Faith and Hopelessness

David Kuo, former Deputy Director of the White House Office of Faith-Based Initiatives, offers up what is mostly a stinging indictment of the duplicitousnh-based initiatives that help poor people. Having worked for William Bennett and John Ashcroft prior to working for the White House, it's fair to say that though Kuo clearly cares sincerely about these issues, he is also a partisan. Which makes the following passage pretty damning:

In December 2001, for instance, Sen. Daschle approached the Domestic Policy Council with an offer to pass a charity relief bill that contained many of the president's campaign tax incentive policies plus new money for the widely-popular and faith-based-friendly Social Services Block Grant. The White House legislative affairs office rolled their eyes while others on senior staff yawned. We had to leave the offer on the table. They could afford to.

Who was going to hold them accountable? Drug addicts, alcoholics, poor moms, struggling urban social service organizations, and pastors aren't quite the NRA. Charities haven't quite figured out the lobbying thing yet. More significantly, over time it became clearer that the White House didn't have to expend any political capital for pro-poor legislation. The initiative powerfully appealed to both conservative Christians and urban faith leaders - regardless of how much money was being appropriated.

Conservative Christian donors, faith leaders, and opinion makers grew to see the initiative as an embodiment of the president's own faith. Democratic opposition was understood as an attack on his personal faith. And since this community's most powerful leaders - men like James Dobson of Focus on the Family - weren't anti-poverty leaders, they didn't care about money. The Faith-Based Office was the cross around the White Houses' neck showing the president's own faith orientation. That was sufficient.
Right. Keep in mind that the above passage was written by a man who, until recently, worked in the White House. Something about working there these days and actually caring about doing the work of governing doesn't seem to mix.

Remember, though, that this guy is first and foremost a Republican, and so ad hominem attacks on Democrats need follow, even if he's already acknowledged that Tom Daschle was the only good guy in this story:
The moment the president announced the faith-based effort, Democratic opposition was frenzied. Hackneyed church-state scare rhetoric made the rounds; this was "radical" and "dangerous" and merely an "attempt to fund Bob Jones University."
At the end of the day, both parties played to stereotype -- Republicans were indifferent to the poor and the Democrats were allergic to faith.
Except, of course, for the fact that Democratic opposition to the initial iterations of the bill was due to the fact that it would've allowed blatant discrimination by service agencies. But whatever - once a hack, always a hack. Continuing:

Secular liberal advocacy and interest groups attacked every little thing the faith initiative did. When Executive Orders were issued permitting an organization to simply display a cross or a Star of David, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State called it "a crusade to bring about an unprecedented merger of religion and government."
Had these liberal groups or an alliance of charities held the White House accountable for how little was being done -- especially compared to what was promised -- there is no telling what might have happened...or what might still happen.

So now Americans United is to blame - even after acknowledging mere paragraphs before that
...the White House didn't have to expend any political capital for pro-poor legislation.
Like I said - once a hack, always a hack. But never moreso than in his conclusion:

I'm writing this now because there is a lot of time left. There are more budget supplementals to come for Social Security and Iraq totaling scores of billions. The White House can still do a great deal for the poor. It can add another few billion to insure every American child has health care. It could launch a program to simply eliminate hunger. Groups like America's Second Harvest have the plan. Bump up the Compassion Capital Fund to $500 million a year and be marveled by change.

Given new budget realities, climates, and conditions it is easy to dismiss these suggestions as naive. But no one ever said faith was easy...or cheap. In 2000, Gov. Bush said, "I know that economic growth is not the solution to every problem. A rising tide lifts many boats, but not all." He then went on to propose a new approach to those who were still stuck behind. The promises are still there and I am trying to keep the faith.

It's admirable, to a point, that Kuo was able to serve up the initial indictment of the White House's Christmas-and-Easter (or in their case, every-other-November) approach to faith, even if he remarkably later attempts to blame the failure of an initiative created by a White House with Congressional majorities on the opposition party.

But what's even more remarkable is how much of a mark Kuo admits himself to be in those last paragraphs - he musters up enough courage and honesty earlier to say
...[Christian leaders influential in the White House] didn't care about money. The Faith-Based Office was the cross around the White Houses' neck showing the president's own faith orientation. That was sufficient.
but he can't admit that they never cared about money going to the poor, and never will care about money going to the poor because neither this administration nor the powerful Christian leaders don't want money to go to poor people. Because - as Kuo, remarkably, notes mere paragraphs before the close of his article -
From tax cuts to Medicare, the White House gets what the White House really wants. It never really wanted the "poor people stuff."
But he has "faith" that these people will ever actually do anything to help poor people. David Kuo is clearly a man with compassion. I would advise that he take a serious look at his judgement, because at this point the only logical conclusion is that this administration is perfectly content to wear the rhetoric of compassionate conservatism as a "cross around [their] neck," and nothing more.

He is a mark, and an easy one for this administration - a point the Moose is fond of making of evangelicals on most occasions, but curiously, not this one. Rather, he also takes a scrape at Dems for being insufficiently subservient to Christ:
...the left often puts a theological dedication to "church-state separation" before helping the poor in innovative ways.
Well, we wouldn't have to have to find so many "innovative ways" of helping the poor if Republicans didn't gut our social safety net at pretty much every opportunity - but putting that aside, there are some pretty damn good reasons why we worry about "church-state separation."

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