Wednesday, July 02, 2008


The Audacity Of Co-Option

Say this about the Obama campaign -- it has a ruthless brilliant efficiency that is scary to behold.

The candidate saw a nice little policy-political morsel planted by the Bush administration and has said, "Thanks, we think that's perfect for us!" Voila! "Faith-based organizations" will now be part of the Obama coalition:

As part of his outreach to evangelical voters, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee will tour the Eastside Community Ministry in Zanesville, Ohio, on Tuesday and give an address on how he plans to builda "real" partnership between faith-based organizations and the White House if he becomes president.

Obama's outreach to evangelical voters has also included private summits with pastors, an effort to reach out to young evangelicals and a fundraiser with the Matthew 25 political action committee. It describes itself as a group of moderate evangelicals, Catholics and Protestants committed to electing the Illinois Democrat president.

Matthew 25's name is inspired by a biblical passage, in the 25th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, in which Jesus says, "For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink." The name is meant to signal the group's focus on social justice concerns about hot-button cultural issues.

The irony is superb: In his first campaign and term, Bush started talking about using faith-based organizations as an extension of federal policy for two reasons: 1) As a basic talking point for what "compassionate conservatism" could be and, 2) as a possible overture to black churches which have traditionally been aligned with Democrats. Obama now sees a way to use that infrastructure for his own purposes.

Obama now gets a similar two-fer with this: 1) He can point to a domestic initiative of the Bush administration that he agrees with and thus burnish his bipartisan sensibilities and, 2) more significantly, he establishes the importance of "faith" and spirituality in the Obama brand (and, incidentally, if he becomes president, will be able to spread federal largesse through various organizations -- without liberals emitting a peep).

The fact that John McCain doesn't talk about religion or faith nearly as much as Bush -- or Obama -- is just a bonus.

No, this won't get hard-core social conservatives switching to Obama. But for the observant voter in the middle (many swing Catholics, for example), this is a great way to reach them.

This is, by the way, not the first time that a Republican president's domestic policy initiative has been -- or could be -- expanded by a later Democratic president. Recall that the Earned Income Tax Credit was developed in the Nixon-Ford administrations. Ronald Reagan expanded it and then Bill Clinton used it as a major redistributive program to offset welfare reform.

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