War on Poverty: Bush's speech should revive efforts

by Editorial Board

THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS Graduation day speeches routinely teem with puffery and sweeping proclamations about public service and responsibility, and in that regard, President Bush’s recent challenge to the University of Notre Dame’s graduating class struck all the familiar themes.p. It is not surprising that Mr. Bush picked this annual rite of passage to recast a recurring administration theme of personal responsibility. It is surprising that he openly challenged graduates to war against poverty in America.p. This generation, Mr. Bush told graduates, must decide whether to “ratify poverty and division with your apathy orbuild a common good with your idealism.”p. Despite years of government spending and a decade-long bull market, poverty remains an intractable problem in America, ignored during good economic times and lamented during bad times. From inner-city neighborhoods to rural communities, neediness mars America with scars of hopelessness. Except for the cry of despair, poverty has no single voice. And there is no single answer, and certainly not a single government answer.p. Mr. Bush praised the Great Society’s war on poverty for extending a long and sturdy government rope to millions of forgotten Americans in the 1960s, and extended credit to former President Bill Clinton for signing landmark welfare reform legislation in 1996. But “compassion,” he noted “often works best on a small and human scale.”p. For those reasons, it is regrettable that the president’s charitable choice initiatives remain bottled in legislative and political anxiety. Religious conservatives worry that federal money will corrupt spiritual missions. Civil libertarians fear charitable work is cloaked proselytization with federal dollars. Both miss the point.p. Government ought to facilitate, not dictate, in areas where it is clear that money is an inadequate solution. The Great Society worked for recipients who used its programs as a bridge out of poverty, and failed for those who considered the programs to be an end in themselves. The war on poverty is entering a new stage where money alone is not an answer.p. Mr. Bush is not so naive as to believe that charities and private-sector initiatives can eradicate poverty or replace government’s vast responsibilities. But he’s right to insist that faith-based programs with government assistance simply present another avenue for well-intentioned and well-resourced Americans to contribute. Many corporations, for a variety of reasons, restrict donations to faith-based groups. That should not be. The poverty battle is big enough to enlist more foot soldiers.p. The Notre Dame speech is more than a “good luck and conquer the world” pep talk. It is a challenge to all stakeholders in America to become part of the solution.

TopicID: 388