Tuesday, March 28, 2006
Very good people have worked and are working on President Bush's "faith-based initiative," but the evidence continues to mount that the administration as a whole views it as a rhetorical ploy to woo religious voters rather than a serious effort to address social needs (see previous post here). Amy Sullivan in The New Republic gives an update:
The real story, however, is not how immense the faith-based initiative is, but how small. The federal government distributed approximately $2 billion in grants to faith-based organizations in fiscal year 2005, a number that seems large but is not actually much different than the funding that groups like Catholic Charities and Habitat for Humanity received before Bush took office. . . . It is increasingly clear that only a handful of people in the administration view the program as anything other than a political tool to attract support from black religious leaders and to mollify the party's evangelical base. And now, even the program's most enthusiastic supporter on the Hill [Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN)] has pronounced it a sham. . . .
[At a recent hearing, Souder] ticked off for his audience the ways in which White House officials had kneecapped the initiative. . . . [Souder also charged] that congressional Republicans are unwilling to increase funds for social services because the recipients of those funds might be organizations in urban, Democratic districts.
UPDATE: Bryan McGraw, fellow at the Erasmus Institute at Notre Dame, writes to agree with my criticisms of much of the Bush administration but adds: "[I] it’s worth noting, I think, that part of the reason for the smallness of the program lies in bureaucratic resistance in places like HUD, HHS, etc." True; and one can also lay blame at the feet of some Democrats and interest groups that have fought the initiative tooth and nail. I also agree with Bryan that some White House staff take the program seriously (like the President's chief wordsmith) -- and I want to emphasize that I mean no criticism of the many people (including friends of mine) who have worked tirelessly on this program to boost the ability of faith-based and community services to help others. But John D'Iulio, David Kuo, Mark Souder: the voices are adding up, among social conservatives, toward the conclusion that the tax-cutting, budget-cutting, business-conscious -- and political -- side of Republicanism is frustrating the ideal of seriously assisting the needy through "compassionate conservatism."