, reforming bent of the White House Office for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives
is apparent simply by the resumés of the four men selected to lead it.
First, there is the infamous Marvin Olasky, godfather of the term compassionate conservatism and author of the eponymous book, Compassionate Conservatism. Olasky seems to sit in a semi-official “advisor” position. A journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin, Marvin Olasky is, if not merely a rhetorician, a zealot.
Born Jewish, Olasky rejected organized religion in college in favour of Marxist ideology, joining the U.S. Communist Party in 1968. After college he grew a long Castro beard and backpacked through the Soviet Union. He returned to graduate studies at the University of Michigan to write a dissertation on the persecution of Reds in Hollywood.
At some point during his dissertation, however, Olasky underwent his ultimate conversion. “God changed my worldview not through thunder or a whirlwind,” he wrote in a biographical essay, “but by...a repeated, resounding question in my brain: What if Lenin is wrong? What if there is a God?”¹ Shortly thereafter, Olasky resigned from the Communist Party. He ended up turning in a dissertation hailing the anti-Communists instead of denouncing them. By 1976, he had a job at Dupont’s office of public affairs and had joined the Conservative Baptist Church. When he moved to Texas for his professorship, Olasky couldn’t find a congregation traditional enough for his tastes, so founded his own breakaway faction of the Presbyterian Church.²
The other three appointees to the Office dress to the Right as well. The head of the Office is Chicagoan John DiIulio, whose last job as New York City mayor Rudy Guiliani’s “Tough on Crime” police relations officer saw him help introduce mandatory sentences for minor offenses. DiIulio is perhaps best known for coining the term superpredators to describe violent young offenders.
Myron Magnet, another appointee to the Office, is best known for his book The Dream and Nightmare of the Sixties Legacy to the Underclass, calling welfare “benign neglect” of the poor and maintaining that liberal welfare policies exacerbate conditions for poverty.
Finally, Charles “Chuck” Colson rounds out the four moral crusaders appointed to the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. Originally a lawyer, Colson is a proponent of prison reform and represents how elite political connections and extremist sentiment can secure a job in high places.
Of all the political closet skeletons George W. Bush has resurrected to form his administration, Chuck Colson is the least expected. He served seven months in jail for obstruction of justice after the Watergate scandal before setting up the InnerChange Freedom Initiative charity. Colson was ‘born again’ to Christianity and has since become a minister.³
Colson not only promotes but exemplifies the compassionate conservative rhetoric that spiritual guidance can turn a person’s life around. “‘Treat them like animals,’ says Colson, ‘they’ll come back like animals. Go in and treat them with some dignity, show them the love of Christ, and let them see the transforming power they can bring into their lives.’”
Articles promoting compassionate conservatism invariably roll out stories of individual program successes like Colson’s, citing religious stewardship and spiritual training as the key factors that turn lazy, crack-addled welfare bums into responsible, upright Christians.
Too bad they can't all get a cushy job like Chuck!
¹ Marvin Olasky, “God an Sinner Reconciled” (sic) http://www.olasky.com/Biography/reconcile.html accessed February 25, 2001.
² David Grann, “Where W. Got Compassion” The New York Times, September 12, 1999, p. 6
³ Ed Vulliamy, “All the President’s disciples” The Texas Observer, February 4, 2001, p. 17.