The Center is a Comfy Place To Be

I've read two articles so far this morning that have made me incredibly upset. When am I going to learn not to look at the news until after the coffee kicks in? Anyway, I've managed to have my day ruined by Barack Obama, but before I get into that, I'd like to share an image with you:

Obama: Good for the T-Shirt IndustryYes, Obama's poorly chosen "bitterly clinging to guns and religion" words have come back to haunt him... in t-shirt form! The text of the shirt reads: "Memo to Obama: I'm 'Bitterly Clinging to Guns and Religion,' (and I'll keep the rest of the Constitution, too!)"

Yes, Uncle Sam is holding a cross, and pointing a gun at the viewer, aka, Obama. Nice, eh? It's really flabbergasting how many people are willing to more or less threaten the life of a Presidential candidate without being labeled terrorists, but I digress.

It's rather ironic that the makers/wearers of these shirts would choose these particular words, as Obama isn't exactly the Boogeyman that's going to take their guns away and force them to burn their Bibles. It makes a convenient slogan and it's a nice way to rile up people who, let's face it, wouldn't vote for Obama anyway, but the thing that upsets me is that these people should be lining up to get him into office.

We all know by now that Obama believes "that we can recognize and respect the rights of law-abiding gun owners and the right of local communities to enact common sense laws to combat violence and save lives." So, your gun is pretty much safe in your live, warm hands, as far as Obama is concerned. But what about religion? Not to worry, Evangelicals! Obama has your back. (Bolds mine.)

CHICAGO - Reaching out to evangelical voters, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is announcing plans to expand President Bush's program steering federal social service dollars to religious groups and — in a move sure to cause controversy — support some ability to hire and fire based on faith.

Obama was unveiling his approach to getting religious charities more involved in government anti-poverty programs during a tour and remarks Tuesday in Zanesville, Ohio, at Eastside Community Ministry, which provides food, clothes, youth ministry and other services.

"The challenges we face today ... are simply too big for government to solve alone," Obama was to say, according to a prepared text of his remarks obtained by The Associated Press. "We need all hands on deck."
Of course, "government" wasn't solving these challenges alone, they had social service agencies to help. Once, however, Bush began moving funds from these agencies to "Faith-Based" agencies, many of them were unable to stay afloat due to lack of funding. In addition to the harm done to many organizations, there's also that little problem of the separation of church and state. Tax money funding religious organizations. The possibility of coercion to participate in, or convert to, a particular religion in order to receive services. Forcing religious organizations to compete for government funds. And, of course, the ability to refuse or remove employment to individuals based on faith.* Kingdom Coming, an excellent book by Michelle Goldberg, does a fantastic job of fine-tooth-combing the Faith-Based Initiatives; I highly recommend it. Excerpt:
"The diversion of billions of taxpayer dollars from secular social service organizations to such sectarian religious outfits has been one of the most underreported stories of the Bush presidency. Bush's faith-based initiatives have become a spoils system for evangelical ministries, which are now involved in everything from prison programs and job training to teenage pregnancy prevention, supplanting the safety net that was supposed to catch all Americans. As a result of faith-based grants, a growing number of government-funded social service jobs explicitly refuse to hire Jews, gay people, and other undesirables; such discrimination is defended by the administration and its surrogates in the name of religious freedom. Bringing the disposed to Jesus Christ has become something very close to a domestic policy goal of the United States government. And all this has happened with far less notice or public debate than attended the removal of Terri Schaivo's feeding tube or the halftime baring of Janet Jackson's breast."
According to Obama:
Obama does not support requiring religious tests for recipients of aid nor using federal money to proselytize, according to a campaign fact sheet. He also only supports letting religious institutions hire and fire based on faith in the non-taxypayer funded portions of their activities, said a senior adviser to the campaign, who spoke on condition of anonymity to more freely describe the new policy.
Allowing any recipient of government funds to "hire and fire based on faith" is not progressive; it's Bushian. And if you seriously believe that hardcore Evangelicals are not going to "require religious tests for recipient of aid," or proselytize, or attempt to convert, I've got this really nice bridge to sell you. It's easy to say you "don't support" this, but how in the world could you possibly police this? It would be impossible to provide any sort of accountability, and this is exactly why people were concerned about Faith-Based social services in the first place.
Like Bush, Obama was arguing that religious organizations can and should play a bigger role in serving the poor and meeting other social needs. But while Bush argued that the strength of religious charities lies primarily in shared religious identity between workers and recipients, Obama was to tout the benefits of their "bottom-up" approach.

