Monday, October 30, 2006

Gary Wills on Faith-Based Government

How Bush launched an anti-smoking campaign in Iraq

Historian Gary Wills, a professor of history at Northwestern and Pulitzer winner for Lincoln at Gettysburg, provides an excellent summary of the extent to which, for the first time ever in America, the Bush administration has brought religion into government. His article appears in the latest issue of The New York Review of Books.

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.

Some of the details of Bush's promotion of religion are well-known. Wills breaks the categories down: faith-based justice, faith-based social services, faith-based science, faith-based health and faith-based war. The latter category includes this sad anecdote:

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 Haverman, had run a Christian adoption agency meant to discourage women from having abortions. Haverman placed an early emphasis on preventing Iraqis from smoking, while ruined hospitals went untended. This may suggest the policy on appointments that put Michael Brown in charge of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but the parallel is insufficiently harsh. Chris Matthews brought it up on his television show while interviewing the Washington Post reporter who had covered the CPA in Iraq, Rajiv Chandrasekaran, who said, "There were a hundred Browns in Iraq."But there were Bible study groups in the Green Zone.

Unfortunately for all of us, tales of Bush's incompetence are no longer surprising. Faith-based incompetence from the president is what we've come to expect.

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