Charity and Senator Alexander

Friday, September 23, 2005

Why is it that when someone does a good and kind act for unselfish reasons that politicians must seize on that moment and to make political gains? Have they not realized that the act and sacrifice made by the individuals in providing the act of charity is negated by an act of government aid?

Victor Hugo said “As the purse is emptied, the heart is filled.” Jack London wrote that “A bone to the dog is not charity. Charity is the bone shared with the dog, when you are just as hungry as the dog.”

Lamar Alexander “the very charitable with our money” senator from Tennessee in his most recent newsletter wrote of many acts of grace performed by groups and individuals such as “Al Gore flying a planeload of evacuees from New Orleans into one of Tennessee ’s most Republican counties” and of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Nashville sending sent “$80,000 and a truckload of clothes and Clorox to southern Mississippi”. He continued with the headline in the Tennessean “Private Schools Welcome Those Displaced by Katrina.”  According to the newspaper, “a growing number of private schools in Middle Tennessee . . . have volunteered to help students displaced by Katrina.  Many of them are also waiving or drastically discounting tuition and fees for these students, and some also accept evacuees from public schools.” Because of federal law Tennessee ’s public schools have made room for more than 3,000 of Katrina’s displaced school children. But ill regardless of law, Tennessee ’s public schools have made room for more than 3,000 of Katrina’s displaced school children.

Of course I am leading up to last Saturday’s Washington Post article, when President Bush proposed emergency disaster legislation that would help all of Katrina’s 372,000 displaced children during the rest of this school year.

The Senator explains that the president has proposed $2.6 billion in funding for students in elementary and secondary schools and colleges. Under his proposal:

  • Colleges and universities would receive $1,000 for each displaced student enrolled;
  • No person in Louisiana , Mississippi and Alabama would have to pay interest on their student loans for the next six months;
  • Public school districts would receive up to 90 percent of the state’s per pupil expenditure, up to $7,500;
  • And $488 million would go to help displaced students who attend private schools.

The Senator continues to say that “Scholars agree there is no constitutional issue here. I hope that my fellow members of Congress don’t just stand around and argue about old ideologies and leave these displaced children standing on the levee because the doors that are open to them for this one year happen to be those of a private school.” He also states “This is not the beginning of some new voucher program. It is the beginning of a big, one-year effort to help children who are in desperate trouble. And the best way to do it in most cases is simply to let the money follow the child.”

I would argue with the Senator’s claim of constitutional giving as just and legal as I would argue with my own son over the flexibility of the Constitution itself. In Charlie Reese’s recent article he is quoted “the Constitution is a textual document, not a “living document.” That was a false metaphor intended to provide cover for judges to legislate and amend by interpretation so that the Constitution would mean whatever they said it meant. Not so. It means what it says. It cannot be amended by interpretation or by Congress ignoring it, though modern politicians have committed both sins.

In a similar act over 150 years ago, Davy Crocket gave a speech before Congress over a similar issue:

“Mr. Speaker–I have as much respect for the memory of the deceased, and as much sympathy for the suffering of the living, if there be, as any man in this House, but we must not permit our respect for the dead or our sympathy for part of the living to lead us into an act of injustice to the balance of the living. I will not go into an argument to prove that Congress has not the power to appropriate this money as an act of charity. Every member on this floor knows it.

We have the right as individuals, to give away as much of our own money as we please in charity; but as members of Congress we have no right to appropriate a dollar of the public money. Some eloquent appeals have been made to us upon the ground that it is a debt due the deceased. Mr. Speaker, the deceased lived long after the close of the war; he was in office to the day of his death, and I ever heard that the government was in arrears to him.

“Every man in this House knows it is not a debt. We cannot without the grossest corruption, appropriate this money as the payment of a debt. We have not the semblance of authority to appropriate it as charity. Mr. Speaker, I have said we have the right to give as much money of our own as we please. I am the poorest man on this floor. I cannot vote for this bill, but I will give one week’s pay to the object, and if every member of Congress will do the same, it will amount to more than the bill asks.”

So what has changed since those times of Crockett. Well for one, we have been reeducated into giving away all that we have at the point of a gun and smiling about it……

As Mr. Gore sacrificed individually, I suggest each member of the House and the Senate donate their salary and expenses for a year for the same. I should think that might be enough to support those that cannot help themselves. It would also stop the ramblings of Senators and other congress type critters for a while.

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