Number 23 - January 2, 2003
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unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows' houses,
and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the
- Mark 12:40
George Bush is a
hypocrite in the Biblical sense of the word. He holds aloft the ideals
of community service, then brings down his arm to smash the poor. In
the midst of the carnage, as virtually every state folds up its tattered
social safety net in abject fiscal despair, Bush summons the Black clergy
to revival-type meetings, his minions' arms outstretched like auctioneers,
waving federal contracts.
is a monumental deception, the centerpiece of Bush's grand plan to reap
political profit from the economic and social devastation of Black America.
Bush and his allies among the Democratic Leadership Council are intent
on transforming African American churches into houses of rightwing patronage.
These purveyors of corruption tempt Black ministers with fat contracts,
in hopes of fomenting massive schisms within the community. The stage
has been set for bribery and vote selling on a scale never before experienced
in Black America.
It is a near-perfect
deceit, cruel and utterly cynical. While victims pile up in their millions,
lives shattered by the relentless Republican wars against the entire
gamut of public social services, Bush unveils a menu of contracting
opportunities, newly available to the clergy of those same, victimized
communities. There is no need to demand allegiance to the Contract Giver
- that is a foregone conclusion.
skinnin' for the side that's givin'
repeatedly stated that their goal is to double the usual 8 - 10% GOP
vote among Blacks, just enough to win key elections - especially in
the South. The GOP's bean counters have done the math; they know how
many congregations will suffice to achieve the goal. And they are quite
confident that the Right Rev. Dr. Greedygut will step forward, grinnin'
and skinnin', trailing his flock behind him.
strategic objective is more ambitious. Faith-based contracting is designed
to create centers of well-funded, compliant, self-satisfied alternative
"leadership" among Blacks. The secret is out: All of those
furious, Republican rages against the "poverty pimps" and
"entitlements" of old are now revealed to have been jealous
outbursts. Bush aims to become the ultimate Poverty Pimp, Mac-Daddy
of the ghetto. The ministries in his stable will represent a constituency
for privatization of social services, the larger Republican mission.
Persons formerly entitled to assistance, the infirm, ex-public employees,
all can line up at taxpayer-funded church soup kitchens. First, however,
they must greet Bush's emissary, the Right Rev. Dr. Greedygut. He
is the one who is entitled, now.
In some corporate
boardroom in Hell, this is called a win-win situation. For the Right
Rev. Dr. Greedygut, it is a grin-grin situation.
only a fraction of Black clergy. But there are enough of him - and her
- to serve the Republican Party's purposes. The federal vaults have
been thrown open, and the preachers invited to look inside.
In the twisted,
greed-consumed, racist world that Bush inhabits, every virtue is turned
to vice, every exemplar of social responsibility reborn as a scam. Thus,
propagandists for the Charity Aid, Recovery and Empowerment Act - the
legislative label for faith-based initiatives - point to a 2001 survey
by the Hartford Institute for Religion Research to show that 90 percent
of Black churches provide some type of social services. African Americans
also sponsor the most types of outreach ministries, including food,
shelter, and various kinds of counseling. Paid for by the pharmaceutical
giant Eli Lilly, a huge GOP contributor, the survey results are presented
as a rationale for privatization of social services - especially during
economic downturns. "There's an enormous amount of counseling going
on in these days when men and women, even highly-placed persons, lose
their employment," said the institute's Prof. Carl S. Dudley.
The logic feeds
on itself: As more people fall victim to the Republican public sector
wrecking ball, church-based providers must pick up a greater share of
the social service burden. Therefore, the logic goes, more public
monies should go to churches! The Right's destruction of the social
safety net is used to justify privatization and churchification of services
vital to human dignity, health, and sanity. Such is the reasoning behind
what George Bush considers his most important Black political initiative
- and Trent Lott's favorite Black offering, as well. (See "Trent
Lott Furor Threatens Faith-based Bribery Scheme," December
19.) No one puts any stock in the formulation, least of all the sneering
charlatan in the White House. It is as bald a political ploy as ever
devised in the name of religion. However, the Right Rev. Dr. Greedygut
knows there's something in the scheme for him, and he's grinning.
Bush has turned
the social discourse on its head. Speaking to the U.S. Conference of
Mayors, the President launched into his usual, stilted faith-based homily,
before finally giving one thin lip's worth of service to the public
sector. "We recognize there must be secular alternatives for those
who wish to use the services," said Bush, grudgingly.
In the world Bush
is attempting to create, public-administered services will be mere "alternatives"
to private and church-based providers, although public dollars
will pay the preacher-entrepreneurs.
Bush the Trickster
mocks and abuses the historical fact that Black churches have done more
than their white counterparts on behalf of the needy - he demands further
disinvestments in public services to the poor and soon-to-be-poor. It
is as if he and his boardroom cronies are snickering, "Blacks like
doing that kind of goody-goody thing. Let's drum up some more business
for 'em." With not a hint of shame, the Bush crowd hijacks the
legacy of African American compassion, and hitches it to their own bogus,
cold, corporate "compassionate conservatism."
