David Kuo was a rising star among social conservatives: he wrote speeches for Ralph Reed, served as a policy adviser to John Ashcroft and counted Bill Bennett as his mentor. He joined the Bush campaign in 1998 and rose to become second in command at the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.
But he quickly grew disillusioned with the Bush White House for what he saw as its political manipulation of Christian groups—and the failure to fund a policy that the president portrays as his personal priority. His new book, “Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction” (Free Press), is a tell-all book dissing the administration’s dealings with social conservatives . Officially released today, it has left the White House struggling to defend its record, as well as its relationship with evangelicals. NEWSWEEK's Richard Wolffe spoke to Kuo about his “profoundly personal” memoir. Excerpts:
NEWSWEEK: How are you dealing with the firestorm your book has sparked?
David Kuo:When this thing [excerpts from an early copy] started appearing on Keith Olbermann [on MSNBC], my jaw was just wide open. Every part of my 6 foot 5 inch body was on the floor. I’ve written a very profoundly personal, political and spiritual memoir here. This was a very, very hard book to write. It required an enormous amount of very painful soul-searching and I don’t think it has been well captured by Mr. Olbermann and all the subsequent media.
What hasn’t been captured well?
It’s not a scathing critique by a disgruntled former federal employee. I have no anger towards my former colleagues or towards anyone else. Part of what made this so difficult to write is the amount of respect I have for my former colleagues. I like and respect them.
It was also a real challenge to try and tell the entire story, my own intimate story about what happens when you struggle with God and politics—and politics wins. I think one of the things that drove me was feeling the urgent need to tell people, particularly Christians, I suppose, that politicians look at any constituency with very cold eyes. They form constituencies to form a governing coalition. That isn’t a bad thing; that’s just what they do. And I think Christians have come to this notion that this White House is somehow their fellow parishioners with them, and that is simply not the case. I am shocked, frankly, by the White House response that it [the faith-based agenda] hasn’t been political. That is the other side of absurd, and fundamentally misleading.
White House officials say they are flummoxed by your book and don’t understand your motives for writing it. Why did you write it?
Part of the problem is that everybody is reacting to five or six quotes out of a 100,000-word book, and reacting to it being put out three weeks before an election. The timing of this book, and when it came out, was certainly not my choice. Why now is something to ask my publisher.