Five Minutes With: David Kuo
Wednesday January 3, 2007
David Kuo used to be Ralph Reed's right hand man. He then became deputy director of President Bush's Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, but he is now calling on fellow Evangelical Christians to take a break from politics. After suffering a life-threatening brain tumor in 2003, Kuo left the White House and went public with his disappointment in the apathy and inaction of the Bush administration. Now a professional bass fisherman and the author of Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction, Kuo talked with Campus Progress about his personal experience with abortion, the Dixie Chicks, ending genocide, and whether he has any friends left in D.C.
Campus Progress: Could you tell us a little about what inspired you to come to D.C. right after you graduated from college, and to start working in politics?
David Kuo: I was just one of those kids who always figured I would come to Washington. But then it was the personal experience of me getting my girlfriend pregnant and her having an abortion, right around 1989, 1990. It was that experience of trying to grapple with it that brought me to Washington. I came to Washington figuring I would work for a pro-life Democrat. But given the way things were politically, there wasn't a chance that would happen. They sort of didn't want me. Then I figured I'd work for Republicans. But they looked at my work with Ted Kennedy and the Robert Kennedy Center for Human Rights and went, you're on crack right? So I ended up working for the National Right to Life Committee.
It's really a courageous thing in D.C. to say anything that doesn't fit into one party or the other, to not toe the party line. After working in the White House, you were able to criticize the administration for not doing enough to compromise, for not doing enough to realize justice. So, how are you? Do you still have friends here?
Yeah it is. D.C. is my home. There are times that I still wish it wasn't my home, and I was running off somewhere that is very much not D.C. I remember when Natalie Maines came out and said what she said about the president. And I remember saying, ‘Oh what a bitch, what a horrible bitch. What a liberal slime ball.'
I listened to the song "The Long Way Around" the other day, and there's this great lyric:
Well, I fought with a stranger and I met myself.
I opened my mouth and I heard myself.
It can get pretty lonely when you show yourself.
Guess I could have made it easier on myself.
I am going to stand up and say what I think. And I am going to do it for Republicans in the White House and my experience there, and what actually happened in my life and be honest with it, because if we're going to have a dialogue, we have to have an honest dialogue. There's a temptation to say, ‘Gosh I really want to fit in on the liberal side, or conservative side'—though that's not much of a temptation anymore. But I feel that what I have to say doesn't fit in one box or the other.
You suggest that evangelical Christians should take a fast from politics, but you also say it's not about not voting anymore. What does it mean to you to be politically engaged?
When I talk about a fast, I talk about taking a step back and reexamining political involvement. Instead of pursing politics, maybe roll up your sleeves, give up money, give time to more hands on work, more hands on work for the poor and those that are hurting. Keep voting, vote more. Do more, be bolder. Keep your idealism. Find your political heroes and stick by them. Don't let the world's cynicism sort of knock you down and tell you everything you believe can't happen.
Will abortion as a wedge issue ever go away?
No. Abortion hasn't gone away in the last 2,000 years; abortion isn't going away now. If you care about the abortion issue, no matter what side you are on, spend a majority of your time working with women who have unwanted pregnancies. Be open to your friends, because chances are high that you have friends that have gone through an abortion and you probably don't know about it.
On an issue like abortion, people come at their opinions very genuinely. It's deeply personal and people come to it sincerely.
What issues do you think should be at the top of the agenda today?
I think it's easy today. Let's start with genocide. We can all reach the conclusion that genocide is bad and should be stopped. If we can't agree on stopping genocide in Darfur, why the hell are we talking about anything else? If we can't have massive outrage and a massive call to stop what is happening in Darfur, why is anybody in politics today?
Lauren Dunn is a special assistant to the executive vice president for policy at the Center for American Progress. In February 2006, she received a B.A. in comparative religion from Tufts University and a B.F.A. in studio art from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.