of depending on us. The greatest example I can give is in the immediate aftermath of the first Gulf War, when Iraqis under American encouragement rose up to overthrow Saddam Hussein -- and were slaughtered when our pledged support never materialized. It reminded me of the way we left Viet Nam and the Bay of Pigs incidents, and we should remember those incidents with shame.
Obama's answer, though, bothered me:
I think America's greatest moral failure in my lifetime has been that we still don't abide by that basic precept in Matthew that whatever you do for the least of my brothers, you do for me, and that notion of -- that basic principle applies to poverty. It applies to racism and sexism. It applies to, you know, not having -- not thinking about providing ladders of opportunity for people to get into the middle class. There's a pervasive sense, I think, that this country, as wealthy and powerful as we are, still don't spend enough time thinking about the least of us.
(hat tip: Ed Morrissey of Hot Air)
As Ed noted, Americans are astonishingly generous when it comes to charitable contributions. So, how do the presidential candidates stack up?
Well, thanks to their having released their tax returns, we have a pretty good idea.
In the years 2000 through 2007, Barack Obama donated between 0.4% and 6.1% of his net income to charitable causes.
McCain released his 2006 and 2007 tax returns, and in those years he gave 28.6% and 27.3% of his income to charitable causes.
So it seems to me that Obama's saying that America should be more like John McCain, and less like Barack Obama.
Personally, I'm a hell of a lot closer to Obama's donation pattern than McCain's. But that's because I tend to live paycheck to paycheck (if I'm lucky). I make my good works a bit more direct -- I'm a frequent blood donor. Well, not so much in the last couple of years, but I'm getting back into the swing of things. I did the "double donation" of pure red blood cells last Friday, and I'm planning on going back once I'm eligible in December.
I got started on that back in college, when I met a woman who was in her early 40's who had a five-gallon pin. I swore I'd beat her, and I got my five gallon pin shortly before my 30th birthday. I slacked off after that, and I've lost count of my donations, but I know I'm very close to gallon # 7 -- I'll have to check with the Red Cross.
I also shanghaied a couple of my friends into donating on a few occasions. In fact, my slacking off might even have given one of them enough time to pass me -- I should check with him and see where he stands.
He's on the far side of three gallons. Phew. I can maintain my lead.
In fact, I'd encourage everyone who can to donate blood. It doesn't take that long, it doesn't hurt that much (after 50+ donations, I STILL can't watch the needle going in), and it's amazingly meaningful -- it's one of the most direct ways you can help someone in truly dire need.
But back to my point. I suspect Obama would count his works as an elected official as charitable, and I tend to not agree with that. For the most part, steering government money to worthy causes qualifies as "being generous with other people's money." Further, it's almost always far less efficient than private funding.
If only more Americans were like John McCain.
Update: I can't believe to mention that Obama's charitable donations don't seem to cover such things as supporting a school he pledged to help, and was renamed in his honor. I take a bit of pride in saying that I've given more money to the Senator Obama Kogelo Secondary School than Senator Obama has.