Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Too good not to post in its entirety.

Texas Republicans CHIP away at traditional family values

04:37 PM CDT on Sunday, August 29, 2004

By ROD DREHER / The Dallas Morning News

There comes a time when men and women of the Right have to ask, "What kind of conservative am I?"

I stand with the late Russell Kirk, the philosophical godfather of modern American conservatism, who said, "The family is the institution most necessary to conserve." Which is why it's hard to be a Texas Republican some days.

Last week, the front page of The Dallas Morning News told the story of the Kimbers, a working family that lost benefits under the radically scaled-back Children's Health Insurance Program, or CHIP. Result: They have to decide between filling their children's teeth or their stomachs. The Kimber children are doing without dental care so they can eat.

Wait a minute, I thought, I know those people. They're part of our Catholic parish. My wife is in a home-schooling group with Joan Kimber. When our second child was born earlier this year, she brought food to our house, including bread her eldest daughter made for us. And this is what they're dealing with?

These devoutly Christian folks work hard for a living. Until very recently, Joan was a home-schooling, stay-at-home mom, who helped out in the family moving business and at church. These are the kind of good family people who hold society together. And when they have their ox in a ditch, society is willing to walk on by.

One way or another, my family is going to help the Kimbers, who are also making draconian adjustments. But what about the Texans who aren't in a position to draw on the assistance of church and friends, and who have no more room to maneuver?

It's embarrassing to admit, but until I actually knew somebody affected by the CHIP cuts, I hadn't given it a second thought. That's human nature. I glossed over the CHIP stories, which were filled with acronyms and gobbledygook figures, and the story remained an abstraction to me. After all, my family has health care, and so does every family we know.

Except they don't. Not the Kimbers. It took putting a face on this crisis for me to start paying
attention.

This is very basic, I know, but it's startling to realize how much empathy one lacks, simply because one doesn't see the suffering around us. I posted the Kimber story and my commentary to a conservative Catholic blog I frequent, and was startled to read the feedback. Some of my fellow Christian conservatives were appalled by the idea that children in a working family had any claim on society's compassion or resources, even for basic health care.

"They shouldn't have had five kids they couldn't support," many said. But they were able to support them, until business reversals of the sort that could happen, and have happened, to many North Texans in the recent economic downturn. It may trouble some of our more robust Republican state legislators to learn that the working poor cannot sell or eat their children when they have trouble making payments. What then?

Look, I'm a conservative, and I know money doesn't come from a pot of gold under the Alamo. The state had a massive budget shortfall, and something had to give. Of all the programs to face hacking though, why this one? Is the principle of "no new taxes" so sacrosanct that my fellow Republicans have to grind the face of the poor to be faithful to it?

A society that pushes struggling families to the wall and that denies minimal health care to children who had nothing to do with the circumstances, is not a good society. It is a society that attacks the family and calls it conservative virtue.

Not all Texas Republicans feel this way. State Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn said not long ago, "I remain heartbroken about what's happening with children's health insurance because we're talking about children's lives. And the momma and grandmomma in me is outraged."

Preach it, lady. The daddy in me is outraged too, as is the religious conservative. Being a good father and a good Christian are more important than being a good Republican.
The institution most necessary to conserve is the family. Not the Republican Party.

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