I received a letter this week about the relief one local resident felt that the former federal building in Cape Girardeau would not be turned into a homeless shelter targeting a 22-county area. Among her comments, "I prefer you don't include my note in the paper because I'm active at church and with local missions. Some may think I'm 'talking out of both sides of my mouth.'"
Such is the conflict that the Rev. Larry Rice sows. Good-hearted individuals, who are working and volunteering daily, are intimidated by Rice's tactics of impugning the honor of those who oppose his plans. On Thursday, he charged opposition as showing "a spiritual depravity that has grieved me as a minister."
For this particular woman, being called un-Christian would be the worst she could be called. But Rice's faulty plan -- rejected by the Department of Health and Human Services on four of five criteria -- was simply a bad one. It was the wrong building at the wrong size in the wrong place with the wrong plan managed by the wrong organization.
Still, Larry Rice and his destructive rhetoric have had an impact. Here is what Deborah Young, president of the local NAACP, who invited Rice to speak to her group on Thursday, had to say:
"It seems like personal attacks and people telling me where we belong, where black people belong, where poor whites belong, where veterans belong, and they are telling us we don't belong in the federal building, and I don't agree with that."
Actually, that's not what Health and Human Services decided. What it decided is that Rice's proposal for the old federal building was, simply, unqualified and inappropriate for the space. A rejection of that plan -- no matter how much Rice might try to spin it -- is not a rejection of any group of Americans. Of course, we can probably expect more of this type of rhetoric from Rice and those who drink his Kool-Aid, which is a shame. Cape Girardeau would be greatly benefited by a vibrant and positive NAACP. Adopting his mode of attention-getting is not only counterproductive, it is destructive.
It is also seductive -- and, for those wielding it, oftentimes effective in the short term (albeit at the expense of the American community). Politicians, for example, often fear it, which is why U.S. senators Claire McCaskill and Kit Bond and U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson deserve high praise for the steps they took in urging federal agencies to closely examine Rice's proposal.
In an earlier column, I asked: "Just what kind of government do we have?" These three affirmed the best of it, and we owe them a debt of gratitude, if not for the decision itself, which was made by Health and Human Services, then for their strong encouragement that federal agencies look at the details of the proposal, which did not align with the need or the place.
Mayor Jay Knudtson and the leaders of local service agencies also deserve the highest praise. Because of their efforts, our federal representatives took notice and had the information they needed. I hope this episode will launch even greater partnerships between city and civic groups in the future.