Sister delivers a powerful message

September 9, 2012


— Let’s talk about the other speech.

Yes, Bill Clinton delivered a 48-minute stemwinder to the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday night that was so mesmerizing even Republicans praised it. But after the huzzahs for Clinton fade, save a little nod of affirmation for Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of NETWORK, a Roman Catholic social justice group. She did not speak long — about seven minutes. Her delivery was not particularly powerful. But with the moral authority of her calling, she did something that has sorely needed doing for some weeks now.

She rebuked “I built that.”

Granted, the rebuke was only implicit: she never specifically mentioned the new GOP slogan of rugged individualism. But it was no less powerful for that.

As should be obvious to any fair observer, this latest spasm of feigned outrage is built upon a lie, i.e., that in a speech in Roanoke, Va., President Obama told business owners they did not build their businesses, that their success was not a product of their own initiative: “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that.”

What Obama actually said in 170 words or so is the same thing Martin Luther King used to say in four: “All life is interrelated.” So if you built a business, said Obama, part of its success is due to the fact that “there was a great teacher somewhere in your life” or that someone sacrificed to “create this unbelievable American system” that allowed you to thrive, or to the fact that “somebody invested in roads and bridges” over which your inventory traveled. Contrary to the GOP narrative, he didn’t deny the importance of initiative. “The point,” he said, “is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together.”

Of course, if it’s true Obama’s comment has been mischaracterized, it’s also true that, contrary to what an inarticulate ad lib and the Democratic spin machine would have you believe, Mitt Romney doesn’t “enjoy firing people.” No surprise there. Building mountain ranges out of sand grains is part and parcel of politics.

What’s vexing, then, is not that the GOP lied but that it seems to believe its own lie. On signs, websites, buttons and T-shirts from the streets to the Web, to the convention hall, “I built this” has become the party’s new war cry.

Enter Sister Campbell. This nun, whose social activism has put her at odds with the Vatican, did not talk business. She talked about the “nuns on the bus” tour she undertook to contest cutbacks to services for vulnerable Americans that would be necessary under the budget envisioned by Romney and his running mate. And about the people she met along the way.

Like the 10-year-old twin boys in Toledo who act as sole caregivers for their bedridden mother. Like “Billy,” from Milwaukee whose job has cut back his hours and who could not make it without food stamps. Like “Jini” in Cincinnati whose sister Margaret lost her job, lost her health insurance and so, lost her life when she was diagnosed with cancer.

“I am my sister’s keeper,” said Campbell. “I am my brother’s keeper.” Can you remember when that went without saying?

This was Obama’s point. In a recent song, Bruce Springsteen put it like this: “We take care of our own.”

And we do. Or at least, we should.

Rugged individualism is great. But in shredding social safety nets while chanting, “I built this,” the GOP doesn’t celebrate individualism so much as deny the interconnectedness of life, scorn the notion of a social covenant or greater good, exile conscience from the public arena. “There but for the grace of God” becomes “Every man for himself.”

On Wednesday, a nun gently reminded us of what should be obvious: “We are better than that.”

— Leonard Pitts Jr., is a columnist for the Miami Herald. He chats with readers from noon to 1 p.m. CDT each Wednesday on www.MiamiHerald.com.


Ken Lassman 5 years, 3 months ago

Admit that you never turned your television to the Democrat convention, False. At least I hope not, because if you somehow missed the message that was pretty much smeared all over that convention, that they were promoting EQUALITY OF ACCESS to the American dream through hard work (working together), then you have a listening comprehension issue.

Ken Lassman 5 years, 3 months ago

So you really didn't watch the convention, did you? Otherwise, you would have heard so many stories about the huge discrepancies that many face accessing opportunities to get a leg up to even try to run with their good idea, to get entry into the economic, social and policy arenas where they could shine.

That ain't a very nuanced point, False. No need for name calling anyway.

Ken Lassman 5 years, 3 months ago

Guess you're incapable of answering my questions--sorry for mistaking you as someone who is capable of engaging in a real conversation. Of course you can prove me wrong....

