WASHINGTON – Top White House political advisers embraced evangelical supporters publicly to get their votes while mocking them privately as “nuts” and “goofy,” according to a new book by David Kuo, the former No. 2 man in President Bush’s so-called “faith-based” initiatives program.
In “Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction,” Kuo also says it’s time for conservative Christians to take a time out from politics and to re-evaluate their priorities. The book hits stores today.
Kuo quit the White House in 2003. Now he accuses Karl Rove’s political staff of cynically hijacking the faith-based initiatives idea for electoral gain.
White House strategists “knew ‘the nuts’ were politically invaluable, but that was the extent of their usefulness,” Kuo writes.
Kuo appeared last night on CBS’ “60 Minutes,” where he called on evangelicals to back off of politics – to fast and consider what they are doing to help the poor rather than focusing on issues like abortion and homosexuality.
Asked if White House officials really mocked conservative Christians, Kuo told Lesley Stahl, “Oh, absolutely. You name the important Christian leader and I have heard them mocked by serious people in serious places.”
Specifically, Kuo says people in the White House political affairs office referred to Pat Robertson as “insane,” Jerry Falwell as “ridiculous” and that James Dobson “had to be controlled.” President Bush, he wrote, talked about his compassion agenda, but never really fought for it.
“The president of the United States promised he would be the leading lobbying on behalf of the poor. What better lobbyist could anybody get?” Kuo wonders.
“The lobbyist didn’t follow through,” he claims.
“What about 9/11?” Stahl asks. “All the priorities got turned about.”
“I was there before 9/11. I know what happened before 9/11. … The trend before 9/11 was … president makes a big announcement and nothing happens,” Kuo replies.
At the time, Bush proposed for the first time that he would spend $8 billion dollars on programs for the poor.
“I think it’s one of the most important political speeches given in the last generation. I really do,” says Kuo. “It laid out a whole new philosophy for Republicans.”
After the election, to much fanfare, President Bush created the office of faith-based initiatives to increase funds to religious charities.
But Kuo says there were problems right off the bat. For one, he says the office dropped very quickly down the list of priorities.
Kuo was motivated to join the White House team because of the promise of spending $8 billion on programs for the poor. He was disappointed at how little was actually allocated.
He blames evangelicals themselves for the indifference on that issue. He took Stahl to a convention of evangelical groups and walked around the display booths, looking for any reference to the poor.
“You’ve got homosexuality in your kid’s school, and you’ve got human cloning, and partial birth abortion and divorce and stem cell,” Kuo remarked. “Not a mention of the poor.”
“This message that has been sent out to Christians for a long time now: that Jesus came primarily for a political agenda, and recently primarily a right-wing political agenda – as if this culture war is a war for God. And it’s not a war for God, it’s a war for politics. And that’s a huge difference,” says Kuo.
He said: “God and politics had become very much fused together into a sort of a single entity. Where, in a way, politics was the fourth part of the trinity. God the father, God the son, God the holy spirit, God the politician.”
The White House calls Kuo’s book “ridiculous,” and Kuo’s old boss, Jim Towey, who ran the faith based office until this past June, says Kuo is “na?ve and simplistic.”
“I think it’s dangerous to take a snapshot of a few months or even a year and draw conclusions,” Towey says. “Ya know, I can look you in the eye and say the president did what he could do.”
Kuo says he went to the White House political affairs office, then run by Ken Mehlman, and offered to hold events at taxpayer expense for Republicans in tight races as a way of energizing religious voters.
Kuo says Mehlman, now head of the Republican National Committee, was “thrilled.”
Asked if in retrospect this was morally wrong, Kuo says, “I feel like it was more spiritually wrong. You’re taking the sacred and you’re making it profane. You’re taking Jesus and reducing him to some precinct captain, to some get-out-the-vote guy.”
“I have this burden on my heart that the name of God is just being destroyed in the name of politics,” Kuo says. “I felt like I had to write this.”
Kuo says it’s time for evangelical Christians to take a step back – “to have a fast from politics. People are being manipulated. Good well-meaning people are being told, ‘Send your money to this Christian advocacy group or that.’ And that’s the answer. It’s just not the answer. It’s not the answer.”