Friday, July 14, 2006

The Church of Nowhere

Steve Benen is right. The story of the resignations of these religious leaders from the Katrina Fund is fascinating - and mostly for the reasons cited by Benen. The resignations are in direct response to the dearth of real policy making process in the White House and its impact on real-life outcomes. This shortcoming was first noticed, ironically, by John DiIulio (the man initially tapped to head Bush faith-based initiatives). DiIulio coined the phrase, "Mayberry Machiavellians" to describe those in charge of the policy making apparatus run amok. Some of the logistical details from the article:

Nearly all the religious leaders serving on a committee created by the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund to disburse money to churches destroyed by Hurricane Katrina have quit their posts, claiming their advice was ignored.

Four of nine board members confirmed their resignations on Thursday. Last week, two others -- Bishop T.D. Jakes, the prominent Dallas megachurch pastor, and the Rev. William H. Gray III, former president of the United Negro College Fund -- resigned as co-chairs.

And Gray and Jakes say they have received the resignation letter of a seventh board member, the Rev. William Shaw, president of the National Baptist Convention, USA. He did not immediately return a phone call Thursday night.
As Benen notes:

In the religious community, these are some of the biggest heavy-hitters the White House could find. Bush brought them in, apparently, for public relations purposes. These pastors thought they could help make a difference, they offered sensible recommendations, and the president's aides proceeded to blow them off. To their credit, the religious leaders decided to resign rather than give Bush cover.

As Gray told the AP, "I've learned in life that if people say they want your advice and then they change it, ignore it, or undermine it, then they really don't want it."
In another familiar Bush administration refrain, much of the disagreement came down to, of all things, the lack of...accountability. Color me shocked.

Initially, Gray said, the committee assumed it would make around 500 awards, each for $35,000. But as the applications began trickling in, staff members in New Orleans realized there were far fewer applicants than they had initially assumed. That meant they could increase the award amount, and the board agreed in consultation with the co-chairs of the fund that the grant ceiling would be increased to $100,000, Gray said. They also agreed each of the churches or religious institutions receiving the charity's money would first be inspected, he said.

Numerous disagreements ensued, but Jakes and Gray said the last straw was the fund's decision to cut checks to 38 houses of worship, each for $35,000, without first conducting an audit to ensure the church exists. [emphasis added]
Yes folks, audits are for girlie men. Whether or not the church exists is less important as whether or not the person who runs the imaginary church supports the GOP. That's what Jesus would say.

As an aside, is this a sign that Rove is off his game? This looks awfully ham-handed in terms of blowing it from a PR perspective. Angering the religious base in an election year like this is risky business indeed. But, business is business.

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