Is there much doubt that Barack Obama wants to reward and foster young men, or at least youth, with whom he wants to identify? Rapper Ludacris, set the tone for much of his misogynistic primary campaign, John Favreau, aka the Groper, was his dismal speechwriter, borrowing the fabled but mindless chant “yes we can” for the campaign. For the new faith initiative the White House has chosen another youth, a 26 year old Pentecostal pastor named Josh DuBois to head the White House Office for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, a continuation and expansion of the Bush faith based initiative described hereand here
Obama believes the Bush initiative was hobbled by insufficient funding and should soon exceed the $2.2 billion doled out to religious institutions in 2007.
Mr. Dubois, a former aide to Ways and Means Committee Chairman, Charlie Rangel, has been working with the Obama campaign on outreach to the faith community since 2006 and will now lead a varied group of 25 in implementing the president’s plan. Interestingly, Mr. Dubois’ second in command will be John DiIulio, the first director of Bush’s faith-based initiative who resigned after seven months in the job with the George Bush initiative. DiIulio, who was a strong supporter of the “compassionate conservative” model that Bush campaigned on in 2000, said later he felt the office had turned into a political operation and that the White House, run by “Mayberry Machiavellians,” was using federal funds to reward organizations that were in line with White House policy positions.
Mr. Dubois’ parents were early followers of James Dobson’s Focus on the Family. He was one of the advocates pressing Obama to invite Rick Warren, despite outrage in the LGBT community, to deliver the presidential invocation. Obama called his invitation to Warren an example of bringing diverse voices to the table. It appears the cynical courting of the religious right was really Obama’s priority rather than increased dialog among differing opinions.
I wondered why Mr. Obama chose to place his expensive faith initiative in the hands of a youthful, inexperienced Pentecostal rather than a mature individual with a public agency background from a mainstream religion. I think the answers are probably that evangelical faiths have become increasingly influential and politically powerful within the last two decades. Mr. Obama, himself, has a predilection for preaching, personal, evangelizing religions and charismatic leaders; his long-time pastor Jeremiah Wright, espousing black liberation theology, would fit that mold. Obama is also interested in mining every demographic for possible voters, youthful voters and Christians. The president is more interested in building a constituency for 2012 than satisfying the expectations of his devoted supporters.
Obama is aware of the significant growth of Pentecostalism in the U.S. and around the world. Evangelicals and Pentecostals formed the backbone of George Bush’s White House win in 2000 and 2004. Their lack of enthusiasm for John McCain, encouraged by Rev. James Dobson, probably played a significant role in keeping Republican turnout low in 2008, ensuring an Obama victory.
It has not been lost on Obama that Republican V.P. candidate, Sarah Palin, invigorated the McCain campaign, in part due to her personal charisma but also because she is a conservative, Assemblies of God Pentecostal. Throughout the campaign Obama’s crowds were rivaled in size only by Sarah Palin’s.
Mr. Obama’s resuscitation of Bush’s faith initiatives have disappointed many of his secular and “progressive” supporters. Despite his campaign promises to retain a faith outreach many, including nonbelievers, secularists, gay and pro-choice advocates are surprised and chagrined at the breadth of the proposed programs favoring religious groups whose practices are inimical to Mr. Obama’s “progressive” base. Many are particularly disappointed that the president has chosen to distribute so much taxpayer funding to organizations that practice discrimination based on religious beliefs. The new president has stated that the government will review all grants to review their discriminatory practices. However, no anti-discrimination language has been added to the bill, which will undoubtedly hamper any legal enforcement.
Obama apparently views disagreement with his faith initiative as a “distraction” from more pressing problems, but after his back track on FISA, inaugural invitation to Rick Warren, needless elimination of family planning funding in HR 1, and failure to sponsor the Fair Pay Act, Obama’s supporters may wonder which side their president is on.