Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Jesus Wept.

Republicans like to think that their stands on “moral issues” such as abortion, gay marriage and school vouchers are what attracts African American voters to their party. Of course, a little bribery helps grease the wheels.

From the LA Times

MILWAUKEE — Bishop Sedgwick Daniels, one of this city's most prominent black pastors, supported Democrats in past presidential elections, backing Bill Clinton and Al Gore.

This fall, however, the bishop's broad face appeared on Republican Party fliers in the battleground state of Wisconsin, endorsing President Bush as the candidate who "sares our views."

What changed?

After Bush's contested 2000 victory, Daniels felt the pull of a most powerful worldly force: a call from the White House. He conferred with top administration officials and had a visit in 2002 from the president himself. His church later received $1.5 million in federal funds through Bush's initiative to support faith-based social services.
Daniels' political conversion, and similar transformations by black pastors across the nation, form a little-known chapter in the playbook of Bush's 2004 reelection campaign — and may mark the beginning of a political realignment long sought by senior White House advisor Karl Rove and other GOP strategists.

Daniels says it was not the federal money that led him to endorse the Republican candidate last year, but rather the values of Bush and other party leaders who champion church ministries, religious education and moral clarity. It was evidence to many religious African Americans that the GOP could be an appealing home.

That's exactly the way many conservative Republican and evangelical leaders hope the faith-based program will work.

"The political benefits are unbelievable," says the Rev. Louis P. Sheldon, chairman of the conservative Traditional Values Coalition, which helped shape the administration's faith-based strategy and the GOP's outreach to black Christian voters. "The Democrats ought to have their heads examined for voting against this."

Or maybe the Democrats take the Constitution seriously on that separation of church and state thing.

But perhaps these churches are in desperate need of these funds to continue their work with the poor and needy.

Sadly, no.

The political appeal of this approach was clear one Sunday two weeks before the election in the west-side Milwaukee neighborhood where Daniels' 8,000-member church is located. Lying amid abandoned warehouses and modest homes, the Holy Redeemer Institutional Church of God in Christ is instantly visible, a $25-million complex including a school, health clinic, credit union, senior housing complex and — soon — a retail center and water park.

But surely these grants are awarded solely on their merits of the programs, on whether they are serving their target populations, and not on some more devious criteria.

No again

Some black ministers reported receiving entreaties to attend White House meetings or faith-based conferences held around the country, some of them in hard-fought election states. In addition, about two-thirds of Towey's travel during the election year was to a dozen battleground states where he often met with community leaders and promoted the availability of federal funds for church-related social service projects. (Ed. Note: Jim Towey is head of the Office of Faith Based Initiatives)

The administration also awarded grants to a number of high-profile African American organizations whose leaders were linked directly or indirectly to the GOP. Besides Daniels' church in Milwaukee, a Philadelphia church led by the Rev. Herb Lusk II received $1 million in federal funds for a program to help low-income Philadelphians. Lusk gave the invocation at the 2000 Republican convention and has been an outspoken Bush supporter.

Another beneficiary was a South Florida-based organization headed by Bishop Harold Ray, a longtime Bush acquaintance who gave an invocation for Vice President Dick Cheney at a West Palm Beach, Fla., rally. Ray's group received $1.7 million in taxpayer funds.

A third grant went to the Washington-based National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, founded and headed by Bob Woodson, an outspoken black conservative who backed Bush and whose late son was active in the president's first campaign.

Now I have nothing against African Americans climbing aboard the gravy train just like everyone else. But calling this political payola a “faith-based initiative” is disingenuous even by Bush administration standards.


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