Monday, December 17, 2012

The difference between can't and won't

But we, as a nation, we are left with some hard questions. Someone once described the joy and anxiety of parenthood as the equivalent of having your heart outside of your body all the time, walking around. With their very first cry, this most precious, vital part of ourselves -- our child -- is suddenly exposed to the world, to possible mishap or malice. And every parent knows there is nothing we will not do to shield our children from harm. And yet, we also know that with that child’s very first step, and each step after that, they are separating from us; that we won’t -- that we can’t always be there for them. They’ll suffer sickness and setbacks and broken hearts and disappointments. And we learn that our most important job is to give them what they need to become self-reliant and capable and resilient, ready to face the world without fear.

And we know we can’t do this by ourselves. It comes as a shock at a certain point where you realize, no matter how much you love these kids, you can’t do it by yourself. That this job of keeping our children safe, and teaching them well, is something we can only do together, with the help of friends and neighbors, the help of a community, and the help of a nation. And in that way, we come to realize that we bear a responsibility for every child because we’re counting on everybody else to help look after ours; that we’re all parents; that they’re all our children.

This is our first task -- caring for our children. It’s our first job. If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right. That’s how, as a society, we will be judged.

And by that measure, can we truly say, as a nation, that we are meeting our obligations? Can we honestly say that we’re doing enough to keep our children -- all of them -- safe from harm? Can we claim, as a nation, that we’re all together there, letting them know that they are loved, and teaching them to love in return? Can we say that we’re truly doing enough to give all the children of this country the chance they deserve to live out their lives in happiness and with purpose?

I’ve been reflecting on this the last few days, and if we’re honest with ourselves, the answer is no. We’re not doing enough. And we will have to change.

Since I’ve been President, this is the fourth time we have come together to comfort a grieving community torn apart by a mass shooting. The fourth time we’ve hugged survivors. The fourth time we’ve consoled the families of victims. And in between, there have been an endless series of deadly shootings across the country, almost daily reports of victims, many of them children, in small towns and big cities all across America -- victims whose -- much of the time, their only fault was being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

We can’t tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change. We will be told that the causes of such violence are complex, and that is true. No single law -- no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world, or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society.

But that can’t be an excuse for inaction. Surely, we can do better than this. If there is even one step we can take to save another child, or another parent, or another town, from the grief that has visited Tucson, and Aurora, and Oak Creek, and Newtown, and communities from Columbine to Blacksburg before that -- then surely we have an obligation to try. 
Emilie Parker and dad

I agree with the president's sentiments, that we cannot accept that we are the kind of society where the wanton mass murder of little schoolchildren and other innocents is just the price of admission to "the greatest country on earth."

In fact, I would argue that any country where atrocities become commonplace -- and this is territory upon which the United States has trodden for some time now -- is no great country at all, much less the greatest. "American exceptionalism" may be alive and well, but it may well be an entirely different story than the propaganda spread by its most ardent cheerleaders

But then you have states like Louisiana, already perched atop the nation's gun-violence and child-welfare s*** lists, yet striving for greater perfection in sucking hard. Just in the last month and change, the state's voters have amended the constitution to make effective regulation of firearms all but legally impossible, while the administration of Gov. Bobby Jindal balances the state budget on the backs of those lacking the decency to become well-off before losing their minds:
The reductions mark the fifth year of budget cuts in the middle of the fiscal year. The trimming started at the end of the governor’s first year in office, coinciding with a rare snowfall in Baton Rouge.

For the latest round of cuts, the governor was able to fill the gap without needing legislators’ approval. Nichols outlined a combination of spending cuts, found money and streamlining savings to the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget.

Among the deepest cuts were at the state Department of Health and Hospitals and the state Department of Children and Family Services.

Doctors, hospitals, mentally ill patients, pregnant women and dying patients will be affected by the state’s financial problems.

State Sen. Sharon Broome, D-Baton Rouge, complained that the reductions affect departments that deal with the state’s most fragile residents. “I hope we can see these reductions with faces on them,” she told Nichols.

Nichols said the administration avoided across-the-board reductions that would have dealt heavier cuts to health care and higher education. Instead, she said, the governor made cuts and drew in dollars from a legal settlement, a prison closure and a self insurance fund.

Higher education received $22 million in reductions. Nichols said that is softened by tuition increases producing more money than expected.

Other reductions include:

  • Contract reductions for health care providers who help the poor, the mentally ill and the drug-addicted. 
  • A 1 percent cut in the rate that doctors and hospitals are paid by the state to care for the poor. 
  • The elimination of dental benefits for pregnant women relying on the state for health care. 
  • Possibly laying off 63 state government workers.
Additionally, the administration will use money in a maintenance fund to operate state parks. Domestic violence victims will move into hotels or seek shelter with their families, reducing the cost of residential care. Some children at risk for mental illness might not receive treatment.

Several legislators zeroed in on the hospice program cut.

State Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, said the cut amounts to the state not assisting people on their death beds unless they are in a nursing home.

“That’s pretty rough,” Claitor said.

SO, I GUESS the answer to the president's question Sunday night would be that there's no question America can do better in preventing atrocities involving firearms, but that there's also no question that whole swaths of this country won't do better in that regard.

Not can't do better -- won't do better. There is a difference.

That difference is as big as the one between life and death.

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