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Another Faith-Based Presidency

4:55 PM, Jul 1, 2008 • By TERRY EASTLAND
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So Obama would create what he calls "a new President's Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships." Sounds a lot like Bush's White House Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives. But Obama wants a fresh start. Announcing his plans today after a tour of a food bank in Zanesville, Ohio, Obama said that Bush's office "was used to promote partisan interests" and wound up failing to sufficiently empower smaller congregations and community groups. Obama implied that partisanship will not infect his council (make note of that promise now), and he announced a plan to have larger faith-based groups who know how to win government grants (Catholic Charities and Lutheran Services, he gives as examples) teach the smaller congregations and groups how to supplicate successfully (imagine the jobs program this could entail). Taking a shot at those (mainly found in his own party) "who bristle at the notion that faith has a place in the public square," Obama defended the idea of enlisting believers alongside nonbelievers in the effort to ameliorate stubborn social problems. That idea, as he acknowledged, has long has broad support in both parties (the details being where things get controversial--details that Obama largely passed over).

Obama's faith-based council may be seen as part of a strategy to cut into the Republican advantage with voters who attend church at least once a week. Yet the real story from Zanesville came at the end of Obama's remarks. (It's called "burying your lede" in journalism.) For it turns out that the new council "will help set our national agenda." Thus, faith and the values it commends will provide "the foundation of a new project of American renewal." Which, encompassing a new assault on "extreme poverty" at home and contemplating nothing less than an end to genocide and the scourge of HIV/AIDS abroad, is what Obama "[intends] to lead as President of the United States." Sounds like the country's being offered another faith-based presidency, one of considerable ambition. What was it that Obama said in churches in South Carolina, back in January? target=_blank>Oh yes: "I am confident that we can create a Kingdom [of God] right here on Earth."