Monday, January 03, 2005

Opportunity Lost (Letter to the Editor)

Memorial of the Most Holy Name of Jesus

Here is a counterpoint I sent today to the Minneapolis StarTribune. Can anybody spot the irony? For those who can't, here's a clue from Oswald Sobrino's Catholic Analysis.

That the StarTribune found issue with President Bush’s handling of the tsunami disaster surprises no one. Both the content and tone of Thursday’s editorial, “The Stingy US,” make it easy to imagine that had the President done exactly as suggested, a different editorial would have been written to take him to task for drawing attention to himself when he could have shown compassion and respect for foreign leaders and citizens by working behind the scenes to coordinate help from the US government and only issuing statements through senior staffers. History has shown repeatedly that in the face of disaster the US provides monetary and logistical aid, as well as infrastructure development, on par with the all the other countries of the world combined. To assert after a few days that something other than that will occur to address this crisis is preposterous. Moreover, among other things, the StarTribune staff, along with a number of international types, continues to think that the US government and the American nation are synonymous and that generosity is limited to what government does. Such is the myopic focus on realpolitik that a real opportunity was missed.

One thing that all Minnesotans ought to have, or at least used to have, is a sense that we are all in this together. This is not limited to Minnesota, of course, but was, and is, true for all the heartland and, since 9/11, much of the country. When it comes to charitable giving, however, according to 2002 tax returns, Minnesota is very much in the middle of the pack of states; OK, but not great. Their seems to be a growing notion that “I gave at the (tax) office.” Here is where the influence as the local newspaper of record could have been better spent.

Contrary to what we usually see from the StarTribune’s “perspective,” social life is driven by culture, not politics. The attitude of solidarity toward society has long been a hallmark of people from the Midwest. Good politics serves this attitude. The deployment of individual freedom to serve the common good, while the community supports and sustains individuals qua individuals, is at the core of Minnesota’s reputations for hospitality and progressiveness.

An editorial that exhorted the people of Minnesota to recognize our connection to the people of Asia would have been in line with the (fading?) legacy of Minnesota Nice. It could have thanked those who immediately acted to help. It also could have legitimately criticized President Bush for not using his own bully pulpit to call more aggressively on Americans to contribute as individuals and list some specific ways how, something the president did not do until his weekly radio address on Saturday. This includes not only donating money and goods, but doing something that anybody can do regardless of means, praying for the victims. Instead we get the hand-wringing “disappointment” that is fitting of NY Times wannabes about what color suit the president wears during a press conference. What a waste.

Here is a different reply, from Rich Galen at Mullings, to the stinginess charge.

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