Pity the poor public servant.
Legislators, commissioners and agency managers must sort facts and opinions to make the best decisions for the public good. It is critical to hear from the public — and then sort through those comments carefully, thoughtfully and compassionately.
They’ll get advice. Some good, thoughtful, constructive. And some mean-spirited, resentful and cringe-worthy. The latter often emanates from people claiming the mantle of stern adult responsibility, bent on teaching what, for them, pass as Christian values.
Consider two citizen commenters at a Saline County, Kansas, hearing on a possible new Salina jail. One cited the Bible encouraging use of “the rod of discipline.” For him, jail seems “too comfortable.” Three meals a day, warm in winter, cool in summer free medical, no work required, TV — all were seen as coddling. So, to make jails really rehabilitate, we’ll just shut down air conditioning in 100-plus degree temperatures.
“Known murderers” (disregarding recent examples of false convictions) should be executed “in a timely manner.” God’s word in Genesis so decrees, said he. His solution? Teach his version of religion in schools.
Another cited excess alcohol use and drug abuse as choices, not diseases. Despite all evidence to the contrary, including the United States’ No. 1 standing as incarcerator in chief, he cited the “social experiment of the past 60 years” as “soft on criminals” and “the biggest failure this country has ever seen.” Again, air conditioning, heat, and three meals a day became soft, coddling measures to be dispensed with.
Where does one begin responding to such illogic and incitement to riot? The first impulse is to shrug off these sentiments as aberrations and dismiss them. But these attitudes constitute a canary in our coal mine.
Though not as extreme, other similarly dismissive, jarring attitudes are impacting public policy as we speak. Sadly, they come from public servants themselves, not the testifying public.
And here, pity for public servants comes to a screeching halt.
Case in point: the final days of the Kansas Legislature’s recent session. As Kansas Interfaith Action so clearly spells out, Medicaid Expansion is “a clear moral imperative, and its failure to pass is not just a disappointment, it’s an injustice. … The failure to hold hearings, the refusal to allow a vote in the Senate, are nothing less than moral failures, and blame for them rests solely at the feet of House and Senate leadership.”
On top of that, another large tax cut was passed, replacing the one vetoed by the governor. Says KIFA: “The fact that a big tax cut that will largely benefit multinational corporations and the wealthiest Kansans can pass, but a policy that will help working people, and is supported by 70% of Kansans, by a majority of the legislature and by the governor, cannot, shows how twisted the priorities of legislative leadership were this session.”
Now, 150,000 Kansans are denied access to health insurance, and approximately 627 Kansans may die this year in the absence of expansion. “Justice delayed is not just justice denied,” says KIFA, it “is life denied.”
KIFA’s life-affirming, compassionate, values taught by faith tradition stand in stark contrast to the pious, judgmental, punitive attitudes displayed in the latest legislative last-minute games. Adhering to the best of our religious values means revering and supporting all our fellow creatures.
Attitudes to the contrary must be called out at their root, in public meetings, on air or in print, in social media, in private conversations — and at the ballot box.
Those adopting such attitudes should not be allowed in positions where their rhetoric becomes reality.
Allowing that to happen is immoral and, well — unchristian.
David Norlin was a college English department chairman, teaching English and broadcast communications. In retirement, he has served as chair of the Salina, Kansas, Planning Commission and Human Relations Commission, as well as board president for Community Access Television. He has run for both Kansas House and Senate.