On the eve of Pope John Paul II's historic visit to Baltimore, I sort of feel the way I did a few years ago when my in-laws drove some 300 miles to arrive at our house at 9 a.m. on a Saturday for an unannounced visit. With a teething baby, a toddler who had just emptied the kitchen cabinets of their pots and pans and a sink full of dishes, I wanted to tell my in-laws to get back in their car and circle the block a couple times to give us a chance to regroup.
Just as I didn't want my husband's family to think ill of us for being at less than our best, so, too, I'm a little embarrassed about the state of my country upon the visit of this religious and world leader.
I mean, I would think that this man -- who is the "Holy Father" to millions of Roman Catholics in this country -- might just wonder if we've lost our collective mind considering our present state of moral and social decline and a spirit of downright meanness that seems to pervade so much of our society.
The pope's message of reconciliation and peace and understanding just seems so at odds with our national mood right now. President Clinton says we're in a "funk." Maybe so.
Washington is a perfect place to start examining our woeful state, since the laws being made there apparently reflect what the American people want. In a race to balance the budget in seven years, the legislative leaders of the richest country in the world plan to make major cuts in welfare and medical assistance. The president appears to be signaling that he might go along with it. If the fiscal crisis is so monumental, why doesn't federal aid to prosperous businesses get an equal cut, too? Why can't we end farm subsidies as we know them? Do we really need to pay for McDonald's advertisements in Japan?
To your health
When it comes to health care, we're about as warm as one of those hospital gowns that are open in the back. It seems likely that legislation passed by this Congress will result in higher costs and fewer benefits for those who can least afford it -- the poor, the elderly. Meanwhile, the rich and businesses are to get a tax cut.
Karen Hosler of The Sun recently reported that of the $1 trillion needed to balance the budget by 2002, more than half would come from just four entitlement programs: the Earned Income Tax Credit, Medicare, Medicaid and welfare. When it comes to budget cuts, it's women, children, the elderly and the poor first.
But let's look at the Republican argument that Democratic programs over the past 30 years have fostered a welfare mentality, creating a moral decline that has resulted in more family break-ups and out-of-wedlock births, especially among inner-city minorities. Many of them don't comment, however, on the rise in illegitimate births by white women -- up nearly 11 percent from 1982 to '92, including a surprising number of single, middle-class, never-marrieds. What caused the "moral breakdown" of those not on welfare?
Beyond illegitimacy is the shocking crime rate. It seems almost every day the news is filled with families and other loved ones killing each other.
A new study out just this week reports that, on any given day, one in three African-American men in their 20s is under the jurisdiction of the criminal-justice system. A generation ago, such horrifying statistics did not exist.
Changes in the economy certainly can't be ignored. Thirty years ago, the majority of black men had jobs that provided a wage sufficient to provide most basic needs for a family. If a factory closed or you didn't like your job, there usually was another one to be found. Is it just coincidental that there were more intact families then? I don't think so.
Corporate America has changed; the plants that haven't gone overseas are busy "downsizing," a kinder, gentler term for killing the American dream.
When my in-laws showed up, I welcomed them, of course, and apologized for the mess. They played with the children while we tidied the house. It turned out that their visit was just what we needed. The same might be true with John Paul II. His timing may just be perfect.
?3 Marilyn McCraven writes editorials for The Sun.