In the book, Kuo, who quit the White House in 2003, accuses Karl Rove’s political staff of cynically hijacking the faith-based initiatives idea for electoral gain. It assails Bush for failing to live up to his promises of boosting the role of religious organizations in delivering social services.
White House strategists “knew ‘the nuts’ were politically invaluable, but that was the extent of their usefulness,” Kuo writes, according to the cable channel MSNBC, which obtained an advance copy.
“Sadly, the political affairs folks complained most often and most loudly about how boorish many politically involved Christians were…. National Christian leaders received hugs and smiles in person and then were dismissed behind their backs and described as ‘ridiculous’ and ‘out of control.’ ”
It is unclear whether Kuo identifies any specific official as having used the dismissive language.
The book says that before the 2002 elections, then-White House political director Ken Mehlman issued “marching orders” to use the faith-based initiative in 20 House and Senate races, according to MSNBC. To avoid appearing overtly political, Mehlman said his staff would arrange for congressional offices to request visits from the faith-based program officials.
Throughout the 2002 and 2004 campaigns, faith-based officials would meet with lawmakers in some places in an effort to generate publicity for them, while also hosting conferences in battleground states attracting hundreds of pastors and community activists eager to learn how to apply for federal grants.
The response in the blogosphere and in political circles has been almost nonexistent, and I attribute this to one simple fact- Kuo’s assertions are so obviously true that they can not be denied. No cheap character assassination campaigns have been launched because they will fail miserably- Kuo has the goods on this White House and the so-called religious leaders, and they don’t have the balls to attack him. To do so would be even more disastrous than to sit by and do nothing (and, as commenters point out, not attacking Kuo and hoping this issue just goes away may be the smart tactical manuever). Sure, there have been tepid refutations from the White House, but compare the reactions to this book as opposed to the reactions to Paul O’Neil’s ‘defection.’
In a compelling post yesterday, Digby brings up a few relevant points:
Rove and these other strategists knew the religious right were “new voters” which is the political promised land. Everybody dreams of dragging some of the unaffiliated, apathetic uninvolved into the political arena. Getting an entire block of voters who will vote according to what they are told by an authoritarian organization is a miracle. Hallalujah.
With the business marketing savvy of the big money boys of the GOP they were quite successful in the last decade or so at convincing the media and many of the public that the Republican party actually is more moral and more sincerely religious than the Democrats. However, the events of the last year have begun to unravel that carefully constructed image.***
This sounds as though the GOP thinks that conservative Christian leaders are dupes, but I doubt that is literally true. I think they understand each other quite well and have plenty of respect for their different roles in the power structure. It’s obvious to me that both the Republicans and the leaders of the Religious Right are contemptuous of rank and file conservative Christians, not each other.***
The glue that holds it together is the business of evangelism. Those followers who give their money to these churches and organizations that sell Republicanism as a religious brand might as well spend their money at WalMart. They’re buying the same thing. It’s tribal identity but it isn’t religious and it isn’t moral.
It’s time everybody recognized that so we can deal with it honestly. These so-called religious leaders (and it’s not just the national leadership, it’s the whole hierarchy) are not dupes. Sure Rove and the rest call them nuts. But the leadership and the party know they are essentail to each others’ continued status, even if they spar over who’s their daddy. The truth is that they are all elites who have the same goals — power.
It is why every two years the GOP embarks on a campaign of gay-bashing, despite the fact that Republican elites have no problem with gays in their midst. It is why the GOP chose to attempt to shred the Constitution and suspend years of alleged fealty to the concepts of states rights and federalism and intervene in the lost cause that was Terri Schiavo. It is why, in large part, Bush backtracked on his nomination of Harriet Miers (although the fact that she was supremely unqualified for the position in the eyes of everyone but Hugh Hewitt played a role in her dismissal as candidate). It is why the FBI, despite being tasked to track down terrorists in this ‘fight for civilization’ is sending agents to porn shops and raiding Tommy Chong. It is why religious leaders were given more say on the FDA’s decisions regarding Plan B than the medical community. It is why Bush favors allowing intelligent design to be taught in schools (although in Bush’s ‘defense,’ he may actually be that stupid). It is why pundits and pols favor allowing outright proselytization in the military. It is why 24 year-old punks are given authority over the work done by accomplished veteran scientists.
