Leaving the White House
Given how few Washingtonians leave the precincts of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue voluntarily, Jim Towey's action on April 18-resigning as head of the White House faith-based office to become president of a small Catholic college in Pennsylvania-was refreshing. He told WORLD that he was "filled with gratitude" for the opportunity he had but "saddened by the stranglehold that certain entrenched interests have."
Mr. Towey did not have huge power during his four years as the president's almoner: Karl Rove and other practitioners of advanced political calculus had more. But Mr. Towey had moved from the right hand of Mother Teresa to the left hand of George W. Bush, and although he could play by Washington rules there often seemed to be a wistfulness about him: Maybe it was better back in Calcutta.
The 49-year-old Towey had long felt the tug of both power and powerlessness, and zig-zagged between the two. In 1985 he was a senior aide to Sen. Mark Hatfield, a liberal Republican who wrote about his own Christian tensions in a book aptly titled Between a Rock and a Hard Place. When Mr. Towey that year met Mother Teresa in India, he abandoned the hardness of Capitol Hill and clambered onto the rock of faith shown him as she, and then he, served bedridden men with sores.
But Mr. Towey was also called to be a lawyer, and his personable seriousness led him to odd assignments such as pushing a Nashville coffeehouse to stop selling T-shirts displaying an image of a cinnamon bun made to look like Mother Teresa. A politically caffeinated assignment followed: two years as secretary of Florida's Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services, until Republican legislators forced him out.
This time Mr. Towey, a Democrat, survived four years amid the swirling political winds. He leaves carrying his shield rather than on it, in a move that was months in the works and not part of the current White House shakeup. And he leaves sharply critical of long-term federal grants recipients that "don't compete for the funds. They don't have to show results. . . . These so-called protectors of the poor only care about the dollars."
Mr. Towey mentioned specifically the National Head Start Association: "Groups that get Head Start money will keep it until they go out of business." He also complained about drug-treatment block grants, which continue to go out whether "anyone recovers in the programs or not," and some after-school programs. He spoke of "really dynamic programs on the local level" developed by local Catholic Charities, but "I've been disheartened to see how partisan the national organization has been."
The Washington Post recently complained that "the administration has funneled at least $157 million in grants to organizations run by political and ideological allies." The Post was shocked that faith-based groups promoting abstinence education in South Carolina, Kentucky, and Tennessee, and five organizations run by black and Hispanic leaders who endorsed Mr. Bush, all received grants.
Mr. Towey scoffed at reports that religious groups are taking over governmental social services: In area after area, Congress has "earmarked hundreds of millions, and faith-based groups only get a tiny percentage." He's right, and even the Post acknowledged that "White House officials and new offices in ten Cabinet-level departments have aggressively sought to widen the 'pool' of applicants for federal grants for all kinds." Liberal newspapers megaphone the complaints of those already in the pool who do not want newcomers splashing around.
The faith-based czar did not use the apologetic favored by some elected as conservatives, Yes, why shouldn't we get into the pork line? We want ours. It's only fair! Because of such thinking, decentralizing tools such as poverty-fighting tax credits and an expansion of social service vouchers have largely been ignored: They should be used, Mr. Towey said, but "we need more people in Congress calling for them," since at this point such proposals are "dead on arrival in Congress."
That Mr. Towey is a bit odd for Washington became clear when he announced to the press that he was leaving the White House. One reporter asked, "You said, before you even took the job, that one of your career goals was to get to heaven. Do you think you're a little closer?" That's a rare question in Washington, and it's even rarer for an official to know where to begin in answering it.
Mr. Towey, who has five children ranging in age from 3 to 13, first deflected the question to his wife Mary, who joked, "It's more his marriage with me that's helping him attain that goal than this job." He then said, "You're as holy as your last prayer. So my career goal remains to get to heaven, and I've felt this job is part of my journey. And now my next step, to St. Vincent College, will be part of my journey. I always trust myself to the mercy of God."
