Kerry’s Use of the Bible to Beat Up on Bush Was an Unfair Attack

Posted April 5, 2004 at 5:06pm

Taking a cheap shot at President Bush’s faith and commitment to compassionate conservatism, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) deployed a surprising new campaign attack weapon two Sundays ago at a political appearance at New Northside Missionary Baptist Church in St. Louis: the Holy Bible. [IMGCAP(1)]

In a subtle, yet obvious attack on Bush, Kerry quoted James 2:14 to the largely Democratic, African-American congregation saying, “What does it profit my brethren if someone says he has faith, but does not have works?”

Sounding more like a member in good standing of the “Brotherhood of Perpetual Criticism” than a presidential candidate, Kerry continued his sermon by telling the crowd, “When we look at what is happening in America today, ‘Where are the works?’”

This may be one of the most disingenuous critiques of the campaign to date, accurately reflecting neither the president’s record on social issues nor the changing environment of a post-Sept. 11, 2001, presidency.

Contrary to conventional political wisdom and John Kerry’s over-the-top lecture, the reports of the death of compassionate conservatism have been greatly exaggerated. John Kerry wants good works — then how about these?

Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act has meant a $24 billion increase in federal education spending with extra help targeted at low-income children trapped in failing schools and children in need of special education. The administration’s fiscal 2005 budget proposes an additional $1 billion in Title 1 funding for disadvantaged students, a 52 percent increase since 2001, and another billion dollars for special education programs, a 75 percent increase since 2001.

Not good enough? How about the Medicare reform law which provides more than $500 billion to give seniors prescription drug coverage with a focus on low-income seniors? Or the historic commitment of $15 billion to fight AIDS, especially in Africa?

Or $1.1 billion in Health and Human Services and Housing and Urban Development grants to faith-based organizations which support drug and alcohol addiction programs, elderly housing efforts, and hundreds of other social programs to help those in need?

The Bush administration could also legitimately argue that its economic policies qualify as good works as well. More families today own homes than any other time in our nation’s history; and for the first time ever, a majority of minority families own their own homes. Moreover, last year, 24 million families received tax relief to the tune of $14 billion, while this year 111 million families will get an average of $1,586 in tax savings.

And, call me crazy, but doesn’t the liberation of 50 million people from oppression and tyranny seem like a good work? Or the more than 22 million doses of tuberculosis, polio and other vaccines provided to more than 4 million Iraqi children? Or the rehab of hundreds of schools in Iraq and the 25,000 tons of pharmaceuticals and supplies sent to U.S.- renovated hospitals and clinics?

Maybe Kerry is simply indulging in what appears to be the sum total of the Democrats’ general election strategy: Blast Bush day in and day out with more and more unfounded claims and hope some of the spin will stick. If Kerry’s excursion into the ecclesiastical is any indication, his newest target is the president’s commitment to help the less fortunate in America and around the world.

Compassionate conservatism was at the heart of Bush’s first presidential victory, but, admittedly, the political dynamics in 2004 are not the same as they were four years ago. Bush has become, not of his own choosing, a wartime president. By definition, that role puts a sharper edge on any presidency and any leader, as it has this one.

During World War II, no one thought of Winston Churchill or Franklin Delano Roosevelt as warm and fuzzy, nor was that anyone’s expectation. In wartime, we want our presidents strong, not sensitive; tough, not tentative. But resolve and compassion can coexist in a commander in chief.

When America entered WWII, we had been attacked and we fought back. But in restoring freedom, democracy and the economies of Europe and Asia, we were also doing good. Sixty years later, the same holds true for the U.S. efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Clearly, in this post-Sept. 11 environment, compassionate conservatism will share a broader stage of political concerns than we saw four years ago. Bush’s national security policies in Iraq and his leadership in the war on terror, which played little or no role in 2000, will be front and center this year.

But compassionate conservatism will remain an important element of the president’s character as well as in the Bush presidency. His leadership on education reform and prescription drug coverage will certainly still be major campaign issues, as will his economic proposals.

Kerry is free to disagree in a fact-based way with Bush’s policies and record. That’s how the democratic process is supposed to work. But to assert, as Kerry did, that this president has done no “good works” is simply not credible and does a disservice to the American public. Furthermore, using religion to do it is just plain offensive.

David Winston is president of The Winston Group, a Republican polling firm.