Archive for August, 2009

The dream that never died

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy at the 1980 Democratic National Convention.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy at the 1980 Democratic National Convention.

The first presidential vote I ever cast was for Sen. Edward M. Kennedy in the 1980 Kentucky Democratic primary. In doing so, I was sailing against the wind. It was the beginning of a conservative era, and my generation was more conservative than most.

Under Jimmy Carter, the Democratic Party had moved to the right, and Carter’s presidency was to give way to that of the arch-conservative Republican Ronald Reagan.

Nearly 20 years later, it was another conservative Democratic president, Bill Clinton, who announced that the “era of big government is over.” This was the same president who ended welfare as we had known it, reduced the size of the federal government and had the first federal budget surplus since 1968.

How could Clinton have known that a Republican president, George W. Bush, would revive big government, and that his successor, Democrat Barack Obama, would be given a mandate to create the most activist liberal government since that of Lyndon Baines Johnson in the late 1960s?

As an 19-year-old college student, watching Kennedy’s concession speech on TV that night of the Democratic National Convention in New York, I was inspired, as many were. Kennedy’s speech admitted that many of his ideas had fallen out of fashion — commitment to the poor, to working people, to the environment, to the goal of universal health care, to the idea that government can play an active role in reviving the economy and creating a more just and prosperous society.

I made a poster for my bedroom with a newspaper photo of Kennedy and words from his speech, in which he quoted Tennyson and promised that “the dream shall never die.” Those words gave me goose bumps when I heard him deliver them in that great baritone voice.

“The commitment I seek is not to outworn views but to old values that will never wear out,” Kennedy said. “Programs may sometimes become obsolete, but the ideal of fairness always endures. Circumstances may change, but the work of compassion must continue. It is surely correct that we cannot solve problems by throwing money at them, but it is also correct that we dare not throw out our national problems onto a scrap heap of inattention and indifference.”

Nearly three decades later, Kennedy’s kind of liberalism is again finding favor. Public opinion polls that show that people in their 20s especially are overwhelmingly progressive, even if they are more conservative than their parents on a few issues, such as abortion.

After 30 years in the wilderness, the Democratic Party seems to have, in Kennedy’s words, found its “faith again.”

The senator ended his 1980 convention speech by saying, “For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.”

I’m glad he lived long enough to see his causes once again become the causes of the the Democratic Party and the majority of the American people. And Kennedy deserves credit for doing the lion’s share of the work to keep hope alive during all those years when liberals were in the minority, even within his own party.

Senator Kennedy has gone to his eternal rest. But his “dream shall never die.” It is, in fact, the American Dream of a better society for all our people.

The truth about Canada's health care

canadaOpponents of including a public option as part of a national health care reform bill say it would eventually lead to a single-payer health insurance system like Canada’s, and that it would be a nightmare. But there was an interesting column in USA Today yesterday by an editor who lives in Toronto, and it dispels some of the misconceptions many Americans have about Canada’s insurance and health care systems. Here’s the link:

http://blogs.usatoday.com/oped/2009/08/column-the-truth-about-canadian-health-care.html

Kennedy's health care legacy

Sen. Edward Kennedy wrote the cover article on health care reform for a recent issue of Newsweek.

Sen. Edward Kennedy wrote the cover article on health care reform for a recent issue of Newsweek.

In his 46 years in the Senate, no legislator did more to improve health care for Americans than Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass.

Early in his career he secured funding to build community health clinics, educate  physicians to serve poor parts of the country, and expand research on cancer. As a more seasoned lawmaker, during years when Republicans controlled the government, he was able to work with them  to secure important health reform legislation such as the State Children’s Health Insurance Program and the law to make employee health insurance portable.

The one goal that eluded him was a national health insurance program. The irony is that while he was dying of brain cancer in recent days, the debate over comprehensive health care reform had been at the top of the national political agenda, and this country may be closer to achieving Kennedy’s dream than at any time since Richard Nixon was president.

In a recent article he wrote for Newsweek, Kennedy said, “This is the cause of my life. It is a key reason that I defied my illness last summer to speak at the Democratic convention in Denver — to support Barack Obama, but also to make sure, as I said, ‘that we will break the old gridlock and guarantee that every American … will have decent, quality health care as a fundamental right and not just a privilege.’

“For four decades I have carried this cause — from the floor of the United States Senate to every part of this country. It has never been merely a question of policy; it goes to the heart of my belief in a just society. Now the issue has more meaning for me—and more urgency—than ever before.”

