WASHINGTON, D.C. -- On the campaign trail, George W. Bush promised to make education his first priority. It took him three days as president to do so. Candidate Bush promised to "mobilize the armies of compassion" by providing up to $10 billion in federal funds for social services to the poor and needy through religious charities -- a point he reiterated in his inaugural address. His "Faith-Based Initiative" took six whole working days.
By now, critics of our new chief executive ought to be getting the message -- this man keeps his word. But judging by the reaction of the so-called mainstream media and liberal special interest groups, one might conclude that President George W. Bush had established a national church and forced Bill Clinton to go to confession.
The ink wasn't even dry on the two executive orders implementing the initial phases of the plan when the barons of bombast in the elite media managed to round up the usual suspects needed to launch their attack. We have heard their argument before: federal funds disbursed through the Salvation Army, Catholic Relief or a Baptist Church street mission -- or any number of other programs that dispense the Word of God with food, blankets or medical care -- somehow breaches a mythical wall that separates Church from State.
The hyperbole from the professional pessimists and potentates of the press has a predictable ring. The New York Times shrieked that enlisting the services of faith-based groups was "a potentially dangerous erosion of the constitutionally shielded boundary between church and state."
The editorial screed howled that the president's initiative "could end up trampling the rights of all Americans." USA Today demanded of President Bush "careful guarantees" that his program would not "undercut the 200-year-old separation of church and state," which they claim is "guaranteed" in the Bill of Rights. The Washington Post, in a wistful warning, opined that "government support for religious groups may turn out to undermine them, either because they divert the groups' energy away from social work toward bureaucratic grant applications, or because their legitimacy in the eyes of those they serve is weakened by association with government."
Barry Lynn of the misnamed Americans United for Separation of Church and State called it "the single greatest assault on church-state separation in modern American history." And Ralph Neas, president of the equally mislabeled People for the American Way, moaned that "President Bush's new faith-based plan puts church and state on a direct collision course."
What do these carping critics find so offensive? Is it increasing the allowable corporate deduction for charitable contributions from 10 percent to 15 percent? Would allowing 80 million taxpayers who don't itemize their taxes to take deductions for charitable contributions raise such ire? Do they object to permitting charitable gifts from individual retirement accounts? No. None of that matters. What counts to the detractors is that the faith-based programs work. They know it -- and that's bad news to those whose motto is "In Government We Trust."
Before members of Congress vote against the president's proposal, they ought to take a "fact finding" trip to Youth For Tomorrow in the Virginia suburbs. There, in 1986, Joe Gibbs, then the coach of the Washington Redskins, started a residential program for boys who were already in trouble and headed for more. Since then, more than 400 young men have benefited from Gibbs' faith and vision -- and the generosity of a handful of individual and corporate donors.
If Virginia's countryside is too far for a busy Congressman, let them take one of those fancy government limos over to Anacostia -- in crime-ridden, drug infested Southeast Washington and visit Steve and Terri Mullen. Their Kid's Konnection has been nurturing, tutoring, feeding and caring for youngsters seven days a week since 1987 -- and doing it on a shoestring and a prayer.
Both of these remarkably successful programs are unashamed about mixing faith with good works. Does the fact that they also pray mean they don't deserve at least as much support as "Midnight Basketball?"
Some say that the frontal assault on the president's "Faith Based Initiatives" is akin to the mugging of Attorney General-designate, John Ashcroft -- that it's part and parcel of the same antipathy that the left in America has long held toward religion in general -- and Christianity in particular. But the opposition to having religious institutions help Americans in need has another dimension missing from the "religious profiling" of Sen. Ashcroft.
It's more than "Dei-phobia." Rather, the offensive against George W. Bush's faith-based proposal is an indication of fear on the left that if these programs get the funding they deserve -- they will work. And if they work -- the power of government over the lives of millions of Americans will be reduced. And when government loses power, politicians lose power too. That's why they don't like it. If for no other reason, that should be proof that the idea has merit.