It was amusing recently to hear President George W. Bush quote the late Roman Catholic anti-poverty crusader Dorothy Day.
During a May 20 speech at Notre Dame University designed to jump-start his sagging "faith-based" initiative, Bush asserted, "Any effective war on poverty must deploy what Dorothy Day called 'the weapons of spirit.'"
Bush probably doesn't know much about his source. Day was a socialist, pacifist and founder of the Catholic Worker movement rarely qualifications for praise from a conservative Republican president. Also, Day consistently opposed government funding for her faith-based endeavors, insisting that her Catholic beliefs, not a government check, motivated her good works. Day took this commitment to principle so seriously that she wouldn't even allow her charities to apply for a tax exemption.
In other words, were she around to speak for herself today, Day almost certainly would have joined Americans United and others in strongly opposing Bush's faith-based scheme.
Joan Walsh, news editor at Salon.com, an online news magazine, was right to chide the president for emphasizing Day to bolster his case.
"[Bush] seems like a guy who's more into Doris Day than Dorothy, and who might have confused 'weapons of spirit' with his missile defense shield," Walsh said. "If Bush misquoted Day, that's a minor mistake. If he tried to appropriate the respect Day commands internationally to support a program she would oppose, that would be much worse. Worse still would be if Bush and his staff knew and cared so little about poverty they didn't know or care anything about Day or what she stood for, beyond the fact that she was a Catholic and they need more Catholic votes."
The fact that Bush chose to reference Day also did not go over well among some of her descendants. Tamar and Martha Hennessy, Day's daughter and granddaughter, wrote to Salon, "[Dorothy's] life's work was dedicated to picking up the pieces of human wreckage, the result of policies that continue to be perpetuated by the Bush administration. It is shameful to have her efforts associated with an administration that gives priority to corporate profiteering over human needs.... The speechwriters for George Bush have distorted her message regarding the works of mercy by using her words in their arsenal of deceit."
If Bush wants to engage in political posturing before an audience whose votes he desperately seeks, that's his business. His pretentiousness, however, would seem less distasteful if he did not misrepresent the convictions of those who would have rejected his misguided ideas.