Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction
Free Press, New York, 2006
Once the author became a Christian, he wanted to spread the Good News to the world, as is our job. But he was led astray early on, with the desire to use politics and government to do it. A talk by Chuck Colson in the mid-1980s galvanized him and he read everything by Colson he could get his hands on.
Colson introduced him to William Wilberforce, a British parliamentarian in 1700 who fought to abolish slavery. This made Kuo want to use government to do some good things such as work for human rights. To the libertarian Christian this would mean working towards the repeal of Jim Crow and apartheid-type laws, a major tax reduction, and the return of our troops home from overseas.
Kuo's minister is the one who turned Kuo on to Colson. Chuck Colson, before he became a Christian, was one of Richard Nixon's "dirty tricks" men. What caught my eye was that he authored Nixon's "enemies list." (1) Like the lists the Internet talks about today, any dissident who is not on some list is not doing her job. Now, even more than during the Nixon era, anyone who is working toward the return of this country to its true roots is a dissident.
Later, after the well-deserved fall of Nixon, Colson went to prison for some of the dirty tricks. When he got out of prison and became a Christian, he did some fine work helping prisoners.
The speech Kuo attended was spun in such a way (I am not in a position to know if Colson was being up front or if he was working on an agenda) as to point out that the "public square" was being stripped of Judeo-Christian influence. Colson said if this were to go on, freedom would be lost. In retrospect, nearing the end of this project, I have to say that his definition of freedom is something to be looked into. Morality was on the decline, and the country was becoming corrupt. A turn-around was needed. Christians were becoming apostate, i.e., were blending into the unchurched crowd.
Kuo's desire to use the government to do good things was different from that of the libertarian ideal of repealing bad laws. To him it would mean government funding of social programs and aid to the governments of poor countries. In other words, he was on the left, not realizing that these benefits (2) meant more tax money had to be stolen from the citizenry.
This is how David Kuo got snookered into believing political action would be part of evangelism. He was a Democrat then, working hard on the Dukakis campaign.
Two years later, the same pastor who introduced him to Chuck Colson got David Kuo a ticket to the Prayer Breakfast. Of course G.H.W. Bush was then in office. This introduced him to Washington, D.C., and he decided to try to go to work for a Democrat on Capitol Hill. Being a Christian, he was pro-life, so the Democrats snubbed him for not toeing the party line. Finally he found a job with the National Right to Life Committee.
That is apparently when the horse-trading began for Kuo. The NRLC was a heck of a powerful lobby, and Judge David Souter was being nominated to fill a Supreme Court seat. Souter's opinions on abortion were unknown and the NRLC's support depended on some trade-offs with the then White House Chief of Staff John Sununu (3).
I won't go into details, but this episode exemplifies the wheeling and dealing that goes on in Washington at the expense of liberty.
As time went on, and as Kuo thought the 1992 Clinton victory over G.H.W. Bush was the end of the world, he grew further from God and closer to politics. He hung on every word that was said on the mainstream news shows, all of which are strongly slanted in a pro-government direction.
Actually it is an exaggeration to say he thought the Clinton election was the end of the world, although it did put him into a major funk. He said the Bible says God chooses national leaders (4) and that an evil one may be chosen to show people how far astray we have gone. Once we are back on track, a Godly one will be chosen. If this is the case, we must be in really bad shape now in 2007, although there are still some Christians who believe that G.W. Bush is Godly.
The government has indeed done a great deal of harm to the Christian church if a plurality of Christians still support Bush. I believe the idea of using government authority and laws to enforce Christian beliefs is based on the belief in human authority and hierarchy on the part of some Christians.
Meanwhile, the Christian Coalition, headed by Ralph Reed, was making serious inroads into the Republican Party. As we will see later on, Karl Rove approached Reed possibly in an effort to garner religious leader (and follower) support during the 2000 G.W. Bush presidential campaign.
Kuo, having left NRLC, heard the infamous William Bennett had a job opening, applied, and was hired. One of the first words out of Bennett's mouth was one you would not expect from a Christian. Bennett worked with Reed to steer the Republican Party away from its devotion to free market economics (actually semi-free at best, according to the truly free market Austrian school economics (5) that libertarians advocate) and towards the codifying of what they believe is Christian morality and towards the spread of "democracy" worldwide. Bennett, Reed, and Jack Kemp believed (or tried to convince people) that good economics would follow if there was a moral turnaround in the country. This was either a hoax or they, too, were naive. I do not think these old pros were naive. Kuo, still being rather left-wing (remember, many neo-conservatives did come out of the Left) and distrusting of the semi-free market "supply side" economics, was eager to go along with Bennett and Kemp. This was actually more horse-trading, as Kemp had a history of being more free market than most.
