Thursday, September 30, 2010

Biting Our Tongue. Until It Bleeds.

As Egg readers know, Get Religion is a website we enjoy very much, even when we disagree with some of its perspectives. The one thing that consistently irks us is the tendency of commenters to focus upon the theological or political issues raised by a story, rather than the journalistic ones to which the site is dedicated.

That's why we didn't leave a comment today.

Terry posted an interesting story, based on a WSJ op-ed, proposing that the press has missed a big Obama-related story. The president has asked religious leaders to "spread the word" and become "validators" of health-care reform, which -- while natural enough at first glance -- certainly does raise some church-state issues. Father Anonymous lives in a region where that line is blurry on a good day, and sees firsthand the difficulties that come when the government gives it marching orders to the church, and/or vice-versa.

So good catch on that. And yet our hearts are troubled.

The op-ed in question, quoted on GR, is by Jim Towey, who writes:

I was George W. Bush’s director of faith-based initiatives. Imagine what would have happened had I proposed that he use that office to urge thousands of religious leaders to become “validators” of the Iraq War?

I can tell you two things that would have happened immediately. First, President Bush would have fired me — and rightly so — for trying to politicize his faith-based office. Second, the American media would have chased me into the foxhole Saddam Hussein had vacated.

Really, Jim? Are you sure of that? Because President Bush certainly didn't object to the wholesale politicization of the Justice Department. Or have you forgotten his frequent and spirited defenses of Alberto Gonzales?

And even allowing for good intentions (which were many and genuine) the faith-based intiatives office was political from its conception, and couldn't have been otherwise. It emerged from the [political] conviction that churches can provide social services more efficiently and more ... properly, for lack of a better word, itself an ideological judgment ... than the government. From that came the proposition that government is therefore wise to outsource to religious organizations its social services, just as it outsources to Blackwater the protection of State Department officials visiting war zones. This may be true, although if so the office itself never made a compelling case.

So, sure, the press ought to be up in Obama's face for trying to enlist religious leaders in support of his plan to get poor people to the doctor. But not because of laughable claims by a flunky in the kind of administration that, given half a chance, would have politicized Wednesday.

UPDATE: As we expected, the GR comments aren't excessively concerned with journalism. But a reader named Jerry writes that 30 seconds on Google found him a comparable story about Bush recruiting religious leaders in support of his policies:
President George W. Bush met privately with Focus on the Family Founder and Chairman James Dobson and approximately a dozen Christian right leaders last week to rally support for his policies on Iraq, Iran and the so-called "war on terror."
Did the media chase anybody into a foxhole over this at the time? We don't recall.

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