David Kuo was a foot soldier in the Evangelical army that stormed the White House for George W. Bush. He eventually came to realize that his role was purely political, and that the Bush administration had no intention of honouring their promises.
At a particularly bad time, when his spirits were at their lowest, Kuo was asked by a senior official what they could do to fix things.
"For starters", Kuo said, "you could stop calling us the f...ing faith-based group". They had been reduced to an annoyance and diminished through profanity.
Kuo, like many others, had been led into politics by people like Ralph Reed and Karl Rove, believing that he could make a difference. His "faith-based" priority was to end abortion, but he also wanted to eradicate poverty, improve education and set higher moral standards for politicians.
Instead he spent his time polishing Bush's halo and fundraising for the Republicans. So he resigned and wrote a book of his experiences; Tempting Faith: An inside Story of Political Seduction.
Kuo advises that Evangelicals need to take a time-out from political activism, and re-connect with their faith.
I have seen what happens when well-meaning Christians are seduced into thinking deliverance can come from the Oval Office, a Supreme Court chamber, or the floor of the United States Congress. They are easily manipulated by politicians who use them for their votes, seduced by trinkets of power, and tempted to turn a mission field (politics) into a battlefield, leaving the impression Jesus' main goal was advancing a particular policy agenda. I know: I've seen it, I've done it, I've lived it, and I've learned from it. (1)"Little Platoons" of Soldiers for Christ
“To be attached to the subdivision, to love the little platoon we belong to in society, is the first principle (the germ as it were) of public affections. It is the first link in the series by which we proceed toward a love to our country and to mankind." Edmund Burke (1729-1797)One of Kuo's bosses and mentors was Chuck Colson, who rallied his troops under the battle cry: "Storm the battlements for Christ!"
Using Edmund Burke as inspiration, an army of political Evangelists would have to create "little platoons" that could be easily mobilized to bring down the enemy.
Of course, this meant different things to different people, and for David Kuo, an enemy he was inspired to destroy was poverty. What he found instead was that he had been inducted into an army trained to attack the poor. He referred to them as "little platoons against the welfare state".
Using terms not unlike those used by Harrisites (Mike Harris) and Harperites, he had allowed himself to be convinced that only "tough love" would heal the nation, and that the only way to get people off welfare was to make them work. (2)
When Mike Harris first ran in Ontario, he promoted the same thing, prompting many on social assistance to vote for him, believing that he would help them find a job. Instead they had their benefits slashed by 22% and were left to their own devises, looking for jobs that never existed, and would never exist.
More "tough love" was aimed at single mothers, especially those who had children out of wedlock. "Welfare needed to stop paying people to have illegitimate children and needed to be a much tougher way of life". (2) Spoken by someone who has never had to live as a single mom on the meagre welfare "hand out". It doesn't get much tougher than that.
In Ontario under Harris, John Baird became so ruthless that it resulted in the death of a singe mom, who was trying desperately to claw her way out from under the welfare system. His reaction: Oops!
The "faith-based" crew saw the government undermining God, by providing services that ought to be left to the Church and their "little platoons". Yet churches and poverty have co-existed for centuries, so clearly that strategy wasn't working.
Conservative activists love to quote Edmund Burke as inspiration, often citing: "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing". However, that quote cannot be found in any of Burke's writings. The closest attribution comes from Tolstoy's War and Peace.
An actual quote of Burke's, is the one they should be paying attention to:
"The interest of that portion of social arrangement is a trust in the hands of all those who compose it; and as none but bad men would justify it in abuse, none but traitors would barter it away for their own personal advantage.”"Faith-based" Organized Crime
One area in which George Bush's "faith-based" group hoped to have an impact, was in the allocation of government grants.
