Exclusive: Book says Bush just using Christians
‚ÄėTempting Faith‚Äô author David Kuo worked for Bush from 2001 to 2003
‚ÄĘ Exclusive: Playing Christians for fools
Oct. 11: ‚ÄúCountdown‚ÄĚ has obtained a copy of new book that suggests the White House repeatedly uses evangelical Christians for their votes, while consistently given them nothing in return.
By Jonathan Larsen
Updated: 1 hour, 37 minutes ago
More than five years after President Bush created the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives, the former second-in-command of that office is going public with an insider‚Äôs tell-all account that portrays an office used almost exclusively to win political points with both evangelical Christians and traditionally Democratic minorities.
The office‚Äôs primary mission, providing financial support to charities that serve the poor, never got the presidential support it needed to succeed, according to the book.
Entitled ‚ÄúTempting Faith,‚ÄĚ the book is not scheduled for release until Oct. 16, but MSNBC‚Äôs ‚ÄúCountdown with Keith Olbermann‚ÄĚ has obtained a copy.
‚ÄúTempting Faith‚Äôs‚ÄĚ author is David Kuo, who served as special assistant to the president from 2001 to 2003. A self-described conservative Christian, Kuo‚Äôs previous experience includes work for prominent conservatives including former Education Secretary and federal drug czar Bill Bennett and former Attorney General John Ashcroft.
Kuo, who has complained publicly in the past about the funding shortfalls, goes several steps further in his new book.
He says some of the nation‚Äôs most prominent evangelical leaders were known in the office of presidential political strategist Karl Rove as ‚Äúthe nuts.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúNational Christian leaders received hugs and smiles in person and then were dismissed behind their backs and described as ‚Äėridiculous,‚Äô ‚Äėout of control,‚Äô and just plain ‚Äėgoofy,‚Äô‚ÄĚ Kuo writes.
More seriously, Kuo alleges that then-White House political affairs director Ken Mehlman knowingly participated in a scheme to use the office, and taxpayer funds, to mount ostensibly ‚Äúnonpartisan‚ÄĚ events that were, in reality, designed with the intent of mobilizing religious voters in 20 targeted races.
According to Kuo, ‚ÄúKen loved the idea and gave us our marching orders.‚ÄĚ
Among those marching orders, Kuo says, was Mehlman‚Äôs mandate to conceal the true nature of the events.
Kuo quotes Mehlman as saying, ‚Äú‚Ä¶ (I)t can‚Äôt come from the campaigns. That would make it look too political. It needs to come from the congressional offices. We‚Äôll take care of that by having our guys call the office [of faith-based initiatives] to request the visit.‚ÄĚ
Nineteen out of the 20 targeted races were won by Republicans, Kuo reports. The outreach was so extensive and so powerful in motivating not just conservative evangelicals, but also traditionally Democratic minorities, that Kuo attributes Bush‚Äôs 2004 Ohio victory ‚Äúat least partially ‚Ä¶ to the conferences we had launched two years before.‚ÄĚ
With the exception of one reporter from the Washington Post, Kuo says the media were oblivious to the political nature and impact of his office‚Äôs events, in part because so much of the debate centered on issues of separation of church and state.
In fact, the Bush administration often promoted the faith-based agenda by claiming that existing government regulations were too restrictive on religious organizations seeking to serve the public.
Substantiating that claim proved difficult, Kuo says. ‚ÄúFinding these examples became a huge priority.‚Ä¶ If President Bush was making the world a better place for faith-based groups, we had to show it was really a bad place to begin with. But, in fact, it wasn‚Äôt that bad at all.‚ÄĚ
In fact, when Bush asks Kuo how much money was being spent on ‚Äúcompassion‚ÄĚ social programs, Kuo claims he discovered ‚Äúwe were actually spending about $20 million a year less on them than before he had taken office.‚ÄĚ
The money that was appropriated and disbursed, however, often served a political agenda, Kuo claims.
‚ÄúMany of the grant-winning organizations that rose to the top of the process were politically friendly to the administration,‚ÄĚ he says.
More pointedly, Kuo quotes an unnamed member of the review panel charged with rating grant applications.
‚ÄúBut,‚ÄĚ she said with a giggle, ‚ÄėWhen I saw one of those non-Christian groups in the set I was reviewing, I just stopped looking at them and gave them a zero ‚Ä¶ a lot of us did.‚Äô‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúTempting Faith‚ÄĚ contains several other controversial claims about Kuo‚Äôs office, the Bush White House and even the 1994 Republican revolution in Congress.
Many of those revelations and others will be the topic of discussion on Thursday night‚Äôs edition of ‚ÄúCountdown with Keith Olbermann.‚ÄĚ
Watch ‚ÄúCountdown‚ÄĚ each weeknight at 8 p.m. ET