I really enjoyed David Kuo’s book, Tempting Faith. I was able to see that the “accusations” that he was really a “closet liberal” are absolutely BS, because Kuo is thoroughly conservative evangelical (some might say, EXCEPT for his ability to NOTICE the things he has revealed about the Bush administration putting politics first and actually loathing the Christian leadership whom they coddled politically).
The following segment represents much of the theme of the book (sprinkled throughout a rather engaging personal story of his journey through American politics—which included some adoration of the Kennedy’s, and some very early , pre-voting age volunteer work for Gary Hart’s campaign in 1984—- which is what some of his book’s critics point to as “evidence” of his not being a REAL conservative)
But the following identifies two distinct themes I picked up on:
In May 2001, for instance, the president announced a new $3 billion drug treatment initiative. By December 2003 not a dime had been spent. The 2003 State of the Union address announced our three programsâ€‘but they promptly disappeared. Two years later, the president announced yet another new program to help prevent teen violence. It was touted as a $ 100 million program. That “$100 million,” however, was to be pulled out of the already dramatically underfunded Compassion Capital Fund. It was a mirage. (And one that continues: Whatever became of President Bush’s three enormous promises after Hurricane Katrina? It is easy to remember his speech, in short sleeves in New Orleans, with that old building lit up behind him … but anything else?)
I had been around politics long enough not to be shocked. The announcements were smart politics because absolutely no one called them on anything (with the exception of the infamous “Mission Accomplished” banner when the president declared the Iraq War essentially over). As a Christian, however, what appalled me was that this was occurring under the aegis of both the president’s faith and his heartfelt plea to “restore honor and dignity” to the White House. This strategy wasn’t about honor or dignity, it was raw politics of the sort that oldâ€‘time political bosses would applaud. Even sadder, the Christian community that elected George W, Bush didn’t see any of this. They couldn’t; they trusted their Christian brother too much.
Christians trust their Christian president. This is true of their evangelical political leadership. But of greater consequence, for Christian moms who homeâ€‘school their kids and Christian dads coaching soccer and everyone who follows the Dobsons and Robertsons and Falwells, George W. Bush can really do no wrong. They assume that since he professes Jesus that he won’t do the kinds of things other politicians have doneâ€‘break promises, cover up mistakes, parse words, say half truths, be a politician. They figure he has surrounded himself with a staff full of other evangelicals to provide him with fellowship and accountability. That, after all, is the image carefully conveyed to them through religious surrogates.
They would be wrong on all fronts. George W. Bush loves Jesus. He is a good man. But he is a politician; a very smart and shrewd politician. And if the faithâ€‘based initiative was teaching me anything, it was about the president’s capacity to care about perception more than reality. He wanted it to look good. He cared less about it being good.
—Tempting Faith, David Kuo, pp. 228-229
One, of course, is the “appearances” that are constantly being put forward, and then “quietly” doing nothing. When called on such matters, like having a staff to actually carry out the President’s promised “Compassionate Conservativism”, Karl Rove got hot and bothered and said “Just get me a F’ing Faith based thing, Got it?”
Then there is the “George Bush loves Jesus” thing. Kuo takes great pains to stress this after nearly every bit of the story he tells of things that would seem to call into question Bush’s sincerity. “But he is a politician”. Is Kuo asking us to jettison the idea that someone who loves Jesus would put up a fight against politics as usual; or even politics as exemplified by this administration (which , in a lot of people’s minds, is corrupt and disgusting even by secular standards).
Here is what really puzzles me about Kuo’s constant “yeah, but…” lame defenses of Bush: “if the faithâ€‘based initiative was teaching me anything, it was about the president’s capacity to care about perception more than reality. He wanted it to look good. He cared less about it being good.”
So, this seems to cast much doubt on the “George Bush loves Jesus” thing. It casts doubt on just what exactly “Loving Jesus” really means. If it makes no difference in how one balances “perception and reality”; in other words, “HAVING INTEGRITY”, then “loving Jesus” is a dangerous gnostic-like dualism that basically says that “politics is politics” and “faith in Jesus is private”.
