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Faith-based kerfuffle

Former Bush Administration official David Kuo is attracting some attention about his forthcoming book, in which he alleges that folks in the White House expressed contempt for the people they were politically manipulating.

Some of this we’ve heard before, though when Kuo first went public the explicitly political criticism he’s now making wasn’t part of the package. Here are some excepts from his original column:

I served in the White House for two-and-a-half years as a Special Assistant to the president and eventually as Deputy Director of the Faith-Based Initiative. I have deep respect, appreciation, and affection for the president. No one who knows him even a tiny bit doubts the sincerity and compassion of his heart. Likewise, the people around the president are good and caring people. I know this firsthand because I experienced it during a health crisis in my own life when their kindness was evident.


Between 2002 and 2004 more than 15,000 white, Hispanic, and African-American religious and social service leaders attended free White House conferences on how to interact with the federal government. The meetings, held regularly in battleground states, were chock-full of vital information and gave thousands of groups invaluable information about government grants. They were hardly pep rallies for the President. But the conferences sent a resounding political message to all faith-oriented constituencies: President Bush cares about you.

Some liberal leaders have been quoted as saying the administration was looking to "buy minority votes." Nothing could be further from the truth. There wasn’t enough money around to buy anyone. The conferences actually underscored how difficult it was to even get a grant. But by traveling across the country, giving useful information, and extending faith-based groups an open hand, powerful inroads were made to "non-traditional" supporters. One senior Republican leader walked into an early conference, stared wide-eyed at the room full of people of diverse ethnicities and said to me, "This is what Republicans have been dreaming about for 30 years."

Back then (February, 2005, to be precise), Kuo argued that the faith-based initiative was good politics as well as good policy, and that the Republicans didn’t sufficiently embrace it. And there’s not a whisper of the contempt he now ballyhoos.

The White House response can be found here and is described here and here.

I’ll note three things in all this. First, there’s Tony Snow’s response:

When David Kuo left the White House, he sent the President a very warm letter, talking about how wonderful it was. He said, "two-and-a-half years later," after joining the White House, "I’m proud of all the initiative has accomplished. Building on the extraordinary work that John," -- John DiIulio -- "started in 2001, we have advanced the cause of the faith-based groups, ensuring that they are treated fairly by the federal government and have the tools necessary to make their efforts successful. He said, "Ultimately, however, it’s your staff’s keen awareness of your unwavering support for this initiative that’s made the difference."


I’m a little bit perplexed, because it does seem at odds with what he was saying inside the building at the time he departed.

Then here’s Jim Towey:

H. James Towey, who directed the faith-based office during Kuo’s time there, said yesterday that "it sounds like he worked at a different White House than the one I worked for."

Towey added that he, not Mehlman, decided where to hold conferences. "If a congressman in a tight race invited me, I went," he said. "But that was true of Democrats as well as Republicans."

Finally, here’s FRC President Tony Perkins:

Perkins of the Family Research Council said he would not be surprised if derisive comments were made behind Christian leaders’ backs.

"I have no misconceptions about how people in the Republican Party and the establishment view social conservatives. They are dismissive. I see how they prefer to work with fiscal conservatives," he said. "Having said that, I see it really as a marriage of convenience. We are not without significant gains by working with this administration."

I wouldn’t be surprised if there were some people in the White House who weren’t singing from the faith-based hymnbook, or were only mouthing the words. But social and religious conservatives are, at least in this case, grown-ups.

And this kerfuffle, whatever the substance behind it (and I don’t think there’s really all that much), takes a good bit of the steam out of another critique of the Bush Administration--that they’re all a bunch of theoc---s.

I don’t blame Kuo or his publisher for the timing of this hit. Both want to sell books, and now’s the time that they’ll get the maximum attention for this supposed expose. But you have to wonder about someone who seems to have kept his powder dry for this long, and to have changed his tune so substantially in the last couple of years. Has the intelligence been "sexed up"?

Update: Here’s another story with more from Towey and Michael Gerson. Melissa Rogers, a stalwart of the separationist religious left, has lots on the book; just keep scrolling.

Update #2: Here’s a Focus on the Family press release responding to Kuo’s allegations. Let me repeat: I have no doubt but that, in any political undertaking, tempers will on occasion flare and people will say things that they wish they hadn’t. I also have no doubt but that all the parties involved are "sinful"; they’re human, after all. I’m thus inclined to regard Kuo’s examples as at best only a part of the story. Perhaps they’re put in perspective in the book, though, given the way in which it’s billed, I doubt it.

Discussions - 3 Comments

I met Kuo a couple of times in the late 1990s at conferences and meetings in Washington. I did not like him. He seemed then a self-promoter and not as thoughtful as he thought himself to be. Often my first impressions of people are wrong; I am sorry this first impression wasn’t among them.

I certainly don’t have this inside knowledge. But from reading Hayward’s comment and the original post, Kuo does seem like a cheap Beltway opportunist, so who cares what he says. It’s best to just trash him and move on.

Perkins’ comments are more disturbing.
Take a close look at his loose language: "I have no misconceptions about how people in the Republican party and the establishment view social conservatives. They are dismissive ... marriage of convenience ... We are not without significant gains by working with this administration." Perkins appears to be condemning, even though he probably doesn’t intend to, the entire Republican party -- and ludicrously equating it with "the establishment." That’s a big leap when the reality is less spectacular: negativity from certain individuals, and lack of enthusiasm by the rest, which are two different things. Perkins is equating comments about, or behavior toward, the social-conservative leadership or spokesmen with with "views" about social conservatives in general. Again, big leaps here. "Dismissive" is an awfully vague word that suggests contempt, even if contempt isn’t supported by Perkins’ alleged facts. Insufficient respect isn’t necessarily contempt, but contempt is what the reader will pick up. "Marriage of convenience" is a cynical term that will have a negative, not just a sobering, effect on disappointed social conservatives. While Perkins does deserve credit for admitting that there are "significant gains" from the Bush presidency for social conservatives, to say "working with this administration" sounds like, "hey, we can choose to work with an administration of either party," which is nonsense. It is irresponsible, however gratifying to the ego, to speak in a way that even begins to suggest that social conservatives have a choice about whether to work with Republicans. If they’re serious about their issues, and aren’t just about making noise and feeling like they’re at the table whether they are or not, they have no choice at all. At the height of a very dangerous campaign season, in which the House could be lost not just for two years but for several years or more, Perkins’ wording is thoughtless and irresponsible. He should think more about the way he says things. Loose lips sink ships. If he is one of the social conservatives’ leading point men, and he is, well, God help them, and the Republican party.

Did you see this one also from Howard Mortman?

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