Regular readers of these pages are most likely strong supporters in the safety net programs set up in the New Deal, Great Society and now Obamacare legislative eras. They hold these programs to be good examples of America’s capacity to care for the ill, the poor, the destitute and the aged. And they find in these programs America’s expression of the Jewish concept of tikkun olam, repairing the world as it is, in the service of God and Torah.
So in this presidential election, as in every election, these socially conscious Jews are lining up behind the candidate on the left side of the political divide. President Obama has certainly honored the wishes of those tikkun olam-minded voters who supported him in 2008. He expanded the welfare state in virtually every direction.
A record number — 45 million Americans — were on food stamps in 2011, a 70% increase from 2007. Spending for the program was $72 billion, up $30 billion from 2007. In the first quarter of 2011, slightly less than half — 49.1% percent — of America’s population was living in a household where someone was receiving a government benefit. That’s up from 44.4% in the third quarter of 2008, and a good indication to all those tikkun olam voters.
And since Obama has presided over the slowest economic recovery in postwar history and the worst jobs record in any recovery, we’ve had millions more opportunities to express our spirit of tikkun olam.
Obama speaks regularly of the need to make investments in America’s infrastructure and future, and I believe him. But in reality, America is not so much in the investing business as in the loss-covering business. Roughly $7 out of every $10 spent by the federal government goes toward cleaning up other people’s mistakes or problems: housing assistance, food stamps, free or reduced health care, free and reduced lunches in schools and other educational supports, and subsidies for farmers.
In perhaps the finest display of the spirit of tikkun olam, only half the country has to pay for it. Half of Americans pay almost no income taxes — and in some cases, because of tax credits like those awarded for every child a family has, they even receive income tax refunds despite having zero income tax liability.
So if you’re a tikkun olam voter, you should be thrilled.
Of course, all this tikkun olam comes with an enormous price tag — one so big that it has heaped trillion-dollar deficits on the nation each year of Obama’s presidency. The Social Security trust fund will be empty several years earlier than we expected when Obama took office. Medicare’s trust fund will hang on longer, thanks to Obamacare, but it still carries trillions in future liabilities that expected tax revenues won’t cover.