Saturday, November 18, 2006

Reading: Wills on the "faith-based administration"

Gary Wills has an appalling inventory of an insufficiently appreciated problem that Democrats face in undoing the systematic undermining of the Constitution instigated by George W. Bush.
It is common knowledge that the Republican White House and Congress let "K Street" lobbyists have a say in the drafting of economic legislation, and on the personnel assigned to carry it out, in matters like oil production, pharmaceutical regulation, medical insurance, and corporate taxes. It is less known that for social services, evangelical organizations were given the same right to draft bills and install the officials who implement them. Karl Rove had cultivated the extensive network of religious right organizations, and they were consulted at every step of the way as the administration set up its policies on gays, AIDS, condoms, abstinence programs, creationism, and other matters that concerned the evangelicals.
Read the whole thing, but here are some highlights:

Bush and "faith-based social services:"
Bush promised his evangelical followers faith-based social services, which he called "compassionate conservatism." He went beyond that to give them a faith-based war, faith-based law enforcement, faith-based education, faith-based medicine, and faith-based science. He could deliver on his promises because he stocked the agencies handling all these problems, in large degree, with born-again Christians of his own variety. The evangelicals had complained for years that they were not able to affect policy because liberals left over from previous administrations were in all the health and education and social service bureaus, at the operational level. They had specific people they objected to, and they had specific people with whom to replace them, and Karl Rove helped them do just that.

Bush and administration personnel:
The head of the White House Office of Personnel was Kay Coles James, a former dean of Pat Robertson's Regent University and a former vice-president of Gary Bauer's Family Research Council, the conservative Christian lobbying group that had been set up as the Washington branch of James Dobson's Focus on the Family. She knew whom to put where, or knew the religious right people who knew. An evangelical was in charge of placing evangelicals throughout the bureaucracy. The head lobbyist for the Family Research Council boasted that "a lot of FRC people are in place" in the administration. The evangelicals knew which positions could affect their agenda, whom to replace, and whom they wanted appointed. This was true for the Centers for Disease Control, the Food and Drug Administration, and Health and Human Services—agencies that would rule on or administer matters dear to the evangelical causes.

Bush and "faith-based justice:"

After his nomination but before his confirmation, Ashcroft promised to put an end to the task force set up by Attorney General Janet Reno to deal with violence against abortion clinics —evangelicals oppose the very idea of hate crimes. The outcry of liberals against Ashcroft's promise made him back off from it during his confirmation hearings. In 2001, there was a spike in violence against the clinics —790 incidents, as opposed to 209 the year before. That was because the anthrax alarms that year gave abortion opponents the idea of sending threatening powders to the clinics—554 packets were sent. Nonetheless, Ashcroft refused for a long time to send marshals to quell the epidemic.

That was one of many signs that this administration thought of abortion as a sin, not as a right to be protected. The President himself called for an amendment to the Constitution outlawing abortion. He called evangelical leaders around him to celebrate the signing of the bill banning "partial birth abortions." The signing was not held, as usual, at the White House but in the Ronald Reagan Building, as a salute to the hero of younger evangelicals.

Bush and "faith-based science:"

Since President Bush advocates the teaching of intelligent design, it is not surprising that in his administration, the National Park Service would authorize the sale of a book at the Grand Canyon claiming that the canyon was formed by Noah's Flood. A group of scientists protested this endorsement by the government of bogus science. In response to that, the Alliance Defense Fund, set up by James Dobson and other fundamentalists, threatened a lawsuit if the book was withdrawn from sale at the federal site. As other religious right figures chimed in, it was discovered that a draft guide for park employees stated that the canyon was not formed in the time period of the Flood; the guide was not released. A survey of Park Service employees in 2003 found that almost nine out of ten felt the scientific message of the Service was being skewed for political reasons.[24] That is the very definition of faith-based science.

So is the Bush administration's denial of global warming. The religious right would seem to have no stake in this position, but for whatever reason —the premillennial lack of concern for the earth's fate as Jesus' coming nears, the "dominion" over the earth given Adam—evangelicals have been urgent in denying what most objective scientists have been observing.

Bush and "faith-based health:"

One of George W. Bush's first acts as president—in fact, on his first day in office, signaling its importance to his evangelical supporters—was to restore a gag rule on aid to international organizations that counsel women on the subject of abortion.[29] Though abortion is legal in the US, the President was able by executive decree to proscribe its mere discussion in other countries if they are to receive money for their population problems. This was just the beginning of the imposition of moral limits on health measures abroad. Though the President was praised for devoting millions of dollars to preventing and treating AIDS in Africa, 30 percent of that money was earmarked for promoting sexual abstinence, and none of it was for condoms.[30] Religion trumped medical findings on what is effective.

Domestically, too, $170 million were lavished on promoting a policy of "abstinence-only" in the schools during the year 2005 alone. The Centers for Disease Control removed from its Web site the findings of a panel that abstinence-only programs do not work. A study of the abstinence programs being financed by the federal government showed how little medical knowledge mattered, as opposed to moral dictation.

And last but not least, Bush and "faith-based war:"

God's war needs God's warriors, and the White House was ready to supply them. Kay Coles James had been the White House personnel scout for domestic offices. The equivalent director of personnel for the Iraq Coalition Provisional Authority (headed by Catholic convert Paul Bremer) was the White House liaison to the Pentagon, James O'Beirne, a conservative Catholic married to National Revieweditor Kate O'Beirne. Those recruited to serve in the CPA were asked if they had voted for Bush, and what their views were on Roe v. Wade and capital punishment.[39] O'Beirne trolled the conservative foundations, Republican congressional staffs, and evangelical schools for his loyalist appointees. Relatives of prominent Republicans were appointed, and staffers from offices like that of Senator Rick Santorum. Right moral attitude was more important than competence.[40]

That was proved when the first director of Iraqi health services, Dr. Frederick Burkle, was dismissed. Burkle, a distinguished physician, was a specialist in disaster relief, with experience in Kosovo, Somalia, and Kurdish Iraq. His replacement, James Haveman, had run a Christian adoption agency meant to discourage women from having abortions. Haveman placed an early emphasis on preventing Iraqis from smoking, while ruined hospitals went untended. This may suggest the policy on appointments that put Michael Brown in charge of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but the parallel is insufficiently harsh.
Cleaning out this rats' nest will be one of the biggest challenges the Democrats face.

The Wills article is on the Readings list on the sidebar.

(Cross-posted at Preemptive Karma.)

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