Outside of a community ministry in Ohio yesterday, Barack Obama demonstrated what makes him such a strange species of Democrat. As part of his drive to win over the support of typically Republican-voting Evangelicals, he pledged to expand President Bush's faith-based initiatives, in which government funds were provided to religious charities for community work. Of course, as with everything Obama has done recently to broaden his support, some people are impressed, and others are skeptical.
• Jeff Zeleny and Michael Luo write that Obama "ran the political risk of alienating those of his supporters who would prefer that government keep its distance from religion." But Obama doesn't think "religious organizations that get federal money for social services can take faith into account in their hiring," while Bush does, a pointed difference. It's also a departure that religious charities don't look favorably on at all. [NYT]
• Marc Ambinder finds a hurdle in Obama's position on discrimination in hiring: He doesn't think religious charities receiving federal funds should be allowed to refuse to hire gays, but since that isn't discrimination under the law, it isn't "clear how or whether Obama would intervene to prevent them from doing so." [Atlantic]
• Ana Marie Cox says some liberal bloggers are engaging in some "chin-stroking" as they worry about the separation of church and state. But Cox isn't sure that Obama is "out Bushing Bush," as they say, except that he's willing to spend more money on the program. [Swampland/Time]
• Jennifer Rubin thinks Obama's zigzagging on allowing religious hiring "seems designed to offend people of good will on both sides" of the issue. If you support faith-based organizations, Obama "has feigned support for your views, played fast and lose with rhetoric, and then slammed the door shut with a dig at your motives." [Contentions/Commentary]
• Dan Gilgoff says Obama's plan to expand faith-based initiatives is significant because it backs up his professed religiosity with proof of how it will affect his policy. He's even outflanked McCain on translating personal faith into action: Although McCain holds more socially conservative positions, he's "declined to frame such stances as motivated by his personal faith." McCain can't try to couch his positions in religious rhetoric now, lest he "be seen as making a baldy political move." [God-o-Meter/Beliefnet]
• Damon Linker believes Obama's proposal "represents a bold attempt by the Democratic nominee to shatter the GOP's increasingly shaky hold over evangelical voters." His shrewd maneuver was stealing not just a page but "perhaps a chapter" from the "compassionate conservatism playbook" while reminding "his listeners of their disappointment over the negligible accomplishments of Bush's own faith-based initiative." While Obama likely won't beat McCain among Evangelicals, if he can draw "30-40 percent of the evangelical vote, his divide-and-conquer strategy will have to be judged an enormous success." [Plank/New Republic]
• The Wall Street Journal editorial board places Obama's faith-based-initiative expansion in the context of other positions (FISA, Iraq, NAFTA) that make the Democrat appear as if he's the one running for Bush's third term. [WSJ]
• Edward Luce writes that if John Kerry had won 33 percent of the Evangelical vote in Ohio instead of 21 percent, he would have won the state and become president. But he also notes that Obama's proposal "follows a growing sense of disgruntlement among the liberal 'netroots'" about Obama's move the center. [FT]
• Barry Lynn, the executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State (and a Christian minister), is "not a fan of the faith-based initiative," which we used to call "taxpayer-supported religion." Nobody wants to "pay taxes to support some other person's religion," but that's what "increasingly we are being asked to do" as politicians seek to appear faith-friendly. [HuffPo]
For a complete and regularly updated guide to presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain — from First Love to Most Embarrassing Gaffe — read the 2008 Electopedia.