THE FAITH-BASED CON…. This terrific piece by David Kuo, former deputy director of the White House’s faith-based office, is worth five minutes of your time. It’s not necessarily new–we said much the same thing last October in a piece outlining how Bush’s faith-based policies have amounted to nothing not despite the White House’s best efforts but precisely because of White House indifference. What’s really striking is to see a former insider leveling the same charges.

Kuo lays some blame at the feet of Democrats, as well. While I still maintain they’re right to insist that those who receive state money abide by the simple–and reasonable–rule that they not discriminate when they hire people to use that money, that objection very quickly came to define the entirety of the Democratic position on faith-based initiatives. And, as I pointed out in an earlier article and Kuo says here, that not only put Democrats on the losing side of the debate, but it also distracted them from what should have been their real mission: holding Bush accountable for his goals and claims with the faith-based initiative. As Kuo writes, “Had these liberal groups or an alliance of charities held the White House accountable for how little was being done–especially compared to what was promised–there is no telling what might have happened.”

One quibble: Before he really gives the White House a good whack, Kuo provides the requisite “of course, I have the utmost respect for the president, blahedy-blah” statement, noting that the president is a sincerely compassionate man and that colleagues in the White House were kind to him when he experienced a health crisis. That’s good to hear–although stories like that often make me wonder if the bar for good behavior isn’t set just a bit low (“Bob Novak doesn’t eat small children…he must be a good guy”). But I guess this is where liberals and conservatives diverge. I’d much rather see the country run by a jerk of a guy who forgets his secretary’s birthday and can’t be bothered to remember staff member’s names (much less give them nicknames) but whose policies make life better for MILLIONS OF PEOPLE than a president who gets along well with his staff and friends but whose policies hurt others.

I know Kevin’s made this point before, but it’s worth repeating. Priorities, people.

Update: Not surprisingly, a few people are huffily assuming that my comments imply a belief that Democrats should have shut up and let Bush have his way on the faith-based initiative. Not so. What they’re missing is the political context of this debate: Faith-based legislation has never passed Congress, nor did it need to. Bush has done everything purely via executive order. Putting all of your energy into fighting a bill that isn’t going anywhere (partly thanks to your efforts) does not mean that you can’t also demand oversight and accountability for the piece of the program that is being implemented at the very same time.

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Amy Sullivan

Amy Sullivan is a Chicago-based journalist who has written about religion, politics, and culture as a senior editor for Time, National Journal, and Yahoo. She was an editor at the Washington Monthly from 2004 to 2006.