Bishop T.D. Jakes of the Potter's House in Dallas, Texas delivered an inspiring and healing sermon today at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. on this National Day of Prayer for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. He stressed that faith-in-action is the truest example of sincere compassion toward one's fellow man or woman, and that pretty rhetoric without action is little more than poetry. Speaking about the Biblical parable of the Good Samaritan, he drew out five points and lessons, skillfully applying them to our modern public lives and our treatment of the poorest among us. He called upon Americans to "dare to discuss the unmentionable issues that confront us" and to not rest until the poor are raised to an acceptable living standard.
The first Parable-related point that Bishop Jakes made was that "Restoration is more than observation." We can no longer be a nation of people who can pass the ghetto on our way to Mardi Gras, to pass Harlem on our way to Manhattan, or to pass Compton on our way to Rodeo Drive while ignoring the poverty of our fellow Americans. Second, he raised the question, "Who is my neighbor?" Your neighbors are more than the people who look just like you; who live where you live; or who vote the way you vote. Third, he reminded us of the vision of our wounded neighbors lying by the side of the road (in the parable as well as in New Orleans), and how some people choose to pass them by - a powerful and humbling reminder that you can't help others if you exalt yourself above them. In the parable, the Samaritan came off his beast to help the bleeding man. "Come down where the pain and poverty is," recommended the Bishop. Fourth, Bishop Jakes pressed the fact that "Resources, not rhetoric, are what bring about meaningful changes in our lives." It's not what we say that is important. It's what we do that is important. Real leadership is defined by what we do. The Bishop suggests that we need to love our neighbors enough to "pay the bill." Fifth, he asked the question: "Are our relationships productive?" He said that we must know each other if we are to help one another, despite our distinctive perspectives.
Bishop Jakes spoke about the Twin Span Bridge that connects Slidell, Louisiana to New Orleans which was partially submerged by Katrina and will need rebuilding. He called it a symbol of our need to rebuild bridges between our ideas, our perspectives, and our differences - we must build unity. "We can't multiply by dividing and we can't add by subtracting," said Bishop Jakes. If we rebuild that bridge with unity, it could make a real difference, letting go of the divisive illusion that we're black or white; Democrat or Republican; "right" or left." The true vision, he said is "One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." He took his Five Points and compared each of them to a finger of one Helping Hand stretched out our nation's poor and underprivileged, and stretched out to those all over the world who've been ravaged by Poverty. He concluded that our nation - and the world - will be the place we've thought it could be when we've closely examined the lessons of the story of the Good Samaritan and applied them, with faith and action, to our society.
I thought that President Bush gave a pretty-sounding speech last night. With the "beauty shot" of Jackson Square lit up like an angel's daylight behind him, he exuded hope to those who searched for it. The hopeful overtones seemed closer to what you'd expect from the articulate and inspiring Sen. John Edwards. The usual G.W. Bush "sloganese" was absent, for the most part. When he reassured America that the great city of New Orleans would rise again, I think that many believed that he'd meant what he'd said. He admitted his mistakes. He spoke of the rebuilding as a "common effort," which was one of the most uniting and sincere-sounding phrases I've heard from Bush since 9/11. It was good talk, yet we realize the cagey devil remains to be found slithering among the bare details. What Bush had to say was not easy to accept, but it was realistic. For many conservatives, it was a slap to the face. After all, piling $200 billion (plus) to the monster of a deficit that the Bush administration has already created is staggering in its economic implications.
Rather than offering an Inspector General to ensure that our tax dollars will be spent honestly and wisely by reviewing upcoming expenditures, I believe Bush should have given us the name of a new program with an administrator who has real and material experience in social management and economic oversight. A glorified auditor is not sufficient, and Bush can't handle the job himself. Karl Rove is the worst person for the job because of who he is and what he stands for. After what we saw with FEMA, I don't trust that we can leave this awesome task to the various bureaucracies (DHS, Labor, SS, FEMA,et al) with no one "czar" to report to. The military may be of invaluable assistance, but they should not be required to have as broad of a role as recommended by the President. New Orleans is going to be more than just a bunch of new buildings. It's going to be a city to which a lot of underprivileged people will return with the hope of opportunity.
Harry Hopkins, one of the great American policy makers and innovators of the 20th century who lived in New Orleans for a time, was FDR's trusted channel of communication and administration. He was chosen to head up the short-lived FERA (Federal Emergency Relief administration), which vastly improved the fortunes of the unemployed in the 1930s. Back then, America was fighting to recover from a depression and Congress was generous, spending a whopping $4 billion in total on FERA programs. It was the economic pump that broke the depression. It provided a substantial stimulus to the revival of business by creating purchasing power in a once-destitute class. It raised the standard of living of the poorest and lowest-paid people. In his day, many right wingers called Harry Hopkins a "communist" because of his focus on social justice. Louisiana's own Huey Long had disagreed, averring that FDR had not been generous enough with federal funds and admitting that the redistribution of wealth to the American people was socialistic but necessary. Harry Hopkins had said:
"We can only say that after every dollar entrusted to us for lessening of distress, the maximum amount humanly possible was put into the people's hands. The money, spent honestly and with constant remembrance of its purpose, bought more of courage than it ever bought of goods."
In 1935, the work of FERA was taken over by the Social Security Board, and Hopkins moved on to become director of the Works Projects Administration, one of the most famous of all New Deal programs. The WPA employed more than three million people and was responsible for the building of highways, bridges, public buildings and parks. Even though Congress eventually found the programs unpopular and unnecessary, Harry Hopkins had handled the programs with extraordinary skill and they had served their purpose well. Hopkins' political honesty (what's that, you ask?) and competence was a boon to FDR's popularity.
Where is President Bush's Harry Hopkins? We need him. Bush may speak pretty rhetoric, yet he is virtually silent about the social needs of New Orleans and of the worsening poverty across the United States. Waiving Davis-Bacon while silenty offering rebuilding contracts to profiteering political cronies is nothing but worrisome. Bush pushed his "ownership society" ideology during his speech, the Urban Homesteading Act for example, which is short-term Republican micromanagement of an insidious poverty that will still exist when the funds have run out. Does the President believe that he can accomplish a war on poverty without informing the American people that either their taxes will need to be raised or else they will suffer an ever-widening gap between rich and poor while government manipulates more tax breaks as a way to redistribute wealth to the richest? Somewhere along the way, we know that sacrifices must be made for what we've deliberately done in Iraq and for what nature did to us in New Orleans. The bill has been placed in front of us. Who's going to wind up paying the bill? If the richest are not called on by the Bush administration to pay their fair share, the middle class and the poor will be the ones who will suffer most, even though their taxes are not "raised". They will pay higher prices. Their schools will suffer. Their social programs will dissipate as spending becomes restricted to fighting in Iraq and rebuilding New Orleans. The gap between the "two Americas" will deepen.
The economic realities that Republican leadership have avoided, with an all-too-supportive FOX News giving cheerleader's megaphone, have hit us in the face. The Grover Norquist-"drown it in the bathtub" form of federal government was drowned by the floodwaters of August. This is a brand new day.
Where's Harry Hopkins?
Related story: FDR had had his own Hurricane to deal with in 1935.