Brandon Lerch

In his new book, Tempting Faith, David Kuo is dead wrong to cast doubt on President Bush’s personal commitment to the Faith-Based and Community Initiative (FBCI).

In fact, while Mr. Kuo is flacking his book on 60 Minutes, CNN, MSNBC, et al. thousands of compassion service-providers across America are shaking their heads wondering, "What is this guy talking about? Until Bush launched the FBCI, the federal government would not even recognize the existence of my drug treatment center (or child mentoring program, or homeless shelter, etc...)."

So where is the disconnect? How can Kuo, a former deputy director of the initiative, be so wrong about a program he helped build?

First, by way of full disclosure, this debate is not new to me. While I worked in Congress, I was responsible for oversight of the FBCI as a staffer for the House Government Reform and Oversight Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources. More important, I am a Bible-believing Christian and am very supportive of the President's vision for the FBCI.

Second, David Kuo and I have been acquainted for a couple of years, so he was an obvious choice when I sought witnesses to testify before the Subcommittee on this general topic in June of 2005. He provided invaluable insight as a witness, and I must say that on many points, we are in complete agreement.

Political Seduction

But back to the question at hand. Why is Kuo wrong? The answer has little to do with White House political operatives and everything to do with Kuo’s self-importance.

Even after almost three years out of the White House, Kuo remains spellbound by the inside-the-beltway political narrative. An older generation would say he has “Potomac Fever”. One symptom of the malady is that policy debates become passé. I have begun to question whether he even remembers terms of the policy debate such as, prisoner re-entry, vouchers, child mentoring, or capacity building.

Kuo is so absorbed by his elitist political story-telling that he fails to talk about compassionate service providers. In his nearly 300-page book, you can not find significant mention of these selfless servants he claims to protect.

One passage in Tempting Faith details Kuo’s departure from the office of then-Senator John Ashcroft in order to found a charity to help other charities. But something strange happens as he chronicles this experience…He never identifies what he did or with whom he worked! No sooner does he congratulate himself for “getting more involved in communities” than he segues back into elitist political story-telling. The reader learns only that his charity fails, nothing more.

Compassion service providers, on the other hand, do not segue from their work. Need another example of Kuo’s elitism? After Kuo left the White House and began to write his book, he also joined the professional bass fishing tour (no, I am not making this up). All the while, the armies of compassion labored to ensure that broken lives have hope and healing. No Potomac Fever, just faithful service.

Calling the Armies of Compassion

President Bush’s compassion Initiative is revolutionary, nothing short of a complete paradigm shift in the way the federal government views the American citizenry. Compassionate conservatives, like the President, and many others recognized that $1 trillion+ in annual federal budgets for human services is more than enough money to address our nation’s social illnesses. They recognize that the problem is how we actually spend that mountain of taxpayer’s largess.

Instead of giving the money to the same politically-connected contractors, the President directed his appointees to grant more money to grassroots institutions. Ignored by the federal government for decades, these are the religious and civic organizations in every single neighborhood in the country. And thus, the Faith-Based and Community Initiative was born.

But Kuo was not seduced by the complexities of policy. No, in his “60 Minutes” interview with Lesley Stahl, he wails about political intrigue. Ms. Stahl was, of course, all too happy to focus on the juicy political gossip with attention-grabbing names like Rove and Card, served-up by her eager guest.

In a touch of irony, however, he never mentions the poor and hopeless during his interview until he sets up an ambush on Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell (more juicy names!). And did Lesley Stahl ask about the poor? Of course not! Same goes in Tempting Faith. There is only one dish being served here: political gotcha.

You see, compassion service providers are a humble lot. They are not looking for plaudits. And they certainly are not interested in Kuo’s political chicanery.

Credit Where Credit is Due

So who are these providers of compassionate services? Kuo never says.

His 300 pages could be written solely about the National Association of Street Schools, a national headquarters for private elementary and secondary schools whose noble motto might be “if no one else wants that student, we do!!” The same ink should also be lent Templo Calvario. In Santa Ana, California, a community at 150% below the poverty line, Templo provides groceries, elder care and youth mentoring among others. Similarly remarkable is Full Circle Health in the Bronx, New York, which serves the physical and mental health needs if its community.

With or without the government, these grassroots heroes perform their service. The real intrigue and the real bold headlines should be saved for these heroes and tens of thousands like them. They earn the respect and honor given them by President Bush.

A True Commitment

I do not doubt that the President is genuine about the White House Faith-Based and Community Initiative.

How can I make such an absolute claim? Because I listen to the man. The President becomes a nearly flawless orator when speaking about compassion services.

Yes, the same President who is famous for his, um... easy-going command of the English language, almost never gets tongue-tied or even uses notes when it comes to his FBCI.

President Bush’s passion for the Faith-Based and Community Initiative’s mission is personal, his knowledge of the policy is nearly expert, and his commitment to it is above politics. What a contrast to David Kuo.


Brandon Lerch

Brandon Lerch is the Director of Government Affairs for We Care America, a faith-based non-profit.

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