This is an example of how the religious right and the religious left both fail to understand the difference between voluntary giving to privately funded Christian charity, and government welfare schemes funded by coercively collected (which really means stolen) tax money. I have to wonder what part of "Thou shalt not steal" they do not understand.
Moderate "supply side" economics was exemplified by Jack Kemp. After decades of the country wallowing in the Keynesian septic tank (even under Reagan, whose policies were not what they are cracked up to be), this seemed like a breath of fresh air. I remember Kemp's ideas on federal housing projects which he presented as relatively free-market oriented, and this excited me. I hoped Kemp would be nominated as the Republican candidate for president. He was no Harry Browne (6) but he was head and shoulders above any other, especially a guy named Bush.
But that was not to be. William Bennett teamed up with Kemp to form a new organization. Whether this was on purpose on the part of Bennett I don't know, but it diffused what affinity to the free market Kemp had, which was another step taken to get the religious right and the GOP over into a big-government camp. The new organization was Empower America (7).
The leaders Kuo worked for in the 1990s, such as William Bennett, were looked up to by Christians in the same way their pastors were. People followed and believed every word these leaders said rather than questioning. Of course it was all voluntary on the followers' part. People regard these "authorities" as such because they thought the leaders had some knowledge that other people didn't have. Not only that, but followers seem to be inclined to break down the line between the authority of superior knowledge and the "authority" to make people obey.
One of the jobs Kuo did for Bennett was to compile "scientific" statistics on the country's "moral decline" using indicators such as abortion, divorce, teen pregnancy, and low educational achievement between 1960 and 1990. All these indicators showed a steep rise. I have to ask about the possibility of bias here, and also have to entertain the possibility that in 1960 people were hiding the fact of teenage promiscuity, "back-alley" abortions, and other ills. These ills have been here as long as people have. Then, too, possibly the incidence has been rising because of the legalization of abortion and more openness about lax attitudes. This set of statistics was called the Index of Leading Cultural Indicators. It is very much like the Index of Leading Economic Indicators or Consumer Price Index which the establishment economists are so fond of – don't get me started on that.
The Index of Leading Cultural Indicators got Rush Limbaugh's attention, and from there Empower America took off at the grass roots.
The statistics rang alarm bells among their followers. Bennett, Kuo, and the others came to the conclusion that the conservative drive for a reduction in the size and scope of government would do nothing to halt these trends, so this drive was generally abandoned. Libertarians could see right through this even before the conservatives themselves realized that in order to have the power to do anything about these ills they would need (and they wanted – they are not fooling libertarians) a strong government to back them up.
Empower America, consciously or otherwise, played a big role in the final demise of our freedom.
The Clinton victory in 1992 demoralized not just Kuo, but the whole Christian right. Empower America grew like the weed it was by inducting some establishment heavy-hitters such as Donald Rumsfeld, Steve Forbes, and Jeanne Kirkpatrick. The last was the former U.N. ambassador whom I will remember mostly for her snide remark about lives being lost in a war being "worth it." How does she know? Did those who died come back in a séance and tell her? Those lives belonged to those who died and whether their loss was "worth it" was their call to make and not hers. So much for any regard for the individual.
In any case I really don't know how many of these heavies in Empower America were with the Christian right or how many had their sights set on a world government. Neoconservatives Richard John Neuhaus and Michael Novak were on board. Novak had stated that America's job of spreading democracy throughout the world was a Christian task, as this form of government is "ordained by God" (8).
Those in Empower America did believe in churches and charities helping the poor, and they did regret the welfare system getting in the way and undermining these efforts. But instead of advocating the churches and charities working harder in fighting the system to take back their God-given responsibilities, they opted to work with the government via federal funding (and regulation, as one follows the other as surely as night follows day) of Kuo's hand-picked charities.
In 1994 - 1995, during the libertarian-leaning "Republican Revolution" (the Libertarian Party gave it something like a "B" or "B+" grade at the time; too bad it fell on its caboose) when many in the new GOP-controlled Congress still had a little understanding of economics, David Kuo got into more arguments with Republicans than with Democrats. The Christian Coalition types did not want any free market. They were already moving towards a Bush-type system and, sure enough, in the late 1990s, George W. Bush rode in like a knight in shining armor to socialize Christian charity. Bush asked to meet with Kuo to see if Kuo would make a good speechwriter for him. Kuo was hired on the spot. The knight had ridden in; Kuo was snowed.
