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Sunday, October 15, 2006

EVANGELICALS: USED, ABUSED AND REFUSED

by Jay Allbritton
GUEST POST
by Russ Weiss

George W. Bush's soul rebirth began many years ago, apparently at the insistence of his wife Laura. It's been reported that it was a "straighten up and fly right" speech that got the future Governor and President to become a born-again Christian.

Flash forward to the 1994 gubenatorial race against Ann Richards in Texas. Bush, already under the influence of Karl Rove and neo-cons like Ralph Reed and Grover Norquist, told an Austin, Texas reporter that only people who accepted Jesus Christ as their savior could go to Heaven. Rove was one of the few who believed that it was a stroke of political genius; that it told the Christian Right and Evangelicals that he was one of them. In Texas, with a few "dirty trick" maneuvers from Rove, that was all the electorate needed to hear.

In 2000, Karl Rove worked the Christian base to such a degree that all of the consigliores (Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Ralph Reed, et al) of the Republican party signed on to his campaign. Rove knew they had the money, they had the people and they weren't happy with what they viewed as a morally constrained government. Rove had the perfect man for them, a Manchurian-like empty vessel who was waiting to be filled with the neo-cons vision of an Imperial Presidency.

Bush/Cheney in 2000 and 2004 was the neo-con dream ticket. They had an intellectually vapid candidate running with a slick talking, intelligent Vice-Presidential running-mate. Rove didn't care that questions about Bush's military service, alcohol and drug use or other indiscretions would be raised. With a media that wouldn't ask questions and the newly found Christian base, they couldn't and didn't lose. All that was missing was Bush attending an Amy Grant concert with arms raised, eyes closed and and slowly weaving to her music.

Once elected, Bush outlined his Faith Based Initiative to channel Federal monies to religious charities. The outcry from Church and State separatists and even Pat Robertson, who worried that churches would be corrupted by government (as if it hadn't already happened) was huge. Not to be deterred, the newly elected President pressed on. Bush, surrounded by clerics, signed two Executive Orders creating the new Federal Office. After an outpouring of criticism that Bush was attempting to transform a secular government , the administration scaled back the provisions but created the White House Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives in 2001.

After two elections and pandering to the energized base of Christians and Evangelicals with hot button issues like national and border security, tax cuts and the never-ending state-wide amendments on marriage, the neo-cons had their way with the electorate.

Then, along came David Kuo. Kuo, a self-described Christian who served as a Special Assistant to the President from 2001 to 2003, wrote "Tempting Faith". Scheduled to be release tomorrow, October 16th, the book provides an inside account of how the office is used almost exclusively to win political points with Christians and traditional Democratic minorities.

"Tempting Faith" is a scathing account of how the White House disbursed monies to serve their political agenda. But behind the scenes, the White House was referring to Christian leaders as "nuts", "ridiculous", "out of control" and "goofy" but using them for votes.

From MSNBC's "Countdown":

"So how does the Bush White House keep 'the nuts' turning out at the polls?

One way, regular conference calls with groups led by Pat Robertson, James Dobson, Ted Haggard, and radio hosts like Michael Reagan.

Kuo says, "Participants were asked to talk to their people about whatever issue was pending. Advice was solicited [but] that advice rarely went much further than the conference call. [T]he true purpose of these calls was to keep prominent social conservatives and their groups or audiences happy."

According to Kuo, "White House staff didn't want to have anything to do with the Faith-Based Initiative because they didn't understand it any more than did congressional Republicans . They didn't lie awake at night trying to kill it. They simply didn 't care."

Kuo relates one faith-based promise after another--billions of dollars in funding and tax credits--that goes unfulfilled year after promise after year.

He recounts one specific funding exchange with Mr. Bush:

Bush: "Eight billion in new dollars?"

Kuo: "No sir. Eight billion in existing dollars for which groups will find it technically easier to apply. But faith-based groups have been getting that money for years."

Bush: "Eight billion. That's what we'll tell them. Eight billion in new funds for faith-based groups."

Why bother lying?"

Kuo says, "The faith-based initiative had the potential to successfully evangelize more voters than any other."

According to Kuo, the Office spent much of its time on two missions:

One--trying--and failing--to prove Mr. Bush's claim of regulatory bias against religious charities hiring who they wanted. Quote: "Finding these examples became a huge priority... [but] religious groups had encountered very few instances of actual problems with their hiring practices." "It really wasn't that bad at all."

Another mission: lobbying the President to make good on his own promises.

How?

Kuo says they tried to prove their political value by turning the once-bipartisan faith-based initiatives into a political operation.

It wasn't just discrimination against non-Christian charities. (One official who rated grant applications told Kuo, " when I saw one of those non-Christian groups in the set I was reviewing, I just stopped looking at them and gave them a zero... a lot of us did. ")

The Office was also, literally, a taxpayer-funded part of the Republican campaign machinery."

In 2002, Kuo says the office decided to "hold roundtable events for threatened incumbents with faith and community leaders... using the aura of our White House power to get a diverse group of faith and community leaders to a 'nonpartisan' event discussing how best to help poor people in their area."

White House Political Affairs director Ken Mehlman "loved the idea and gave us our marching orders. There were twenty targets." Including Saxby Chambliss in Georgia and John Shimkus in Illinois.

Mehlman devised a cover-up for the operation. He told Kuo, "It can't come from the campaigns. That would make it look too political. It needs to come from the congressional offices. We'll take care of that by having our guys call the office to request the visit."

Kuo explains, "this approach inoculated us against accusations that we were using religion and religious leaders to promote specific candidates."

Those roundtables were a hit. Republicans won 19 of those 20 races. 76 percent of religious conservatives voted for Chambliss over decorated war hero Max Cleland.

And Bush's 2004 victory in Ohio? That "was at least partially tied to the conferences [they] had launched [there] two years before."

By that time, Kuo had left the White House, concluding that "it was mocking the millions of faithful Christians who had put their trust and hope in the President and his administration. Bush knew his so-called compassion agenda was languishing and had no problem with that."

If you would question Mr. Kuo's credibility, you should know his former boss also quit the White House complaining in his one public interview that politics drove absolutely everything in the Bush administration."

The White House has no shame.

--Russ Weiss

Kieth Olbermann, "Tempting Faith, Part one":


Kieth Olbermann, "Tempting Faith, Part two":


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