Another tell-all by another disillusioned Bush aide made its splash last month when David Kuo told his inside story about the political hijacking of the president’s faith-based initiative. Kuo warns his fellow Christians to be on guard against being manipulated for political ends and recommends they take a “fast” from politics. His book, Tempting Faith, also represents his painful personal story. He writes, “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.” But in making his heartfelt case, Kuo treats his former boss, Jim Towey, so unjustly he raises question about how well meaning he is.
The book’s villains are the senior Bush aides who didn’t care a whit about one of President Bush’s signature initiatives. A hero of the book is John DiIulio, the disenchanted academic who criticized the White House after his brief stint as head of the faith-based office. Kuo credits the talented DiIulio with sharing his deep commitment to the poor. He explains that the professor’s “essential parts were revealed in the hours he took to teach poor kids in high school, volunteer his time in inner-city schools, and fight to get funding for charities that served the poor.” And, “Someone said he talked like a longshoreman, reasoned like Einstein, and cared like Mother Teresa. It was a good description.” It is a good description and in stark contrast with Kuo’s description of DiIulio’s equally worthy successor at the White House faith-based office.
Kuo describes Jim Towey as “adorable.” The only explanation of Towey’s background he provides is the result of a Google search he ran when he learned that Towey was under consideration for the director’s job. He learned that Towey had been Mother Teresa’s U.S. lawyer and had once threatened to sue a Tennessee bakery that had produced a cinnamon bun that “looked exactly like Mother Teresa.” It was dubbed the “Nun Bun” and its image was put on hats and t-shirts. The dispute over the unlicensed use of a private person’s image was settled amicably. According to Kuo, the incident represents Towey’s only “faith-based” experience worth mentioning.
Later, Kuo notes, “Jim Towey knew about politics” and contacted “his friend Governor Jeb Bush to see about his chances for the job.” Several other references to his boss have Towey frustrated with the pace of reform but generally compliant with its alleged abuse at the hands of cynical White House aides. Someone so aggressively claiming the moral high ground shouldn’t treat Jim Towey so unjustly.
Towey’s past work on behalf of the least among us puts David Kuo, and all of us who profess to care about the poor, to shame. Towey didn’t serve the poor in a pinstriped suit in courtrooms. On the day he met Mother Teresa in Calcutta in 1985, he wound up bathing patients in her home for the dying. Towey has explained that he had planned on donating a few dollars before slipping out to resume his life, but “the Lord had other plans, and so waiting for me in that bed was, as Mother says, Jesus in His distressing disguise of the poorest of the poor.”
For years he volunteered on evenings, and later lived for a year, in her Washington D.C. hospice for AIDS victims, caring for the sick and dying. He also worked in one of her missions in Mexico. He has said, “It seems to me that what Mother Teresa brought to the Church and to the world was this recognition of a need for a relationship with the poor — not simply writing checks but getting to know them.”
Although Kuo gives his readers the impression that Towey was a Republican buddy of Jeb Bush’s, he is a self-described “pro-life Democrat” who was appointed to run Florida’s health and rehabilitative services by Democratic Governor Lawton Chiles. He served until forced out by Republicans in the state senate.
Reading Tempting Faith, I was tempted to believe that David Kuo didn’t portray Towey more fully and fairly because it would be harder to convince his audience that such a committed Catholic with such a demonstrable dedication to the least fortunate, would be a willing ally in the cynical deception of faith-based groups. The fact that he is a Democrat with no record of partisan activity raises doubts that he would allow his office to become little more than a political tool designed to elect Republicans.
In a few media appearances, Towey has gently contradicted David Kuo’s assertions without ever mentioning his own bona fides as a committed Christian. He exhibits a true humility that doesn’t surprise those who know him. Unfortunately, that doesn’t include anyone who only knows what David Kuo chose to tell them about this truly admirable man.
—Kate O’Beirne is the author of Women Who Make the World Worse: and How Their Radical Feminist Assault Is Ruining Our Schools, Families, Military, and Sports.