Conservative Republicans were in the midst of derailing carefully laid plans. One thing they wanted was more Charitable Choice—that is, a broader range of religious charities eligible government grants ... Now, with a conservative evangelical president in the Oval Office, with Republicans controlling the House and nearly the Senate, some conservatives thought it time to allow "real" faith-based groups to receive federal funding. In short, they wanted to allow groups that aimed to convert people [my emphasis] to a particular faith to be able to receive direct federal grants which was far beyond what Charitable Choice was actually intended to do.This was not charity, but proselytizing, and taxpayers were being asked to fund it, despite the fact that unless they adhered to the stringent requirements, they would see no benefits. Only the corporate sector and the "God for the creation of personal wealth" elite few, would cash in. A perfect example of this, is one I already provided, that is taking place in private (for-profit) corporate prisons.
They also wanted numerous large federal grant programs converted to vouchers so that grant recipients could have access to plainly religious groups. Finally, they wanted to give religious groups receiving public funds an unfettered right to hire and fire people based not only on their professed religion but on whether they lived according to the "rules" of their religion ( no gay Catholics, pork-eating Orthodox Jews, bug-killing Jainists, leather-wearing Buddhists, or drinking Christian fundamentalists). They wove these objectives together into a single, highly partisan bill. It wasn't exactly the legislation-free bipartisanship that Brother John had hoped for. (3)
Hundreds of millions of dollars to "save" instead of rehabilitate prisoners.* Cha ching, cha ching.
Another priority for "faith-based" was a change in the tax laws that would make it more appealing to donate to charities. That too got lost in the shuffle.
In my third day on the job, President Bush signed the tax cut that had been one of his top priorities .... There were cuts in capital gains taxes (p: from the sale of stocks and land). The inheritance tax was with the exemption slowly increasing to $3.5 million ($7 million for couples) .... But something was missing: the president's promised $6 billion per year in tax credits for groups helping the poor. Those tax credits had been the centerpiece of compassionate-conservative efforts for years and the centerpiece of the president's own compassion agenda during the campaign. The best estimates projected that the proposal would create more than 11.7 million new givers throughout the country, stimulate an additional $14.6 billion in charitable giving in the first year and more than $160 billion over ten years, and increase current giving levels by 11 percent. Unfortunately, those charity tax credits weren't listed by the White House as must-haves, so the House skipped over them. (3)Bush's changes only benefited the already wealthy, or soon to be wealthy, as couples could now inherit up to seven million dollars without paying a dime. This hurt charities, because it meant that there would be no incentive to give some of it away, as a means to avoid paying tax. The wealthy recipients could just keep it all, and usually did.
The National Council of Churches spoke out against the 2001 Bush tax cuts, that favoured the rich as a means to "balance the budget". Their General Secretary Rev. Dr. Bob Edgarru, said that "There’s no budget surplus if there are still people living in poverty."
As millions of people – parents and children, the elderly, people with disabilities and the working poor – are driven to seek charity to meet their most basic needs, we are appalled that the focus of attention in this Congressional session is not on meeting their needs; rather, it is on tax cuts that will mostly benefit the affluent." (4)The tax cuts and changes to tax laws, actually hurt legitimate charities, because the corporate sector only found a new way to not only avoid paying taxes, but also to obtain government grants. What I like to call "Faith-based organized crime".
And those "little platoons" were demobilized, only to be called to action again, when they were needed to fight another election.
So Again, What Does This Have to do With Us?
Kuo tells us that prominent Republican pollsters like Frank Luntz and John MacLaughlin, advised that issues should be framed in such a way as to appeal to "religious conservative voters".
Frank Luntz has worked with the Reform-Alliance-Conservative Party for many years, and was the one who told Stephen Harper to talk about hockey as much as possible, to sell himself as a man of the people. (5)
John McLaughlin is the ad man who handled campaigns for the National Citizens Coalition (where Harper was president) and according to his 2004 bio:
John McLaughlin has worked professionally as a strategic consultant and pollster for twenty years. During this time he has earned a reputation for helping to guide underdog Republicans and conservative challengers to victory. He has worked across America and internationally in hundreds of campaigns. Within the past year, John McLaughlin has helped elect Iain Duncan Smith, the leader of the Conservative Party (United Kingdom); Stephen Harper, the leader of the Canadian Alliance Party (Canada); Virginia Attorney General Jerry Kilgore; and a historic 30-seat Republican majority in the Virginia House of Delegates. (6)Stephen Harper digested the "Bible according to Republican strategists", and has tapped into the vote-rich and cash-rich, Religious Right.