He spoke of "something America can teach the world, about how diverse faiths live together. I had the chief of staff to the president of France in here about a month ago, and he looked at this picture of the president praying in public, and he said, our president could never do that." And Mr. Towey then spoke of joking with Karl Rove, to whom all things are political: "I finally got even with him right before Christmas, when I was able to ask the president, with Karl seated there, and a number of other senior staff, whether Karl was a product of evolution or intelligent design." Mr. Towey laughed and said, "Some things are just deep mysteries."
What's happened to compassionate conservatism since 2000 is not a deep mystery: In retrospect, it should have been clear that the central, decentralizing thrust of compassionate conservatism was dead on arrival not only in Congress but in much of the executive branch as well. Give individual taxpayers tax credits for contributions to poverty-fighting groups, so the groups they favor will get more and Washington officials will have less to hand out to their favorites? Fat chance.
Vouchers so that those in need can decide where to get help instead of going to the organizations Washington prefers? No political capital in that.
The long-term good news during Jim Towey's tenure was that, as he noted, "The faith-based initiative has taken root in the heartland. . . . People who wanted to dismiss it have learned that it is central." Over 30 states now have faith-based offices: Mr. Towey mentioned those in Florida, Ohio, and Michigan as particularly effective, and singled out those in Massachusetts and Indiana as showing new promise.
As long as Washington officials do have huge funding power, Mr. Towey has asserted, they should not discriminate against religious organizations. Recently, courts have begun to agree with him. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia upheld the right of AmeriCorps grant recipients to teach in religiously affiliated schools: Since the Supreme Court in January declined to review the case, that appeals-court ruling stands. Meanwhile, a federal district court has ruled that religious organizations retain their hiring autonomy when they receive federal financial assistance for the provision of social services: Such funding does not make them an arm of the government.
Hurricane Katrina, Mr. Towey points out, taught that faith-based groups "should be treated as valuable partners and not as candy-stripers . . . as a first resort, not the last." One legacy of the faith-based initiative is that, with catastrophes that go beyond human agency still called "acts of God," maybe the Bible-based volunteers who play crucial roles in relief and recovery will be called arms of God. -by Marvin Olasky
Staying on in Congress
We've all become used to seeing bombastic congressmen ready to orate at the drop of a soundbite opportunity. But with his glasses and quiet, serious demeanor, Mark Souder looks more like a high-school history teacher than a six-term member of Congress. He talks that way too: Asked about a political issue, Mr. Souder quietly explains the history of the subject, then moves to his own position and an accurate summary of his opponent's, and finally forecasts how the issue will play out in the next electoral cycle.
"I call him a walking encyclopedia of politics and government," says Indiana state Sen. Dennis Kruse, a fellow Republican and conservative. "He can give more facts and figures and case studies than any public official I have ever been around. I've been around as long as he has, and I don't know how he can remember so much."
Some of his predecessors moved on to statewide and national office, yet Mr. Souder wraps his ambitions around the internal work of the U.S. House of Representatives and his district back home. He is the kind of politician who makes the machinery of government work, as he labors quietly on behalf of his convictions.
The issues he has tackled in Congress are not designed for maximum name recognition: illegal drug flow; national park upkeep; prisoner release. As chairman of the House Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources subcommittee, he's becoming a leading expert on stopping the flow of illegal drugs into the country.
"Bill Bradley once said that the way to be an effective congressman is to find a niche area of expertise and become everyone's expert on that topic," says Indiana state Rep. Luke Messer, who also has been executive director of the state Republican Party. "Mark has really done that with the drug-interdiction issue, on the problem of production of drugs in South America and other Third World countries."
Through another committee assignment, Mr. Souder also has become a leading authority on national parks. He thinks conservatives ought to be the leaders of the conservation movement, and he claims for his side the leading Christian intellectual in American history, Jonathan Edwards, a pastor, theologian, philosopher, and evangelist to the Indians. "The root word is conserve," he says. "Jonathan Edwards was an early environmentalist who believed we should be stewards of what God created. John Muir, the founding influence on national parks, was an avid evangelical and quoted Bible verses all the time."