Or do you believe the "story" that everyone already has equal access to resources in our country?

jhawkinsf 5 years, 3 months ago

How about saying that we all have as equal access as it's going to get. Let's face it, a person born with an IQ of 80 isn't going to have equal access to graduate school as the person born with an IQ of 140. A person born into a home with ten siblings, all with different last names isn't going to have equal access as the child born into a home with two stable parents, one child and an upper middle class income. No matter how hard we try to socially engineer our society, there will always, did I say always, well I meant always be a certain amount of inequality. There comes a time when you've reach a certain equilibrium, a point of diminishing returns. After a half century of social engineering, after a half century of social programs designed to achieve equality, we've reached that point of equilibrium. Unless you're willing to force that home to limit the amount of children born into poverty, into conditions that can't be socially engineered out of, then yes, we've reached the point of equal access.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 3 months ago

That's all well and good, but please don't pretend that there is anything like a level-playing field in this country even for people who don't fall into the extremes you choose to focus on, or that the Republican party has policies that will create such conditions for the vast majority of folks who don't have an IQ of 80 or 10 bastard siblings.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 3 months ago

I didn't say it was level. I said it was as level as it's going to get, given the fact that people have the freedom to not only make good choices for themselves and their families, but they also have the freedom to make bad choices as well. If you want to make the field more level, take away their choice to make bad decisions. (emphasis on "you", because that's a road "I" choose not to go down).

deec 5 years, 3 months ago

Decision making skills are not really as big a factor in predicting success as you may think. Do you think Sam Walton's kids and some random farm kid from Gove are even on the same playing field?

I understand personal decisions are important. However, the deck is thoroughly stacked against most people in the world. Those holding all the cards like it that way.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 3 months ago

Have you heard the expression "sometimes the medicine is worse than the disease"? I'm reminded of that when people see others live self destructive lives, sometimes taking the next generation with them. We could easily solve the problem with something as simple as forced sterilization. Is that a path we want to walk? Not me. So we need to find other solutions, but the ones we've tried, at substantial costs have produced some good and some bad results. But I do believe we've reached an equilibrium, a point of diminishing returns. We can spend another billion to lift one out of poverty, but is the cost worth it? Hell, just give them the money and be done with it.

I look at the homeless problem in San Francisco. The same people, day after day, until it becomes year after year, until it becomes decade after decade. I think of all the money spent on services. Quite frankly, it would have been more cost effective to give each a couple of million dollars and let them live their lives as they see fit. But do we want to live in that society? Not me. But doesn't there come a time when we can rightfully say, enough is enough? We've done enough.

BTW - When I look at those families with multiple children with many last names and compare that to the stable family with as many children as you can afford to raise in a much better environment, and then look around, I do see many cases where people who came from the former decided to live the latter. Personal decisions do matter. No, we may not become as wealthy as the very, very rich. But living in a very comfortable upper middle class bracket is something everyone can achieve. Heck, an honest plumber, an honest carpenter, an honest tradesman can live the American dream quite nicely.

Ken Lassman 5 years, 3 months ago

My point, and I believe the message of the Democratic Convention, is that whatever "equilibrium" point we decide upon as being "enough" is not a static point that you can declare victory and walk away from. It must be maintained by working hard to maintain those access points, and to re-evaluate whether what worked 10 years ago is the best option today, or 10 years from today. As Bill Clinton said when he was in Lawrence, the concept of a "more perfect union" is based on the idea that no, we are not perfect nor will we ever be. But it is incumbent upon us to continue to examine ourselves and ask the question: how can we make things better. Our access to opportunities, whether it be in our communities or on the global venue, certainly falls under such guidance, as does democracy itself.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 3 months ago

I'd agree with you on many points. But when the same people make the same mistakes, over and over again, with little if any consequences, it get very frustrating. When the social safety net becomes a trampoline, fall down, pick up, repeat, repeat, it gets frustrating. I don't mind giving charity. But I'd liked to be thanked for such. Too often I'm told it's my obligation to give. Entitlement, Bhah. It's charity. Yes, my charity might help them up. So too would a change in their behavior.

Ken Lassman 5 years, 3 months ago

We're not just talking about welfare and food stamps here, J. Access to our health care system has been an insurmountable challenge for many low income families and retired citizens, and access to good schools, trade schools and higher education are the ladder up that many folks can only dream about. Without both of these, economic and social access are merely conceptual ideas.

