Cover Story

Profiles in public service

"Profiles in public service" Continued...

Issue: "A few good men," May 6, 2006

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."

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