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The Abuse and Misuse of Bush's Faith-Based Initiative

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There are so many amazing bits in David Kuo's new book, "Tempting Faith." Most attention has focused on his charge that administration officials were mocking Christian leaders behind their backs (Beliefnet excerpts some of the juicy bits here.)

Some have accused Kuo of being naïve when he expresses shock and disgust about the politicization of the faith-based program. Doesn't he realize that politics plays a role in everything in Washington? But the truly stunning thing about Kuo's claims is that the politics was not in service of any policy agenda. Bush had accumulated enormous amounts of political capital and chose not to spend it on behalf of the faith-based initiative. According to Kuo, the White House did what it had to make conservative Christians think they were important but when tough choices had to be made - such as between the faith based initiative and the estate tax repeal - it was neither the Christians nor the poor who got the money.

One small scene in the book for some reason has stuck in my head. Bush's advisors have concluded that they needed to do more on social policy.

"We gotta get some compassion stuff out there now,' Mararget [Spellings, the domestic policy advisor] said. "What have we got?"

I wanted to laugh, but it was far more sad than funny

"Well, I have an idea," the other domestic policy staffer said. "I hear chronic homelessness is a problem. I read an article where there are thirty thousand homeless people in America. Maybe we could do something to help them."

"I think it is just a few more than that actually," I volunteered. The actual figure at that time was over 750,000

One doesn't get the sense they're really giving a whole lot of thought to solving the problems of the "least of these."

The book also reveals something embarrassing about the liberal response to all this. The administration was not held accountable for how little they actually did on the faith based initiative in part because liberals and the press wanted to believe evangelicals controlled the White House. The Christians were supposed to be the puppetmasters, not the puppets. Kuo's book shows it was the other way around.

Alas, in the effort to portray the Bush administration as scary Christians, the opposition ended up just hurting the poor, who might have benefited from a sensible faith-based program.