Bush promises preachers
special, cash dispensation. "In every instance when my administration
sees a responsibility to help people," Bush told an Indianapolis
rally in July 1999, "we will look first to faith-based institutions,
to charities and to community groups that have shown their ability to
save and change lives." (See Americans
United for Separation of Church and State.)
is a transparent euphemism for pulpit-based patronage. Right up to the
minute that Trent Lott reminded the forgetful about the true nature
of bigotry in America, Bush insisted that discrimination against religion
was the nation's main bias problem.
An ACLU suit in
Louisville, Kentucky, early last year, exposed faith-based scheming
as political favoritism for the clergy. $2 million in federal housing
grants were earmarked for church programs, only. "By requiring
grant applicants and recipients to be affiliated with religion, this
government-funded program unfairly excludes all organizations doing
essentially the same good work," said David Friedman, General Counsel
of the ACLU of Kentucky.
According to the
grant guidelines, eligible projects must be "undertaken by, sponsored
by, or developed in partnership with local faith-based organizations"
or result in "substantial benefits" for a faith-based partner.
These are set-asides for the clergy, by political design - the kind
that make preachers want to set themselves down beside the politician
with the grant.
If it wanted to
get cozy with the Black church, the GOP had a lot of catching up to
do. With midterm elections around the corner and 2004 not far off, Bush's
federal machinery and local GOP organizations put their faith-based
show on the road. Hundreds of hopeful ministers showed up in Columbia,
South Carolina, in July, and the tour drew an overflow Atlanta audience,
away 1,000 people and still had about 2,000 people there," exulted
Jim Towey, director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community
Initiatives. The Charity Aid, Recovery and Empowerment Act was stalled
in the Senate, but that didn't stop the Bush men from scheduling millions
more in grants. As if everything were perfectly legal, Republican salesmen
enticed the assembled ministers to review rich menus of contracting
opportunities offered by five federal departments. By the time the road
show got to Philadelphia, George Bush himself was set to announce that
he would keep the spigot flowing by executive order. To Hell with the
legislative branch and those liberal, constitutional skeptics.
Then Trent Lott,
that other great fan of massive southern resistance, spoiled Strom Thurmond's
and the entire GOP's party - for the moment. Bush's discrimination-against-religion
theme had become temporarily inappropriate. He had come to the Philadelphia
podium to rejoice, yet found himself having to repent on behalf of his
party. The December 12 executive order was overshadowed, but federal
agencies remained open for church business through the holidays.
Now the issue is
up to the U.S. Senate, leadered by Bill Frist, of Tennessee. Faith-based
bribery is, if anything, an even higher GOP priority than before Lott's
breakdown. As we pointed out, it is a near-perfect deception, a scheme
tailor-made to undermine Black leadership through cooptation of the
clergy, yet non-racial on its face. Bush has begun calling his measure
the "Armies of Compassion" bill, invoking the War on Terror
(!) by pointing to the drop-off in donations to some charities in the
wake of September 11.
Although Black lawmakers
are keenly aware that the Charity Aid, Recovery and Empowerment Act
will wreak havoc in their districts, they are reluctant to directly
address the patronage issue. No wonder. Ministers are formidable political
forces in Black America, prone to collective self-defense when the integrity
of "The Church" is questioned. Unfortunately, we may all be
done in by this taboo. The Right Rev. Dr. Greedygut has very little
shame, and will only be deterred from the most craven political treachery
by the massed opprobrium of his colleagues and the community at-large
- if at all.
Black Caucus stood solidly against the faith-based stampede in the House,
citing the same constitutional and anti-discrimination arguments as
the ACLU, People for the American Way, Americans United for Separation
of Church and State, and others. George Bush may have the votes to steamroll
the measure through the Senate; however, in the wake of the Lott affair,
the GOP craves a multi-racial blessing. The time approaches when the
CBC may be forced to say out loud what each member knows full well:
faith-based funding is a massive, racist assault on Black political
leadership, and an attempt to subvert and cow the Black Church, itself.
Sen. Joseph Lieberman
plays the Democratic Judas in this drama, ready with a sloppy kiss and
the still-potent clout of the corporate Democratic Leadership Council.
Presidential candidate Lieberman, always positioned only inches away
from the GOP, is George Bush's best hope for total, "bipartisan"
victory, and Black people's worst nightmare. Lieberman has worked hand
in glove with the White House for more than a year, fashioning a faith-based
fallback position that would pay lip service to non-discriminatory church
hiring. His own bill opens Pandora's Box by financing "repairs"
to "historic" churches - a category that would soon be enlarged
to accommodate a huge cathedral or a tiny store-front - all of them
historic and/or "sacred places" in their own ways.
When Lieberman makes
his move, watch the CBC. Those who applaud the "compromise"
will have already acclimated themselves to the new era of faith-based
bribery and, whichever way the Senate vote goes, will soon constitute
a conservative caucus within the CBC.
With a great deal
of luck, the Senate may block Bush, and the Right Rev. Dr. Greedygut
will be preemptively defunded before he is allowed to do irreparable
damage. Otherwise, he will have to be confronted on far more unpleasant
terms, later. Black Texas Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee offered an
oblique warning to those Black ministers who are preparing to join the
Republican patronage feast. "The IRS will have a field day,"
At the end of this
saga, the Right Rev. Dr. Greedygut is going to jail. Few will defend
him, and he won't be grinning, anymore.
relating to this commentary:
Theological Seminary survey press release
for the American Way on faith based initiatives