It turns out that the real cause of the government’s alleged or possible shortcomings in hurricane and flood relief (about which more here and here, the latter containing the whole of the President’s carefully worded statement) is the faith-based initiative. Say what?
In a meandering and insidious column, Boston Globe columnist James Carroll can’t actually offer evidence or even much or an argument, just a few factoids and insinuations. To wit:
The church-state divide, undercutting norms of supervision and accountability, means religious groups, even while entrusted with public functions, can embody antipublic values. To take last week’s most glaring example, Operation Blessing, one of the FEMA-recommended relief agencies, is affiliated with Pat Robertson, an advocate of assassination as a tool of foreign policy. Why were American citizens being encouraged by the United States government to support Pat Robertson’s enterprise?
I defy you to find the "antipublic values" on
Operation Blessing’s website. Here’s Charity Navigator’s evaluation of Operation Blessing: it receives the highest marks for organizational efficiency and capacity, with 99.4% of its expenses being devoted to its programs. Of course, guilt by association is enough for The Nation and Americans United, whose talking points Carroll repeats. Don’t get me wrong: I hold no brief for Pat Robertson politically or theologically. His statements about Hugo Chavez were far beyond the pale. But there’s no evidence that money that goes to Operation Blessing for Katrina relief does anything other than help the victims.
Of course, Carroll doesn’t stop there. Apparently, it’s impossible for those who are moved by religion to help their neighbors in need not to impose on them:
The missionary impulse is implicit in the good works of religion. Mother Teresa required nothing of those she helped, but she still hoped that the compassionate face of Christ shined through her eyes. To some of us, it surely did -- but that hope itself can become an imposition on those who are in need.
If I love my neighbor as myself because he or she is created in God’s image, my action--the work, without which faith is dead, as John Kerry regularly insisted on the stump--is suspect. Carroll would seem to require that I launder my compassion through a secular agency. After all, secular compassion, however patronizing, is apparently not an imposition.
In the final analysis, all we have is the stock criticism of the faith-based initiative--that it’s simply an excuse the dismantle the social safety net, which having been dismantled, failed in hurricane relief. There is of course not a shred of evidence that FEMA’s failings, such as they are, had anything to do with vouchers going to faith-based alcohol and drug rehab programs, or to welfare-to-work programs sponsored by churches or FBOs, to take a couple of prominent faith-based initiative programs.
And yes, the poor people of New Orleans, many of them mired in a culture of dependency, were not well-served, to say the least, by any level of government, certainly not before or during the crisis. But the levees didn’t fail because the government had subcontracted with FBOs to shore them up. And the buses weren’t submerged because the government had hired pastors to drive them. And the poor people in New Orleans were in rough shape long before George Bush came into office, through many Democratic administrations in Washington, D.C. and Baton Rouge, after decades of Democratic dominance on Capitol Hill. I’m far from arguing that a welfare-to-work program run by an FBO is necessarily better for everyone than a government, secular, or for-profit program. But the state of the argument and evidence regarding the faith-based initiative has nothing to do with the quality of federal, state, and local disaster response.
In the end, Carroll’s poor substitute for an argument is just another example of someone attempting to hitch his wagon to the rising star of Katrina-inspired Bush-bashing. I guess I don’t blame him too much. Everyone else is doing it. Which of course tells me more about the quality of their arguments than it does about anything else.