Wrong again, F. Scott Fitzgerald. As has been proved so many times before, there are second acts in American lives. Witness J. David Kuo, author of “Tempting Faith,” the memoir published last week of life in President Bush’s Office of Faith-Based Initiatives. Kuo’s assertion that members of the Bush administration said nasty things about religious leaders behind their backs has made quite a splash, and immediately inspired a counterrattack from conservative Christians.
I’m not sure if Kuo really qualifies as a new member of the Axis of Evil, as one irate writer put it, but even from the mouths of frothing religious right propagandists one can gain enlightenment. When I first saw Kuo’s name, I thought it was vaguely familiar, but did not know why. Now I remember; Kuo has a well-established history of being in the middle of Big Things Gone Bad. He is also the author of “dot.bomb,” a memoir about the dot-com bust that told the story of the rise and fall of the late and utterly unlamented online shopping superstore Value America.
Back in the day, Salon called it a “dull insider” account, in the course of appraising a couple of other dot-com books. As editor of Salon’s technology section at the time, I stuck it on my already sadly overburdened shelf of Self-Important Tomes About an Era of Greed and Hysteria That No One Wiil Care About Two Years From Now. And sure enough, it seems that pretty much no one covering Kuo’s second life in the mainstream press recalls his first life as a disillusioned dot-com director of corporate communications.
What does this all mean, besides the fact that Kuo has a knack for getting book deals out of disappointment? Democrats have been chortling with glee at Kuo’s accusations, which came at the worst possible time for a Republican Party still reeling from Foley fallout. Does it take a little shine off the silver to recall that Kuo’s previous life was as a corporate flack for a dumb dot-com start-up? Or does it just make complete sense that someone whose line of work once involved spinning reporters to pump up Internet hype was shortly thereafter resurrected as a Bush administration holy roller, hard at work annihilating the separation of church and state.