It is about morality—of the politicians

By: - December 13, 2004 10:05 pm

A town hall meeting in Charlotte this weekend held to create an agenda to help children in Mecklenburg County ought to start a discussion about more than the important policy directions the participants agreed on.

It should be another reminder that is time to confront the hypocrisy of many of the political leaders who claim to be most concerned about morality and values, the folks who blame many of society’s problems on a permissive culture and poor individual choices.

That’s what embattled Mecklenburg County Commissioner Bill James said during the meeting, that the problems faced by many children couldn’t be solved by more funding for programs to help them because the problems are “moral and behavioral.”

James has been at the center of a firestorm in Charlotte over part an email he sent explaining that helping people in urban areas of the city is difficult because they live in a “moral sewer.”

Unfortunately, that sentiment is far more common that you might think. It’s not too far away from the rhetoric spewed by prominent Raleigh anti-government types, who tell us that poverty is a choice, not having health care is a choice, and that single mothers simply ought to get married to solve their problems.

Offensive as that philosophy is on its face, it is worth asking more questions about it.

If we know that the school nurse is the only medical care professional that many poor children see, is it moral to refuse to provide enough school nurses to help those children?

If we have identified programs that work reaching poor and at-risk children and giving them a dramatically better chance at succeeding in school, is it moral to refuse to fund those programs, even despite a judge’s order to do so?

If we are sure that the case loads are too high for social service workers who try to save children from abuse and neglect, it is moral to refuse to increase that funding to protect the kids?

Those questions and dozens more demand answers from James and the pundits in Raleigh, who would rather rail against government that advocate to help struggling kids.

It used to be that people like James would make exceptions for children. It was a conservative congress after all that approved a health insurance program for kids from low-income families.

The Charlotte Observer reports that more than 1,000 people came to the town hall meeting and voted to approve an agenda that included items like higher standards in schools and expanded mentoring programs and higher pay for teachers and assistants to achieve it.

The group also recommended expanding health care programs for kids at school, at home, and at day care. It also recommended more help for parents taking care of their children.

These are young people who are struggling because of their circumstance, not because of their choices. James didn’t want to hear it. It’s moral and behavioral to him.

Wonder what choice he expects an abused five-year-old to make? Or exactly how should a child too sick to learn behave at school?

It is a measure of how absurd our political debate has become that is not only acceptable now to use blame as a reason not to help adults, but some bizarre version of morality is tossed around as justification for ignoring children who are suffering.

When did this twisted sense of morality become part of the mainstream in North Carolina and how long we will put up with it?

Are we next going to be told that children choose to be abused and hungry?

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Chris Fitzsimon

Chris Fitzsimon, Founder and Executive Director of N.C. Policy Watch, writes the Fitzsimon File, delivers a radio commentary broadcast on WRAL-FM and hosts "News and Views," a weekly radio news magazine that airs on multiple stations across North Carolina. [email protected] 919-861-2066