I try to give all individuals and groups, whether they are political, religious, or socio-economic, the benefit of the doubt. It is no surprise then that I read Nicholas Kristof’s recent piece in the NYT, “When the Right is Right,” with particular interest. Kristof makes a persuasive case that Republican legislators on the religious right are taking the most pro-active stances on human rights in the U.S. government. Along these same lines, President Bush’s $15 billion AIDS initiative (announced during the 2003 State of the Union) caught my attention, and I applauded his resolve. When was the last time a Democrat did something so bold in the name of humanitarian assistance?
It is therefore extremely disquieting that during the peek of the holiday season, when we are supposedly celebrating the birth of Bush’s hero, Jesus of Nazareth, who was a champion for the poor and downtrodden, that Bush has decided to slash funding for food self-sufficiency programs for some of the world’s poorest countries. He has ordered an absolute decrease of at least $100 million in what had been promised to numerous international relief agencies, while on Christmas day he issued a call for “compassion” to help the poor and suffering.
His reason for cutting the aid: the spiraling budget deficit.
Just to put things in perspective here are a couple of facts:
1. Last month the GOP-led Congress (with Bush’s blessing) passed the most pork-laden budget of all time, with pork projects totaling $23 billion (that’s 230 times $100m), 2. Bush’s tax cuts reduced taxes on the top 1 percent by approximately $60 billion a year (that’s 600 times $100m), and the cost of the Iraq War currently stands at over $150 billion (that’s 1,500 times $100m).
Relative to the commitments of other developed nations, the United States is downright miserly when it comes to foreign assistance and there is more of a correlation between our giving and our national interests then the legitimate needs of the world’s poor. At a time when the image of the U.S. is at all-time lows across the globe, cutting funding for food relief strikes me as not only Scrooge-like policy, but one that is extremely short-sighted and unwise.
I am not a man of faith, nor do I know what is in Bush’s heart (or soul), but my initial reaction is that Bush’s values aren’t quite as altruistic and compassionate as he tries to convey; after all, actions speak louder than words.