He has also tapped into the Bush Doctrine, not only when it comes to an aggressive foreign policy, but also in the creation of tax measures designed for the well-to-do.
However, there may be something else on the horizon, when it comes to corporate run and taxpayer funded charities.
Well known Reform-Alliance-Conservative insider, Gerry Chipeur, (also a Republican insider), wrote an op-ed piece for the National Post, soon after the Harper government announced that they would be taking their lead from George Bush's "cutting red tape" initiative (massive de-regulation), and resurrecting Mike Harris's "Red Tape Commission".
Without mentioning that the sweat on his brow came from a backroom meeting with the Harperites, hammering out their plan of attack, he outlined ten ways that Harper could cut the public out of public policy.
Targeted was Health Canada, Agriculture Canada, the CRTC, The Canadian Wheat Board (already gone), Canada Border Services (being handed over to the Americans), Fisheries and Oceans, Parks Canada ....
But one mentioned by Chipeur was removing Revenue Canada's oversight from charitable organizations. This no doubt comes from complaints by people like Faytene Grasseschi Kryskow, who was turned down for charitable status because prayer gatherings are not classed as charity. Apparently there have been many quasi-religious groups with the same complaints.
What Chipeaur suggested was that only CIDA should be involved with charities. We all know how that works, when Bev Oda altered a contract AFTER it was duly signed.
However, I see this as being a major problem. Without Revenue Canada being involved, how do we know what are legitimate charities and what aren't? Corporations could set up their own charities, with the money going right back into the corporation.
They could also donate to AstroTurf groups, and receive a charitable donation, despite the fact that the AstroTurf group was created by them to promote their own interests.
The National Citizens Coalition could not only apply for charitable status, but receive CIDA grants for questionable activities.
And all of this could be funnelled to the Conservative Party.
The media and the Opposition have to stay on top on this before we end up a one party/one religion state.
And the public have to separate the legitimate charities and community churches, from the Religious Right money machine. Many Christians who got involved in the associated political activism, may not yet realize as David Kuo did, that they are being used.
According to Lloyd Mackey, in The Pilgrimage of Stephen Harper, our PM was "saved" after being introduced to the writings of C.S. Lewis. This claim is made by many in the New Right movement. However, Kuo found a passage in a Lewis book, that frightened him, and helped to make him realize that what he was doing was sinful.
If the Tea Partiers could read, they might learn something here too.
The passage is from the Screwtape Letters, near the end when Screwtape advises his cousin:
Let him begin by treating patriotism ... as a part of his religion. Then let him, under the influence of partisan spirit, come to regard it as the most important part. Then quietly and gradually nurse him on to the stage at which the religion becomes merely a part of the "cause," in which Christianity is valued chiefly because of the excellent arguments it can produce ... Once he's made the world an end, and faith a means, you have almost won your man, and it makes very little difference what kind of worldly end he is pursuing. (7)Footnotes:
*I was told recently that an old cell block at Collins Bay Pen/Frontenac Institute, that was destroyed during a riot years ago, is being renovated to possibly be used as a "repent or regret for profit" rehabilitation centre, to replace the Prison Farms. I hope not.
1. Tempting Faith: An inside Story of Political Seduction, By David Kuo, Free Press, 2006, ISBN: 13: 978-0 7432-8712-8, p. xii
2. Kuo, 2006, p. 59
3. Kuo, 2006, p. 160-165
4. "RELIGIOUS COMMUNITY FOR RESPONSIBLE TAX POLICY" IS LAUNCHED, National Council of Curches, April 5, 2001
5. American Strategist teaches Tories tips on keeping power, Canwest News Service, May 7, 2006
6. Catholic Citizen Announcement, February 10, 2004
7. Kuo, 2006, p.57