"Because they're so close to the people, they're well-placed to offer help," he was to say.
Bullshit. Anyone that has had any sort of contact with social services knows that the vast majority of these organizations are located in the very communities in which they are providing services, just like churches. They are close to the people, they are well-placed to offer help, and to pretend that religious organizations could somehow do this better than trained providers is, to be blunt, fucking insulting.

Social workers and social service providers are trained in providing services to the needy. We operate under a code of ethics, and we have to be licesnsed before we are allowed to provide clinical services. We're trained to navigate an incredibly difficult system, and to be aware of as many available services as possible. We are held to a very high standard; and all of this is done to minimize harm to those seeking help. Not all religious organizations employ trained social workers, especially individual churches. Operating with no code of ethics or licensure results in no accountability; if someone providing services at a religious organization screws up, they at worst lose their job, but undoubtedly they can find one in another faith-based organization that excludes people that don't hold their faith.

I am not saying that religious organizations can't provide excellent services to the needy, or that they have not successfully been doing so already. But taking even more money from, or that could go to suffering social service organizations in order to provide even more funds for religious organizations is not what I would want a supposedly progressive Presidential candidate to be touting. This is pandering to Evangelicals, pure and simple, and it is exactly what Bush did. It's Republican, and if that's not enough-
Obama's announcement is part of a series of events leading up to Friday's Fourth of July holiday that are focused on American values.
American Values. Sounds rather familiar, doesn't it?

Now, I have a personal stake in this, but the people who have the potential for the most harm caused by such legislation and programs are the poor. Now, I hear lots and lots of praise heaped upon Obama for being a champion of the poor, but I really have to question this when I read stories like the one above, and this one (bolds mine):

Obama Shifts on Welfare Reform

ABC News' Teddy Davis and Gregory Wallace Report: Barack Obama aligned himself with welfare reform on Monday, launching a television ad which touts the way the overhaul "slashed the rolls by 80 percent." Obama leaves out, however, that he was against the 1996 federal legislation which precipitated the caseload reduction.

"I am not a defender of the status quo with respect to welfare," Obama said on the floor of the Illinois state Senate on May 31, 1997. "Having said that, I probably would not have supported the federal legislation, because I think it had some problems."

Obama's transformation from opponent to champion of welfare reform is the latest in a series of moves to the center. Since capturing the Democratic nomination, Obama has altered his stances on Social Security taxes, meeting with rogue leaders without preconditions, and the constitutionality of Washington, D.C.'s, sweeping gun ban.
As many of you know, I've been pretty critical of Obama since he first announced his candidacy for President. But if there was one thing that I really liked about the guy, it was his stance on welfare. I've never liked welfare reform, and I would hope a progressive Presidential candidate, particularly one that is supposedly supportive of the poor, would not like welfare reform. But winning votes trumps all, and the move to the center continues.

I am incredibly disappointed in both of these stories, and my enthusiasm for an Obama Presidency dwindles daily. The next Democratic President will need to be up to the task of un-doing the mess of the Bush administration, and it scarily looks to me as if, in some ways, Obama will simply continue it. On issues that I find extremely important, he dodges, or simply fails to show up to vote. When he does take a stance on something, I find it very troubling, or in complete opposition to my values. I'm beginning to wonder where all of the "hope and change" that's been promised to me is hiding, because this all looks like more of the same to me.

UPDATE: There has been discussion that the AP article was misleading and incorrect, and Obama has stated:
He thus embraced the heart of a program, established early in the Bush administration, that critics say blurs the constitutional separation of church and state. Mr. Obama made clear, however, that he would work to ensure that charitable groups receiving government funds be carefully monitored to prevent them from using the money to proselytize and to prevent any religion-based discrimination against potential recipients or employees.
Discrimination, however, is hardly the only issue at play here, which I will go over in another post later today or tomorrow. If you haven't looked, this is being discussed in comments if you're interested in reading more right now. Needless to say, I'm not very impressed when this "careful monitoring" has yet to be defined; it will be nearly impossible to actually police faith-based organizations to ensure discrimination is not happening.

(Tip of the energy dome to Shaker Amish451 for the image.)

*(I freely admit that I have a personal stake in this decision. As an agnostic, and as an unemployed social worker currently job searching, I find it very troubling that the majority of the jobs that I am applying for are at religious and/or faith-based organizations. While this is, admittedly, selfish, I would like to add that not only would keeping me out of a job harm me, but it also potentially harms the people for whom I could be providing excellent social services. I mean, if you were in trouble and needed someone to help you find housing and health care, would you rather have a dedicated, passionate person to help you, or someone that's more interested in "saving" you?)

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