President Barack Obama has not been shy about invoking his faith. He has done so in support of everything from "Obama-care" to gay marriage.
And yet, no aspect of Obama's faith has struck me quite like his repeated use of the phrase "my brother's keeper," the signature line for his public expressions of faith. My colleague, Dr. Gary Smith, author of the authoritative Faith and the Presidency: from George Washington to George W. Bush, reports that Obama has used the phrase 57 times. The Presidential Papers reveal 17 instances of Obama using the phrase over the last 12 months, 11 of them at fundraisers.
"I am my brother's keeper," said President Obama in Atlanta recently. "Each of us is only here because somebody somewhere was looking out for us. It started in the family, but it wasn't just the immediate family...Our story has never been about what we can do alone. It's what we do together."
For Obama, this is an exhortation to help one another, from our literal brothers to our brothers in the wider community and world.
And yet, the "brother's keeper" passage is an odd choice. It comes from the Old Testament remark of Cain after he murdered his brother Abel. God asks Cain where his brother is. Cain replies, "Am I my brother's keeper?"
It is a bad moment. Given the roots of the phrase -- the first murder, of a sibling no less -- I find it a strange formulation for making the case for helping our brother, or our neighbor, or the needy. I see a phrase like "love thy neighbor," a favorite of George W. Bush, as far more preferable, and certainly derived from an infinitely better source.
But even stranger is a situation that has developed between Obama's literal (half) brother, George Obama, and Dinesh D'Souza. George is interviewed in D'Souza's film 2016: Obama's America. As D'Souza shows graphically, George lives in a shanty house in Nairobi, Kenya, surviving on a few dollars a month.
George apparently took a liking to D'Souza. Remarkably, he recently phoned D'Souza from Kenya. It was an emergency. Obama's brother needed healthcare. He explained to D'Souza that his child was in the hospital, ailing from a "chest condition." He needed a quick $1,000 for the medical bills.
"Since George was at the hospital I asked him to let me speak to a nurse," says D'Souza, "and she confirmed that George's son was indeed ill." D'Souza immediately sent the money via Western Union.
But here's the kicker, which cuts to the heart of that "brother's keeper" thing. As D'Souza states, "Before I hung up, I asked George, 'Why are you coming to me?' He said, 'I have no one else to ask.' Then he said something that astounded me, 'Dinesh, you are like a brother to me.'"
That's touching. In fact, however, Dinesh D'Souza is not a brother to George Obama. Barack Obama is. And Obama is a millionaire. Why didn't George go to his real brother for support? Better, why hasn't Obama gone to him?
Sure, Obama is obviously busy. But George is family. Other busy presidents have had brothers, half brothers, estranged brothers -- and downright bizarre brothers. Recently, there was Bill Clinton's troubled brother, Roger. There was Billy Carter, Jimmy's brother. These brothers embarrassed their presidential brothers. Jimmy's brother was on the front of everything from the New York Times to beer cans. Nonetheless, Jimmy, the Georgian Baptist, was his brother's keeper -- as was Bill Clinton for Roger Clinton. And neither of these two presidents flagrantly employed the phrase "my brother's keeper."
For those who think this hypocritical of Obama, they should understand it's actually not all that inconsistent. Barack Obama is from the "social justice" Religious Left (see here, here, and here). Many religious liberals link "compassion" and even "charity" to government action. That's misguided.
Consider, for instance, the parable of the Good Samaritan: What did the Good Samaritan do when he encountered the wounded traveler? He picked him up, treated him, transported him, paid the innkeeper, and pledged to follow up. He gave his own time and resources. He didn't demand that governing authorities help the wounded traveler. Certainly, Jesus didn't employ the parable as a call for a single federal collective to handle poverty.
Really, Barack Obama's non-response to his brother's plight is no surprise. Obama personally gives very little money to charity and believes in a large federal government that redistributes wealth. He favors what the late Grove City College economist Hans Sennholz called "the Transfer Society." And so, he's transferring his brother's needs to the rest of us.
Obama sees us as his brother's keeper. We are the ones expected to help. We are Obama's brother's keeper.