Monday, June 16, 2008

Bush Report: Tempting Faith

David Kuo is a conservative Christian who has worked for a number of right wing icons, such as the author and pundit,William Bennett, former Senator and Attorney General, John Ashcroft, and as a
speechwriter for the president, George W. Bush. After Bush was elected in 2000, Kuo worked in the White House as a special assistant and as deputy director of the Office of Faith Based and Community Initiatives. Kuo's boss in the White House was John Dilulio, who spilled the beans about the crass politics of the top Bush people (he called them "Mayberry Machiavellis") in an October, 2002 letter to an Esquire Magazine writer.

Kuo's 2006 book, Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction, is yet another of the books I have been reading from Bush insiders whose consciences have forced them to tell the truth, while I'm waiting for Scott McClellan's book to become available. In fairness, Kuo continues to admire Bush as a person; he just thinks his administration was a failure. Here is what he has to say from pgs. 227-229:
"During the 2000 campaign, a communications guy had come up with the idea to have short slogans placed on a screen behind the president at every appearance. It continued once he took office. For faith-based speeches, for instance, there was typically a blue screen with light blue letters spelling 'Compassion in Action.' Even someone with the news on mute understood what the speech was about. There was also the visual. Concern about the scenery or setting behind the president was hardly new to our press shop. What was new were the former TV news and entertainment producers who worked tirelessly on the lighting and setting to appeal equally to those who glanced at the TV and those really watching.

"Keeping the media busy was easier. They were fed a constant barrage of little announcements with big ones sprinkled in. The big ones were then quickly followed by more little announcements. There wasn't any letup. Also, because the communications shop kept reporters at arms length, the reporters didn't get the inside information or tips to give them a heads up for what was coming next. Already struggling reporters were always behind.

"The approach allowed the White House to make grand announcements and then do nothing to implement them with impunity. Nowhere was this clearer than in compassion announcements. 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 programs -- 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 occuring under the aegis of both the president's faith and his heartfelt plea to "restore honor and dignity" to the White House. It wasn't about honor or dignity, it was raw politics of the sort that old-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 home-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 done -- 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 faith-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."

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