Sometimes you read an opinion piece so incredible, so ludicrous, that you just have to spend the next 10 minutes watching Pac Man in a college library to get your head back on straight. I’m not talking about Tom Friedman hawking his latest catchphrase, nor some dead-ender propping up an ideology. I’m talking about monkeys throwing crap at the wall. I’m talking about Deputy Editor Daniel Henninger’s effort in the Wall Street Journal:
“This year we celebrate the desacralized “holidays” amid what is for many unprecedented economic ruin — fortunes halved, jobs lost, homes foreclosed. People wonder, What happened? One man’s theory: A nation whose people can’t say “Merry Christmas” is a nation capable of ruining its own economy.”
“One had better explain that.”
The author knows he’s spinning towards Munchkin Land, but continues by walking us through some boilerplate financial crisis narrative. And then:
“What really went missing through the subprime mortgage years were the three Rs: responsibility, restraint and remorse. They are the ballast that stabilizes two better-known Rs from the world of free markets: risk and reward. Responsibility and restraint are moral sentiments. Remorse is a product of conscience. None of these grow on trees. Each must be learned, taught, passed down. And so we come back to the disappearance of “Merry Christmas.”
Apparantly, the war on Christmas is over and we won. Our wanton sacking of Christmas destroyed the strict moral code that had previously dominated the world of finance. With Christmas left prostrate, financiers and borrowers alike devolved into a post-apocalyptic terror-sex orgy of reckless capitalistic activity. It wasn’t deregulation, Henninger argues, nor a structural problem with a system that encouraged people to overvalue worthless paper. The problem was, we lost our virtue.
Strangely, this only happened just now. Not the Gordon Gecko ethics that led to the 1989 savings & loan crisis; nor the salacious profligacy of the Clinton period; nor the first seven years of Bush’s YOYO economics. All that was well and moral so long as we had Christmas. Tragically, something gave in September of 2008. Henninger doesn’t explain the trigger: Was Santa lanced by a secularist Janissary? Did Dobson surrender his credentials to Rochambeau at Yorktown? How could the strong moral fiber of early 21st century America have folded so quickly?
“Northerners and atheists who vilify Southern evangelicals are throwing out nurturers of useful virtue with the bathwater of obnoxious political opinions.”
That explains it! The legions of Southern evangelical bankers, who built this country’s wealth on a sound moral platform, suddenly disappeared in the autumn of 2008, shifting control of the economy from Biloxi seminary students to secularist northerners. The nomination of a not-baptized, not-born again Republican wiped out the last systemic protection of our heretofore Godly financial system. Or something.
I have a guess at Henninger’s intentions. He’s trying to set up Kathleen Parker and Jonah Goldberg on a blind date. (No touching, children!) The goal is to reconcile the God Squad with the millionaire branch of the party. Henninger hopes that blaming secularism for the financial collapse will help redirect the increasingly vicious self-flagellation of the Republican Party towards a common enemy of those greedy, Godless northerners. (The regionalism is a nice little touch.) Whither Madame Rudy?
Moral failure is a hot explanation for the financial crisis. Lefty minister Jim Wallis makes a similar case here. It may be true that a lack of ethics contributed to the problem. However, anyone who thinks that the down-home decency of Southern evangelicals was the glue holding the system together can please drop me an email because I’ve got this bridge for sale. This effort to spin fact-free religious moralism into a party building exercise is one part Newt Gingrich and one part Elmer Gantry.