From NBC's Domenico Montanaro
Obama will call for a new Office of Faith Based and Community Initiatives and criticize President Bush's "support" for the faith-based community, which he dismisses as a "photo op," according to excerpts of the Illinois senator's prepared remarks.
Possibly to dissuade the angst of liberal faith intitiative opponents, Obama will invoke former President Bill Clinton signing "legislation that opened the door for faith-based groups to play a role in a number of areas" and that Al Gore "proposed a partnership between Washington and faith-based groups to provide more support for the least of these."
Obama also plays to the middle, mentioning that Clinton's legislation included trying to help "people move from welfare to work."
The speech marks a broader effort by the Obama campaign to try and woo evangelicals and cut into traditional Republican advantages with the group, which represented 23% of the voters in the 2004 election. Bush won them 78% to 21%.
McCain, who Obama doesn't mention in the speech, has also reached out to Christian conservatives, who have been decidedly cool to the presumptive Republican nominee. McCain met with Ohio religious leaders last week and met with Billy and son Franklin Graham over the weekend in North Carolina -- though the campaign says that was not a political meeting.
*** UPDATE *** The Obama campaign released a statement from John DiIulio, former director of Bush's White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives:
"Senator Barack Obama has offered a principled, prudent, and problem-solving vision for the future of community-serving partnerships involving religious nonprofit organizations. He has focused admirably on those groups that supply vital social services to people and communities in need. His plan reminds me of much that was best in both then Vice President Al Gore's and then Texas Governor George W. Bush's respective first speeches on the subject in 1999. Especially in urban America, all the empirical evidence continues to show that local faith-based organizations can make a measurable civic difference. His constitutionally sound and administratively feasible ideas about community-serving partnerships hold special promise for truly disadvantaged children, youth, and families. Many good community-serving initiatives can be built, expanded, or sustained on the common ground that Senator Obama has staked out for us here."
Now, I know there are some who bristle at the notion that faith has a place in the public square. But the fact is, leaders in both parties have recognized the value of a partnership between the White House and faith-based groups. President Clinton signed legislation that opened the door for faith-based groups to play a role in a number of areas, including helping people move from welfare to work. Al Gore proposed a partnership between Washington and faith-based groups to provide more support for the least of these. And President Bush came into office with a promise to "rally the armies of compassion," establishing a new Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.
President Bush came into office with a promise to "rally the armies of compassion," establishing a new Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.
But what we saw instead was that the Office never fulfilled its promise. Support for social services to the poor and the needy have been consistently underfunded. Rather than promoting the cause of all faith-based organizations, former officials in the Office have described how it was used to promote partisan interests. As a result, the smaller congregations and community groups that were supposed to be empowered ended up getting short-changed.
Well, I still believe it's a good idea to have a partnership between the White House and grassroots groups, both faith-based and secular. But it has to be a real partnership – not a photo-op. That's what it will be when I'm President. I'll establish a new Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. The new name will reflect a new commitment. This Council will not just be another name on the White House organization chart – it will be a critical part of my administration.