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Web Letter

Thank you for this article. As a life-long Democrat (by default, wouldn't want to "waste" my vote on a third party) and a proud and passionate "lefty," I am continually amazed and frustrated by those who attempt to portray Obama as my political bedfellow and question why I was an Edwards and then Clinton supporter rather than going in for his carefully scripted, intellectually empty "message of hope" from the beginning. Now I have a bit more ammunition to use in my response.

Obama is certainly not the savior of the world the way his loyal followers, and, I regret to say, leftist pundits in Europe (where I have been living for the better part of the last decade) proclaim him to be. He was not even the most "liberal" front-runner. Though I long ago accepted that American politicians have no choice but to pay lip service to the religious lobby, I did not register as a Democrat to see one of my party's platforms become "faith and family values," as the Democratic National Convention has settled on this year.

Like the author, I too fall firmly into the "atheist, agnostic or nothing-in-particular" category, and I am tired of watching the party I spent long days volunteering for as a teenager (long before I was old enough to vote) taking my support for granted while pandering to reactionary, conservative Christians in the hope of winning a few votes.

Obama is just part of the problem--the entire Democratic party seems to have forgotten what it is supposed to stand for. Neither of the Clintons' fine speeches nor anything Obama may say tonight is enough to convince me an Obama presidency will represent my concerns. I will remain a registered Democrat, but, come November, for the first time in my life I will be voting for a third-party candidate.

Alexandra Skwara

San Diego, CA

Aug 28 2008 - 1:17pm

Web Letter

I wish columnists would stop using the term "faith-based" and instead use the more accurate term "superstition-based." To many people the term "faith-based" has almost positive connotations.

In the last Ontario election the conservative candidate (eponymously named Mr. Tory) threw away an almost certain win by saying that he supported government financial support of "faith-based" schools. While the astonishingly uniform rejection of this view was encouraging, had the correct phrase been used, I believe the conservative wipe-out would have been even stronger.

Chris Hobbs

Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Aug 24 2008 - 8:49am

Web Letter

"Why does Obama want to subsidize churches rather than beef up our frayed public realm? Every dollar that goes to a faith-based program is a dollar that doesn't go to a cash-starved public service--to libraries, Head Start, community mental health clinics and so on." Pollitt assumes that the public library she envisions, whether it's in NYC or down the road and past the sawmill (but definitely before you get to railroad tracks), is preferable to anything that could be built by faith-based program.

A nice little library of the type that may have been begun by Laura Ingalls in Walnut Grove. Five or six books: two fiction, two non-fiction, one reference, all of them read or used by everyone in the community who reads. There is promise.

If Bush and Obama are banking on funds for faith-based programs, what do the most well-stocked libraries in the most affluent and serving-the-community cities say about us? Could they say that if NYC had more books, there'd be fewer people in soup kitchens?

The problem is that Bush and Obama have too much money to begin with. We can no longer see who would be in a bread line because of true need and who is there because of our reluctance to cut taxes for the lowest earners among us. The problem is not, as Pollitt assumes, due to the name of the fund... and neither can the solution be that way.

Cameron Jones

Indiana, PA

Aug 18 2008 - 6:47am

Web Letter

I'm a Democrat, a lefty even, and I support Barack Obama. However, I cannot abide the ultra-purists on church and state separation when it comes to social and medical services provision. I do wish George Bush had not been the President who introduced "faith-based funding." Faith-based funding in fact deserves a broader discussion than the current dichotomized approach so common in discussions of all our major issues, and so destructive.

Rejecting faith-based funding and suggesting that because other countries manage to take better care of their societies' needs than we do without it doesn't help us here; saying we should do that too, and pronto, is like the pro-life crowd telling pro-choice folks that adoption would eliminate the need for abortion. And the notion, in any event, that "the government" could somehow magically snap its fingers and take over what religious organizations do now is delusional.

I worked for quite a number of years in St. Louis, Missouri, and neighboring Illinois. I not only saw but funded with state funds religious organizations who provided services to our clients. We craftily funded the client instead of the service directly to avoid First Amendment issues. Unlike with school vouchers, this often wasn't a matter of providing choice, but of providing the only service available. And when it wasn't the only one, it often was the best. Furthermore, in government-funded services, there were often religious elements: religious services and priests and pastors and rabbis in residential treatment settings, crucifixes above a nurses' station.

And government services, subject to the whims of federal inspectors appearing out of nowhere with their private interpretation of standards and their bureaucratic lists of requirements can, to put it mildly, have a dismal effect. On the other hand, faith-based services can have much more of a community flavor, often know the community they operate in better and, if the standards Obama proposes are adhered to, will provide a much more caring environments.

