The former deputy director of President Bush’s Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives says in a new book the office was essentially a tax-payer funded political campaign for Republicans, and the White House used evangelical Christians for their votes, while giving them nothing in return.
Tempting Faith by David Kuo, a veteran of the Religious Right, is scheduled for release on Monday, after the author appears Sunday on “60 Minutes.” But MSBNC’s “Countdown” with Keith Olbermann obtained an embargoed copy, offering the first glimpses of Kuo’s story of disillusionment with politics and the Bush White House on Wednesday and Thursday night.
According to MSNBC, the White House placated politically ambitious religious leaders with trinkets like cufflinks and weekly conference calls, while adviser Karl Rove derisively called them “nuts” behind their backs.
Kuo says the administration broke promises for faith-based funding and tax credits year after year, while turning the bipartisan faith-based initiative into a political operation.
The office not only discriminated against non-Christians, he says, but in 2002 decided to hold “roundtable events” that were supposed to be non-partisan but in reality were targeted to help vulnerable incumbents win favor with faith and community leaders.
Kuo claims the White House devised a cover-up for the operation, running it from congressional offices instead of campaigns, so it wouldn’t look too political.
The president, meanwhile, Kuo claims, lied to evangelicals about pouring new money into faith-based programs, viewing their potential to “evangelize” voters.
Kuo left the White House in 2003, according to MSNBC, after concluding “it was mocking the millions of faithful Christians who had put their trust and hope in the president and his administration.”
Kuo’s former boss, John J. DiIulio Jr., also quit after seven months on the job in 2001 over disagreement with faith-based politics. He later slammed White House advisers as “Mayberry Machiavellis” in an interview with Esquire.
The book is the latest headache for leaders of the Religious Right working to energize the so-called “values” voters already embarrassed by a scandal involving inappropriate computer messages to underage House pages by former Republican Congressman Mark Foley.
Wednesday’s “Countdown” report opened with comments by Bush about “extreme elements that use religion to achieve objectives.” It was a reference to Iraq, Olbermann commented, but added “he may have been revealing more than he knew.”
“An hour later, Mr. Bush posed with officials from the Southern Baptist Convention,” the report continued. The video cut to a White House photo of the president lined up in the Oval Office alongside SBC president Frank Page, his wife, Dayle, and Morris Chapman, president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee.
Bush has spoken via videotape or live satellite broadcasts at every Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting since 2002, but never in person. This year he sent Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to address messengers in Greensboro, N.C., on behalf of the White House.
In a video message via satellite to SBC messengers in 2002 in St. Louis, Bush thanked the sitting convention president James Merritt for his introduction. “I appreciate your friendship, and I’m honored to join all of you for the 2002 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting,” he said.
Opposition to stem-cell research, gay marriage and partial-birth abortion and support for faith-based initiatives and the war in Iraq were recurring themes over the years, along with chummy references to top SBC leaders.
In 2003 Bush spoke from Washington to Southern Baptists in Phoenix in a videotape message introduced by White House aide Tim Goeglein. Goeglein, special assistant to Bush and deputy director of the White House Office of Public Liaison, said the White House was overwhelmed by e-mails and letters saying they were praying for the administration.
“On behalf of all of us in the Bush administration, thank you,” Goeglein said. “Each and every day in the White House, we lift up all of you in prayer as well.”
In 2004 Bush commented he was glad to be introduced by a fellow Texan, SBC president Jack Graham. “Jack, you’ve done a great job, and I’m proud to call you friend,” he said.
He closed his remarks: “Thank you for the opportunity to speak to this convention. I’m sorry I couldn’t be there in person. May God bless all of you, and may God continue to bless the United States of America.”
In 2005 he addressed SBC president Bobby Welch by his first name: “Bobby, I appreciate you. I appreciate you for wearing our nation’s uniform and for earning the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart as an Army officer.”
This year, in a videotaped greeting the day before a major address by the Secretary of State, Bush commended the SBC for erecting a statue honoring Southern Baptist evangelist Billy Graham.
Though both were Southern Baptists, Democratic presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton never spoke to the SBC while in office. Carter had previously served as a member of the SBC Brotherhood Commission.
The SBC issued resolutions critical of Clinton’s policies on homosexuality and abortion while he was in office. In 1993 there was an unsuccessful attempt to deny seating to messengers from Immanuel Baptist Church in Little Rock, Ark., where Clinton was a member and sang in the choir before moving to Washington, for failure to “discipline” a wayward member.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.