Merlene Davis: Amid all those great speakers, nun's message most inspiring

convention's most inspiring speaker spelled out our shared responsibility

Herald-Leader columnistSeptember 9, 2012 

Like a lot of other people, I watched the Democratic National Convention fully expecting President Barack Obama to end the three-day gathering with a breathtaking and inspiring speech.

I just knew he would deliver as he had done twice before at previous conventions. Those addresses are still high-water marks for anyone stepping to a podium at a political convention.

But the speech he gave Thursday was far more subdued, tempered even, until the final few minutes.

He got his zings in against his Republican opponents, just as they had done with him at their convention.

One memorable line in the speech concerned the only answer Republicans have for any issue that arises.

"Have a surplus?" Obama said. "Try a tax cut. Deficit too high? Try another. Feel a cold coming on? Take two tax cuts, roll back some regulations and call us in the morning!"

Although funny, the words didn't lift me.

Instead, my spirits were buoyed by speeches earlier in the week.

No matter what you and I may think of President Bill Clinton, his speech stood out. He was like that one great teacher or professor who could give information in such an interesting way that there was no need to take notes. You understood the concept and remembered at test time.

Clinton said the Republican answer to lowering our long-term debt problem was to cut taxes by $5 trillion, particularly benefiting those with higher incomes. That move, he said, would make the debt worse.

"Now, when you say, what are you going to do about this $5 trillion you just added on? They say, oh, we'll make it up by eliminating loopholes in the tax code," Clinton said. "So then you ask, well, which loopholes, and how much? You know what they say? See me about that after the election ...

"Now, people ask me all the time how we got four surplus budgets in a row," Clinton continued. "What new ideas did we bring to Washington? I always give a one-word answer: Arithmetic."

Whether it was his speech writer, or Clinton himself, using "arithmetic" to describe how to balance a budget is genius. He could have said "accounting principles." He could have said something about "financial data."

Arithmetic, though, is elementary. And Clinton the teacher was telling us there is a simple way to reduce the deficit: All of us must contribute our fair share.

Still, Clinton's speech was not the one that truly inspired me.

Sister Simone Campbell, who led the 2,700-mile "Nuns on the Bus" tour for social justice in June, did that.

Campbell said the budget authored by Catholic vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan and endorsed by presidential candidate Mitt Romney is immoral.

She said she agrees with Romney and Ryan when they say individuals must take responsibility.

"But their budget goes astray in not acknowledging that we are responsible not only for ourselves and our immediate families," Campbell said. "Rather, our faith strongly affirms that we are all responsible for one another. I am my sister's keeper. I am my brother's keeper."

She then gave several examples of struggling families who had tried to make it on their own but who now need help.

"We all share responsibility for creating an economy where parents with jobs earn enough to take care of their families," she said. "In order to cut taxes for the very wealthy, the Romney-Ryan budget would make it even tougher for hard-working Americans ... to feed their families.

"Paul Ryan says this budget is in keeping with the values of our shared faith. I simply disagree."

She said the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops agreed the plan would harm poor families.

She favors the Affordable Care Act, she said, because with that law, Medicaid coverage would be expanded and give the elderly and poor a better chance to fight health issues.

"This is part of my pro-life stance and the right thing to do," she said.

Had I been anywhere near the woman, I would have asked for her autograph.

Needless to say, though, Campbell and her group, Network, a Washington-based Catholic social justice lobby, have received criticism from the Vatican for not opposing same-sex issues or abortion more strictly along doctrine lines.

But, according to CNN, Campbell agreed to speak at the convention only if she could include her views that may not coincide with the Democratic platform or politics.

She didn't back down from her opposition to abortion, but she didn't limit her pro-life stance just to the unborn, which is how I believe it should be.

If we are truly to be pro-life, all life, not just that of a fetus, should be precious in our sight.

In an interview for The Daily Beast, Campbell said she has spoken with Ryan before and they agreed to disagree.

"Ryan thinks churches can pick up the tab," Campbell said of helping the poor. "That's ridiculous. The magnitude of the need is so great."

And tackling those shortfalls is what Campbell thinks should be concerning this country.

I do, too. We can only do that, though, if we are willing to pay our fair share.

Maybe that is why Obama's speech didn't have me soaring with the eagles. Perhaps he knows, as Campbell knows, the work needed to help my neighbors and my country requires me to be firmly grounded.

Merlene Davis: (859) 231-3218. Email: mdavis1@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @reportmerle. Blog: merlenedavis.bloginky.com.

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