HETRICK: 'Jesus Christ Superstar' takes on federal deficit

April 23, 2011

When I was in seventh grade, the youth minister at our church introduced me to the Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice musical “Jesus Christ Superstar.”

With its rock beat, humanized biblical characters and alternative take on the traditional Easter story, it was an instant hit among our junior-high crowd.

This Easter week, as is our wont, my wife and I will pull out our “Superstar” DVD, pop it into the PlayStation, and watch Jesus, Judas, Pontius Pilate, King Herod, Mary Magdalene, Simon Zealotes, Caiaphas and all the rest tell their tale on the stark desert landscape.

One “Superstar” scene always reminds me of our entitlement society—and how some react to the notion of helping “the least among us.”

Fed up with moneychangers at the temple, Jesus is wandering alone, talking to God, when a group of needy people appears. One after another, they reach out, begging for help, and singing:

See my eyes, I can hardly see.

See me stand, I can hardly walk.

I believe you can make me whole.

See my tongue, I can hardly talk.

See my skin, I’m a mass of blood.

See my legs, I can hardly stand.

I believe you can make me well.

See my purse, I’m a poor, poor man.

Will you touch, will you mend me Christ?

Won’t you touch, will you heal me Christ?

Will you kiss, you can cure me Christ?

Won’t you kiss, won’t you pay me Christ?

Jesus being Jesus, he tries to help. But soon, he’s overwhelmed by the mass of humanity.

“There’s too many of you,” he sings. “Don’t push me. There’s too little of me. Don’t crowd me.” Until, finally, he shrieks, “Heal yourselves!”

Now, we can save for another day a theological discussion on the merits or demerits of a biblical rock musical.

But whatever the religious interpretation, that scene smacks of what we’re hearing from pols and pundits about Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, health insurance, food stamps, defense spending, foreign aid, public education, public radio, pregnancy prevention, environmental protection, budget-cutting, debt limits, tax cuts, etc., ad nauseum.

And with their focus not on public need, but on taxpayer expense, the budget-cutters, in particular, seem to be screaming, “Heal yourselves!”

But is that the best way to sell these ideas?

Two decades ago, President George H.W. Bush called for “a kinder, gentler nation.”

While tax-cutting may be kinder and gentler for wealthy people today, and while budget-cutting is promoted as beneficial to future generations, there’s nothing kind or gentle about saying to those in need: “We’re cutting you off,” or “We’re cutting you back” and “Fend for yourselves”—especially without explaining how.

So, in addition to, “We have to live within our means” and “Heal yourselves,” I’d be more receptive if the budget-cutters would explain the alternative.

For example: If we blow up Medicare as we know it—including its relatively low administrative costs—how will it be more efficient to run 50 separate programs in 50 separate states—and will that cost less than the current system?

If proposed Medicare-replacing federal block grants aren’t sufficient to cover the cost of 50 separate programs, how will fixed-income seniors make up the difference?

If we stop being the world’s cop and also cut back on foreign aid, in what new ways will we fulfill the government’s obligation to “provide for the common defense” in an increasingly dangerous world—and will that cost less than preventive measures?

If we stop funding Planned Parenthood, can we count on moms, dads, churches, schools, hospitals and other organizations to handle sex education, pregnancy prevention, Pap smears, breast-cancer screenings, sexually transmitted disease prevention and women’s health services? What if disease escalates as a result of these cutbacks? Who will cover the cost—and will it cost less than preventive measures?

What’s more, if cutbacks in sex education and birth control result in more unwanted pregnancies, who will help families in poverty raise their kids, pay for their education and keep them off the dole? And will it cost less than preventive measures?

If Environmental Protection Agency cutbacks result in higher cleanup costs or higher disease rates for future generations, who will pay—and will it cost less than preventive measures?

If we slash funding for smoking-cessation programs and see more lung cancer, heart disease, asthma, emphysema and other illnesses as a result, who will pay—and will it cost less than preventive measures?

If we fail to reform financial regulations and that triggers another job-killing recession, who will help us recover—and will it cost less than preventive measures?

We don’t know the answers to such questions, because the only things we hear from budget-slashers are latter-day versions of “no room at the inn” and “heal yourselves.”

Where I learned about the resurrection and the life, that’s not what Jesus would do.•


Hetrick is chairman and CEO of Hetrick Communications Inc., an Indianapolis-based public relations and marketing communications firm. His column appears twice a month. He can be reached at bhetrick@ibj.com.


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