David Kuo’s book takes us on his journey from a naive young adult, to a sophisticated and disillusioned Washington insider. His journey begins with fishing and throughout the book his return to fishing also reflects his return to God. David begins this journey believing that he can fuse his evangelical Christian faith with politics to end abortion, strengthen marriage, and help the poor. David started out working for Democrats, but found them too silent on issues he considered morally significant; issues like abortion, gay rights and the general decline of culture. He found as many young people do, it easy to criticize others and pass judgment on their lives. He aligned himself with the Religious Right as a speechwriter. But David soon found himself drifting further and further from his original reasons for entering the political world. David said, “Ironically, opposing sin became a substitution for pursuing God.” David made other substitutions in his life, replacing is Sunday morning worship service with watching Meet The Press, This Week With David Brinkley, and Face the Nation. Saying that he “Spent countless more hours doing politics than doing God.”
In an attempt to win over evangelicals without coming across to religious for the mainstream David worked Jesus’ words into political speeches, Phrases that Christians would recognize, but the media wouldn’t. David said, “We were hiding the Jesus we said we were serving…. We were bastardizing God’s words for our own political agenda and feeling good about it.” David found he liked the lifestyle, first class travel, fantastically good food, friends and supporters. “The work was great but I was becoming a lousy husband.” So much for going to Washington to “strengthen marriage,” his own would soon end in divorce.
In 1993, David took on the task of educating potential candidates on how to run for office. They had no trouble identifying the issues. They blamed the Clinton Administration for welfare, immigration, taxes, crime, and cultural issues. David said, “That this was the case not long after twelve years of Republican presidential leadership wasn’t completely lost on me…just mostly. I had to stop to think about that…But I wouldn’t dig any deeper with my questions…Things were going so well, why would I want to jeopardize any of it by pursuing questions that could lead who know where?” Other concerns quietly crept into his mind. “Praising business was fine with me but sometimes it felt like business was akin to a real Santa Claus in the minds of Republicans---always doing good and helping people.” He wondered why we could justify keeping the death penalty based on Old Testament teachings, but didn’t retain things like stoning for adulterers. He came to realize that while he had been writing the language of compassion, he was “largely compassionless.” He didn’t actually know or work with any of the faith based groups. He didn’t actually know if faith based groups were actually effective. Finally he had to ask himself, “What was he peddling?”
David made the decision to leave political life behind and to start an organization that would help the charities that really did help the poor. David soon discovered as a Washington outsider that his “friends” no longer called him. He like everyone else in Washington was expendable. He returned to fishing and some soul searching. He realized he had some apologizing to do. He had mocked the Clinton’s marriage, their personal faith, calling them corrupt and downright evil. David write that “Jesus commanded his followers to ‘speak the truth in love’ Instead I had spoken mistruths in hate.” He made the decision that if he was ever presented the opportunity, he would apologize to the Clintons. That opportunity came soon, sooner than he was prepared for. The night before the National prayer breakfast, he attended a small dinner. Much to his surprise Hillary Clinton arrived to speak. Afterwards, Hillary moved about the room shaking hands, when she reached David, he gave an awkward apology for the hateful things he had written about her and her husband. The next morning David found out Hillary had given a moving speech on forgiveness and mentioned his apology. David panicked, everyone would know, but his friend reassured him that she had not used his name and no one would ever know he was the one to apologize to the Clintons. He was safe to work in Washington again.
And it wouldn’t be long before David ended up back in Washington and politics once again. George W. Bush was running for president. First called back as a speech writer for the candidate, and later to serve in the newly created Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives. Working in the White House helping to implement one of the core promises of compassionate conservatism. The poor would not need political clout, they would not need expensive lobbyists, the Bush administration would fight for them, or so David thought. In reality there was little funding for the office and little desire to promote faith based issues unless they were being used to secure votes. David said, “I was a Christian in politics looking for a way to recruit other Christians into politics so we could have their votes.” They found Christian leaders could be bought off with little trinkets, like cufflinks, pens and pads of paper. Things they could show off to their followers to prove their importance and influence. “Making politically active Christians personally happy meant having to worry far less about the Christian political agenda.”
9/11 occurred and David was put in charge of assisting “all” of America’s charities and mobilizing “all” of Americas religious groups. But David soon came to realize that, “People were doing all of those things on their own. They didn’t need us to do it. America didn’t need anyone else to rally it. It rallied itself. The American soul wasn’t sick.” More and more David realized the limitations of government. The “Christian pursuit of morality in American life was to amorphous, It wasn’t like battling to end slavery or fighting for a women’s right to vote. It was indefinable. Would a 10 percent drop in teen pregnancy be enough? Fifty percent? How about divorce? Would a drop to only 500,00 divorces a year be a success? It couldn’t be. He thought the answers could come, in part, from government, but they could not. They would come only from God. Only god could change enough hearts and lives to bring a moral revolution. The problem with God is that he seems to respond very poorly to our own agendas and to our timetables.” David noticed that while the President talked repeatedly about how important the initiative was, his passion was not translating into leadership. David had to ask himself was he, “propping up the compassion illusion for political purposes. Was I using the poor, Jesus, and my own life for a lie?” He said, “I thought the enemy was the prevailing anti-God culture and political forces, that is, Democrats and secularists. I never thought to worry about Republicans using Christians for their own political ends—Republicans like me.” A car accident and a brain tumor bring David to the realization that it is time to leave politics and return to fishing. David calls on other Christians to join him in a political sabbatical for the next two years. He wants them to “spend more time studying Jesus and less time trying to get people elected. Instead of spending hundreds of millions of dollars every year in support of conservative Christian advocacy groups.., lets give the money to charities and groups that are arguably closer to Jesus’ heart. And we Christians should spend less time arguing with those on the other side and more time communing with them.”
I don’t know how many Christian will take David’s advice on a sabbatical, but David provides us a look into the inner workings of the White House and gives us all an opportunity to examine why our politicians are doing what they do. Something we should all consider when we go to the polls this November.