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Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction Hardcover – 16 Oct 2006

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""Tempting Faith" is one of those rare Washington books that is worth reading -- clearly written, disarmingly honest, thoughtfully introspective, and unusually substantive.... A refreshingly honest account of how politics can seduce the best intentioned and the most naive." -- "The American Conservative" --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 56 reviews
179 of 191 people found the following review helpful
Sincerity, fine writing, and insider gotchas about Bush Administration 16 Oct. 2006
By elwin - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Kuo was a special assistant to the president from 2001 to 2003, deputy director of the White House office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. Kuo writes with great clarity and sincerity.

Many will read this book for its "Gotchas" about the Bush adminstration, but it's also an excellent portrait of a life: a life devoted to serving Christ through serving fellow citizens, and attempting to serve them both through directly and through politics (yeah, yeah, render unto Caesar etc). Kuo lives his life in the question of how to best serve, and this book combines his history and his ruminations on the mixture of politics and Christianity.

I should point out that Kuo is not the first person to leave Bush's Office of Faith-Based Initiatives in disgust. That honor belongs to John J. DiIulio Jr., who described his tenure in the Whitehouse in a Jan. 2003 Esquire article famous for the phrase "It's the reign of the Mayberry Machiavellis".

I have only skimmed this book so far, but I was struck by the passage where Kuo meets Hillary Clinton in a receiving line and takes the opportunity to apologize to her (earlier in the book, in order to grease the skids of fellowship, Kuo agrees with a rural sheriff that Hillary is "the AntiChrist"). he apologizes to her for his attacks: not for attacking her policies, but for "personal attacks." Hillary is taken aback, but manages to stutter out an "Okay, Okay, thank you," and later mentions Kuo's apology in a speech. Kuo is afraid his career in conservative politics is ruined, until he learns that Hillary didn't mention him by name.

Kuo started in politics working for William Bennett, and then moved to the senatorial offices of John Ashcroft. He writes his disenchantment with politics, of the damage to his first marriage during that time, and his resignation from Ashcroft's office to try to repair his marriage and spend time with his daughter. Eventually he re-enters politics for a second round, and works for Bush in the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.

One of Kuo's biggest disenchantments in his second round of politics relates to Bush's "Compassion" speech. Kuo regards the speech as an $8 billion per year promise, and writes that they were $7,969,000,000 short on the promise, in the first year alone. He writes that that made him perhaps worse than the Democrats, because at least (in Kuo's eyes) the Democrats didn't raise false hopes.

All in all I recommend this book for its sincerity, fine writing, and its utterly truthful insider gotchas about the Bush administration.
89 of 97 people found the following review helpful
One Seriously Interesting Read. 16 Oct. 2006
By Peter Thomas Senese - Author. - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This is one seriously interesting commentary that clearly demonstrates that politics and religion do not mix. More importantly, author Kuo alleges that the former White House Director of Political Affairs, Mr. Ken Mehlman, knowingly used his office and government funds to mount a religious voter movement in 20 political races on behalf of the Bush Administration. In essence, by using the White House's Office of Faith Based Initiatives, which President Bush used to assist the poor, as a central point to court and manipulate the religious-right's political machine, Kuo is openly stating that the Bush Administration misused its power and overstepped its authority while betraying one of their grass-root based supporters. Equally important is the shared commentary about how certain administration members viewed the courted far right, going on to label them as the `nuts'. Overall this is a worthwhile read that must be viewed with a certain sense of reader balance and understanding that writers, regardless of the short and narrow, have subjective views that guide objective reporting.
31 of 31 people found the following review helpful
`Tempting Faith' Reveals Cynicism of Bush White House Staffers Toward Faith-Based Initiatives, Dedicated Religious Believers Lik 30 Oct. 2006
By David Kinchen - Published on
Format: Hardcover
By David M. Kinchen

Huntington News Network Book Critic

Hinton, WV - In his eye-opening account of a pilgrim's progress - or rather a lack of it - inside the Beltway, David Kuo's "Tempting Faith" (Free Press, $25, 304 pages) confirms to me something that I believe is obvious: Politics and religion shouldn't be mixed.

In fact, at the end of the book, evangelical Christian Kuo seems to come to that conclusion, suggesting a two-year "fast" from engaging in politics for his fellow believers, who should instead support charities that help the poor and the sick. Fasting, he points out, is an integral part of Christianity, it's good for the soul and body and Jesus was a strong believer in fasting.