I am now beginning to figure out what the neo-cons and theo-cons are doing. They are probably not purposely trying to destroy the Church. (At least, I don't think they are – well, we'll see.) What they are doing is increasing the power of government by encroaching on the Church's role as charity. This will necessarily make the government bigger and more powerful: A bigger welfare system, manipulating people's behavior, higher taxes, with more bureaucrats and more people becoming dependent on faith-based and other social engineering programs the administration wants (9).
The main purpose of the Church is to tell the Good News. However the Church, and Christians as private individuals, are also to follow the example of Christ by feeding and clothing the poor, and nurture the sick, for Jesus said, "As you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me" (10). This work is important in itself, but it is also a vehicle to convey the Good News. If the government takes it over, this will adversely affect the work of the Church.
This isn't rocket science. These people must know that.
But, once on the campaign trail, Bush started right in. First he would say that the churches and charities must help those who get left behind by prosperity. Economic conservatives believe this, of course, but then he would say that his administration would follow up with government money. We had been asking charity to "make bricks without straw," he would say, but now the "straw" would be provided. Of course this isn't true. Americans generously fund charities. We could do a lot more if government would back off (especially in the tax department) rather than step in.
A lot of this was actually a leading-on of evangelicals, who were instrumental in electing Bush. Kuo points out that the faith-based office had the lowest priority of all the White House offices, of which there were many. There was a lot in the way of talk, meetings, show, and busy-work, at tax-paid high salaries. One thing was the conference calls between the White House (not Bush himself, but a staffer) and evangelical and fundamentalist leaders where suggestions were bandied about. These ideas rarely got any further than the conference call. Public liaison staffers said what people wanted to hear.
So, faith-based charities were being led on. The money, at least most of it, was not forthcoming. Of course, I do not think government should subsidize charities, but it is even worse to promise and then stall on delivery. Churches and charities have to budget, and to become dependent on a source of money that does not deliver is likely to ruin them.
If I wanted to destroy giving, stonewall the Church, and make needy people dependent on government, this is exactly how I would do it.
Fundamentalists are especially vulnerable. They have, in many cases, led sheltered lives. I often wonder if they are reading the same Bible I am, as they are very deferential toward civil government, obedient to human "authority" that is over them in the hierarchy, and thus very easily intimidated. The White House, the way it is physically arranged, is an intimidating place, Kuo points out. So, when such people are there, they take everything its inhabitants say as gospel. They are like tiny children seeing Santa: I've been good, so toss me a little gift. They receive souvenirs like pens or cufflinks and then cherish them like young teenagers cherish autographs obtained from a favorite star.
The ABC program 20/20 on Friday, December 1, 2006, dealt with the propensity of full-grown people to obey. I realize many segments on such shows are tabloid journalism and one needs to allow for this, even though, as in this case, the trustworthy John Stossel was involved. Briefly, the segment dealt with a criminal who phoned fast-food restaurant managers posing as a policeman, who then commanded these managers to sexually and otherwise abuse a teenage female employee. These managers, thinking he was a policeman, did exactly as they were told, and so did the young employee. Now, this episode was very hard to assimilate, and I am not sure I believe it, but, if true, these were all adults (or young adults) who should have used their God-given ability to think independently and apply their understanding of the difference between right and wrong. They were more obedient than I ever was, so I must hold them all responsible (except possibly the victim that segment concentrated on, since by the time she realized what was happening it was too late).
Contemporary America is very obedient and respectful of human "authority," and the White House is taking full advantage of this in its efforts to destroy what little is left of the country our Founders worked to create, and in some cases went to jail and died for.
Related to the obedience issue, there is also the party loyalty issue. Regardless of anything, Kuo makes it plain, politics come first. Any politician who does not walk in step with his or her party affiliation is reprimanded. It does not matter why. Bush's faith-based subsidy program is basically liberal, but Democrats had to oppose it. Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.) (11) was a case in point. It was because neither major party wanted to lose voters to the other, and the whole scene is comical considering how alike the two major parties really are.
Despite this, Kuo (at the time) believed Bush was above all this, a man of genuine faith who spent substantial time in prayer.
The Faith-based office seemed stalled in early 2002 mainly because of politics, but also because the White House had its hands full with the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. Not only that, mid-term elections were coming up so the office decided to make an effort to help incumbents get re-elected and get new Republicans elected to bolster funding for their office. We must remember that this office is a government bureaucracy and its participation in the campaigning is no more legal than the drug czar's touring on the taxpayer dime to defeat medical marijuana initiatives. Campaign events were thinly disguised as events for which selfless candidates took time away from their campaigns to "help" faith and community leaders "serve their community" (12). I guess they believe the populace is as dumb as a dodo. Well, in the light of the obedience and party loyalty I just described, maybe they are. Possibly the neo-con, theo-con Bush supporter would fall for the left-wing rhetoric since it was being presented by the Republican candidates. The scheme was set up.
