Saturday, March 26, 2005

Poor judgment

For weeks, the top news story has been the Terri Schiavo case and Op-Ed columnists have weighed in heavily with their thoughts on the matter. No other column has struck me as much as Brian McGrory's in yesterday's Boston Globe.

Poor judgment
By Brian McGrory March 25, 2005


Wouldn't it be something if George W. Bush raced back to the White House from his Texas ranch for something with a little broader consequence than the feeding tube of one woman in a vegetative state whose husband says she would choose to die?

Wouldn't it be something if he saw that much urgency in the lives lost in the nation's ghettos every day? Wouldn't it be great if he announced that people are dying every minute the government fails to improve housing for the poor, safety in the streets, education in the urban centers, and job prospects for those who are out of work, and that those deaths aren't acceptable anymore?

Wouldn't it be great if he picked out just one person, one otherwise anonymous boy who represents thousands. He could announce that the boy didn't ask to be born into poverty to a single mother and a violent father who has been sentenced to prison.

He could say that the boy shouldn't have to live in a public-housing project where cockroaches race up the bedroom walls at night, where drug dealers have taken over the urine-stained stairwells, where gunshots can be heard in the near distance like fireworks in the suburbs on the Fourth of July.

The president might add that this boy shouldn't have to go to a school where teachers have to reach into their own pockets to buy supplies, where textbooks are older than the students, where learning is an afterthought on the fortunate days when adults are able to achieve some small semblance of calm.

And the president could say that if the government waits just one more hour to act, we're going to lose this child. He might be caught in the crossfire of two rival gangs, dead long before his time. He might join a gang himself, get a gun, turn to drugs, and kill someone else.

Hours matter, the president might announce -- minutes even. The nation has to act, for this boy's sake, for the hundreds of thousands of youths just like him, for the millions who are affected by their actions. Society, he might add, cannot afford to do nothing.

Wouldn't it be great if House majority leader Tom DeLay proclaimed, as he did for Terri Schiavo, that, ''Every hour is incredibly important for this boy."

Wouldn't it also be great if Senate majority leader Bill Frist explained, as he did after the unusual Schiavo vote last weekend, ''These are extraordinary circumstances that center on the most fundamental of human values and virtues: the sanctity of human life."

But they don't, and it's grossly naïve of me to think they ever would. The problems of urban America are not easily addressed in an up-or-down vote. And there's no powerful political constituency praying and lobbying for the desperately poor the way the religious fundamentalists are pushing for Terri Schiavo's feeding tube to be reinserted.

Four people were slain in Boston last weekend while Congress worked on trying to keep one Florida woman alive in a vegetative state that her doctors said she will never overcome.

The victims were good people -- and maybe some not-so-good people -- shot and stabbed, in a bar, in cars, and even in stark daylight on a city bus. There were no officials in Washington talking about that.

It's an hourly event in this and every other city: Potentially good children slip into drug-addled lives of violent crime because they've never been shown another way.

They go on to become miserable, predatory adults. Girls become pregnant, furthering the cycle of poverty. Law-abiding neighbors, also known as the working poor, barricade themselves in their houses and apartments out of fear of what's happening outside.

Neither the president nor the Congress ever rushes back to Washington in the middle of Easter break on behalf of these people, and I suspect they never will. The reason is simple: The sanctity of some lives isn't held in the same high regard by our sanctimonious and simplistic leaders.

Brian McGrory is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at mcgrory@globe.com.




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