But you're right--some folks have a well developed sense of what it means to take but not to give back, if nothing more than a thank you. I've found that in all social strata, though, haven't you?

Ragingbear 5 years, 3 months ago

The platform isn't about rugged individualism. A more fitting slogan would be "You're on your own."

voevoda 5 years, 3 months ago

It's the party that likes to proclaim the United States a "Christian nation" and enact laws that enshrine explicitly "Christian" teachings as the law of the land (for example, outlawing gay marriage, limiting access to abortion and birth control) that is truly anti-Semitic. When Republicans advocate public funding of private religious schools, posting Christian symbols in public places, using explicitly Christian greetings in public settings, reciting explicitly Christian prayers on public occasions, etc., they are sending a clear message that Jews don't belong in the United States and can never be equal citizens. Do you really think, WristTwister, that Jewish Americans are more concerned with minor differences between Republican and Democratic platforms in regard to Israel than they are about their own status at home?

Abdu Omar 5 years, 3 months ago

Anti-Israel does not denote anti-semitism!

Read that sentence again!!

Semites are people, not countries or religions. Judaism is the religion and a lot of Semites are Muslim.

Arabs are semitic! Being against Judaism is the foundation of Christianity so is it inherently anti-semite? AND there are thousands of Jews who do not support the creation of, the government of, or the policies of Israel. This label is the Zionists way of continuing the fight to keep people from demonising Israel. This statement "You are anti-Semite" is a way of fighting back against the truth of Israel. Instead of the zionists saying you are wrong, they say you are anti-semitic. They want your statement to seem like a prejudice instead of a fact.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 3 months ago

The hard-core fundamentalist Christians who are such die-hard supporters of Israel don't love the Jews because of their religion, but because they think the Bible tells them that there needs to be a resurgence of Israel before the Rapture can happen-- and they also believe when that happens, they'll be ascending to heaven, while their Jewish buddies go burn in hell.

With friends like that.....

voevoda 5 years, 3 months ago

The term "anti-Semitic" is generally used to mean "against Jews." That is the meaning WristTwister and I intended. It isn't the same as "anti-Judaism," because it comprises hatred for Jews not only as a religious group but also as an ethnicity, regardless of the members' religious beliefs. (Some ethnic Jews do not follow the religion of Judaism; some are agnostic or atheist and some are Christian or practice other faiths.) Because there are other Semitic peoples, including most notably Arabs, this application of the term "anti-Semitic" to Jews may be a misnomer, but nonetheless it is well-established.

It is possible to be opposed to the state of Israel and still be accepting of Jews as a people, but it usually doesn't happen that way. People who are rabidly anti-Israel generally end up endorsing positions that are disparaging of the Jewish people, too. It is more possible to criticize the Israeli government's policies without being anti-Semitic or even anti-Israel; Israeli citizens do this all the time, as do Jews in other countries. Non-Jews, especially fundamentalist Christians, are often much stronger supporters of the current Israeli government than Jews are.

Finally, a lot of right-wingers are anti-Semitic not only in the sense of being anti-Jewish, but they are also rabidly anti-Arab. You see this in the very public attacks on Muslims, and the way even Christian Arabs are targeted out of ignorance.

msezdsit 5 years, 3 months ago

"It is possible to be opposed to the state of Israel and still be accepting of Jews as a people, but it usually doesn't happen that way."

It is quite possible because that is exactly how I feel. I don't have one shred of disdain for the Jewish people. I think Israel operates on a double standard and when we support that double standard we operate on those double standards as well. We have always expected other countries in the region to be held to higher standards than we hold Israel to. Until we have a tough leader who is willing to call a spade a spade (as former president Carter recently did in his book) when it comes to Israel, they will continue to be a source of real problem in the region and to the US. We will continually have to talk out of both sides of our mouth, so to speak.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 3 months ago

"It is possible to be opposed to the state of Israel and still be accepting of Jews, but it usually doesn't happen that way."

