Compromise is an important part of leadership, federal budget debate

(This letter was originally submitted to The Rockdale Citizen on May 11, 2011).

Dear Editor,

On May 10th, Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) unveiled a budget proposal that cuts national spending from 25% of the GDP to 18.5%.   Like other plans, Toomey’s enacts restrictions on entitlement spending and healthcare reform.

As I listened to the conference, what I found interesting was not the proposal itself, but the rhetoric framing the budget debate as communicated from the Republican co-signers of the proposal.  It was Toomey’s fellow Senators, Jim DeMint and Marco Rubio (of South Carolina and Florida respectively), that thanked him for his leadership on this issue.

Leadership:  When it comes to the budget debate, this loaded term invokes the apparent in-action of the Obama Administration in contrast to the Republican Party’s commitment to resolve the issue.

Whenever I hear about leadership, I get a little nervous.  Are the Republicans looking for leadership that seeks to balance the budget in a prudent and tempered fashion—a type of leadership that navigates through the complexity of a multi-trillion dollar system?  Or are they seeking the type of leadership like that of the previous presidential Administration, in which the executive branch bullied the legislative and judicial branches?

Leadership without patience and prudence has the potential to unleash unintended and long-term consequences.  The previous Administration’s costly and ill-informed unilateral attack on Iraq is just one example where lack of prudence failed to garner positive, cost-cutting results.

And there is something to be said about the Democratic Party’s inability to form a budget proposal whatsoever.  Certainly, a recession makes a proposal all the more difficult; but for a party that had control of both houses of Congress, this lack of leadership is inexcusable.

Suffice it to say, budgets are more complex than some might assume.  It took my wife and me days to carve out a budget on a mere five-figure income.  Imagine the time it takes to do that on a trillion-dollar scale—with a “scalpel” (in the words of President Obama) at that.

When it comes to weighty matters in which an entire nation is involved, leadership with an eye towards compromise is key to bringing about positive reform.  After all, the Constitution itself  was born out of compromise—Remember the “Great Compromise” in which the Founding Fathers married the best of the New Jersey and Virginia plans to develop representation in Congress?

Compromise is not a sign of weakness; it’s the foundation upon which our very democracy was built.

If leadership is the problem, both parties seem to be guilty, for true leadership happens when persons of difference can sit down and produce a plan that’s in the best interest of the greatest good.

There is great concern that federal debt must be dealt with, lest the issue become a problem for our children in years to come—to quote Sen. Rubio, if there is no action, “We will be the first Americans to leave our children worse off than ourselves.”

Perhaps we should ask ourselves what kind of legacy we are leaving our children when it comes to wise governing.  I’d rather model for my children healthy teamwork and conflict resolution than to pass on the anxious uncertainty inherent in partisan pontificating.   Let’s pray that both parties can get their act together and get us on the road to economic stability.


Rev. Joe LaGuardia

The Human Tragedy in Asia

As of the writing of this article, the death toll resulting from Japan’s natural disasters has topped 10,000 people.  My heart breaks for all those who will never see their dreams realized and never be able to sing or dance or laugh again.

Yet, this number is just a fraction of lives lost in Asia due to gender discrimination.  I don’t mean to dismiss the loss of life in Japan, but I think recent events require us to take pause and remember that people die in Asia every day, not from natural disasters, but from political and economic decisions driven by gender inequality.

A recent (14 March 2011) Newsweek article by Niall Ferguson highlights a statistic by noble laureate economist, Amartya Sen, that places the number of deaths due to abortions, infanticide, and “economic discrimination” at 100 million.  That’s the population of about 1,190 Rockdale Counties.

Scariest thing: the statistic only includes females.

For decades, Asia’s economic engine has valued men at the expense of women.  Apparently, women in Asia (and India) can neither contribute to the household nor obtain professional positions.

Furthermore, several countries have birth quotas.  All of this means that females are aborted or neglected more often than males.  A 9 March 2011 Baptist Press article by Tom Strode claims that female suicides come to nearly 500 a day due to China’s one-child policy.

And as the wheel of time turns, those figures add up.  Consider that Asia would have to be hit with over 3,000 earthquakes and tsunamis like the one that hit Japan in order to lose that many people.

All too often, Christians see abortion as a local, or perhaps national, issue as they navigate women’s rights and medical ethics in the 21st century.  I fear that there is little consideration of the larger tragedy on a global scale.

We can have our debates concerning abortion in this country, but it seems to me that the call to bring a pro-life message overseas is just as urgent.  It is hard to fight for the right of unborn girls (and children in general) around the globe, however, when we continue to struggle with gender inequality in our borders.

Women in the United States continue to make about three-fourths the salary that men receive in comparable positions.  Only 3 percent of CEOs in Fortune 500 companies are women, and roughly 16 percent of Congressional seats are filled by female representatives (16 percent in the Senate, and 17 percent in the House according to Kathleen Parker writing for said Newsweek).

Religious institutions are no better: Many places of worship and denominations still deny certain positions to women.

Female minorities and refugees make up the majority of victims in the underground sex trafficking rampant in cities such as Atlanta.

Jesus’ challenge from Matthew 7 comes to mind: “Thou hypocrite; first cast the beam out of thine own eye.”  For our nation, gender inequality and injustice is still a beam deeply rooted in the eye sockets of society and culture.

It would help to reclaim gender equality as a biblical core value.  This must transform everything from the Catholic priesthood to ordination in the farthest reaches of church life.  It must impact how we preach and how we do worship.

(And a word to folks in my own tradition: I encourage the Southern Baptist Convention to take a second look at the U.N. treaty regarding the Convention of the Rights of the Child; which the SBC has opposed since 2000; and also reconsider putting into place a denomination-wide policy regarding sexual misconduct that includes a public sex offender registry.)

Reorienting pro-life legislation to encompass the dignity of all women, as well as  one that advocates for minorities and the poor, will also increase the quality of life for women in our midst.

When Jesus calls us to take up our cross and follow Him, He wants to transform the very political, social, and economic systems in which we find ourselves.  Working on behalf of women in particular can help save lives beyond the occasional natural disaster or two.