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Even The Terminator advises helping

Matt Pommer

Is it right that we help people who may have overextended themselves financially and then lost their jobs? That question was posed to California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger as President Barack Obama pushed economic recovery plans.

“Look, this is America,” the governor replied. “You help each other. You reach out. If someone is in trouble, if someone has a house and that person has lost his job, I mean, why would we want to see them lose his house because of that?

“When people are falling through the cracks in health care, we pick up and help them. I think we have got to help people. This is the bottom line. We cannot just go and have this kind of brutal philosophy, well, ‘I didn’t get any help, so therefore he shouldn’t get any help either,’” said Schwarzenegger.

Three years ago, Wisconsin religious leaders took a somewhat similar approach as conservatives sought to pass a constitutional amendment to limit government spending. The religious leaders argued it was contrary to the Judeo-Christian morality.

In an op-ed piece in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, three leaders – John Huebscher, executive director of the Wisconsin Catholic Conference, Scott D. Anderson, executive director of the Wisconsin Council of Churches, and Joel Pittelman, chair of the Wisconsin Jewish Conference – said limiting government spending would restrain the ability to do what is right.

No constitutional amendment “can protect us from the moral claims of our neighbors,” they wrote.

Nor could the amendment protect us from the moral claims of the ill and the developmentally or physically disabled to human services that permit them to participate fully in community life, they continued.

“In the final analysis, no amendment or slogan can protect us from the judgment of history. Tomorrow’s citizens will compare the rhetoric of protection, insulation and fear with the commitment to civic duty and shared responsibility of past leaders. The comparison will not be flattering,” the three wrote.

Huebscher earlier had noted the late Pope John Paul II described “freedom not as the ability to do what we want, but rather to do what we ought.”

Wisconsin voters rejected the constitutional amendment, and local government leaders said the vote reflected the concerns voiced in newspapers and from the pulpits by religious leaders.

The deepening recession has again raised the issue of whether help should be extended to people in need.

Much of the debate is that it is wrong to increase taxes on those who are making their own way in life. Some suggest those in trouble got themselves into trouble and should struggle on their own until the economic tide turns.

Schwarzenegger’s answer was clear.

“That’s not the way America is,” he said. “In America people help each other.”

Matt Pommer worked as a reporter in Madison for 35 years. He comments on state political and policy issues.

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