Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.

Senator Coats, Meet Glenn Loury

James Skillen


January 8, 1996

By now, you've probably heard about the "Project for American Renewal" put forward in the Senate by Dan Coats, a conservative Republican from Indiana. Late last year he introduced a package of 19 bills that aim to strengthen families, empower communities, and encourage effective compassion.

But why this? Aren't conservative Republicans trying to cut back the federal government? Well, yes, but Senator Coats may be different.

The conservative in Coats wants to preserve the best part of middle America. He wants to see working families stay together, take care of their own, save some of their earnings, help maintain their communities, and go to church for more than social reasons. The senator is a Wheaton College evangelical who knows that government—especially the federal government—can't rear children, provide personal care for neighbors, and nurture the love of God in human souls. He is, indeed, ready to cut over-reaching federal programs.

But Coats is not a libertarian. He wants to conserve government as well as society. He accepts the biblical view that God calls government to do justice, to protect the innocent, to encourage the good that individuals, communities, and non-government organizations are supposed to do. So he's not rushing to cut back government just for the sake of cutting. The question he's struggling with is, What is government's proper task, and how can it do it better? Coats likes to quote John DiIulio to the effect that removing the knife from a stab victim will not by itself heal the wound or guarantee the victim's recovery. Something more needs to be done. Government has a constructive role to play in restoring society, Senator Coats believes.

Glenn Loury, economics professor at Boston University, comes from a part of the country that is far from the middle America familiar to Indiana Coats. Loury is an African American from the South Side of Chicago. He knows first hand that trying to conserve the American "way of life" may also mean conserving what has become a "way of death" for far too many of today's urban poor. Removing government's welfare supports may help pull the knife from the stabbing victim, but it will not by itself produce social health where disease and despair now run rampant.

But this professor is not an old-fashioned liberal. Loury, too, is a born-again Christian who agrees that government cannot rear children: "parents are God's stewards in the lives of their children," he says. Nor can government benefits substitute for neighborly care or nurture the love of God in souls. Loury is not asking government to replace society. He simply wants government to do what Senator Coats knows it should do: uphold justice, protect the innocent, and establish order for all citizens, including the poor.

Senator Coats, meet professor Loury.

The greatest political challenges of 1996 and beyond can be met in significant measure, I contend, if Dan Coats and Glenn Loury will put their hearts and minds together. Government needs both to preserve society where it is healthy and to intervene with radical reforms where society has broken down. Both men would agree that government should actively take the side of people and institutions who are rebuilding their own communities. Of course, the challenge reaches far beyond welfare reform. It goes to tax policies, education, health care, and structuring our economy so that people can work and hold their families together and fulfill their civic responsibilities. Both Coats and Loury take seriously society as well as government, work as well as charity, God as well as the image of God, sin as well as salvation. As a team, they'd be dynamite.

—James W. Skillen, Executive Director
   Center for Public Justice

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Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”