Why Obama picked Zanesville in the first place is not clear to me. It would seem it isn't all that clear to Ms. Fowler, either:
After spending the better part of a day talking to people there -- at seven downtown churches, another over the Muskingum River, and at Eastside itself -- I find little interest in Obama's plan. Indeed, the lack of enthusiasm for the plan among these churchgoers matches the lack of enthusiasm it has generated among secular Democrats.
Why the nonchalance?
"We don't want any strings attached to help from Washington," says Scott Johnston, the pastor of Market Street Baptist Church, founded "as a statement against slavery" in 1837.
Now, see, that makes sense to me. If you are getting federal monies, you will have a set of parameters on how the money can be used, and how that use has to be reported. And while the so-called Faith Initiatives are supposed to be used for Social Services, it seems to me that is a line easily blurred. Which is part of the problem when government and religion try to mix in the first place.
So, Obama was coming to Zanesville to deliver his big ol' "Come to Jesus though the Federal Government" meeting, and Rev. Johnston was one of the people to meet him. His impression?
"Very nice, very personable, very much a politician. His body language--he knows how to lean into a person when listening--he has been to school! He makes good eye contact! Very much a politician."
Very much a politician? Obama?? I thought he ran on a platform of being the anti-politician?! Hmmm. Apparently, Rev. Johnston didn't get the memo. But I digress.
Rev. Johnston was not the only one who met with Obama:
I ask him what the four representatives of Zanesville told Obama. "We are a community that takes care of our own," the United Way lady told him. The old guy didn't say much, the mayor talked money and Johnston pressed for more help for the elderly -- specifically, a change in the privacy laws so that outsiders can act as advocates for old people who don't have any family.
But Johnston is dubious about Obama's plans and about the man himself. "There are more strings attached under his program than under Bush's. You can hire a person who agrees with your theology, under Bush. With Obama, you're getting more government involvement -- we don't need that."
Right. So, not only has Obama embraced a BAD Bush policy, but he has found a way to make it even more insidious. I guess you have to give it to him on THAT score, but why would he take an already bad idea, and make it worse? WHO is behind this expansion anyway? Now, that's a question to which I would sure like an answer...
Mayhill Fowler also interviewed a volunteer, Mary White, who works with one of the local ministries, Eastside Ministries. She seemed to have some nice things to say about Obama in the,"If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all" vein. Ms. Fowler got the definite impression that Ms. White did not support Mr. Obama, but wasn't going to say anything bad about him personally. But, when asked about this program specifically, Ms. Fowler wrote:
White is less sanguine about Obama's proposal for federal funding of faith-based ministries like Eastside. "Every aspect of us has some aspect of faith built into it," she says. She gestures towards the second floor. "Our youth program has a Bible Club." She points out the food pantry. "Each order of food has a prayer in it." She goes further. "People come to us to pray with them. You see we have a chapel there. In emergency situations, and we are often helping people in emergencies, people want prayer. So we have to be very careful in the money we take. It's very important to us, it's very important to the individuals who fund us, that we be able to minister with faith."
Interestingly, the ministry for which Ms. White volunteers prefers to maintain the separation between Church and State. It's not the only one:
Eastside, the site of Senator Obama's proposal to fund faith-based ministries, has no intention of applying for or accepting tax-payer dollars. Eastside is not even tied to any one particular branch of the Christian faith. For the most part, Zanesville's downtown churches share ecumenical Eastside's disposition. (the) secretary Judy explains that Grace United Methodist Church has no need for government funds. Grace United used to give food to the pantry at Eastside but winter weather had proved problematic, and so they had quit. Next door Jane, the secretary at St. James Episcopal, is equally emphatic that her church is not interested in federal monies. The diocese gives them the wherewithal for the free dinner they host the last Saturday of every month. Everything else the church members raise themselves and give to Eastside.
With one exception, it seemed that most of the folks in Zanesville were none-too-thrilled with this whole program. Ms. Fowler discovered:
In fact, faith-based social programs in Zanesville are a closed loop. The mainstream churches give their money to Eastside and rely on Eastside to do the work; Eastside eschews federal funding. Moreover, none of the churches with whose members I speak are interested in expanding into the kind of ambitious social programs, in education for example, that Senator Obama mentioned in his speech.
The one exception to this general feeling of unease regarding Obama's plan was at the Central Presbyterian church:
Mary Perone, director of outreach, tells me that "if he [Obama] can do it, it would be fantastic." She's all in favor of federal grant money for her faith-based outreach. She'd like to start a parish nurse program and do more with adult literacy. But the first thing she says, when we each take a folding chair at a long dining table in the low-ceilinged basement, is critical of Obama's visit to Zanesville. "He really didn't get to meet the people," this Perone says. "The people he got to meet were on his level -- not the common people -- he didn't touch base with them." She is disapproving. "They're really hurting, and they don't think people listen."
I would have to agree with her on that last point - Obama does NOT listen to the people, to the common person. Why he is not advocating for the abandonment of a horrible Bush policy move, one that clearly conflicts with the Separation of Church and State but seeks to EMBRACE it, and EXPAND it, even, is beyond me. Besides the obvious pandering to the Religious Right, that is. To do so has far less to do with what the person on the street cares about most, and far more to do with Obama's own political aspirations. He cares about getting votes, not about the wise stewardship of tax payers money. He cares more about appearance, going to a small town in OH, a state he lost, to speak in front of the exact same kind of people he denigrated just a few months ago at a San Francisco fundraiser to tout a program a vast majority of Progressives, myself included, find to be a complete affront to the Constitution. He calls himself a Constitutional Scholar, yet seems to be completely unaware of the contents of the Constitution! I know I have said it before, I just cannot quite get over it. And in this case, it is a very big deal indeed. Not only is it a direct assault on an incredibly important distinction in our country, one with tremendous history behind it, but it uses money from the people. The bottom line is that people are taxed and have their money go to support religious organizations they may not support, to forms of Christianity or other religious traditions that are anathema to them. Heck, one can see that even Obama recognizes that there is not one way of thinking or believing when he said in 2006,
"Even if we did have only Christians in our midst, if we expelled every non-Christian from the United States of America, whose Christianity would we teach in the schools?" Obama said. "Would we go with James Dobson's or Al Sharpton's?"LINK
So, at some point he got it. But he has since lost it. This whole notion was dangerous when Bush proposed it, and it is even more dangerous now, when a so-called Democrat, a so-called Constitutional scholar, attempts tho tear down the Separation of Church and State.
And this is just another excellent reason that he should not be the Democratic nominee. Bush was bad enough. A Bush Lite may be even worse...