The Politico, not exactly the least favorable of press outlets to the President, has posted a story about the “Quiet Fade-Out” of the much ballyhooed Obama Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. It issued a very wordy report a couple of years ago, which I duly read and commented on for the Fall, 2010 issue of The City. The wasn’t much new in the report, except for an extension of the faith-based initiative to environmental policy and an attempt to engage various religious diaspora groups in reaching out to their brethren back home. And it dodged, as the President consistently has, the contentious issue of religious hiring rights.
Now, the article tells us, the council has “gone dark.” Eleven new members were appointed in February 2011, but the remainder haven’t been named, supposedly still undergoing vetting by the White House. Still, we’re told, the first council was a success:
More than 70 percent of the council’s recommendations, detailed in the March 2010 report, have been fully or partially implemented, according to the White House. Those recommendations include opening the government’s 13th faith-based and neighborhood partnerships center at the Environmental Protection Agency and encouraging the president to hold annual Father’s Day events at the White House to honor exemplary fathers.
Obama also signed an executive order in November 2010, boosting federal oversight of faith-based groups that receive federal funds.
Those are the examples the White House can come up with?
I’m a little mystified by the council–and the office’s–low profile. Unlike President Bush, who staffed the office with people who came from the world of policy, President Obama has favored people whose stock in trade is political outreach. The Politico writer wonders why the office and council aren’t providing him more advice (not to say cover) in this time when he seems to have stirred up a hornets’ nest with his various moves in the arena of religion and politics.
Is his approach to these matters genuinely unpolitical, solely concerned with the widows and orphans? I doubt it. So why doesn’t he think he has anything political to gain from a fully functioning office and council? Perhaps the people he thinks he can reach with it are already in the tank for him. Perhaps he doesn’t want people on board who aren’t fully on board, so to speak. Or perhaps he and/or his advisors really don’t care.
George W. Bush was constantly accused of being political or hypocritical in his faith-based initiative. It certainly didn’t reach its full promise during his Admininstration, which I think had a lot to do with the calculations of the political people in the West Wing. Perhaps this is yet another way in which candidate Obama overstated his differences with the President he sought to replace.