Saturday, October 14, 2006

The Denial of David Kuo's, Tempting Faith

How thick is the armor beneath the robe?

Carpetbagger posted observations about James Dobson's response to David Kuo's, Tempting Faith, a fascinating exposé of how Republicans and the Bush Administration exploited Christian conservative nuts. Basically, "just plain goofy" denies being used:

The far-right GOP base has probably suspected for years that they're being used, cynically, by Republican elites who don't genuinely care about the movement's agenda, and here's a White House insider coming forward to say all of their fears are absolutely true. How would a group like James Dobson's Focus on the Family respond? According to an email the group sent to its members this morning, the group refuses to believe its lying eyes.

"The release of this book criticizing the Bush administration's handling of its faith-based initiative program seems to represent little more than a mix of sour grapes and political timing. David Kuo's book doesn't hit shelves until next week, but excerpts released by media outlets paint the picture of a dissatisfied federal employee taking shots at the White House effort to connect faith-based nonprofit groups with legitimate societal needs.

"Big media will no doubt play this story to the hilt in the next several weeks, because it allows them to take aim at two of their favorite targets: President Bush and socially conservative Christians. Sadly, Kuo's characterization of his former colleagues, bosses and mission — mischaracterizations, really — will be fed to the public as truth."

I realize it must be difficult for a mark to come to terms with the fact that he's been conned, but this is pretty silly.

First, Focus questions the timing of the book. The truth is, Kuo started raising concerns about what he saw at the White House Faith-Based Office in February 2005. This isn't some last-minute, 11th-hour shocker intended to affect the elections.

Second, if Kuo's book, "Tempting Faith," was written with the midterm campaigns in mind, he wouldn't aim to help Democrats — Kuo in an evangelical conservative Republican.

Third, Kuo is a "dissatisfied federal employee"? Well, obviously. Kuo went to the White House to work on an initiative he genuinely believed in. Once there, he found charlatans who didn't care about the religious right, or helping the poor, or the initiative itself. He stuck around, tried to make things work, but finally resigned in frustration. Of course he's a "dissatisfied federal employee." Why is that an insult?

The truth is, groups like Focus on the Family should be thanking Kuo. Rove & Co. are all smiles when dealing with Christian conservatives in person, but behind closed doors, the faithful are derided and mocked. It would appear to be useful information for those who've been scorned.

Kuo has ripped back the curtain for Dobson, but instead of expressing appreciation, Dobson and his allies have asked that the curtain be put back where it was. They prefer the masquerade, thank you very much.

Quite right. Dobson has built a papal empire through his Focus on the Family organization, and by George, he's not going to let a whippersnapper like David Kuo cast doubt upon his clout. With millions of followers, a direct line into the Oval Office, Congress, and fellow theocrats, Dobson will not relent. He has too much at stake:

Despite the prominent political role he played, Dobson dismissed the notion that he is a presidential kingmaker. ''It's clear that there is a growing awareness among conservative Christians that it's time to stand up and be counted in the marketplace of ideas," Dobson said. ''I'm just one of them who happens to have a public platform through which to communicate what we believe."

Many others have a different perception. As Ralph Neas, president of the liberal group People for the American Way, has said: ''There is no question that James Dobson is the most powerful and most influential voice on the religious right." Land, of the Southern Baptist Convention, described Dobson as ''the most respected and influential person in evangelical Christendom."


From an 81-acre campus with a spectacular view of the Rockies, where Focus on the Family relocated in 1993, Dobson sits at the top of a humming dispensary of advice and activism. Four spacious brick buildings give the site the look of an office park. The organization, which has its own ZIP code, distributes 4 million pieces of mail from its headquarters each month. Books, brochures, DVDs, and pamphlets are available on subjects as varied as ''Why ADHD Doesn't Mean Disaster" to ''Healing the Hurt in Your Marriage." The products are distributed in exchange for a voluntary donation.