The book's subtitle - "An Inside Story of Political Seduction" - tells a lot about Kuo's experiences both before and after working for the George W. Bush administration. From 2001 to 2003, he was second in command - deputy director -- at the President's Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, working closely with the director of the organization, John DiIulio, and with Dilulio's successor.

As a matter of fact, Dilulio, quoted in a Dec. 4, 2002 Esquire magazine story by Ron Suskind gave more than a hint that the Bush White House was using believing Christians as part of a Karl Rove-designed scheme to secure the voting base of that group. In the article, according to Kuo (Page 219) Dilulio "critiqued the Bush White House for its lack of a serious policy apparatus. Policy wasn't made by philosophy, John said, but by politics. `There is no precedent in any modern White House for what is going on in this one: a complete lack of a policy apparatus...'" Kuo said the article went on at "length detailing Karl Rove's perceived power."

The cat wasn't totally out of the bag, but its whiskers were showing in the Suskind article on "Bush's Brain," Karl Rove. Dilulio, whom Kuo describes as being a dead-ringer for the Newman character on "Seinfeld," resigned as director of the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiative in August 2001, after the six months he had promised to stay were up. He moved back to Philadelphia where he joined the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania. Kuo worked under Dilulio's successor, Jim Towey, before leaving in 2003. Towey was Mother Teresa's U.S. lawyer (I'm not making this up, it's right there on Page 197!).

"Tempting Faith" is a memoir of the son of a refugee from Communist China, born in 1922, and a devout Christian woman from the Deep South who hated the oppression of minorities of her region. Kuo tells of his brush with death when he discovered he had a brain tumor at the age of 34 - he's 38 now. It occurred while he and his second wife, Kim McGreery Kuo, were driving home from a party on Washington's scenic Rock Creek Parkway. Kim managed to avoid traffic and bring their SUV which Kuo was driving to a crashing halt which didn't harm her. David Kuo was diagnosed with a tumor and was told after surgery that it could reappear at any time.

Second wife for an evangelical Christian? Yes, Kuo says it happens to believing Christians, especially those in workaholic DC. He and his first wife Jerilyn drifted apart and amicably divorced in the late 1990s; but he's close to the two daughters from the marriage. This is a tell-all book about the cynicism of the staffers in the Bush Administration toward believing Christians, but it's also an engaging and readable look at Kuo's life, with only a little about his dot-com interlude (he wrote a book a few years ago called "Dot.Bomb" and is currently the Washington, DC editor of the Beliefnet web site) and his love of fishing, especially professional bass fishing.

He says his father more or less went along with his United Methodist religion, but his Georgia-raised mom was the major influence in making him a devout evangelical. His mother studied nursing at Atlanta's Emory University, where she grew to hate a profession that discriminated against blacks in the segregated South. She met Kuo's dad in California while attending college.

About the seduction of Washington, Kuo says (Pages 250-251) that it's "not just because of the perks, which are nice, but because of the raw power of the place hidden in a true desire to save the world. It is the ring of power from Tolkien's `Lord of the Rings.' The longer anyone holds the ring the more he loves it, the more he hates it, and the more desperate he is to hold onto it. It becomes the most precious thing in his life...The ring owns, it is not owned."

That's one of the most eloquent paragraphs I've ever encountered about the seduction of power and is a useful corollary to Lord Acton's oft-quoted aphorism about the corruption of power ("All power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.").

Before joining the White House, Kuo was shaped completely by a faith he rediscovered and completely accepted during his high school years. He tells of attending college and the the pregnancy of a college girlfriend that ended in abortion (didn't I say this is a tell-all book??!!). His acceptance of Jesus as a personal savior led him to the nexus of religion and politics, working with William Bennett, John Ashcroft, Jack Kemp, Bob and Elizabeth Dole and Ralph Reed, among others, as a speech writer and policy wonk.

Kuo met George W. Bush while the future president was governor of Texas and was impressed with Bush's acceptance - at the age of 40 when he was a down-and-out alcoholic -- of Christ. I get the impression that Kuo believes that Bush is not acting in his Christianity, that it is the fault of White House staffers who thought "evangelical leaders were people to be tolerated, not people who were truly welcomed. No group was more eye-rolling about Christians than the political affairs shop. (Page 229). Kuo adds that "Political Affairs was hardly alone. There wasn't a week that went by that I didn't hear someone in middle - to senior-levels making some comment or another about how annoying the Christians were or how tiresome they were...."

