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State of the Union Message and response
lost sight of people's real needs, Edgar says

New York, February 1, 2006 President Bush’s State of the Union message Tuesday, followed by Virginia Governor Tim Kaine’s Democratic response, were remarkable in several ways, according to the General Secretary of the National Council of Churches USA.

Both the President and the Governor are deeply religious men, observed the Rev. Dr. Bob Edgar, a United Methodist clergyman. Bush’s Methodist evangelicalism is well known, and Kaine is a former missionary with a Jesuit mission in Honduras. And both men – despite their divergent viewpoints – were clearly speaking out of their faith experience, Edgar said.

But neither speech entirely captured what millions of people of faith in the U.S. were hoping to hear, said Edgar, a former seminary president and six-term Democratic congressman from Pennsylvania.

“The main thing the State of the Union Message and the Democratic response had in common was that they were superb public relations documents,” Edgar said Wednesday.

“With so many Americans still suffering the effects of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, with so many Americans struggling to keep their families healthy, housed and fed, with heroic young men and women dying in Iraq,” Edgar said, “we were hoping both leaders would address America’s real problems and offer some real solutions.”

President Bush avoided talking about America’s domestic problems and sought to convince viewers that his foreign policy had set Iraq and other Middle Eastern nations on the path to a durable democracy. Kaine criticized the president for poor management and bad choices, and declared, “America can do better.”

“I wish there had been a little more sober reflection on the real impact on the Iraqi war on soldiers, their families, and the innocent people of Iraq,” Edgar said. “I wish more time had been spent explaining how the government plans to end the chaos in the rebuilding of the Gulf Coast and do something to actually help the victims of this summer's hurricanes. I wish there had been a little more realistic reflection on hunger, poverty, a sustainable minimum wage, and a proposed federal budget that will remove billions of dollars from government programs that help poor people. I wish the President and Governor had made concrete proposals for an enforceable code of ethics for public servants. I wish there had been a little more acknowledgment that ‘the buck’ stops on the President’s desk when it comes to war, hunger and poverty.”

There is nothing wrong with a good partisan debate, Edgar said, but the State of the Union message and Democratic response overlooked a major responsibility of political leaders: reaching out to people who need a helping hand.

“There was no more partisan politician than Harry Truman,” Edgar said, “but he knew what the rough and tumble of politics was supposed to produce: a better life for the people.”

In 1952, President Truman said special interests didn’t need special help because “they have their lobbies. They have the oil lobby and the real estate lobby . . . and the National Association of Manufacturers, and the only (person) in Washington who represents all the people and is elected by all the people and who is the people’s lobbyist is the President of the United States.”

Edgar said the moral and religious heritage of the United States “envisions a President not beholding to powerful lobbies but to the poor, the powerless, the ordinary people. And I wish the State of the Union Message and the response offered greater assurance that today’s politicians understand that.”

The day before the State of the Union message,, the NCC's online forum for persons of faith who want to express their views on moral and ethical issues, offered a faithful alternative to the speech.

Contact NCC News: Philip E. Jenks, 212-870-2252; Leslie Tune, 202-544-2350


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