This nation has already spent almost $600 BILLION (yes, that’s with a B) on the War in Iraq, and economists forecast that the cost of the war could soon exceed $1 TRILLION.
Yet, President Bush says he will veto legislation to guarantee health care to children because it costs too much. He also rejects the idea that the funding could come from increasing the tax on cigarettes, go figure — such a tax would have the double benefit of dissuading some more people from the slow death of nicotine while funding basic health care for children.
Even conservative Republicans in Congress like Senator Charles Grassley are increasingly vocal in calling on the President to do the right thing and sign this bill. This is not a matter of partisan politics; if ever there were a moral issue ingrained in legislation, a program to care for the health of children would seem to be Priority One.
Tonight at a meeting of the presidents of the nation’s women’s colleges — the annual meeting of the Women’s College Coalition — I heard one of the great civil rights and human rights leaders of our time speak passionately about the children who are the focus of her life’s work. Marian Wright Edelman, founder and President of the Children’s Defense Fund, called on all of us who lead the women’s colleges to be more passionate advocates for the causes affecting women and children. Quoting Eleanor Roosevelt, she reminded us that if women in power don’t care about women and children who lack power, who will? We have a great obligation to raise our voices for those who cannot be heard.
President Edelman is a great friend of Trinity — she holds an honorary doctorate from Trinity, and many Trinity students have had internships at CDF, including Maggie Williams ’77, former chief of staff to then-First Lady Hillary Clinton. Mrs. Edelman reminded me to recommend more Trinity interns for CDF, since the track record of our students and alumnae there is great. She also talked to our group about establishing a global education alliance to support women and girls internationally; we’ve also talked about this here at Trinity, and we will join forces with the Children’s Defense Fund in this new project.
Last weekend, during the excellent Sower’s Seed Lecture by Amy Costello ’92, and then during our Cap and Gown Convocation where D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee addressed our seniors, we heard repeated calls to action for social justice, which is a central tenet of the Catholic faith and a core component of the mission of the Sisters of Notre Dame. Chancellor Rhee called improving education for D.C. children one of the great civil rights issues in our city (listen to her speech here). Amy Costello spoke about how she has used her skills as a journalist to tell the stories of the women and children she has seen in Darfur and Sudan and other places of great human suffering.
In all of these messages, we remind our community here at Trinity of the vital importance of standing up for those whom the U.S. bishops call “the least, the lost, the left out among us.” All major faiths share this fundamental idea of charity and the obligation to serve justice.
In thinking about the sheer financial costs of the current war and the sheer social costs of allowing children to grow up without a decent education and without proper health care, it seems that our moral values as a society have gone profoundly awry. We invest in what we believe in. Right now, this nation is investing a pittance in children compared to the stunning investment in a war whose end seems as far off today as ever. Truly, these are not just political matters, these are matters of conscience. We all must do more to restore some sense of balance — the balance of justice, which also is essential for peace — in the calculus of national investment.