Editor’s note: This article from the UU World archives appeared in the September/October 2003 edition.
There is a war being fought for the soul of America. It is not being fought in the mountains of Afghanistan or in the deserts of Iraq; it’s being fought on Capitol Hill and in state legislatures, in school boards and in zoning hearings. It is a war whose outcome will answer the question: Whose America is it?
With the Right in control of the White House and both houses of Congress, almost the entire progressive agenda has come under attack: a woman’s right to choose; affirmative action; basic rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons; and, in the name of homeland security, the civil liberties of everyone in the United States. And so much of the Right’s agenda has been justified by using the rhetoric of defending the “traditional family.”
Yet in its economic policies, the Bush administration and its allies in Congress have displayed blatant disregard for the fate of millions of poor families, traditional or otherwise. It is beyond dispute that the president’s new tax cut, the third largest in U.S. history, is a benefit to the wealthiest taxpayers, but its effectiveness as a prescription for the ailing economy is a matter of heated debate.
The administration has made its priorities clear, and millions of struggling families didn’t make the cut.
The number of families requesting Temporary Assistance for Needy Families is on the rise, along with unemployment statistics—two million jobs lost in the past two years, half a million of them this year alone—but the administration’s budget keeps the program’s funding frozen at the 1996 level. It also wants states to stiffen work requirements, requiring 70 percent of welfare recipients to be working forty hours per week within five years, up from 50 percent working twenty to thirty-five hours per week today. And the administration does not want to count any education or training towards these totals. Where will these people find jobs, in an age when even the experienced and educated are out of work?
Those lucky enough to find jobs are likely to find child care and other services for children in short supply, as federal funds for child care, after-school programs, and health care have all been cut, or responsibility has been shifted to the states—which are facing their largest deficits in half a century. Nearly half the states have cut child-care funding in the last two years, and the new federal tax cuts will further strain resources and make additional service cuts likely.
The reality is that the administration’s economic policies are making it more difficult for the poorest Americans to pull themselves out of poverty at the worst possible time, while at the same time robbing the treasury of funds needed to support safety-net services. How can an administration that does these things claim to be defending the American family? It can do so only if we do not stand up with other people of faith and beg to differ.
Whose America is it? It is too easy, at times like these, to throw up our hands, retreat behind our walls, and talk among ourselves about how bad things are. But if we stay home and complain, then it is only the wealthy and the powerful in Washington whose vision will define the terms of the debate, who will determine who gets included and who gets left behind.
Our association of congregations has covenanted to affirm and promote principles that apply outside our sanctuary walls as well as within them, including our commitment to justice, equity, and compassion in human relations. Our principles enrich our personal lives, but they also call us to action. Our place must be in the public square, giving voice to our vision of how our family values should inform economic and social policy. If we do not, we are leaving it to others to define those terms and their vision will shape our society. This is not a time for hand-wringing. This is a time for speaking truth and acting on it.