Video: Inside 'Tempting Faith'

By Keith Olbermann Anchor, 'Countdown'
updated 10/13/2006 2:58:41 PM ET 2006-10-13T18:58:41

In the No. 5 story on Thursday's "Countdown," Keith Olbermann revealed more details of David Kuo's "Tempting Faith," a new book which makes explosive claims against the Bush White House and its relationship with conservative Christians.

You can read the transcript below.

Good evening.  This is Thursday, October 12th, 26 days until the 2006 midterm elections.

“Just get me a f-ing faith-based thing,” eight words attributed to Karl Rove by author and former special assistant to the president, David Kuo, that could by themselves very well decide those midterms.  In our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, part two of our look inside Mr. Kuo‘s extraordinary new book, “Tempting Faith,” written from his earlier vantage point as the number-two man in Bush‘s Office of Faith-Based Initiatives.

And though it‘s a very large tip, the Rove quote is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.  As we reported last night, Mr. Kuo is making several explosive claims, among them that, behind their backs, the nation‘s top evangelical Christians were regarded with routine mockery and contempt by White House staffers, called “nuts” and “ridiculous.” 

We also told you that Kuo writes that the faith-based office was so starved for support from the Oval Office that it was forced to transform itself into a political arm of Republican campaign efforts. 

David Kuo is himself a self-described conservative Christian.  His personal and his religion assessment of Mr. Bush is nowhere near the most newsworthy of Kuo‘s revelations in our report tonight, but it might be a valuable key to understanding this president. 


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  When you accept Christ as a savior, it changes your heart. 

To this day, Kuo writes, he believes Mr. Bush loves Jesus, that he is a good man.  However, Kuo also writes many Christians assume from his belief in Jesus Christ that Bush won't do what other politicians do:  (INAUDIBLE) their work, hide their mistakes, spin the truth, and that those assumptions are wrong. 

In Kuo's eyes, today's national Christians leaders are being used.  They did not have the same shrewdness, he suggests, that Billy Graham had in the ‘70s to question whether Richard Nixon was using him solely for his appeal to religious voters.  In fact, Christians who voted for Mr. Bush based on his religion may have ended up hurting the very people Jesus sought to help:  the poor.

BUSH:  I urge the Senate to pass the faith-based initiative for the good of America. 

But Kuo writes that, when Senator Chuck Grassley tried to rewrite Mr. Bush's $1.7 trillion tax cut to include $6 billion in tax credits for groups helping the poor, tax credits Mr. Bush himself had publicly proposed, Kuo writes, “Bush's assistant told Grassley to drop the charity tax credits.  The White House had no interest.” 

The cuts Mr. Bush did want made things worse for charities.  Kuo writes that the estate tax cuts discourage charitable giving, costing charities an estimated $5 billion.  “The ultimate impact of Mr. Bush tax cuts,” Kuo writes, “was to brutalize the very charities Mr. Bush once identified as his top priorities.  After only a year,” Kuo writes, “charitable donations were down dramatically, and some charities had shut down.” 

Kuo also writes that the White House was more concerned with the appearance of doing something.  He says the faith-based office wasn't even set up during the 2001 transition after the end of the Clinton administration.  It was not set up until Mr. Bush took office and Karl Rove gave a transition volunteer less than one week to roll out the entire faith-based initiative. 

The volunteer asked Rove how he should do that without a staff, without an office, without even a plan.  According to Kuo, quote, “Rove looked at him, took a deep breath, and said, ‘I don‘t know.  Just get me a f-ing faith-based thing, got it?” unquote.  After that, it was easier to push faith-based legislation rather than faith-based funding, because legislation was a cheaper way to show the president was supposedly doing something.

Bush assistant Margaret Spelling, now the secretary of education, asked Kuo for legislation and said she didn‘t care what kind.  “Any kind of faith bill would do,” he writes. 

When the office got a substantive bill backed by every senator from Santorum to Clinton, the only hold-up was a green light from Josh Bolten or Andy Card.  They did not get the green light.  What kind of bill did get such a support?  Kuo writes, “The White House liked the issue of religion hiring, not because it was a real issue affecting real charities, but because it was divisive, and that made good politics.” 

“Tempting Faith” also suggests that this Bush White House would use anything for politics.  Anything.

JERRY FALWELL, LIBERTY UNIVERSITY PRESIDENT:  I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays, and the lesbians, all of them who tried to secularize America, I point the finger in their face and say, “You helped this happen.” 

After those comments, Kuo asked whether Karl Rove still wanted to let Jerry Falwell attend the national service.  Even while Ground Zero was still burning, politics still mattered.  Rove let Falwell attend, as long as he stayed off-camera. 

While others wept, Kuo writes, Falwell laughed about something with another conservative leader.  Spotting Barbara Bush, Falwell remarked on how frumpy she looked. 

Even choosing the new faith-based director, Jim Towey, was an issue of politics.  Rove put out the word that, for Towey to get the job, he had to get as many cardinals as he could to vouch for him.  He did, and he got the job.

Kuo freely admits that he, too, is no stranger to the politics of conservative compassion.  He writes he spent much of the ‘90s lobbying for it.  But at the time, he says the top Republican donors had no interest in fighting poverty.  They had other enemies in mind and told Kuo they would provide lavish funding if the target was not poverty, but instead the Clintons.

And Kuo would know about this.  By the early ‘90s, he was already a conservative insider, part of Jack Kemp's think-tank, Empower America.  To help bring about the 1994 Republican revolution, Kuo writes that he and his team taught more than 600 candidates how to run for office:  by blaming President Clinton for the nation's sad state of affairs at the time. 

Kuo writes that they tried to ignore the fact that Clinton had only just started in office after 12 years of the administrations of Presidents Reagan and Bush. 

Together with fellow Christian Mike Gerson, now Bush's top speechwriter, Kuo writes that he wrote political speeches designed to appeal to religion audiences, even when the speakers did not want to give those speeches.  Jack Kemp, for one, removed religious values language from a speech he was to give to the Southern Baptist Convention.  So instead, Kuo writes, Gerson and Kuo snuck in a few phrases that evangelicals would recognize but laypeople would not. 

Kuo writes that it was a code that would continue to be used in speeches over the years by politicians, including John Ashcroft, Ralph Reed, Bob Dole and George W. Bush. 

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