More evidence of the president's record and agenda reflect Catholic social justice teachings.
Conservative Republicans are not usually mentioned in the same breath as social justice unless they are being attacked for not doing enough in this area. Speaking to the Knights Convocation on August 3, President Bush challenged this notion with a presentation of his “Compassionate Conservative Agenda,” which articulated what his Administration has done for the poor and vulnerable.
In the beginning of his speech, the President acknowledged that “Pope John Paul II has been a unique and commanding voice for the cause of the poor, the weak, the hungry, and the outcast. He has challenged our nation, and the entire world, to embrace the culture of life” and added that the Pope has “called us to love and serve our neighbors in need.”
President Bush then presented his vision for meeting the Pope’s challenge for America. In terms of the economy, he said we “have a responsibility in government to do things to help overcome recession and corporate scandal. It’s easier to be a hopeful society when people are working.” He added later that welfare reform must be expanded to “help people find a job, help them have the skills necessary to work, so they realize the dignity that comes from being independent from government, and at the same time, strengthen marriage and the family as part of welfare reforms.”
He said that an “optimistic society” encourages homeownership, entrepreneurship, and “people owning and managing their own health care account” and added that when “you own something you have a vital stake in the future of your country.”
He pointed out that the national school system he inherited in 2001 simply “shuffled children through grade after grade, year after year, and hoped for the best. Oftentimes, what we found out was kids with great hearts were graduating from schools, but couldn’t read.” His No Child Left Behind program “challenged the soft bigotry of low expectations by raising the bar, insisting on high standards, by making sure the money we spent…went to help those who needed extra help early, before it was too late.”
In terms of immigration, the former Governor of Texas called for “reasonable and compassionate immigration reform, to bring good, hardworking people out of the shadows of American life, and to ensure that America is always a welcoming nation.” He also recognized the tragic contradiction “that amidst the great prosperity of America, amongst our great wealth, there are pockets of despair in this country, and we’ve got to do something about it. We must address despair so America is hopeful again.”
Noting a great scourge on our society, President Bush said that “we got fellow citizens who are trapped in the misery of drugs and gang violence and the collapse of the family.” He then called on society, government, and those in high office to be responsible for addressing this problem. His approach is a collaborative effort of “people all throughout society” working to reduce the demand for drugs and noted that teen use of drugs is down by 11 percent from 2001 to 2003.
He also pointed to an initiative he established for mentoring children of prisoners. “I mean, if the job of government is to try to set priorities, a priority is to help children of prisoners find love,” he said.
President Bush acknowledged that a lot more work needs to be done in the area of healthcare, but pointed out that working with groups like the Knights, we can address the issue of “healthcare for the poorest of the poor. We’ve expanded and built over 600 community health centers in America,” he added.
Introducing his faith-based initiative, the President pointed out that what “government can never do is put love in a person’s heart, or a sense of purpose in a person’s life.” He explained that in order to heal, to “help the lonely, it works every time when a loving soul puts their arm around and says, what can I do to help you; how can I help you in your life; what can I do to make your life better.” Acknowledging the need for separation of church and state, he said however that “there’s a culture inside government which resents and fears religious charities, and has discriminated against them.”
Addressing this discrimination, he signed an executive order in 2002 “mandating equal treatment for faith-based charities in federal grant-making process” so they can be “allowed to use the money to change hearts and souls, to help save lives, to embetter the word we live in.” In 2003, discretionary grants to faith-based programs exceeded a billion dollars, he said. In addition, the President established the Compassion Capital Fund, which “gives money to intermediary organizations that provide faith-based and community organizations with training, technical assistance” that works like a “little incubator,” he explained.