A widely discussed new memoir that says the Bush administration used its faith-based initiative as a sop to win political support from the religious right, while making little attempt to provide promised funding, portrays Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings as part of that effort in her first-term role as the president’s chief domestic-policy adviser.
Author David Kuo, as a special assistant to President Bush from 2001 to 2003, helped craft plans to foster the participation of faith-based groups in federal efforts aimed at serving the needy. But, he says in Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction, the White House lost interest in putting significant funding into such activities, even before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, shifted many federal budget priorities.
Mr. Kuo, who served as the deputy director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, also says White House staff members, especially those in the office of political affairs, gave conservative Christian leaders “hugs and smiles” and then ridiculed them behind their backs. Karl Rove, who was Mr. Bush’s senior adviser at the time and head of the political-affairs office, has denied that characterization, and a White House spokesman said Mr. Kuo described the faith-based office as a success when he resigned in 2003.
Ms. Spellings participated in the political manipulation of the faith-based initiatives, Mr. Kuo contends.
“Everyone loved Margaret. It was hard not to,” he says in the book. “Her ‘aw-shucks’ demeanor belied her quick intelligence and a fiery political instinct.”
“Margaret listened cheerfully and said, ‘David, darlin’, you are doing a good job. Great job.’ Then lightly but seriously, ‘But David, please. Just get me a damn faith bill. Any bill. I don’t care what kind of bill. Just get me a damn faith bill.’ ”
Kathleen McLane, Ms. Spellings’ press secretary, said of that quotation, “Secretary Spellings doesn’t remember that specific conversation, but she frequently discussed her support for the president’s efforts to break down existing barriers and empower faith-based and community groups to help deliver assistance to Americans in need.”
Congress failed to pass the major faith-based bill the White House developed, but Mr. Bush adopted some of the same objectives by executive order.
A version of this article appeared in the November 01, 2006 edition of Education Week