Yes, it is possible. But then there are a couple of regular posters here who will apologize for every terrorist act, every provocation, will support and defend holocaust deniers, all the while calling prominent, loyal American Jews "Israeli agents". And then claim that they are not anti-Semitic, just anti Israel. I'm sorry, but patterns of behaviors emerge that suggest otherwise. They will define Judaism or the Jewish movement Zionism in ways of their choosing and then condemn it. Sorry, I don't get to define La Raza, NAACP, Islamism or Christianity, that's for it's members to define.

So, yes, it is possible to be anti Israel while not being anti-Semitic. But it's equally possible to be anti-Semitic while denying such.

msezdsit 5 years, 3 months ago

"But it's equally possible to be anti-Semitic while denying such." Of course and lots of people behave that way. I,for one, have no prejudices with our Jewish friends nor Israel except that I think, to put it politely, Israel could behave more responsibly with respect to human rights abuses against people who live in the region and in Israel.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 3 months ago

I certainly didn't direct my comment towards you. However, there are others here who have a pattern of comments, that when taken as a whole, are anti-Semitic, despite their claims that they are simply anti Israel.

If it looks like a duck, waddles like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it's a duck.

raiderssb 5 years, 3 months ago

Did you WATCH the convention? You sound like an idiot if this is what you heard - selective hearing! I think so!,

geekin_topekan 5 years, 3 months ago

Falsie, that 50% are consumers just like you and me. They work, spend their money and are most likely what keeps this nation from falling into irrelevance. If you are judged only by your dollar value then take yours and go away. We don't need you. It's only as complex as you make it make it out to be.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 3 months ago

I don't think Romney "enjoys" firing people. But I think he, and pretty much anyone else connected with the equity business, is completely indifferent towards the layoffs they bring about. For them, it's just cracking a few eggs so they can eat very expensive omelets-- the laid off workers, they just get cake.

gbulldog 5 years, 3 months ago

I have worked with Mormons and found them to be good moral persons. It is my understanding to be a good Mormon, you need to donate 10% of you income and perform "good works", and not brag about it. What you are saying appears to be a lot of "Horse Pucky" put out by the Obama campaign and it stinks. I am a GDI and I do not follow a party line. Both parties have done me not favors and I do like being told that your party will give me something or make my life better because IT IS A BIG LIE. This is because unfortionately my votes is not powerful enough to make a difference. Go watch the movie Soyient Green and tell me it they need to offfer more than one flavor?

msezdsit 5 years, 3 months ago

I think Romney disproves your comment because he is a mormon and he is responsible for a lot of people losing their jobs and profiting by it. Donating 10 % of his income (if he does) doesn't buy him the credits necessary to exonerate him from the people he has pulled the trigger on. He did all this before Obama was president so to try to hang this on Obama sounds like , well you said it best,

What you are saying appears to be a lot of "Horse Pucky"

gary hamon 5 years, 3 months ago

Those early settlers sure must have been happy to see all those roads and bridges when they arrived. If you want to know what came first, the chicken or the egg, just look at some old photos of downtown Mass st. Educators, coaches and parents gave us the tools to build our lives and we can be thankful for that, but they did not build it. This topic is just another distraction from the real issue. I know what Obama meant so I just ignore all the Republican spin on the comment. The real issue is the 23 million unemployed if you don't have a job, you can't build anything.

gbulldog 5 years, 3 months ago

Why are they umployed? Maybe because of technology changes? eg. farmers stopped using horses and bought tractors. Historical fact that caused unemployment. Somthing became more important than an educations and they did not finish schooling is probably a major reason. PBS recently interview a person who dropped out of high school (he did not like) it and went to work at a fast food joint. Now is his in his 30's and high school kids will work cheaper. He has tried manual labor jobs, but can not operate machinery because he can not read well enought to undertand operating instructions. Democrats promise to help and created a program to help him. But his new Job pay less than government assistance he had been receiving, but he is no longer eligible. What is he to do?

raiderssb 5 years, 3 months ago

Thanks to the Rebulican Congress! Remember that!

geekin_topekan 5 years, 3 months ago

Sorry Falsie but having "skin in the game" does not make you a better player, a better citizen, afford you more rights than the bum on the street. Get over it.

