David Kuo, formerly of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives isn’t happy. The combination of Democratic resistance and Republican indifference has, he said, dulled the shining promise of President Bush’s "compassionate conservatism." Here are the nicest things he has to say:
I take solace in realizing that the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives that now sits outside the White House gates has effected change. The Office has used regulations and executive orders to end overt religious discrimination in the government grant-making process. Groups like the Metropolitan Council for Jewish Poverty, once denied an HHS application because it had "Jewish" in its name, are now welcome partners. Tens of thousands of faith-based social service groups, churches, synagogues, mosques, and secular non-profits attended free White House conferences where they were given information needed to navigate the federal grants labyrinth and the rules about what to do with money if they get it. A website now allows all social service groups to sort potential grants by category. These are good things.
But they are a whisper of what was promised. Irony of ironies, it leaves the faith-based initiative specifically, and compassionate conservativism in general, at precisely the place Gov. Bush pledged it would not go; it has done the work of praising and informing but it has not been given "the resources to change lives." In short, like the hurting charities it is trying to help, the Initiative has been forced to "make bricks without straw."
Here’s his take on the initiative’s unfulfilled promise:
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.
At the same time, the White House discovered urban faith leaders had been so neglected for so long that simple attention drew them in. Between 2002 and 2004 more than 15,000 white, Hispanic, and African-American religious and social service leaders attended free White House conferences on how to interact with the federal government. The meetings, held regularly in battleground states, were chock-full of vital information and gave thousands of groups invaluable information about government grants. They were hardly pep rallies for the President. But the conferences sent a resounding political message to all faith-oriented constituencies: President Bush cares about you.
Some liberal leaders have been quoted as saying the administration was looking to "buy minority votes." Nothing could be further from the truth. There wasn’t enough money around to buy anyone. The conferences actually underscored how difficult it was to even get a grant. But by traveling across the country, giving useful information, and extending faith-based groups an open hand, powerful inroads were made to "non-traditional" supporters. One senior Republican leader walked into an early conference, stared wide-eyed at the room full of people of diverse ethnicities and said to me, "This is what Republicans have been dreaming about for 30 years."
I continue to believe that the faith-based initiative is good politics and good public policy. I share Kuo’s hope that Republicans will, sooner rather than later, get it right. This depends in part upon religious conservatives "getting it right." For an argument that they’re not, go
here and here. For an argument that they are, go here and here. My review of the latter two books will appear soon in the Claremont Institute’s Local Liberty.
Hat tip: The Revealer, which has all sorts of other questions about the faith-based initiative, some of which seem to forget that the full title of the initiative is the "faith-based and community" initiative. But I don’t want to be too snarky.