The Bush administration emphasizes politics over policy and has failed to advance its highly touted "compassionate conservative" agenda, the former head of the White House "faith-based" office has charged.
John J. DiIulio, head of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives until August of 2001, told Esquire magazine recently that top Bush political advisor Karl Rove and his allies control the administration's domestic policy, not policy experts.
Said DiIulio, "There is no precedent in any modern White House for what is going on in this one: a complete lack of a policy apparatus. What you've got is everything and I mean everything being run by the political arm. It's the reign of the Mayberry Machiavellis."
DiIulio, now a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, described Rove as "enormously powerful, maybe the single most powerful person in the modern, post-Hoover era ever to occupy a political advisory post near the Oval Office."
DiIulio said the Religious Right and other conservatives believe Rove will make sure Bush toes their ideological line. They trust Rove, he said, "to keep Bush 43 from behaving like Bush 41 and moving too far to the center or inching at all center-left."
"There is a virtual absence as yet of any policy accomplishments that might, to a fair-minded nonpartisan, count as the flesh on the bones of so-called compassionate conservatism," DiIulio observed.
The White House quickly dismissed DiIulio's allegations, calling them "baseless and groundless." Under what Washington observers believe is intense pressure from the Bush administration, DiIulio issued a statement parroting the White House line and agreeing that his criticisms were "groundless and baseless due to poorly chosen words and examples."
But Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United, said DiIulio's comments in the January Esquire are revealing and that evidence shows that DiIulio's original observations are right. Earlier this year, The Washington Post reported that White House strategists and Jim Towey, the new head of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, were using the promise of "faith-based" funding to churches to sway voters in tight Senate and House races.
"At last the truth about the 'faith-based initiative' has come out from someone who ought to know," said Lynn. "This 'compassionate conservative' agenda has less to do with helping the needy and more to do with electoral politics. It's a shameful use of religion for partisan purposes."
DiIulio oversaw the "faith-based initiative" for about eight months. He resigned due to health reasons but had reportedly clashed with Religious Right activists and their allies in the administration who pressed Bush to back the most extreme version of the initiative.
Lynn said the new revelations should encourage religious and political leaders to oppose the faith-based initiative.
"The Bush administration is trying to buy political support from religious leaders with the promise of a government grant," said Lynn. "This crass overture only underscores the dangers inherent in any plan that directs government funds to houses of worship. Our nation's religious leaders should reject his misguided gambit."
When Congress convenes in January, the faith-based initiative is expected to become a point of sharp controversy. The scheme passed the House in 2001, but failed to move in the Senate.
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.