Chutzpah Watch: Faith-Based Edition

CHUTZPAH WATCH: FAITH-BASED EDITION…. President Obama didn’t do away with his predecessor’s “faith-based” initiative, but he changed it quite a bit. The administration office was revamped, given a new name, and given a broader mission to include promotion of efforts like job training and combating global warming.

Some of the faith-based office’s champions from the Bush/Cheney team are less than pleased. James Towey, who led the office under Bush, wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that Obama has “politicized” the office in a way that would have gotten him “fired.” Former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson used his Washington Post column today to raise similar points, complaining that Obama “has mainly employed his faith-based office to defend federal initiatives.”

The irony is rich. Indeed, let’s take a moment to set the record straight here.

It wasn’t that long ago that Bush’s faith-based office was at the center of a pretty big controversy. Remember David Kuo? After working for Bill Bennett and John Ashcroft, Kuo helped run the office in Bush’s first term, and later conceded what had been widely suspected: the entire faith-based scheme was a political ploy, and the White House office existed to try to help win elections.

…Kuo alleges that then-White House political affairs director Ken Mehlman knowingly participated in a scheme to use the [faith-based] office, and taxpayer funds, to mount ostensibly “nonpartisan” events that were, in reality, designed with the intent of mobilizing religious voters in 20 targeted races. According to Kuo, “Ken loved the idea and gave us our marching orders.”

Among those marching orders, Kuo says, was Mehlman’s mandate to conceal the true nature of the events. Kuo quotes Mehlman as saying, “… (I)t 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 [of faith-based initiatives] to request the visit.”

Nineteen out of the 20 targeted races were won by Republicans, Kuo reports. The outreach was so extensive and so powerful in motivating not just conservative evangelicals, but also traditionally Democratic minorities, that Kuo attributes Bush’s 2004 Ohio victory “at least partially … to the conferences we had launched two years before.”

With the exception of one reporter from the Washington Post, Kuo says the media were oblivious to the political nature and impact of his office’s events, in part because so much of the debate centered on issues of separation of church and state.

This was of particular interest to me personally, because I was the one who uncovered the scheme to use the faith-based office for partisan politics in a 2002 expose. The Washington Post picked up on the story after seeing my piece, and Kuo later confirmed the whole thing.

Indeed, let’s also not forget that it was John DiIulio who famously said, “There is no precedent in any modern White House for what is going on in this one: a complete lack of a policy apparatus. What you’ve got is everything — and I mean everything — being run by the political arm. It’s the reign of the Mayberry Machiavellis.” Who was John DiIulio? He was the first head of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.

And now Towey and Gerson want to complain about Obama “politicizing” the faith-based office? Please. When this White House starts using the office as a conduit for a partisan election scheme, Towey and Gerson can get back to us.