Flap Doodle 5 years, 3 months ago

How is it that George Obama is still living in dire poverty if "we take care of our own"?

Armstrong 5 years, 3 months ago

A couple things came to mind reading Lenny today. # 1 the high point of the convention but absent quotes in Lennys piece from Julian Castro about rugged individualism in Texas and pulling yourself up by your boot straps. Julian is really a Dem, talk like that should have him run out of the party. # 2, this one I called last week before the convention started. Here is the personal stories of citezens ...... caregivers for relative...... So D's which are you, rugged individuals who can pull yourselves up by your boot straps or victims because the mean govt won't take care of you or your relatives.

verity 5 years, 3 months ago

It's not an either/or. I believe in doing things for myself if I can. I believe in doing all I can to keep healthy so that I can continue to do for myself. I believe in pushing myself to excel and to do the best job I can. I also believe in doing what I can to help others do what they are not able to do. I have tried to pay it forward. If I'm never repaid, so be it. But if I do need help, I hope it will be there for me.

And I realize that without those who came before me and those who are beside me now, I could not have accomplished what I have been able to do.

This argument about what Obama said is so entirely false and everybody knows it. E V E R Y B O D Y !

msezdsit 5 years, 3 months ago

Verity, everything is "either/or" in the somebody did this too me and I know who it was right wing conservative skewed perspective. Their is no middle ground in their ideology. They are so "right" that the truth and facts are expendable for their greater cause. You know, a real christian perspective.

Mixolydian 5 years, 3 months ago

I watched the convention and also listened to the talking heads and I took away that the liberal pundits thought Clinton gave a great speech, but the conservative reviewers thought it only the best speech of the convention. That's not necessarily praise for the speech from the right wing. But in the end, they're all just speeches. We don't live in a high school debate class.

raiderssb 5 years, 3 months ago

Wait for the debates. The Repub's have no substance, no answer, just cardboard stand up figures. What REAL answers do they apply to our current situation? Further, they are already flip flopping on healthcare and taxes . . .

voevoda 5 years, 3 months ago

There is absolutely nothing contradictory about being "pro-life" (that is, opposed to abortion) and supporting Democratic candidates. People can agree that abortion is immoral, but not see any reason why the government needs to enact legislation to prohibit it. After all, only 3 of the 10 Commandments are actually illegal--and abortion was so much not an issue in the Bible that there is no prohibition against it. In countries where abortion rights are already legally established, people who object to abortion on moral grounds have moved their initiative from trying to enact laws to offering women who have problem pregnancies better alternatives than abortion.

Getaroom 5 years, 3 months ago

Wind up the Pitts Haters and watch them spin and spin and spin..........................

Liberty275 5 years, 3 months ago

"“I am my sister’s keeper,” said Campbell. “I am my brother’s keeper.”"

I'm not your brother, nor do I want to be. If you need to keep anything, try starting with your collectivism, and keep it to yourself and your herd. If I want something, I'll pay for it.

msezdsit 5 years, 3 months ago

"What’s vexing, then, is not that the GOP lied but that it seems to believe its own lie."

Vexing but not surprising. Just look at all the faux news robots posting on these threads. Fox knows all they have to do is spin the lie and the robots will follow unfettered.

jayhawklawrence 5 years, 3 months ago

If there were more Catholic priests and nuns like this wonderful nun, I might still be one.

Unfortunately, the Catholic Church is an organization made up of imperfect people that owes it's long term relevance to reformers like Sister Campbell and her "Nuns on a Bus".

It is a battle between moral truth and a misguided bureacracy and I hope she wins.

Liberty275 5 years, 3 months ago

So, if the church wanted the government to increase taxes and take more money from people that earned it, you'd still worship jesus?

Sounds like a bad excuse for doing a dumb thing.