Sure, there may be some people out there who think this stuff makes sense, but the Republican leadership and the false idols at the top of the power structure of the religious right don’t. They understand that what is at stake is not the future of our society as a “Christian nation,” but their positions of power and luxury at the top of the federal gravy train. Some Republicans are honest enough to point this out, although it isn’t surprising that the ones who are willing to speak out are not running for office. Cue Dick Armey (who has been a one man wrecking crew the last few weeks):
Another Armey’s Axiom says that if it is about power, you lose. And unfortunately when it comes to James Dobson, my personal experience has been that the man is most interested in political power.
As Majority Leader, I remember vividly a meeting with the House leadership where Dobson scolded us for having failed to “deliver” for Christian conservatives, that we owed our majority to him, and that he had the power to take our jobs back. This offended me, and I told him so.
In a later meeting Dobson and a colleague came into my office to lobby against a trade bill, asking me to stop the legislation from going to the House floor. They were wrong on the issue, and I told them no. Would you at least postpone the vote, they asked? We have a direct mail fundraising letter about to go out to our membership, they said.
I wondered then if their opposition to the bill was driven less by their moral compass and more by the need to rile their membership and increase revenue. I wondered then, if these self-appointed Christian leaders, like many politicians, had come to Washington to do good, but had instead done well for themselves.***
Freedom works. Freedom is a gift from God Almighty, and we have a responsibility to protect it. Christians face a temptation to power when we are fortunate enough to have a majority of support in Congress. But government can never advance a faith that is freely given, and it is corrosive to even try. Just look at Europe, where decades of nanny-state activism— including taxpayer support for churches and for religious political parties— have severely eroded the faith. In America today, too many of our Christian leaders fail to recognize the temptation to power and the danger it holds for our society and our faith.
And so America’s Christian conservative movement is confronted with this divide: small government advocates who want to practice their faith independent of heavy-handed government versus big government sympathizers who want to impose their version of “righteousness” on others through the hammer of law.
The lies, the deceit, the cynicism, and the betrayal of beliefs to simply attain and maintain power should be enough to compel sane people to throw both the Republicans and their ‘religious’ enablers/partners out of Washington for a long time. But if that isn’t enough, just look through the wreckage left in the wake of this man-made disaster. Bush’s GOP and the so-called religious leaders of the right have implemented dozens of ill-conceived policies, queered the public debate, sowed the seeds of divisiveness for sheer political gain, and have betrayed not only their followers, but the entire country. Our so-called religious leaders are so corrupt and have so wholly confused their religion and their politics that they have abdicated all of their moral authority and can’t even come out against torture.
They need to go, and they need to go now. Hopefully the Democrats will regain power in Washington in a few weeks, and we can begin to repair the old wounds, purge our leadership of the frauds and failures, and begin to rebuild a sane Republican party whose focus is on earthly matters other than lining their own pockets and preserving their positions of power and prestige.
*** Update ***
In the comments, Sglover notes:
1) Historically, many of the proudest achievements of progressive political agitation got their start among devoted churchgoers. Think abolitionism, the civil rights movement, the urban welfare/social justice movements of 100 years ago.
2) At their best, churches of all denominations can provide a community of mutual helpfulness and caring that few other human institutions can match. This is something that not even the most sincere protest rally or nonprofit group or political party is able to do. (Lest any right-wingers feel smug, this kind of communitarian feeling is something that most would-be libertarian ubermenschen sneer at, when they even bother to acknowledge it all).
Many or most of the attendees of fundamentalist churches are at or near the bottom of the social pyramid—they’re working in poorly-paid jobs that might disappear tomorrow, and they’re disdained by the kind of people who read political blogs (or even use the internet at all), or who go on to the state capital or even Washington. It is not stupid or irrational for these people to follow the concensus that exists in what might be the only institution that’s doing them any tangible good.
It is worth repeating that it really does not matter where you are in the world, if there are people starving, or sick, or in trouble and generally needing help, the chances are pretty good that there is a group of devoutly religious individuals, often evangelicals, who are the ones standing in mud up to their knees handing out whatever help they can. That should not be forgotten, and they should not be confused with the human debris who are, in many cases, leading people astray with politics masquerading as religion.