How do you explain it? Without need or justification Barack Obama has begun the Democratic death spiral. Like a moth to a flame or a lemming to the cliff, the presumptive Democratic nominee has started moving toward the center. Like Charlie Brown, running at full steam towards Lucy with the football, unburdening himself of his principles along the way to build up speed. But the Republicans will pull the football away by moving to the right of the political spectrum and Charlie Brown will land flat on his back and look foolish in doing it.
The issues in this presidential campaign have never been clearer; the Democratic nominee is running against George W. Bush. No matter what question is asked, the answer is, "I’m not George W. Bush." This leaves the Republicans to run against Barack Obama and George W. Bush. Bush is so unpopular with the electorate that before November he might welcome impeachment himself, yet the message doesn’t get through to the campaign. The Democrats could elect Pee Wee Herman President on a platform of "I’m not George W. Bush and I promise not to masturbate in any movie theaters if elected!"
Yet the campaign drives forward, calculating how many more votes they could get by pushing the candidate to the center, like if he equivocated his stand on Iraq and maybe backed off on promises to repeal the Bush tax cuts. Gee, if he talks up faith-based initiatives maybe the evangelicals will love us and maybe we can even broach the abortion issue. We can rack up the independent vote, but for every independent that climbs on the bus, two Democrats get off. Harry Truman once said, "I’m either for something or I’m against it, and you know it!"
He was a stone in the road; he wouldn’t be moved by polls, pundits, or partisans. He fought with the Republicans and with Democrats, but he had an idea of where to take this country, and by God, that’s where he was going. Climb on or climb off but the destination was clearly marked, there was no equivocation or saying maybe George W. Bush has a good idea there.
Two-thirds of the American public want the troops out of Iraq in twelve months or less. Last time I checked, two-thirds of the vote would win the election.As our economy slides and with one million homes in foreclosure, with American jobs vanishing by the thousands, talk of not doing away with all the Bush tax cuts sounds, well, elitist. Food inflation is near twenty percent, fuel inflation is at one hundred percent and American families wonder how they will stay warm, keep the house and feed their families this winter. And Obama is now saying, "I don’t know, maybe we should keep some of the tax cuts, maybe George W. Bush has a good idea there."
That is out-and-out insanity. He wins no friends, he worries his own supporters and breathes new life into a Republican campaign already on life support. John McCain took the Fourth of July weekend off to work with his new campaign manager to retool a stunted, square-wheeled campaign. Took the Fourth of July off? Does Santa take the day off on Christmas Eve? Do churches close for Easter? Do the TV networks shut down for the Super Bowl? McCain is desperate and his campaign is fatally flawed; he can’t run against George W. Bush or even run away from Bush. All Obama has to say is, "I’m not like George W. Bush at all, but he is!"
Yet they are insistent on running the other way, on throwing a long pass to run up the score. Economic conditions and the American public will force the withdrawal from Iraq, and a crumbling economy will force the end of the Bush tax cuts. But the absolute nonsense of faith-based initiatives will linger on, and as an American and a Democrat, I find them repugnant. Churches have a role and a mission but passing off the welfare of its people to faith-based groups is an abdication of the government's sole purpose of existence. On the surface it might sound like a good idea, but let's just say, for example, we turn over fire-fighting duties in California to faith-based groups. Does that sound like a good idea? How many church buses were left behind in Orleans Parish?
My best friend in my adult life, Ed, is a Baptist minister and I have heard his laments. He jokes that churches would be more successful but God has the worst sales force in the world. While attending a Deacons meeting at a small church where he ministered in Alabama, a proposal was made to send $2,000 to missionaries in Africa. Ed objected, saying, "If you want to help Black folks there’s plenty within a stone's throw of this church. Let’s help the home folks first!" The room grew very quiet. There was no ambition to help home folks, but gosh, helping poor people in Africa, just think of it!
There was a church in my hometown and I won’t use the minister’s real name, I’ll just call him Brother Coy. My buddy attended the church until Brother Coy took over because, as he complained, it became Hollywood. Brother Coy upped the church membership to over ten thousand; people liked Hollywood. The ten-piece band would play somber hymns while the three hundred-voice choir followed along. Then the music and voices would grow silent. The doors flew open; the band chimed in a rocking beat. The choir shouted hallelujah! And Brother Coy burst in, preaching as he walked down the center aisle.
With an assemblage of colorfully robed singers carrying tambourines following behind him and dancing in the aisles, Brother Coy took the pulpit. His hair slicked back, diamond rings on his fingers and a Rolex on his wrist, Brother Coy’s corpulent figure looked as good as his Armani suit would allow. Brother Coy was a spellbinder. He talked of God’s love and God’s mission for them all but with ten thousand members, who really knew what was going on? It was a faith-based organization; you just had to have faith. And some liked not being asked to involve themselves in mundane church work, there’s anonymity in a mega-church like that.
Poor Ed struggled to find enough people to help keep the grass cut, but with only four hundred members it was hard to find 10% who were both able-bodied and willing. Brother Coy had lots of committees and he was on all of them. If Brother Coy couldn’t make the meeting, the meeting was cancelled. Brother Coy chaired the finance committee along with his son, Coy Jr., and his wife, Mrs. Coy, and with another woman named Abigail who, as it turned out, was Coy Jr.’s mother-in-law. Everything was hunky dory until Brother Coy suffered some scandals with the usual suspects, women and alcohol.
Brother Coy disappeared faster than a tent preacher with the sheriff after him. It’s said he left town in his twin engine private plane and left his Mercedes for Coy Jr. The church books showed a three million-dollar shortfall and an unpaid mortgage. The losses were rebundled into a new loan, as this was a church of the haves and a scandal wouldn’t have helped anyone, now would it? The missing monies were from the mission's budget; Brother Coy said that he sent them out but who was there to watch Brother Coy?
My in-laws attended a church that really tried to do a lot for the poor with food drives and free turkeys on Thanksgiving. Their efforts were laudable, provided that the poor didn’t want to try and join the church. A sex scandal eventually destroyed that church; being independent they had no one to fall back on as the members fled. Once again there was no oversight. Whose job was it to watch the youth minister? Everyone suffered, the members, the children, the poor, everyone. My in-laws now belong to a church in the midst of a civil war. The church membership is declining because of the neighborhood but the building is paid for. Some want to move, some want to stay. The congregation is getting older and the neighborhood is becoming predominately Hispanic. The members' children don’t want to attend; it’s too far from their homes in the suburbs. Hispanics don’t want to attend a stogy, old, Baptist church. They can’t keep a preacher. The preachers can see the writing on the wall; this is a church in fatal decline.
The point is, Churches have their own problems just like any other organization. Corruption, infighting, petty jealousies and rivalries. The have their own missions; sometimes those coincide with the public good but sometimes they don’t. Giving churches public money for the common good helps neither. Churches don’t have the oversight or motivation for oversight because in the event of scandal they close ranks and pretend it didn’t happen. That’s not good enough, that’s why we have government in the first place. To do the things the people need done; to answer for it if they’re not done, and be accountable for every nickel spent. I have serious reservations with any Democratic candidate that wants to expand such a ridiculous Republican policy.
That let-God-do-it, hands-off attitude is the very essence of George W. Bush. In personal crises I would suggest the church of your choice; in a national crisis they would be my last stop. Will Obama continue on this faith quest? To turn wine into water and steak into hamburger? Obama’s message has been change and the more he tries to homogenize change the more it sounds like more of the same. The more he risks turning off the voters he’s got by trying to lure the voters he’s never going to get.