Thursday, September 15, 2005

Compassionate Response

Before you get too excited about charitable organizations and private citizens pitching in to pick up the slack the federal government has left--will leave--in this Katrina aftermath, please bear this personal note in mind: I have a friend, an artist--and incidentally a faithful reader of our diaries--who happens to work among the homeless in downtown Los Angeles. A person of obviously deep conscience and integrity, and one who devotes her working life to valuable community service, she was over at our house the other night expressing serious concern about the charitable efforts of those in this city who have, with the best of intentions, brought dozens of evacuees from the Gulf Coast into temporary shelter in our city. Of course she would wish to help these unfortunate people. Of course. Who wouldn't?

Our friend was speaking, though, out of the experience of watching the homeless population continue to grow apace in the area where she works. It's not just men and women any more, she says: it's whole families. How could the city absorb another significant influx, when we can't even adequately respond to the desperate needs of those already here? As the promised trickle-down effect continues to flood upward to the already wealthy instead of trickling down to those in need, those at the bottom of the heap are sinking further and further into poverty and despair. As I understand it, the conservative strangling of the government beast, from top to bottom, has effectively stripped local governments of the means to aid their poorest citizens, even as they multiply in numbers.

With this in mind, much more is needed than your Dad's rosy picture of a thousand points of light, or your "faith-based" charities. You took the step of accepting responsibility for the failures of the federal government in responding to the Gulf Coast disaster--but, as an astute letter writer to the New York Times asked this very morning, Bush: what does that mean? Does it mean that you're ready to take the difficult steps necessary to make goverment responsible again? Does it mean that you're ready to ask the country to make sacrifices--and pay taxes? Does it mean that you'll do whatever it takes to prepare the country for the next natural disaster or terrorist attack?

Or, Bush, is it just more hot air? I hope you'll clarify these points in your prime time speech to the nation this evening, and that you won't waste all of our time reminding us what a great country we are, and how we'll emerge stronger from this ordeal, and how the compassionate response of the American people will rise to the occasion. Enough with the bullshit, okay, Bush? We need some real change in your attitude toward the government you purport to lead before we believe another word from you.

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