I believe that if Kennedy had not been ill during this battle for health care reform, he would have been the key player in the Senate in getting an agreement — just as he was when he worked with Republicans like Sen. Nancy Kassebaum of Kansas and Orrin Hatch of Utah to achieve other health care legislation — without taking credit for doing the lion’s share of the work.

That view is shared by his friend, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who said Sunday on “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” that Kennedy “as close to being indispensable as any individual I’ve ever known in the Senate.”

“He had a unique way of sitting down with the parties at a table and making the right concessions, which really are the essence of successful negotiations,” McCain said. “So it’s huge that he’s absent, not only because of my personal affection for him, but because I think the health care reform might be in a very different place today.”

Kennedy’s legacy on health care also is huge. The greatest tribute we as a nation can make to him is to reach a compromise — as he would have — and enact a comprehensive health care reform bill this year.

Helping the homeless in Clark

Homeless "street people" are a common sight in most big cities, as in this blog image, but we also have homeless people here in Winchester.

Homeless "street people" are a common sight in most big cities, as in this blog image, but we also have homeless people here in Winchester.

Many communities choose to ignore the homeless in their midst. Thankfully, ours didn’t.
I have been remiss in not following up on an earlier column expressing concern about the apparent lack of support among churches for Sleepless in Winchester, the summer event held at Lykins Park to raise awareness of the growing problem of homelessness in Clark County and money to match a $50,000 grant to assist those without shelter.
Until the 11th hour, it looked like Clark County Community Services might lose the grant because it wouldn’t get the donations needed before the Aug. 1 deadline. But in the end, Clark County — including its churches —came through. We not only met, but exceeded the goal by about $4,000.
Now Judy Crowe’s group has more than $100,000 to help homeless people.
Having adequate shelter is crucial to achieving self-sufficiency. It’s hard for someone to get a job if he doesn’t have a residence. But what Community Services does goes beyond trying to find temporary rental assistance for homeless people. Its staff and volunteers also work to try to alleviate the conditions that cause them to be homeless in the first place.
In my earlier column, I asked: “What part of ‘Love thy neighbor’ did they not understand?”
Whether it made a difference, I may never know. But the eventual support of the churches for this effort showed their leaders understood that giving aid to “the least of these” isn’t something that is peripheral to the church’s mission, but rather is at the heart of what faithful discipleship means.
It is also an important part of citizenship, regardless of one’s faith.
All of you who gave to this cause are commended for doing the right thing.

SHUNNING THE STRANGER

Here is the text of my earlier blog post, which I deleted this morning because it was being compromised daily by an obscene spam link in the comments.

homelessjesus1Posted in July 2009

Johnny Cash sang, “You’re so heavenly minded you’re no earthly good.”

I think we see that to a great extent in the church today.

I know so many people who think being a Christian is all about going to church and singing songs, and adhering to a list of “don’ts”: don’t drink, or swear, or whatever. But they wouldn’t lift a finger to help a neighbor or give a dollar to the poor.

Yet in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus said that if you don’t feed the hungry or show hospitality to the stranger, it’s the same as rejecting him. And in the book of Amos, we get a glimpse of God’s priorities:

I hate, I despise your festivals …
23Take away from me the noise of your songs;
I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
24But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

It really couldn’t be any clearer: God puts greater emphasis on social justice and compassion than on worship that is not grounded in such values.

Tonight a handful of volunteers put on an outstanding benefit to help raise money to match a $50,000 grant to Clark County Community Services to help the more than 500 homeless people in our local community, about half of whom are children. But not many people turned out for it, probably fewer than 50, and when I left just before midnight, it was down to just a handful, mostly volunteers and their children.

The organizers had expected hundreds. They had booked national recording artists 1,000 Generations, as well as local music groups.

It had been well publicized. Today alone, the Sun had announcements in three places in the print edition of the paper, as well as on our Web site and my blog. Several people had it on Facebook and Twitter. Thousands of postcards were mailed out. Two TV stations had it, and churches around the community were notified. But with few exceptions, the churches didn’t support this.

They should have. We have to start caring about the poor as God does or stop pretending that we’re disciples.

Here’s a good blog post I read today. It’s titled “Jesus was homeless.” It’s where I got the image that illustrates this post.

http://jimmymccarty.wordpress.com/2008/06/04/jesus-was-homeless/

Also, if you’re interested in knowing what our readers think, visit the Sun’s Web poll at www.winchestersun.com.

And if you still want to help, Clark County Community Services will be accepting donations until Aug. 1. You can get more information at www.calltohelp.org. Or call Community Services at 744-5034.

Right-wing radicalism isn't conservative

A Jesse Ventura supporter at a Ron Paul Convention. This is not the face of true conservatism.