Leslie Swearingen 5 years, 3 months ago

Of course, I would still worship Jesus! I would publicly disagree with the decision and state that I was against this move, but that would not take me away from my faith.

mycatsrightorwrong 5 years, 3 months ago

I know there's evidence that you Tea Party people are just mobilized members of the autism spectrum (http://www.yourmorals.org/blog/2011/10/the-tea-party-and-compromise/; proof = liberty275: "I'm not your brother, nor do I want to be. If you need to keep anything, try starting with your collectivism, and keep it to yourself and your herd. If I want something, I'll pay for it")

However, I'm gonna ask this question anyway, b/c I think anyone who claims to be a Christian or human needs to answer. How are taxes the biggest issue we face now? I mean who really cares about whether our tax rate is 33% or 25%? That's the difference between tyranny and liberty, really? How do you write a check to government, knowing you're paying a cop or teachers salary, and feel bitter... shouldn't you feel good about employing people that do a public service, or are you that greedy, selfish, petulant, spoiled, heartless... We're ranked 21st in education, we've gotta war going on in Afghanistan, our life expectancy is 38th, and we've gotta 8% unemployment rate (and before you crazies say something about taxes or regulation, really think with your tiny brains about whether a sane person could claim either of these caused the recession. Now think about how corporations are flush with profits, the stock market is the highest its been in four years, and theres still no jobs. That may be b/c your so-called job creators don't create jobs, they hoard wealth. Hopefully you'll all take an econ class someday and realize jobs come from 2 places, consumers and taxpayers).

I get it, dependency bad, sharing bad, blah blah blah. And i get the pro-life stuff, but do you really believe that public workers dependency destroys the fullness of their life... that a teacher, prosecutor, cop, or city clerk lives a life of slavery b/c she's paid by taxes? At some point you all have to wake and realize you've been had by rich people... Charles Koch took you into the alley, and just like Don Draper, had his way with you.

Liberty275 5 years, 3 months ago

At $2000/mo, the difference between 33 and 25% is a trip to the grocery store. With 2 family member earning more than that you are talking $320.month.

"I mean who really cares about whether our tax rate is 33% or 25%?"

I mean, like, I care. I mean I worked for that money while you watched TV. I mean, why should I do without so you can have more. I mean, bugger off and stop being a thief.

tbaker 5 years, 3 months ago

“Rugged individualism is great. But in shredding social safety nets while chanting, “I built this,” the GOP doesn’t celebrate individualism so much as deny the interconnectedness of life, scorn the notion of a social covenant or greater good, exile conscience from the public arena. “There but for the grace of God” becomes “Every man for himself.”

Someone needs to define what "shredding" means in this context.

I hope it means actually preserving the safety net for their originally intended (and noble) purpose and ending their current use as a career choice for millions of people who are being incentivized not to take care of themselves. I’m all for government being there as the last resort for those folks who need a temporary hand-up so they can get back on their feet and return to a state where they are taking care of themselves. If that’s the definition, then I say fire up the shredder.

Suggesting conservatives want to end to these programs is yet another demonstration of clumsy, amateur hubris and ad hominine BS Pitts is known for. Baseless crap like this does not contribute to a real solution and just makes the problem harder to solve. There is nothing wrong with restoring the idea that people are supposed to take care of themselves. Enabling them to do that, clearing a path for them, setting the most favorable conditions possible for them, being ever-vigilant to ensure everyone’s rights are protected and all of us have the same opportunity to prosper is our government’s role – not providing a lifetime of handouts.

Everyman should be for himself. A person’s first duty should be to take care of himself and his family and not expect and depend on others to do it for him.

jayhawklawrence 5 years, 3 months ago

You are just recycling the same tiresome lies and rhetoric which is actually becoming very boring.

I think the American people are bored with the Republican Party. You cannot keep putting new wrapping paper on the same failed ideas and hope it will sell.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 3 months ago

"You cannot keep putting new wrapping paper on the same failed ideas and hope it will see". Actually, we the voting public continuously buy the same tired, failed ideas. Brownback won here in Kansas and would likely win again today if the election was today. We are in the process of getting the government we deserve.

jayhawklawrence 5 years, 3 months ago

The younger generation coming up is going to change the status quo in Kansas.

It may take time but all Brownback is doing with his exploding Kansas economy mythology is creating the foundation to get rid of his right wing ideology.

juma 5 years, 3 months ago

Woundedsoldier, for once I agree with you on the term Semite. On the virtues on Islam!? It is a joke , sad joke, of a religion and should be viewed with extreme caution.

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