Bush's armies of compassion

August 04, 1999

Here is an excerpt of an editorial from the Chicago Tribune, which was published Monday.

REPUBLICAN presidential front-runner George W. Bush's faith-based, anti-poverty plan offers something old, something new, several things borrowed and, as a political play, something quite shrewd.

The idea of government fighting poverty through religiously affiliated groups has been around for years. It also has worked remarkably well in various forms in various states, including Texas, where Mr. Bush is governor.

Former President Ronald Reagan and President Clinton each proposed poverty fighting through faith-based groups.

Vice President Al Gore called in May for Americans to "dare to embrace" religious programs and called for a "new partnership" between church and state.

What's new about Mr. Bush's announcement are details, including its $8 billion price tag. He would spend about that much to allow the 70 percent of taxpayers who do not itemize their deductions to take charitable deductions.

In this way, Mr. Bush says, he would enlist taxpayers, charities and community and religious groups into "armies of compassion" to fight a new conservative-style war on poverty, welfare dependency and other social problems.

It says something about the spirit of the times that Mr. Bush's proposal is receiving so little resistance. As Mr. Gore's earlier announcement shows, a new consensus has risen across party lines. The persistence of problems afflicting poor children and families -- despite the overall prosperity of the 1990s -- has driven many Americans to take a fresh look at faith-based groups that were helping the needy long before government got involved.

Mr. Bush's plan to use tax deductions skirts the issue of church-state separation by letting individuals pay for such services. Taxpayers presumably have a better vantage point than government bureaucrats to decide which programs are making the best use of their money.

Mr. Bush's plan moves in the right direction. Churches, temples and prayer halls cannot replace government in the mammoth task of helping the needy. But they do a better and more efficient job than government of understanding their communities and meeting the needs of their citizens.

As Mr. Bush wisely points out, they need not be rivals in that task. There is plenty of work to go around.

Pub Date: 8/04/99

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