Bush doesn't completely get off the hook, to use a fishing image that Kuo might appreciate as he sits on his bass boat. He says (also Page 229) that "George W. Bush loves Jesus. He is a good man. But he is a politician; a very smart and shrewd politician....if the faith-based initiative was teaching me anything, it was the President's capacity to care about perception more than reality. He wanted it to look good. He cared less about it being good."

This combination of staffer cynicism and Bush's wanting "it to look good" led to the activities of the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives being blatantly used to elect Republicans in both the mid-term 2002 elections and the 2004 campaign, Kuo charges.

Reviewer disclosure: Like many, if not most journalists, I'm a thoroughgoing secularist, a person who believes religion and politics don't mix. I approached "Tempting Faith" with an open mind, but the information Kuo supplies confirms my view: Religion and politics not only don't mix, they shouldn't.

"Tempting Faith" is an important book for religious true believers and secularists alike.

Publisher's web site: [...] (Free Press is a division of Simon & Schuster).

Kuo's web site: [...]
24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
Always the Partisan 19 Nov. 2006
By M. Briggs - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Kuo writes an interesting critique of the Bush administration, but, in the end, he remains just one more partisan player. As a non-Christian Democrat, I purchased the book hoping to see some ethical realism at work in Kuo's analysis of the Bush administration. To some degree, my hopes were realized. Nevertheless, I kept feeling that Kuo's soul still operates on a strictly partisan "us/them" level, and his afterward proves the point. In talking about a Christian "fast" from politics, he writes: "If we take a two-year (and just a two-year) break from politics, will America go to pot? Of course it won't. The brilliance of our Founders is that they created a system where change is very slow and very gradual. Bill Clinton's problems couldn't sink us, nearly four decades of Democratic congressional control didn't sink us, and two years of Christians retreating from politics won't sink us."

Of course, one might argue that his entire book is an indictment of the Bush administration, but I think it might better be termed a call for Christian extremists to look elsewhere for their revolution.

Frankly, I find Jim Wallis' book, God's Politics, a more fulfilling read.
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Important Revelations! 20 Oct. 2006
By George Bush - Published on
Format: Hardcover
"Tempting Faith" begins with Kuo's early life, his accepting Christianity, and gaining credibility through working for Bill Bennett, Ralph Reed, John Ashcroft, Bob Dole, and Pat Robertson.

Ultimately Kuo was also impressed by George Bush, and had the opportunity to work in the White House under John DiIulio. Kuo was particularly motivated by the opportunity to participate in Bush's promised $8 billion per year in aid for faith-based organizations (1999 speech in Indianapolis), with $6 billion coming from tax credits for donating money to groups helping the poor.

Unfortunately, the $6 billion did not materialize - it was left out of the House's $1.7 trillion tax cut bill, put into the Senate's version by Senator Grassley (assumed its omission was an error), and then removed by Conference Committee participants at the direction of Bush's Legislative Affairs Assistant.

The logic was that it was so popular it would stand on its own, and didn't want it adding to the cost of the first tax cut; besides Bush needed room later on for his next $100 billion estate tax cut, that actually ended up cutting charitable giving by an estimated $5 billion/year. Unfortunately, key Christian conservative lobbying groups focused instead on judges, abortion, stem cell research, and gay rights - not the poor. Soon Kuo realized he had become a Christian in politics looking for ways to recruit others to get their votes, not trying to serve God through politics.

Kuo and his boss then came up with the idea of assisting local threatened Republican candidates in having meetings of faith-based and community leaders regarding how best to help the poor in the area. Supposedly non-partisan; regardless, 19 of the 20 so targeted won in 2002.

Of the $8 billion/year Bush had promised, only $30 million had materialized by 12/02. A peer-review process was utilized to parcel this out - Kuo and his associates quickly realized the ratings were a farce because well-regarded and established groups ended up with low scores vs. "new ventures." (This was confirmed when one reviewer confided having given a non-Christian group a 0 score, based on that fact alone - was supposed to be available to all faiths.)

On at least three occasions (one was after the uproar that followed DiIulio's' statements trashing Bush's faith-based efforts), Bush advisors hurried to find monies to hand out. In '01 Bush announced $3 billion for drug treatment initiatives, but $0 had been given out by 12/03. Then there was $100 million to prevent teen violence - but it actually was pulled from another poverty-help program and thus not "new" money. Another time he claimed $8 billion in new funds for faith-based groups - actually was money they had been getting for years, only now the process was made somewhat easier.

Kuo eventually wore himself out in his futile pursuit and left. Was he right - '06 faith-based funding actually fell.
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