"Join the club." That's what President-elect George W. Bush said in December 2000, when I told him I was journalist first, Bush supporter second, and would probably be criticizing some of his decisions early and often.
That's the way it has worked out, and it's easy to enumerate complaints. No vetoes of pork-barrel spending. No nationwide vouchers or tax credits to begin creating parental choice in education. Missed opportunities during the first year of the faith-based initiative. Et cetera.
Nevertheless, my plea to Christian conservatives is this: remember that we're better off now than we were four years ago (when Bill Clinton was in office) or than we will be a year from now, if millions of us stay home in November and John Kerry or someone else takes over.
Much could be said about our war against terrorism, but I'll concentrate here on President Bush's continued commitment to compassionate conservatism. He keeps asking Congress to act "so people of faith can know that the law will never discriminate against them again." The faith-based initiative's emphasis on grants has been frustrating -- tax credits and vouchers would work better both practically and politically -- but as long as we have big government, the president is right to fight against red-lining religion.
I wish the naysayers could have heard President Bush's remarks at Union Bethel AME Church in New Orleans on Jan. 15. There he laid out a bottom-up political philosophy that is the opposite of the top-down approach demanded by Democrats and relished by liberal Republicans. Sometimes reaching for words, he spoke of problems beyond the ability of government: "Intractable problems, problems that seem impossible to solve can be solved. ... Miracles are possible in our society, one person at a time. But it requires a willingness to understand the origin of miracles. Miracles happen as a result of the love of the Almighty."
He stated well the problem for religious groups: "Government policy says, on the one hand, perhaps you can help; on the other hand, you can't practice your faith. Faith-based programs are only effective because they do practice faith. It's important for our government to understand that. Government oftentimes will say, yes, you can participate, but you've got to ... conform to our rules. The problem is, faith-based programs only conform to one set of rules, and it's bigger than government rules."