A former White House official reveals how politics and cynicism warped a noble idea to help the poor.Tempting Faith by David Kuo, copyright 2006, The Free Press. The book's author, David Kuo, was deputy director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives and is now Beliefnet's Washington Editor.
The first scene is nine months before the 2002 mid-term elections.
Jim Towey [the head of the faith based office] and I we were sitting with Ken Mehlman, head of political affairs. We laid out a plan where we would hold "roundtable events" for threatened incumbents with faith and community leaders. Our office would do the work, using the aura of our White House power to get a diverse group of faith and community leaders to a "non-partisan event" discussing how best to help poor people in their area. The White House would win not only because it was a political benefit to threatened incumbents, but also because it showed minority communities we cared. Evangelicals would be happy, too, because we would emphasize the president's deep personal faith.
Ken loved the idea and gave us our marching orders off the top of his head. There were 20 targets.
"This is good, very good, very, very good," Mehlman said. "But we want to be careful too. We can't be requesting the events, we'll have to have the candidates request them. And 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."
I hoped the more politically useful we were, the more we would matter inside the West Wing, and the more we mattered the more we could accomplish. We planned to continue to make our policy case and lay out arguments to our White House colleagues for why the president needed to fulfill his promises. But if the policy people remained hostile to us, and the legislative liaisons weren't helpful, I hoped we could now earn the ultimate trump card by the election—that the political folks would be our principal advocates. I was well educated in Washington's ways—politics equaled power and we needed power.