David Kuo, author of the new book Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction, appeared on the MSNBC show Hardball last night. It was a strange interview.
I’ve not yet read Kuo’s book, but his main point seems to be that the Bush administration simply uses evangelical voters as a ready source of votes, but does not really care about their issues. In public he professes great fondness for evangelical leaders, but in private his staff refers to them as nuts and goofy. It’s pretty damning stuff considering the extent to which Bush relies on evangelical voters.
At the start of the interview Kuo was admirably clear:
MATTHEWS: In other words, using these people just as icons, totems, simply to use to them to gin up votes back home?
KUO: Yes, I mean, that’s one of the things that I want to say. It should be obvious to everybody. You know, Republican politicians are starved for Christian conservatives to show up for their votes, but they don’t care about them for their faith. They don’t care about them for their issues. They want their votes.
The problem is that Christian conservatives, unfortunately, have bought into this, because of–well-meaning Christians have bought into this, thinking that they can make the difference, that, You know, that these are people who truly care about them.
MATTHEWS: Was this an everyday thing, where you would watch people’s eyes roll, when you got a call from Jerry Falwell or Robertson or one of these people, or Tony Perkins?
KUO: You know, it has been such a constant in Republican politics that social conservatives are dismissed, that eyes are rolled at them, that they’re called these sorts of things. I mean, this is not shocking. It’s not new. It’s one of the things that I say in the beginning of the book. I say, this shouldn’t be shocking to people.
And in a lot of ways, you know, did the White House use people of faith for political reasons, right? This shouldn’t be all that shocking. It’s kind of like…
Well, that’s certainly clear enough. But then Kuo incomprehensibly changes gears:
MATTHEWS: Then I have to ask you, let me quote you something from your book. “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.”
You make him look like the Pharisees in the New Testament, like the bad guy, the fraud sitting in the first pew. That’s what you make him look like.
KUO: George W. Bush is a good man. He’s a man of faith. President Bush…
MATTHEWS: … perception, which is the way Jesus treated the Pharisees in the New Testament.
KUO: George W. Bush is a man of faith. President Bush is a politician. He’s the head of the GOP. He’s the leader of government. What I’m talking about is the political aspect. And the political aspect is everyone in the White House existed to do one thing, and that is to advance the president’s political power. That’s what White Houses do. That’s how they operate. That’s how they function. That’s why they function. And you know, my message here…
I’m sorry, but this is hard to reconcile with what came before. Matthews’ characterization, based on what Kuo had just said, was perfectly accurate. Yet Kuo feels he has to remind us that despite his charges that the President is two-faced on religious issues, he is nonetheless a good man and a man of faith.
Matthews’ next guest was Jim Towey, who directed the Office of Faith Based Initiatives under President Bush. Towey painted a very different view of things, and was rather snide toward Kuo, his former employee. I tend to trust Kuo’s version more that Towey’s, since I think there’s ample evidence from other sources that Bush is not a man of deep religious principle. But I do think Towey nailed an important point:
MATTHEWS: You never, in the whole time you worked in the White House, heard or heard of a staffer for the president referring to perhaps the more fringe members of your coalition in these negative terms of goofy and things like that, and nuts?
TOWEY: No. And I just think when you hear the answers that David gives, this kind of schizophrenia that the president is a great man, but he’s a manipulator and very cynical in his work, it’s just–you can’t hold both positions.
I still look forward to reading Kuo’s book, but I suspect it’s not the whole story.