Faith-based services should and can be monitored to insure proselytizing doesn't take place, that staff is hired regardless of religious affiliation and that potential clients aren't rejected for religious reasons.

In fact, a blend of faith-based, other private and government approaches probably presents the best chance not only of meeting the needs of more people, but of meeting them in a more informed and compassionate fashion.

Finally, isn't it possibly a violation of free speech rights to say that service providers can't give any sign of religious affiliation?

Esther Klein Buddenhagen

Xico, Veracruz, Mexico

Aug 15 2008 - 5:12pm

Web Letter

Soon after the Bush Administration came to work, it became apparent that "compassionate conservatism" actually meant contracting out compassion to entities that at least had a better reputation for exercising it than did the Republican Party. Of course, the plan would have the political benefit of buying support from those blessed with the opportunity to spend some of the taxpayers' money on projects dear to their heart. I suspect, however, the scheme was mainly a plan to limit the amounts of money the government was expected to spend on programs to help the poor. That is, the government's contribution to a program could be set at a fixed amount annually. If costs were actually greater--and they would be, if not now, then eventually--the church running the program would have to make up the difference or be perceived as stingy. Meanwhile,the government itself was off the hook.

Churches would be better off if they used their own resources to help the needy through the process of applying for aid from programs the government itself should be running. They could also encourage their more capable (and compassionate) members to seek employment in such government programs and thereby help to put a human face on them.

James O. Morse

Starkville, MS

Aug 5 2008 - 3:15pm

Web Letter

If Obama is serious about courting religiously observant voters, faith-based programs are one idea, but the proposed abortion reduction plan in the Democratic Party platform could well be a more effective, substantive beginning. While not perfect, this measure, which would increase support to pregnant women, ease adoption and help reduce unwanted pregnancies, is a common-sense start in the effort to get beyond extremism and actually try to reduce the number of abortions taking place. That’s a goal both sides of the abortion debate should endorse.

Karl Miller

Coral Springs, FL

Aug 4 2008 - 7:53pm

Web Letter

I'm writing to protest the opening sentence of the article, which seems to imply that it was once common for pastors to accept a bribe from a politician and then in turn deliver the votes of the pastor's congregation for that candidate. Obviously, that would be a horrendous abuse of the integrity of the church. Is there any evidence of this ever happening? Actually, there is probably no end to strange and perverse things that have happened once or rarely in history. Is there any evidence that this was common enough in the "good old days" or any era to warrant its use in public discourse? My personal integrity as a pastor would never allow me to do such a thing. Of the many, many pastors I have known, from many denominations, I can't think of one whom I could imagine would do such a thing. And, as much as my congregation of United Methodists loves me, I can't imagine any way in which I could rope them all into voting the same for any candidate.

This feels like a gratuitous slam on the church.

Rev. Stephen Aram

Oak Lawn, IL

Aug 4 2008 - 12:09pm

Web Letter

Gotcha--that's how far down we have sunk into the post-democracy experiment. Congress went home on vacation without doing anything on energy and deregulation, while the poor pay for the failed economic strategies of both parties. Blaming the working poor, who drowned in sewage in New Orleans, who burn their furniture to stay warm, while corporate giants fly around in their private jets, the politicians and the religions keep playing the ever-insidious shell game of hiding the guilt. If you are poor it's your fault because you have committed some imaginary sin. It's not because we have shipped all the manufacturing jobs and your father's sweat equity to China. You have not prayed enough to deserve a place on earth. "Life begins at conception," states the Pope, and Catholic women flock to Hillary and McCain."I will not give him communion," says a bishop, and we vote for Bush. This year the "N" word has morphed into the "M" word: he is a Muslim. The media goes along with the lie: wink, wink complicit deniability. We have lost the country when we believe people like Madeleine Albright, who claims that we will all be OK if we retrain to become greeters at Wal-Mart.

As one commenter wrote here, we have indeed become a nation of knuckle-draggers.

James Pinette

Caribou, ME

Aug 3 2008 - 10:01am

Web Letter

It is not too late to withdraw your misguided support for Senator Obama. He is failing on every front--FISA, abortion, the war and, as you correctly wrote this week, on faith-based nonsense as well. The Democratic Convention does not have to be a pre-ordained coronation. We can nominate the candidate who actually won the popular vote: Hillary Clinton.

Renee Mittler

New York City, NY

Aug 2 2008 - 1:08pm

Web Letter

Now, tell me again Katha Pollitt, about how different the Democrats really are from the GOP...

D.T. Presler

Minneapolis, MN

Jul 31 2008 - 11:59am