I love watching movie adaptations of Jane Austen novels. The opening scene from the movie Sense and Sensibility starring Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet, and Hugh Grant is memorable. As the movie, which is based on Austen’s classic tome of the same name opens, a dying father leaves his inheritance to his son after making the son promise that he will be very generous to his sisters. On the way home from his father’s deathbed the son’s hard-hearted wife gradually convinces her newly rich husband to keep the vast majority of his inheritance for himself and give his sisters only a token. We watch dumbfounded as good intentions are overwhelmed by greed.
Thinking about that movie scene brings to mind the scene unfolding in our country right now. Our government is full of people whose good intentions have become overwhelmed by greed. That greed is rearing its ugly head in the form of crony capitalism. Unfortunately what is happening isn’t a movie scene or a work of fiction. It is a fact of our new reality. Its everywhere. One proverbial bad apple has spoiled the barrel that is Capitol Hill. As Governor Sarah Palin has mentioned in her recent Wall Street Journal Op-Ed, Congress is rife with ‘entrenched corruption’. “How do politicians who arrive in Washington, D.C. as men and women of modest means leave as millionaires?” Palin asks. “How do they miraculously accumulate wealth at a rate faster than the rest of us? How do politicians’ stock portfolios outperform even the best hedge fund managers?” Governor Palin answersthe question with this, “Politicians derive power from the authority of their office and their access to our tax dollars, and they use that power to enrich and shield themselves.”
Peter Schweizer’s new book, Throw Them All Out reveals the idea that for politicians, trading stocks while major legislation is being considered is standard practice. And unlike most of the efforts of Congress, this movement towards amassing wealth by corrupt means is a bipartisan effort. The recent 60 Minutes piece about this practice gives examples from both sides of the aisle. It highlighted trades made by former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and by Spencer Bachus, R-Ala., chairman of the House Financial Services committee. Our Congress has corrupted itself to the point it is no longer recognizable as a governing body that upholds the principles of a government ‘of the people, by the people, and for the people’. Congress has morphed from a body of men and women serving others into an unrecognizable mass of people serving themselves, corrupted by their own greed.
However, the idea of greed corrupting people is not a new concept. King Solomon of Old Testament fame, penned scriptures decrying greed like “When you grab at all you can get, this is what happens – the more you get, the less you are” (Proverbs 1:19) and “A greedy and grasping person destroys community” (Proverbs 15:27a). Yet for all of his wisdom, Solomon never took his own advice to heart. He become the wealthiest man of his time. Solomon was so rich that he was known far and wide not only for his wisdom but also for his wealth (not to mention his wives). Solomon was enslaved by greed and changed by it.
To further illustrate how greed can corrupt one’s idenity, look to the story of Gollum from the Lord of the Rings series by J.R.R. Tolkien. Gollum started out as a fairly good-natured Hobbit. Originally, his name was Smeagol. But in his selfish obsession with possessing the ring and the powers it held, Smeagol was transformed – actually deformed is a better word – into Gollum. As the story progresses, his entire body is disfigured into a hideous, slimy creature that prowls the land looking for his precious ring. He is tortured by the ring, but strangely compelled onward. His life becomes a living hell. He loses his name. He is consumed by this twisted desire. In the end, he is known only by the strange gulping sound that he makes – Gollum. In his book, The Hole in Our Gospel, World Vision CEO Richard Stearns describes the power the ring has over Gollum:
“I am a huge Lord of the Rings fan. I have read the books several times and have watched the movies more than once as well. In the story, the Ring of Power has magical powers that, among other things, allow its wearer to become invisible. Ironically, though, whoever possesses the Ring ultimately finds that the Ring possesses him, as the allure of its power becomes too great to resist. The more one wears it and experiences its power, the harder it is to remove it or to part with it. The miserable Gollum, once so possessed by desire for it, had been reduced to a shriveled and pathetic creature who thought of nothing else but his “precious”–the One Ring. He had all but lost his humanity.”
Stearns is intimating that the things we possess and obsess over end up, in fact, possessing and destroying us. The story of Gollum is a mirror to not just Congress, but also our culture. It is often said that our attitudes shape our actions. Just look to how little emphasis America as a whole puts on Thanksgiving Day. Have you noticed that the store colors and décor changes from orange and black to red and green overnight? They trade the pumpkins and witches for Santa and Christmas trees. One of the local radio stations has already started their 24/7 Christmas music playlists. Christmas lights have been adorning our streets for a couple of weeks. So for most Americans, Thanksgiving is becoming little more than a speed bump between Halloween and Christmas. I recently saw a cartoon that had a Pilgrim husband and wife getting ready for Thanksgiving dinner with the turkey is on the table, but the wife is putting up a Christmas tree, and the husband asks: “Can that at least wait until after dinner?”
Thanksgiving is becoming the vanishing holiday. For millions of Americans Thanksgiving means shoving down your dinner so you can get a jump start on Christmas shopping. This year, a record number of stores will also be open on Thanksgiving day. Americans seem to be out to get the most stuff at the best possible deal. Don’t get me wrong, as a wife and mom of a large family I am often found in the ‘coupon clippers’ lane at the grocery store, but I won’t sacrifice what is truly important to get a good deal, to get more than we need. I won’t destroy or warp our Thanksgiving, which is for giving thanks to our Lord for all of our blessings including our nation. My attitude is shaping my actions.
Gollum’s attitude of greed in the Lord of the Rings trilogy is one that shapes his actions. He becomes sneaky, deceptive, and even willing to commit murder to keep the power the ring holds. Attitude also shapes the Hobbits’ actions too. Hobbits, Frodo and Samwise know that they must destroy the ring or its power will corrupt and destroy Middle Earth. The ring must be thrown into the fire of Mount Doom and destroyed forever. Like Middle Earth, America is being destroyed. Our country is becoming unrecognizable through our own actions. Our legislative body is quickly becoming a hideous carricature of itself, no longer out to serve the people but themselves. I believe in some ways, Senator John McCain was right when he called us Hobbits. What senators and congressmen alike must remember is that they started out like hobbits too.
Unfortunately the crony capitalism infesting the fabric of our nation is turning them all into unrecognizable, despicable characters like Gollum. Twentieth President of the United States, James A. Garfield said the following, “The people are responsible for the character of their Congress. If that body be ignorant, reckless, and corrupt, it is because the people tolerate ignorance, recklessness, and corruption. If it be intelligent, brave, and pure, it is because the people demand these high qualities to represent them in the national legislature.” Like it or not, our attitudes are relflected in our actions. We have elected those in Congress who are now destroying our country. The good intentions they had of serving “We the People” have become overwhelmed by the greed that has become all too much a part of our society. We need to change our attitude and take new action. We need to get America back on track. We need to grasp the ring back from Congress’ hands by holding them accountable for their actions. We need to destroy the power that crony capitalism holds in our government. It is time for us to return to our fundamental Judeo-Christian roots, live by the Constitution and elect citizens who will serve the people who elected them and not their own selfish interests.