From Foley to Kuo: Washington is buzzing this week about a book by former Bush staffer David Kuo that hit the shelves on Monday. His "Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction" reveals -- according to the breathless Free Press publicity headline -- "How the Bush White House Manipulated the Christian Right."
In reality, the book and its relentless publicizing -- on "60 Minutes," "Good Morning America" and other network shows, hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles -- show rampant manipulation on all sides. As Kuo put it in an interview I've done for the upcoming issue of World, "everyone is using everyone and everyone has his own agenda."
-- Kuo signed a contract with Free Press last year to produce a book for publication in the first quarter of 2007, but the company -- with Kuo's consent -- shrewdly moved up publication to present an October anti-Bush surprise. Nine pages of publicity materials accompanying "Tempting Faith" ignore the spiritual aspects that Kuo emphasizes.
-- The liberal press agenda in pushing the book is clear, as it was regarding Rep. Foley's disgrace: Suppress the Christian conservative vote. Kuo's revelation that some Bush staffers called certain Christian leaders "ridiculous" and "goofy" helps in that process.
-- Bush administration staffers are attacking the book, and Kuo asks rhetorically, "Is the White House using this to mobilize Christian conservatives by showing how much the 'liberals' are out to get them? Absolutely. They see this as a great opportunity to stir up the controversy necessary to mobilize blase evangelicals."
And what about Kuo's agenda? He is a smart, sophisticated and sociable 38 year old. With those attributes and a great back story -- his Chinese dad fought Mao Tse-tung and escaped the communist takeover on the last boat to leave Shanghai -- he has worked (usually briefly) as a speechwriter and aide for Bill Bennett, Jack Kemp, John Ashcroft, Bob Dole, Ralph Reed and George W. Bush. But like many 20- and then 30-somethings who write in the voice of others, he has had a hard time finding his own.
"Tempting Faith" is Kuo's attempt to be his own man, a Christian. The book is far more than its highly publicized excerpts about some Bush staffers dissing Christian leaders. Those supposed revelations come as no surprise -- the administration, like the GOP generally, includes both Christians and secular conservatives opposed to Christianity -- but by including them, Kuo gets many more readers than his work would otherwise receive.
To me, Kuo's book is valuable for its specific detail on how the Bush faith-based initiative went astray. Kuo notes that the 2001 Bush tax cut left out "the president's promised $6 billion per year in tax credits for groups helping the poor. Those tax credits had been the centerpiece of compassionate conservative efforts for years." But the White House, Kuo charges, decided that it was more important to cut the estate tax than to help the poor and decentralize poverty fighting. Not wanting to make the big tax bill any bigger, the Bush administration surprised key congressional leaders by pushing successfully to have the anti-poverty tax credits dropped.
Kuo, saying he still wants the compassionate conservative movement to succeed, hopes through his book to attract attention to its yet-unrealized potential: "If this hadn't come out now, how many conservatives would even have given it a single thought?" He wants to communicate to Christians: "Please understand that you are being used. Look shrewdly at that and remember, remember, remember that Jesus must come first."
He's right. Christians clearly need to be discerning and to accentuate biblical ways of helping widows and orphans. But the irony of Kuo's call for Christians to "fast" from politics is that it would increase the power of anti-Christian politicians. If the saints go marching out, others will march in unimpeded.