Another favorite topic is helping inmates prepare to leave prison and find a job and new way of life. It may not win him more votes with conservatives, but he sees it as part of a way to reduce crime and be a real compassionate conservative. "What are we going to do with them?" he asks. "I don't have an easy answer. But we have to make an effort. We can't control crime in America if we don't."
Mr. Souder has the freedom to tackle the less popular issues because his district is conservative and his credentials as a conservative Christian are about as secure as they come. He grew up in the kind of world that some homeschoolers and conservative Christians have tried to recreate in recent years for their families. Grabill, Ind., was a small town dominated by a Christian consensus, even in the 1960s. His great-grandfather, Henry Souder, started a general store, which is still owned by the family and is now restored in 1890s style as part of a historical renovation.
Mr. Souder looks back on the small-town upbringing and sees advantages. "It was a very religiously based small town," Mr. Souder said. "When others were arguing about marijuana, we were arguing at the school about whether to have a sock-hop school dance." From the town fathers, Mr. Souder learned civic responsibility. "When that bank went broke, five businessmen got together and made sure that we had a bank. It was civic responsibility, caring about your community, believing you had obligations beyond your own self."
Mr. Souder's Christian faith runs across the generational lines of Grabill as well. Some of his ancestors were Amish. Yet his faith is not something inherited: It gives him a set of fixed principles, which can get in the way of a move into leadership in the House or higher office in Indiana. "Sometimes his philosophy, and his strong adherence to his philosophy, get in the way of compromise," says state Rep. Jeff Espich, another Republican from the northeast part of the state. "It does interfere with his ability to be seen as a bigger player in some arena."
One predecessor in Mr. Souder's House seat, former vice president Dan Quayle, went on to the Senate, then the vice presidency. Another, Dan Coats, went to the Senate, then to a term as ambassador to Germany. But Mr. Souder seems content to work on issues that don't attract big headlines but matter in the lives of people.
"What propels you into political life was different for Mark than what propels most people into the level of a member of Congress," says former Indiana secretary of state Ed Simcox. "Mark is fundamentally an intellectual. Most members of Congress are politicians first instinctively. They rely on research and preparation by others. They come into politics because they are political animals. But Mark Souder's intellectual curiosity is what really led him into politics."
His work for Messrs. Quayle and Coats gave him experience in making others successful, getting him ready to serve in Congress and to give the spotlight to others in order to advance his ideals. He loves the political process as well as the policy issues. That characteristic endears him to some of his political opponents.
In 2002 the most serious primary challenge of his career came from fellow Republican Paul Helmke, a former Fort Wayne mayor. Mr. Helmke was a guest of Mr. Souder at a subsequent political event. Mr. Souder left his other guests, greeted Mr. Helmke, got tickets for him and wanted to show him an expansion of his political button collection. "He should have been talking to constituents," Mr. Helmke recalled. "Mark is unique. He is not a typical politician. He knows how to play hardball. But he's more of a student of politics. He loves the give and take. He loves the behind-the-scenes part of it."
Though clearly a part of the Christian conservative movement, Mr. Souder does not follow a movement or party line. He voted against three of the four impeachment charges against President Clinton because he thought the president acted immorally but not impeachably. Back in the 1980s, as an aide to then U.S. Rep. Dan Coats, he helped Mr. Coats develop the notion that Christian conservatives need to compete with liberals in offering better ways to help people in need. Later, Texas Gov. George W. Bush would call it compassionate conservatism and take the idea all the way to the White House.
His methods work on Election Day in a predominantly Republican district in a state that last voted for a Democrat for president in 1964. Mr. Souder was elected in the Republican wave of 1994, and he seems to have discouraged potentially strong candidates from running against him. Mr. Souder's opponent this year, Fort Wayne city councilman Tom Hayhurst, has led Mr. Souder in fundraising this year, yet the incumbent is expected to win another term.
"Don't make assumptions that underestimate Mark Souder," says Fort Wayne mayor Graham Richard, a Democrat who decided not to challenge Mr. Souder. "He learned how to run campaigns in the Quayle and Coats era and is a masterful political tactician and combines that with his own internal compass." -by Russ Pulliam