The faith-based initiative never really got off the ground because it was all talk, all propaganda. Maybe it was not on purpose, but it was geared to do two things: 1. Cause disruption in private charities by telling them to expect federal funding and then not following through (although I have to wonder if there was follow-through on the criteria they must meet, meaning regulation) and 2. Train religious and other conservatives to think in terms of government involvement, getting used to this involvement in yet another area of life.
Well, finally some money began to trickle to faith-based organizations (not actual churches). This is what is called "compassion" as it went to really compassionate causes such as mentoring the children of prisoners, and drug treatment programs. But, of course it was mostly show. The liberal press ran with the ball decrying the bias toward Christian organizations and the waiving of regulations requiring non-discrimination in hiring people of all faiths. Nobody ever questioned the federal involvement with charities to begin with or the fact that taxpayers who have problems of their own were being forced to contribute. And, of course, its dubious (at best) Constitutionality was seldom or never questioned.
I cannot help noticing that when Christian conservative author Kuo complains that there is not enough money, he blames it on this minuscule "tax cut" that we were supposed to have received (13) (but will be more than reversed because of enormous deficit spending), which sounds very much like the liberal Democrats to me. To be fair, he also blames the war in Iraq which is a black hole for taxpayers' money.
Kuo's tax cut remark underscores what I wrote in last year's blog essay The Roots of Neoconservatism. The neoconservative and the modern liberal are pretty much the same: both are for big, active government, the difference being only in the details.
The compassion program was consistently stonewalled by White House staffers outside the faith-based office even as clergy and other leaders were being led on. The faith-based office was always treated like a step-child. One day it hit the fan when Kuo was at a black clergy meeting in the White House and he was pulled out by the president. Asked by President Bush how much more these money-hungry people wanted after they had been given so much ($8 billion had gone to faith-based charities), Kuo told him they had really been given hardly anything. I guess to a White House bureaucrat, even a "lowly" one, $8 billion is not much. The president was ballistic, stomped into the meeting and promised another $8 billion on the spot of your tax money! Of course, this was all talk and no action, too!
Kuo left his job disappointed. His father, who had fought in World War II, had taught him the White House could save the world. As students of history, at least history that has broken out of the politically correct box, know, the reverse is true. The White House cannot save the world, but it could and might destroy it. Kuo still seems to believe that the White House could save the world, and would have had Bush and the faith-based office not been stonewalled. This "conservative" belief is thoroughly modern liberal. Churches and charities themselves, while they cannot "save the world" can go a long ways to help people back on their feet, but government involvement does nothing but harm. Had the government followed through with its promises, the faith-based charities would have become dependent on, and obedient to, the government and this would have been stealth socialism in much the same way that educational vouchers socialize private education. Its failure to follow through with funding certainly made a shambles of charities that were counting on the funds.
Either way, great harm was done not only to the charities and connected churches, but also to the donating public who now believed that donations were less needed.
I don't know which is worse. Both of them, I'd say.
Meanwhile, much legislation was being passed through Congress that would trash our precious Bill of Rights (often being voted in favor of without congresspeople reading it) and funded without any snags.
Finally, David Kuo seems to have learned his lesson. When it comes to Christian evangelism and charity work, government is not the answer. He calls for Christians to take a two-year hiatus from politics. My answer is, how about a two-century hiatus? If Christians just go ahead and do the work on their own and forget about legislation, they will be following the example of Jesus.
And, I might add, it will get done and get done right.
(1) Kuo, David, Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction, Free Press, New York, 2006, P. 11.
(2) Whether these programs, especially aid to foreign governments, are beneficial is highly questionable at best.
(3) Ibid P. 32-35.
(4) It does??? That is news to me. Many religious leaders seem to think that and this is part of the problem.
(5) See the Ludwig von Mises Institute at http://www.mises.org/ .
(6) Harry Browne was the Libertarian presidential nominee for 1996 and 2000.
(7) Learn more at http://rightweb.irc-online.org/profile/1464. By the way, for a good laugh at the expense of Kemp, read my Lincoln segment in The Three Worst American Enemies of Freedom at http://alicelillieandher.blogspot.com/2005_05_01_alicelillieandher_archive.html and then see P. 45 of the Kuo book on the naming of Empower America.
(8) Ryn, Claes: America the Virtuous, Transaction Publishers, New Brunswick, N.J., 2003, P. 127-128. There is also a world government undercurrent here. Scary, isn't it?
(9) Kuo, P. 179.
(10) See Matthew 25:31-40.
(11) Kuo, P. 174-175.
(12) Ibid. P. 201-202.
(13) Ibid. P. 225.