Sunday, February 5, 2023 Feb 5, 2023
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EDITOR’S PAGE Who Asked Us, Anyway?

Notes on a Magazine’s Mission
By Chris Tucker |

I CAN ANTICIPATE A QUESTION THAT MIGHT be asked about this month’s cover story: Who, pray tell, elected D Magazine to inquire into the finances of some of the city’s most prosperous churches (page 68) and report on their contributions to the needy?

The short answer, of course, is simple: That’s what we do. Longtime readers will recognize that our report on church benevolence follows in D’s 20-year tradition of looking long and hard at our city’s institutions, from the public schools to the private schools to DART, from major law firms to Parkland Hospital and the Wadley Blood Center, from the mental health system to the Dallas Police Department.

As senior editor Glenna Whitley notes, charitable giving by churches and other private institutions is perhaps more important now than ever before. It seems certain that major changes to the nation’s welfare system will come in the next few years, whether Bill Clinton, Bob Dole, Phil Gramm, Colin Powell, or someone else presides over the transformation. We are going to put to the test the rhetoric of Ronald Reagan, who liked to remind us that in the small-town America of his boyhood, neighbors, not government, took care of those who were down on their luck. Helping hands-food baskets, used clothing, emergency loans-came from the local church, not from faraway bureaucrats.

We’ve reached a point in the political dialogue where the status quo has few defenders. Not even the resurrected Hubert Humphrey would argue that our welfare system has succeeded in measurably bettering the lives of its clients. Few on the left are saying, “Keep the checks rolling and don’t change a thing.” Few on the right would argue that government has no duty at all to the truly needy.

The only real questions are: What will the new system look like? Will it ever be possible to replace a system of government “charity” with an entirely private system-one that demands that the able-bodied work while preserving a safety net for those who cannot? Can we form some kind of public-private partnership between government, churches and other agents of benevolence? Would such efforts breach the wall that has long sep arated church and state? It may well be thai the pastors and volunteer workers featured in our story are answering those question; right now.

“OUR BROTHER’S KEEPER” CONTINUES THIS magazine’s mission of setting a standard and challenging us all to meet it. D exists to say that in every facet of our city’s life-business, politics, media, law, religion, architecture-we can do better. And should, and will. That’s what I often tell readers and prospective readers, and that’s what I told numerous reporters from suburban papers who called last month about our November cover story, “The Best {And Worst) Places to Live.” A few of them were daunted, I think, by the enormity of the task we had set for ourselves. One reporter, upset that her city had received a rating she considered too low, declared herself shocked that we had the temerity to compare and contrast a tiny town like, say, Murphy with her much larger suburb.

In her haste to begin asking questions, this dogged reporter had not had time to read the article, which explained in great detail just how we had made those comparisons and created those rankings of the suburbs. Rather than read the whole thing to her over the phone, I suggested she take a few minutes to mull it over and call back. Alas, her deadline loomed, so one more question; Why didn’t we include Dallas in the survey? And one more: How would the city have ranked?

It would have been rude to point out that, as the cover hinted, the article aimed at “Rating the Suburbs,” oratleast41 of them, and that, after all, Dallas is not a suburb. Besides, the subtext of her question was clear enough: Why had we picked on all those other towns while giving dear old Dallas a pass?

All part of my point, of course. For two decades now D Magazine has been critiquing, praising, rating, berating, cajoling, and encouraging Dallas-not out of spite or condescension or the desire to find villains when villains may not lurk, but because we love Dallas and want it to be a great American city We hand out bouquets and brickbats alike when they’re deserved. (Which reminds me January brings that annual rite of remembrance, Best and Worst.) And since she asked, I’d guess that Dallas would land somewhere near the middle of the pack, along with Mesquite and Addison and Wylie. We can do better. And should, and will.

SPEAKING OF DOINC BETTER, YOU DON’T need a degree in economics to know that the Dallas area is doing markedly better than it was 10 years ago, As Jim Atkinson points out in “The Great Dallas Bust” (page 90), even some who held degrees in economics-as well as those who steered our great banks – were blindsided by the collapse of oil and real estate that devastated our economy in the mid-1980s. Atkinson has written a story not only of the bust but of the boom that preceded it, those full-steam-ahead days when the construction crane was die state bird of Texas and it seemed that the iron laws of the business cycle had been repealed. There was something unreal about those years, even for observers on the margins of the financial action. I don’t recall actually seeing anyone at Cafe Dallas or In Cahoots (now there’s a memory) light a cigarette with a $50 bill, but I don’t think it would have raised many eyebrows. Jim’s lengthy meditation on our financial travails and die legacy of those times- by turns a morality tale, a dirge, and a black comedy-reminds me of Scott Fitzgerald’s stories about those 1920s revelers who danced as the decks were tilting beneath them. Atkinson, by the way, was the first editor of this magazine back in 1974. It’s good to have him in our pages again.