Each of the organization's 1,400 employees must have an active religious life. Some 150 phone attendants answer a total of 5,000 phone calls a day, 90 percent of which pertain to a family concern that is addressed through printed, audio, or video materials. The remaining 10 percent involve ''counseling issues," such as teenage substance abuse or gambling in the family, said Paul Hetrick, the Focus vice president for media relations. For these calls, Focus employees offer advice over the telephone, by letter, or direct the caller to other help.

Now consider the far-right views promoted by Dobson:

Dobson was raised by a Nazarene preacher who spent hours praying on his knees every day. Strict interpreters of Scripture, Nazarenes advocate a lifestyle that discourages alcohol, tobacco, and premarital sex. Husbands are recognized as the head of the household, and adolescent social situations such as dances are closely monitored.

Dobson's book ''Dare to Discipline," which was published in 1970 and condoned spanking in its criticism of permissive parenting, has sold more than 3 million copies. Thirty-five years later, the phenomenal growth of the ''ministry," as Dobson describes Focus on the Family, has given him the opportunity to move beyond tips about rebellious teenagers to influencing a broad swath of the American electorate.

The problem with the pope of Focus on the Family is his way is the almighty way. So David Kuo's revelations couldn't be right since Dobson is, after all, God's omnipotent servant and designate. Ha!

Carpetbagger cited an LATimes article in which the denials are flying from the main protagonists of the book. David Kuo charges that:

...then-White House political director Ken Mehlman issued "marching orders" to use the faith-based initiative in 20 House and Senate races, [and to] avoid appearing overtly political, Mehlman said his staff would arrange for congressional offices to request visits from the faith-based program officials.

Mehlman's reaction:

A spokeswoman for Mehlman, who is now chairman of the Republican National Committee, said he did not recall the directives mentioned by Kuo. As political director, she said, "it was Mehlman's job to both engage outside groups and inform decision makers in the White House about support for the president's agenda."

Another unsurprising denial came from the WH...

...with help Thursday from two former officials popular among evangelicals — former speechwriter Michael Gerson and former faith-based initiative director Jim Towey.

Gerson called Kuo's account "laughable," while Towey cited a December 2002 e-mail from Kuo expressing positive feelings about the program's progress in promoting "compassionate conservatism."

"He doesn't seem to have been working at the same White House where I worked," Towey said. "I had marching orders from the president to keep the faith-based initiative nonpolitical, and I did."

Still, neither Gerson nor Towey denied Kuo's assertion that politics did factor into the initiative.


Kuo is not the first insider to accuse the White House of politicizing the faith-based program. John J. DiIulio Jr., the first director of the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, resigned after seven months and was quoted as saying that the White House was run by "Mayberry Machiavellians" who sometimes put politics ahead of other causes.

Ron Suskind wrote of John DiIulio back in January 2003 for Esquire, which also paints an unflattering portrait of Karl Rove. DiIulio:

"There is no precedent in any modern White House for what is going on in this one: a complete lack of a policy apparatus," says DiIulio. "What you’ve got is everything—and I mean everything—being run by the political arm. It’s the reign of the Mayberry Machiavellis."

In reading Suskind, I can totally believe that Rove referred to Christian conservatives as the "nuts." Frankly, I'm surprised Rove didn't use stronger language.

One tiny ray of light peeked out, an inkling that evangelical leaders recognize their political symbiosis without delusions about Rove's strategery:

[Leading religious conservative Paul] Weyrich said that Bush and many of his aides were genuinely interested in the [faith-based] program. But, he added, "I don't have any illusions about Rove. I think that he advocates conservatism because he believes it's the way to win."

Take that, Monsieur Rove.

Maybe all the Christian evangelicals should pull out of the GOP and form their own political party. Yeah.

Leslie Stahl reports on David Kuo's story of how "religious leaders have been manipulated and corrupted for political gain" in, A Loss of Faith, on CBS 60 Minutes this Sunday, Oct. 15. Must see.

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