Every generation has but a moment to carry the torch that defines who we are and what we will become. Will our torch shine brightly, or will it diminish? Our best hope will not be found in the laws of men but in love of others, or as President Bush defines it, compassion. Remember, “The greatest of these is love.” Through love and compassion we can shape our moment in American history for great good, as many did before us.
My father came to the coal-fields outside Johnstown, Pennsylvania, when he was seven from a small village in Italy. It was 1930, and like most immigrants he was poor. But like so many of our parents from that time, he passed on a wealth of truths to guide us in life—to love God, to love your neighbor as yourself, and to care for those less fortunate than you.
Today, too many children are surrounded by an impoverished culture that creates an emptiness not only of the stomach but of the heart. And it is doing to our children what the Great Depression did to our economy. In the House, I helped author the landmark welfare reform bill. When I was elected to the Senate, I didn’t just want to make it possible for poor women to work I wanted to give them jobs. So I hired eight welfare recipients in my office.
One woman, Michelle Turner, lived at the People’s Emergency Center in Philadelphia. She advanced from receptionist to caseworker to supervisor. As Michelle said, “Under the old welfare system I was forgotten, a nobody. Today I have a future.” Welfare reform has cut the rolls and reduced poverty, but helping millions like Michelle find a job is only part of the answer.
My Italian grandfather taught me the rest in one word—family. The key to a richer culture is strong families, and the key to strong families is strong marriages. That means mothers and fathers doing what they have been doing for centuries, giving love and hope to their children.
Karen, my incredible wife and mother of our six children, often says, “Rick, the best gift we can give our kids is a great marriage. It gives them the security they want and the example they need.”
Yet in many poor communities the torch of marriage is dying out. While eight out of ten mothers applying for welfare are in a relationship with the father of their child and both partners want to marry, often no one helps them and within a year almost all have parted ways.
President Bush is changing that. We now ask, “Would you like some help in building that relationship?” And if they say yes, we pay for marriage counseling with a family therapist or a pastor, rabbi, or imam. John Kerry’s response was to join the Senate Democrats in blocking the president’s welfare reform and faith-based initiatives. He says he’s “concerned” about the separation of church and state. Senator Kerry should worry more about the separation of children from their fathers.
We all agree that religion in America must never be established, but it also must never be exiled. George Bush has shown his compassion by advancing his faith-based initiatives, strengthening marriage, and fighting to let the American people, instead of left-wing judges, define marriage.
Sometimes I think our grand-parents wouldn’t recognize the torch they passed on. But I know they would counsel us to remember why they came and why others continue to come: For our economy, yes; for security, sure; but it is the generosity of spirit and the strength of our character molded by the light of faith that make us that shining city on the hill—”For the greatest of these is love.”