A Jesse Ventura supporter at a Ron Paul Convention. This is not the face of true conservatism.

Before he was sentenced to prison on federal weapons charges, Charlie Puckett sat in my office at The Jessamine Journal and told me that the Clinton Administration would be the last democratically elected government in the United States.
That’s because President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore, he explained, had an agenda to impose martial law on the country and disarm its citizens so they couldn’t fight back.
Charlie chastened then Congressman Scotty Baesler for supporting what he called “concentration camps” that were being set up around the country, and he cited the legislation.
He also said that Clinton intended to surrender America’s sovereignty to a “one-world government” headed by the United Nations. As proof, he showed me an article about Belgian troops operating on American soil. For some reason, “Patriot militia” folks like Charlie always seem to fear tiny Belgium.
I did a little checking, and learned that what he and other militia men thought were concentration camps were actually Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) sites, and that those they believed were belligerent foreign troops were actually NATO forces conducting training exercises with the American military, which has always led NATO.
Charlie, whom I came to like a little despite his odd notions, was at that time the head of the Kentucky State Militia, an armed citizens group that saw itself as a legitimate part of the American defense establishment.
They based their belief on the Second Amendment to the Constitution, which states: “A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”
Some say these groups are not real militias, because they are not regulated by the state government, but are instead private armies, which are prohibited by law.
That was a major issue in the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794, when George Washington mustered a legitimate militia to defeat a private army of insurrectionists.
In my experience, the modern militias are more like the insurrectionists than Washington’s citizens’ army because they see the federal government as the enemy.
My interview with Charlie Puckett was part of a series I wrote on the Kentucky State Militia, which held its meetings just across the river from Camp Nelson in Garrard County. I also attended one of their meetings, where the anti-government rhetoric was boiling.
The speaker that night, a professor who ranted about an imagined “New World Order” conspiracy, was quite obviously mad. A picture I took of him caught the maniacal look in his eyes — like a weird TV preacher drunk on his own power.
When I interviewed Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hatewatch project, he told me that there is usually a grain of truth in the stories these groups tell to make them seem “proven” to gullible people. Case in point: the “concentration camps” bill, which set up FEMA trailer parks for disaster victims.
This week, the SPLC issued a report on the resurgence of the militia movement after nearly a decade of decline. The article in today’s Winchester Sun is from Mark’s blog post on the study.
This disturbing development is part of a larger resurgence of right-wing radicalism that is divorced from reality. We’ve seen it in the town hall protests where fanatics have shouted down advocates of moderate health care reform, calling them “socialists.” We’ve seen it among the “birthers” who claim that President Obama isn’t an American, that he’s a jihadist, or the Anti-Christ. We’ve seen it among those who deny that global warming exists or is a threat to our world, regardless of the evidence.
And we’ve seen preachers, politicians and radio talk show hosts fan the flames of this lunacy for their own selfish reasons.
Calling this craziness conservatism is an insult to all true conservatives.

Randy Patrick is the managing editor of The Winchester Sun.

Stories that make a difference

Rachel Joy Scott

Rachel Joy Scott

In the newspaper business, the watch word is local. There’s an increased emphasis on local news and commentary because that’s our franchise at small daily newspapers. But often it’s a personal reflection on a broader story that gets people’s attention or influences them.

A case in point is the column I wrote about the Christian witness of Rachel Scott, the first victim of the murders at Columbine High School in Colorado on April 20, 1999. Until recently, that column, which was published here on my blog as “Thirteen tears — A Columbine legacy,” was my most active post. As of today, it has 604 views and eight comments.

I was reminded about it this afternoon when a woman called me to ask where she could find it on our Web site. She wanted to use it in a talk to her women’s group. It was, she said, “inspiring to read” and showed that “there’s a positive end to things that don’t look positive sometimes.”

That was something I needed to be reminded about myself today.

Every journalist and writer wants to make a difference in people’s lives. It’s why we choose this career over those that pay well. I’m pleased that this story has helped others in some way.

If you missed “Thirteen tears: A Columbine legacy,” you can read it by clicking on April 2009 in the archives to the write, then scrolling about halfway down the page.

Editor’s note: I mentioned that my Columbine post was the second most active. The one that has the most page views by far, 1,165, is “Dying of Loneliness,” a piece I wrote around the first of the year about a book by two biologists, John T. Cacioppo and William Patrick, on the debilitating effects of loneliness on mental and physical health and the aging process. The book is called “Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection.” Other top posts are ones I’ve done this year on America’s Junior Miss Michelle Rodgers of Winchester, the Tyler Bryant Band and “Forever Strong,” my reflections on a movie about Highland Rugby Coach Larry Gelwix.)

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