Garry Wills in the November 16, 2006 edition of The New York Review of Books has a hard-hitting essay about the faith-based governance of the G. W. Bush administration and the damage it's done to the republic.
The opening salvo is accurate.
The right wing in America likes to think that the United States government was, at its inception, highly religious, specifically highly Christian, and even more specifically highly biblical. That was not true of that government or any later government—until 2000, when the fiction of the past became the reality of the present.
Wills intimates that Bush's principle of "compassionate conservatism," much touted during the 2000 election, was a warning of the faith-based social services Bush would impose if elected. Wills also reminds readers that these Bush policies weren't conjured up idly, but only with the advice, solicited by the administration, of the religious right.
Karl Rove had cultivated the extensive network of religious right organizations, and they were consulted at every step of the way as the administration set up its policies on gays, AIDS, condoms, abstinence programs, creationism, and other matters that concerned the evangelicals. All the evangelicals' resentments under previous presidents, including Republicans like Reagan and the first Bush, were now being addressed.
In writing about faith-based social services, Wills notes that in farming out social services away from government and to religious organizations, many representatives of the nation's black religio-political leadership were seen by the Bush administration as potential beneficiaries and allies. Additionally, outreach to the black religious community involved rank partisanship. Wills:
The aim was not to win the entire black community away from Democrats, but to shave a few points off the boost they normally gave to Democrats [on election nights]. With that in mind, the administration scheduled conferences to show blacks how to get grants in battleground states just before elections. Local Republican candidates attended, suggesting that religious grants would depend on their election. These events were organized by James Towey, the second man to direct the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.
This operation bore fruit:
...black voters in Milwaukee received fliers from the influential black preacher Bishop Sedgwick Daniels urging them to vote for George Bush because "he shares our values." He also shared with Bishop Daniels $1.5 million of taxpayers' funds for faith-based initiatives.
I encourage you to read the entire essay, but in closing here it's worth highlighting two passages from Wills' examination of faith-based war. Wills looks at the actions of then deputy undersecretary for defense intelligence, General William "Jerry" Boykin (photo), who gave slideshow lectures in churches during the Iraq war. He appeared in uniform and in his lectures would declare about George W. Bush, "'[W]why is this man in the White House? The majority of Americans did not vote for him....I tell you this morning he's in the White House because God put him there...."
Boykin was just repeating what other evangelicals had been saying about the war in Iraq. Charles Stanley, a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, wrote: "We should offer to serve the war effort in any way possible.... God battles with people who oppose him, who fight against him and his followers." Jerry Falwell put it succinctly in 2004: "God is pro-war." For some evangelicals, this was a war against the enemies of Israel, who are by definition anti-God. The evangelical writer Tim LaHaye called it, therefore, "a focal point of end-time events." For others, it was a chance to spread Christianity to the infidels. An article syndicated on the Southern Baptist Convention's wire service said that "American foreign policy and military might have opened an opportunity for the Gospel in the land of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob." Franklin Graham, the son of Billy Graham, and Marvin Olasky, the inventor of Bush's "compassionate conservatism," agreed. Boykin's was not a lone voice, then, but that of a member in good standing of the community that supported Bush on religious grounds, even in his warfare.
But the most chilling passage in Wills' essay is near the end, in which he describes the administration of the occupation of Iraq as a grotesque nexus of Christian rightwing ideology and malignant partisanship:
The...director of personnel for the Iraq Coalition Provisional Authority (headed by Catholic convert Paul Bremer) was the White House liaison to the Pentagon, James O'Beirne, a conservative Catholic married to National Revieweditor Kate O'Beirne. Those recruited to serve in the CPA were asked if they had voted for Bush, and what their views were on Roe v. Wade and capital punishment. O'Beirne trolled the conservative foundations, Republican congressional staffs, and evangelical schools for his loyalist appointees. Relatives of prominent Republicans were appointed, and staffers from offices like that of Senator Rick Santorum. Right moral attitude was more important than competence.
That was proved when the first director of Iraqi health services, Dr. Frederick Burkle, was dismissed. Burkle, a distinguished physician, was a specialist in disaster relief, with experience in Kosovo, Somalia, and Kurdish Iraq. His replacement, James Haveman, had run a Christian adoption agency meant to discourage women from having abortions. Haveman placed an early emphasis on preventing Iraqis from smoking, while ruined hospitals went untended.