James Towey, director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives under President George W. Bush, had an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal recently carping because President Barack Obama has used his administration’s “faith-based” offices to let Americans know about the new health-care law.
Towey says if he had politicized his office that way, Bush would have fired him.
Oh, now that is rich.
The fact is, Towey did politicize the faith-based office. There’s really no room for doubt about that. Under Towey, the faith-based office was used to promote Republican candidates in tight House and Senate races. Towey even appeared at several candidate events.
Steve Benen, a former writer for Church & State, outlined a pattern of partisan politicking by Towey during the 2002 election season. Benen documented how Towey appeared alongside GOP incumbents or challengers in several states, often before African-American audiences. The clear implication was that federal “faith-based” money might dry up if Republicans were not put in office.
In one especially egregious example, Towey appeared by remote video hookup at a seminar on faith-based funding in New Orleans – during a time when Louisiana was the site of a hotly contested U.S. Senate race.
Benen reported that the seminar took on the trappings of a church service: “Two invocational prayers were offered to kick off the event, gospel choirs entertained attendees and some break-out sessions were halted when participants claimed to be receiving words from God.”
(AU’s research formed the basis for a story about Towey’s antics that appeared in The Washington Post.)
But you don’t have to take our word for it. In 2006, David Kuo, a former staffer in the faith-based office, penned a memoir about his experiences. Kuo wrote in Tempting Faith that the White House openly sought to use the faith-based office to win votes for the GOP in 2002 and 2004.
Kuo recalled attending one particularly crucial meeting with Towey and Ken Mehlman, White House political director.
“We laid out a plan whereby we would hold ‘roundtable events’ for threatened incumbents with faith and community leaders,” Kuo wrote. “Our office would do the work, using the aura of our White House power to get a diverse group of faith and community leaders to a ‘nonpartisan’ event discussing how best to help poor people in their area. Though the Republican candidate would host the roundtable, it wouldn’t be a campaign event. The member of Congress was just taking time away from his or her campaign to serve the community. It would be the perfect event.”
That sounds a little political, doesn’t it?
Also, let’s not forget the famous words of John DiIulio, Bush’s first faith-based director. After overseeing the office for seven months, DiIulio departed, bitterly telling Esquire magazine, “What you’ve got is everything – and I mean everything – being run by the political arm. It’s the reign of the Mayberry Machiavellis.”
And here’s the kicker: What Obama is doing isn’t even remotely like Towey’s partisan stunts. Unlike Towey, the president is not using the faith-based office to shill for candidates. In fact, Obama simply asked religious leaders and others to help spread the word about some new provisions of the health-care law that are kicking in right now. The faith-based office, which had those contacts, merely set up the call.
Towey’s op-ed is behind the Journal’s subscription wall, but if you Google “Jim Towey faith based” you might be able to see the whole thing. Trust me: It’s a pathetic attempt at revisionist history.
It won’t work. Towey is free to complain about the way Obama is handling the faith-based initiative. But it’s rather hypocritical of him to knock the president for allegedly politicizing the office when it was Towey who pioneered that strategy.