In his first campaign speech George W. Bush had promised to be a different kind of Republican, one who would care about the poor, seek reconciliation, and ensure government funds for the faithâ€‘based groups that could transform people’s lives. Was it all a joke What, finally, is the answer to the question I first asked in Austin in 1998? Is he for real? Does he really care about racial, social, and economic justice?
After leaving I learned that all budget decisions were made by three people once a year. President Bush, Karl Rove, and Andy Card would sit in the Oval Office and the president would go over the big numbers. Unlike his wonky predecessor, Bush didn’t dig down into specific programs. It wasn’t his style. He was America’s CEO. He wanted to dictate the big picture and leave it to others to implement. That meant that while he may not have known the details of his compassion agenda, he knew it was languishing and had no problem with that.
Did he ever care about his antipoverty agenda? Personally, I doubt he could have cared more. His empathy couldn’t be faked. it was the empathy of the lost and converted. George Bush, in the rawest terms, had been a drunk. Jesus rescued him. His conversion was dramatic. And as a theologian friend reminded me recently, adult converts to faith tend to be much more evangelical.
Ultimately, what George Bush wanted was souls. In a remarkable reference in a Los Angeles speech in March 2004, he discussed what faithâ€‘based groups said they would be able to do with more money. He passionately exclaimed, “There’s more souls to be saved. ” That was what “faithâ€‘based” was about for him. It is why, when he talked about faithâ€‘based groups with no notes, he always talked about the power of those groups to change lives “from the inside out.” It was his own story.
In the end, the compassion initiative was personally important, politically significantâ€‘and policy that wasn’t ever going to be implemented.
I can live with that.
Once it would have broken my heart to see the political leader of my dreams break his promises. But that’s politics. For too long I’ve held this secret hope that just the right guy doing just the right thing would make America better: obliterate poverty, obviate the need for abortions, eliminate loneliness, end despair, wipe out crime, and increase opportunity. But those hopes were misplaced and unreasonable, and set the bar too high.
Our political leaders, after all, are just thatâ€‘political. No matter what their faith, or lack thereof, they are just plain old people doing a plain old job. They can’t save America. It isn’t in their job description. They can make changes at the margins by helping a bit here and there. But ultimately, the work of America is our work. And my ultimate hope is back where it should beâ€‘not with fishing, not with politics, but with God
—–Tempting Faith, David Kuo, pp. 256-257
I don’t quite understand Kuo’s “I can live with that”, after describing Bush’s “ability” to woo evangelicals while knowing that what he was spouting was never going to be implemented. “Our political leaders, after all, are just thatâ€‘political. No matter what their faith, or lack thereof, they are just plain old people doing a plain old job. “. So Bush is no different. The “sincerity” Bush exhibits is nothing that will impact the “real world”, which raises serious questions about how conservative evangelicals have given virtually unquestioned loyalty and determination to be on the defense about the Bush administration. The advantage Kuo has is that he was there and could see the lack of a serious apparatus to actually follow through. Kuo’s “That’s politics” and rather non-descript “loving Jesus” , typical conservative evangelical lingo, actually contributes to this duality that allows for “politics as usual” as a separate, distinct department from one’s faith, that seems to lie in how passionately one can talk” and how “sincere” one is, and that it’s something we should accept from our politicians, even ones that tout a Christian conviction as a way of gaining some credibility and trust that they will be truthful. All evidence to the contrary is merely the “media conspiracy” and the “liberal agenda”.
I mentioned a couple of weeks ago how nowhere in the book does Kuo talk about the church’s role in this as any kind of a “alternative” or “substitute” politics. It is good that he has called the evangelicals to assess their dependence and preoccupation with politics and pour that energy into serving the poor. But then the church is not mentioned after that as a MEANS to that. It seems to be left as an individual choice. Kuo has a blog which he updates quite frequently, so I hope someone asks him about this.