First, George would create a welfare bureaucracy in the name of eliminating a welfare bureaucracy. " Bush already has said that, if elected president, he would establish an 'Office of Faith-Based Action' in the government to serve as a clearinghouse for successful charitable social programs and to help religious groups with federal regulations," writes Clay Robison in today's Houston Chronicle. "And if the governor's program were to be as successful as he apparently envisions, thousands of government workers -- bureaucrats -- would still have to oversee the distribution of federal funds and check out the validity of applicants. Many Americans may like the idea of their tax dollars going to legitimate charitable programs, but they will demand some accountability. Just about any group can call itself a church or a charity, even groups that consist of little more than a phone number and a fly-by-night operator whose sole charity is himself." Bush seems to want as little accountability as possible. Example: "Republican Gov. George W. Bush, a presidential candidate who wants to funnel federal tax dollars into private programs (vetoed) a bill requiring private entities to meet in public when they discuss how to spend taxpayers' money. Bush last month killed a measure that would have subjected certain nonprofit corporations to the state open meetings laws if the organizations spend federal money. Though the bill made no mention of faith-based organizations, Bush cited them as the reason for his veto." (AAS 7/31/99) Further, George's history of under-funding and under-staffing agencies designed to oversee accountability also does not bode well for his "faith-based" welfare
But that's only the beginning of the problems with the "faith-based" plan. How in the world will the needed new bureaucracy deal with those institutions that are gender-biased, racist, and dictatorial? Salon reporter Debra Dickerson provides some anecdotal observations. "In the black community, it is often argued that community groups disproportionately target men with their resources (both in the delivery and receipt of services) and ignore black women. Black women continually rail against the trumpeting of black men's issues as the black community's issues. Clarence Thomas' and O.J. Simpson's problems were seen as racial, while Anita Hill's complaints were merely gender-based and therefore less significant. I know of one well-respected group that has been fervent in its discrimination against female volunteers and administrators, running off with sexual harassment and belittlement the few who tried to persevere." As we know from the Baptist debates that have taken place this past year, many would suggest that Dickerson's problem is not limited to black women. She goes on: "So when Bush promises that no organization will have to compromise its core values and spiritual mission to get the help it needs, I have to wade through a strong sense of ambivalence. Will that include the inner-city church I witnessed instructing the kids on its basketball team that white churches would be racist towards them, and to just pray for forgiveness when the white folks cheated them? Well-intentioned though many of these groups may be, they are also often self-limiting, anti-female, anti-intellectual and frankly racist."
Dickerson also questions the concept of "voluntary" participation in the "faith-based" institutions' religious practices. "Bush promises that participation in faith-based programs will be truly voluntary and that there will be secular alternatives. What will he do about programs like the one I visited as a journalist, which physically dragged me into a prayer circle? The more I protested, the more they just knew my soul needed saving. At a recent religious conference, even though I was wearing a big, neon press badge, I was hissed at for not participating in the prayers and songs. I'm a middle-aged, world-traveled, well-educated journalist with a law degree from Harvard, and I find myself both intimidated and angry in these situations. Junkies, desperate parents and the illiterate are supposed to stand up against such onslaughts? Is there really such a thing as free will in this context?" I don't know about you, but I have found that my own experiences with respect to "voluntary" participation in such groups is similar to Dickerson's.
Finally, "aside from the political and social problematics, there remains the very basic question of efficacy. As Jacob Hacker, fellow of the New America Foundation, wrote in the New Republic, 'It remains an open question just how effective faith-based organizations really would be in a greatly expanded role. Systematic research on [these programs] is meager.... To expect institutions of this scope to dramatically expand their infrastructure and expertise in response to new government grants -- much less to become the nation's core providers of social assistance -- is unrealistic,' Hacker concludes." Bush does not seem to have much of an idea of "systematic research." With respect to his Charter School system as well as the proposed school voucher system that failed to pass into law, the idea has been to get the untested plans up and running, then use the failures of the plans as a guide to considering what needs to be changed to make them work. By then, the lack of money and manpower does not lead to many serious changes, and the previous failures are compounded. Based on Bush's past record, one would imagine that if he were to become President and carry out such a plan, the results would be disastrous.
Dickerson sums up: "It is no accident that Bush's first major policy pronouncement exalts religion. Challenged for months to address issues like the minimum wage, tax cuts, abortion and gun control, the man who would lead America released a comprehensive proposal ostensibly aimed at highlighting the role of religion in public policy instead. What courage. Lately politicians and pundits have been trying to act like Christian martyrs, insisting their religious beliefs have been marginalized by godless liberals and the media.... Bush's speech echoes the same self-pitying perception of this vast bloc of citizens as an oppressed minority. Bravely, he said, 'A president can speak for abstinence and accountability and the power of faith,' all the things we heathens fight so hard to prevent. Exactly where does the pro-promiscuity, pro-irresponsibility, pro-devil worshippers' lobby meet and how much are the dues? Bush pretends to go out on a political limb when he knows full well that there isn't a safer perch to occupy in this one nation under God. Patriotism is still the last refuge of a scoundrel but, these days, religion fills that role for a candidate." 8/1-3/99
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