J. David Kuo, Who Split From Bush Faith Effort, Dies at 44
Published: April 6, 2013
WASHINGTON — J. David Kuo, an evangelical Christian who was a leader in President George W. Bush’s faith initiative but who later became a critic of it, died on Friday. He was 44.
Paul Hosefros/The New York Times
Mr. Kuo’s wife, Kimberly, said the cause was brain cancer, which was diagnosed 10 years ago.
As deputy director of Mr. Bush’s Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, Mr. Kuo helped implement Mr. Bush’s promise to link the nation’s religious groups with the delivery of social services.
Campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination in 1999, Mr. Bush promised to invigorate “a civil society,” telling The Washington Post that he would encourage churches and charities to be “little armies of compassion.” The faith-based office was a result of that promise.
But Mr. Kuo left the administration after two years, frustrated and disillusioned. He later wrote that the faith office did not receive the billions of dollars that Mr. Bush had pledged. He said the White House had used the office as a political prop.
“National Christian leaders received hugs and smiles in person and then were dismissed behind their backs and described as ‘ridiculous,’ ‘out of control,’ and just plain ‘goofy,’ ” Mr. Kuo wrote in a memoir, “Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction.”
In interviews after he left the White House, including an appearance on “60 Minutes”in 2006, Mr. Kuo said Mr. Bush was a “good man” but faulted him as having failed to live up to his promise of “compassionate conservatism,” which he said could have helped the poor.
“Conservative Christians (like me) were promised that having an evangelical like Mr. Bush in office was a dream come true,” Mr. Kuo wrote in an opinion article in The New York Times in 2006. “Well, it wasn’t. Not by a long shot. The administration accomplished little that evangelicals really cared about.”
Other aides to Mr. Bush who served in the faith office rebutted Mr. Kuo’s assertions, saying they did not see the cynicism he had described.
Mr. Kuo wrote in his memoir that he had started out as a liberal, voting for Michael S. Dukakis, the Democratic candidate for president, in 1988 and interning in the office of Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, before embracing religion and conservatism.
By the time he joined Mr. Bush’s administration, Mr. Kuo had become part of the young evangelical movement, seeking to marry faith and politics.
Mr. Kuo was found to have brain cancer in 2003 after having a seizure while driving in Washington. In his book, he wrote, “By God’s mercy, and my wife’s quick reflexes, the crash didn’t kill us.”
Joe Klein, a Time magazine columnist and close friend of Mr. Kuo’s, wrote on Saturdaythat Mr. Kuo had been “smitten” by Mr. Bush and had come to believe that the president had wanted to do “the right thing.”
But in the prologue to his memoir Mr. Kuo wrote that his experience in government had given him clarity about the limits of politics. “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,” he wrote. “They are easily manipulated by politicians who use them for their votes, seduced by trinkets of power, and tempted to turn a mission field (politics) into a battlefield.”
“I took sides on issues that don’t have much to do with my faith,” he wrote. “Above all, I let the passions of politics distract me from what matters in life.”
John David Kuo was born in New York City on June 26, 1968, the son of John T. Kuo and the former Marilyn Dunlap. His father, who had immigrated from China, was a professor of geophysics at Columbia University. David Kuo graduated from Tufts University. He was also the author of “Dot.Bomb: My Days and Nights at an Internet Goliath” (2001), an account of his experiences at an ill-fated e-commerce company.
Besides his wife, he is survived by his parents and four children, two of them from a previous marriage.