Sunday, November 8, 2009

Melody Barnes: American Domestic Policy on Faith, Politics, Laws

Melody Barnes

Melody Barnes is President Obama’s Director of the Domestic Policy Council. She participated in a conversation today at Washington’s National Cathedral with the Very Rev. Samuel T. Lloyd III. I liked his careful, thoughtful and interesting questions.  Questions were also taken from the live audience.

This entire conversation was recorded and is available to watch at the National Cathedral website, here (with Windows Media). My summary is likely inaccurate, a warning, and should be checked and verified on the recording (with visuals) as this post is independent, not sanctioned or acknowledged by the National Cathedral.

Samuel T. Lloyd III

The conversation had to do with the Administration’s Domestic Policy immediately following the vote on health care yesterday and the Fort Hood military episode last week.

With all the current issues in front of the agenda, health care is legislatively at the top now because it concerns and worries everyone and permeates everyone’s life, according to Barnes. There is fear and hope in the eyes of Americans, Barnes says. The administration knows that many Americans are living with the suffering and the feeling of insecurity from inadequate health care.

Dean Lloyd asks her which other urgent topics they are looking at? Her immediate answer is job creation. Unemployment is rising and job creation is a lagging indicator when the economy turns around. Job training is a priority with her office, she says. Education initiatives and immigration reform are also being investigated, she says.

The conversation moved on to the role of faith in public life. The constitutional democracy of America wants to reach out to faith leaders, because of the importance of faith to the common good, Barnes says. There is expertise within the faith community in health care and immigration where the faith community can help at the ground level, she asserts.

Dean Lloyd asks if there is a place for the religious community to have a role? People are rattled and anxious.  Clergy can acknowledge it, he says, and can deepen their sense that they are part of something that is at work. Is there a way to tap into the commitment, the trust, hope and public good despite the diversities of religions?

To which Barnes replies that “we are all more alike than we are different” and that common goals, purpose and good bring us together. Through national service and community solutions, the church can work together with her Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation to address big national challenges. She says that the faith community has an important role to play there. She says that the administration is clear that we must move forward, and the choices are difficult.

“We know we have to make progress to achieve these goals,” Barnes says.  She gave an anecdote that her swim coach once told her that she had to keep pace and use her own strokes to swim better at meets, and she thinks this is wise advice for us all.

Barnes is questioned by the audience: what can be done to encourage civil discourse?

Barnes replies that the lawmakers can set a good example, they can reach out in a bipartisan way. The administration is traveling to communities around the country not normally consulted and having face-to-face conversations.

She is also asked if religious communities have a specific role in responding to Fort Hood? She says information is still being gathered, and the question implies that people want to keep the temperature down and understand the issues, and that we are  a single community trying to have a civil discourse.

When asked if religion has a role to play in politics, Barnes replies that religions care "on the ground" and can touch individuals and gain expertise.

Dean Lloyd continues the conversation by discussing the seamless division between freedom and social justice that we live in everyday.

And Melody Barnes recommends the book “A Stone of Hope: Prophetic Religion and the Death of Jim Crow" by David Chappell because it documents the important role of the church in the civil rights community where churches helped. Churches and places of worship have been gathering places throughout history, where the prophetic voice in the pulpit “has spoken truth to power.”

Barnes is asked “how we engage different groups” to which she suggests “sitting down and discussing," and articulating values and what the leadership had been doing in the community within the parameters of democratic ideals. She thinks the question shows the diversity within the religious community.

She is asked if there is a moral appeal to be made for health care reform?  Barnes replies that there are economic and moral imperatives that move the administration forward.

Concerning job creation, Barnes says that within this multi-faceted subject, small business owners and businesses in the “green space” can be incentivized to hire more people. Another component is the promotion of education that is necessary to compete with necessary skills and certification. In the arena of jobs, she says the “new normal” is about women and jobs. She says that China is now moving on a fast pace as an energy economy.

She says that the administration is talking about what they’re trying to do, and they want to be honest with Americans. They talk about it with Americans to gain trust. They want Americans to be actively engaged with solutions. Greater trust grows from communication, she says.

Dean Lloyd asks Barnes what she hopes will happen during the President Obama’s first term? She hopes for greater security for the people, that citizens are feeling more engaged with their government, that they see benefits of being actively involved, and that people feel more involved.

The entire conversation contains more information on these and many other subjects not listed above. This post is designed merely to be helpful.

Again, my thanks are extended to the National Cathedral for this interesting conversation. Any mistakes in this writing are solely my own.

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