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Gary Horton: Sometimes we need government help

Posted: March 30, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: March 30, 2011 1:55 a.m.

I envy fellow Signal columnist Steve Lunetta because he has an uncle, and I do not.

Steve’s oft-mentioned mentor, “Uncle Earl” — either a real flesh-and-bone, blood relative or a clever fictitious literary creation — is Lunetta’s go-to kin for immutably one-sided conservative schooling.

There is truly no substitute for family.

That agreed, few things bother like a loony aunt, grumpy grandpa or half-cocked uncle. I don’t know where Lunetta’s Uncle Earl falls on the scale of relative-rationality, but I read in The Signal that Uncle Earl projects robustly absolute personal opinions.

Last week, at Lunetta’s beckoning (or conjuring), Uncle Earl again effortlessly divided the world into good and evil, liberal and conservative.

Earl concluded government and taxes are OK for parks and infrastructure, armed forces, and that such government expense is acceptable to the conservative credo. But government shall play no part in promoting social well-being.

Church, not government, Earl pontificates, should assist our weak when stumbling. Church, not state, should support our frail, feed our starving, house our homeless and protect our vulnerable children.

One indignant Signal letter-writer countered Earl, “If organized religion is so much better than government and is indeed putting forth the resources ... why aren’t people choosing church-based social, welfare and medical services over government services right now?”

This writer strikes blood.

When jobs are lost, people line up at the unemployment office, not the church office, because that’s what helps them financially.

They look to Medicare for medical insurance when old, because they’ve paid their dues and there’s no affordable health care option.

They count on their Social Security checks to assist their retirement because it’s dependable and most aren’t sufficiently wealthy to have amassed mountains of retirement cash.

I know no church with money enough to replace Medicare. No church supplying unemployment insurance. Yes, soup kitchens, food pantries and homeless shelters kick in — but generally, (often poorly funded) government services expire and have failed. Even faith-based housing often leans on government funding.

The same letter-writer also comments on our on-and-off again SCV homeless shelter: “It’s great that local churches do what they can in the interest of our winter homeless shelter. But they can’t afford to keep it open year-round, and sadly, our local City Council ... can’t face up to the public here and provide a year-round solution. ...”

As it stands, once winter goes away, our SCV homeless go — “camping.” What would Uncle Earl do with this poverty conundrum?

This small feud among Lunetta and Uncle Earl and myself actually began as an agreement between us that the city of Santa Clarita does a nice job with our public parks.

In something as plain as parks, conservatives and liberals agree that it’s good for higher incomes to subsidize the poor.
Higher-taxpayers build the parks, while folks of all strata enjoy the social benefits. Recreational outlets promote happiness, well-being, health and fitness, and social connectedness.

Ironically for conservatives, building parks reflects principles of social activism. Uncle Earl’s rigid conservative doctrine might be at risk.

After all this good-natured chatter of the efficacy of public parks and churches replacing government — I feel I’ve got to make my own way up Uncle Earl’s dusty driveway and ask the oracle uncle a few questions of my own:

Earl, if you’re willing to help a poor kid get healthy and happy with a nice park to play in, why not go the extra Christian mile and also ensure he or she receives vaccinations, reasonable health care and perhaps even a quality education? Since our largess is sufficient for dogs and doggie parks, should we then, as American citizens, throw poor kids to the curb on health care?

If you’ll tax us for a park for the elderly to stroll in, why not go the extra Christian mile and ensure old folks also have a bed to sleep should their finances falter in the twilight of their years? Few churches or even families can pay modern end-of-life costs.

And, Earl, In today’s America, where 1 percent of our citizens control 38 percent of our wealth (and increasing), and the bottom 80 percent control just 15 percent, shouldn’t Americans restructure our tax and benefit system to advance equality, justice and progress for all — so we don’t end up a Third World country?

When Jesus exhorted us to feed and care for the poor, he never forbade us from establishing a government that would help get the job done. In truth, the ethics and actions of our government reflect the living sincerity of our faith.

Christian ethics presupposes a government that stands to promote the well-being of its people. To promote anything else is to stand for something less.

Gary Horton is a Santa Clarita resident. “Full Speed to Port!” appears Wednesday in The Signal.


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