Former White House special assistant David Kuo rolled out his kiss-and-tell book, "Tempting Faith," on 60 Minutes last night. In the book, Kuo -- who handled the thankless task of pushing for Bush's "compassionate conservative" agenda within the White House -- details how cynically the administration used those issues to its advantage.
I've just had a chance to flip through the book myself, which is larded with some fun tidbits (news flash: John Ashcroft cheats in basketball!). But one story in particular of White House hard-heartedness sets Kuo's allegations in stark relief.
Kuo recounts the fallout in the White House from a January 2003 Esquire article by Ron Suskind. In it, former White House "Faith-Based Initiatives" director John DiIulio blasted the Bush administration for "a complete lack of a policy apparatus." The entire Bush agenda, DiIulio said, was developed and pushed by Karl Rove's political shop. As a result, Bush's "compassionate" social policy promises were ignored, in favor of driving wedge issues and making unfulfilled promises.
The article enraged President Bush, Kuo writes. The rest, as they say, is parody:
"Well," [Bush] yelled. . . "is [DiIulio] right or isn't he? Have we done compassion or haven't we? I wanna know."
An hour later we got the first and only call from the deputy chief of staff Josh Bolten's office requesting an urgent "compassion meeting." . . .
[Bush] wanted to know how much we had spent on compassion programs in his first two years of office. We made some calls and did some calculations. . . [and found] we were actually spending about $20 million a year less than before he had taken office.
"That number never actually made it to the president," Kuo says.
Two hours after Bolten's urgent call, a group of advisers including Kuo and now-Education secretary Margaret Spellings convened:
"We gotta get some compassion stuff out there now," Margaret [Spellings] 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 the time was over 750,000.
"What else have we got?" Margaret asked.
The attendees were tasked to come up with several one-page policy proposals in the next 24 hours, which the president could consider for inclusion in his upcoming State of the Union address, Kuo writes. Two days later, Bush chose three proposals, and announced them to the country in his annual address.
After the speech, however, "they promptly disappeared," Kuo says.