Archbishop's web site Denver Catholic Register Parishes Catholic Pastoral Center
May 30, 2001
Bush urges more participation in fighting poverty
NOTRE DAME, Ind. (CNS) Quoting Lyndon Johnson, Knute Rockne and Dorothy Day, President Bush used his commencement address at the University of Notre Dame to encourage individual and corporate participation in battling poverty.
"Welfare as we knew it has ended, but poverty has not,'' Bush said. "When over 12 million children live below the poverty line, we are not a post-poverty America.''
Speaking to 2,500 graduates, their families and faculty, Bush urged the audience to consider a life of service.
There's more to citizenship than voting and paying taxes, Bush said. "Citizenship is empty without concern for our fellow citizens, without the ties that bind us to one another and build a common good.''
Bush quoted his predecessor, President Johnson, from a 1964 speech that launched that administration's "War on Poverty.''
"You are the generation which must decide,'' he quoted. "Will you decide to leave the future a society where a man is condemned to hopelessness because he was born poor? Or will you join to wipe out poverty in this land?''
Bush asked the Notre Dame graduates, "Will you be a spectator in the renewal of your country or a citizen?''
"The methods of the past may have been flawed, but the idealism of the past was not an illusion,'' he said. "Your calling is not easy because you must do the acting and the caring.''
The 1960s-era War on Poverty succeeded in providing basic health care for the poor and started other programs, Bush noted. But it also "turned many citizens into bystanders, convinced that compassion had become the work of government alone,'' he said.
The War on Poverty established a federal commitment to the poor, he said, adding that a 1996 welfare reform law "made that commitment more effective.'' The law set limits on how long people could receive government assistance. It also required work in exchange for aid.
The fact that those changes resulted in cutting welfare rolls in half is a tribute to President Clinton and to the Republicans and Democrats who agreed on its components, Bush said.
Now, a third phase in combating poverty is called for, Bush said.
"Our society must enlist, equip and empower idealistic Americans in the works of compassion that only they can provide,'' Bush said.