In the Arena

David Kuo

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My dear, dear friend David Kuo slipped away from us at 10:25 last night—April 5, 2013—after a courageous 10-year struggle against a cancer that was insidious and capricious, coming and going and finally staying. He was 44.

How do I tell you about David? He was the sweetest of God’s creatures, and among the wisest, too. He was a man of faith, rather than of religion. He called himself a Follower of Jesus. Many of his friends had ministries, but David’s church truly had no walls.

I met him about 17 years ago. He was an evangelical conservative in those days—and still was, in the truest sense, as his soul left his body, although political “conservatism” had taken itself to a place of cruelty that David couldn’t really abide. I forget what he was doing when I first met him, either working for the Empower America think tank or for Senator Dan Coats, [Actually, it was John Ashcroft.] maybe both. We met because I was writing about faith-based social programs and David knew where to find the best ones.

We were friends, I think, instantaneously. He was the least self-righteous man of faith I’d ever met. He was, in fact, a hoot. He loved oysters and Martinis. And we were fellow members of a long-suffering tribe: We were Mets fans. At one point, David and I decided to go down to spring training—and golf school!—together. At his insistence, we rented a red convertible. David adored life, and living well. He always reminded me that Jesus’s first miracle was turning water into wine.

Ahh, Jesus. He was the heart of the matter. We talked about Jesus a lot. We studied Matthew together. David’s fundamental verse was Matthew 25: “when you do this for the least of these, you do it for me.” It was the verse at the heart of the faith-based social programs that David never tired of promoting. He never could get me to cross the divinity bridge—I am a Jew, for chrissake. But Jesus was, too. He was the greatest of the Jewish prophets, a true egalitarian who taught: you don’t need the priests to sacrifice animals for you or intervene on your behalf with God, you can have your own direct relationship with God through prayer and meditation, by helping others, by living simply and carefully—that is, a life full of care.

David was smitten by George W. Bush. He was glowing after their first meeting. “He really gets it,” David said, an assessment I shared—at least when it came to the efficacy of faith-based social programs. But I warned him to be careful: politicians are politicians, they almost always disappoint. And so Bush did: David went to work as John DiIulio’s deputy in the Office of Faith-Based and Social Policy. Both he and DiIulio was disappointed by the politicization of that office. John left frustrated, calling Bush’s advisors “Mayberry Macchiavellis” and David later wrote a sad, searing book about the experience called “Tempting Faith.”

Both John—another dear friend of mine, another genius of kindness—and David gave President Bush a partial exemption. They believed he wanted to do the right thing, that he really cared about the poor, but that he had too many other things to worry about after September 11, 2001, to be fully cognizant of the moral and spiritual failure of the faith-based effort. David was asked to write speeches for Bush’s 2004 campaign and he agreed to write only one, Bush’s speech to the NAACP. He could not bring himself to write speeches about war, or speeches that attacked the Democrats. (Years earlier, at a White House prayer breakfast, he had approached Hillary Clinton after she  offered a moving prayer and said, “I spend my days trying to defeat you and your husband, and sometimes that becomes personal anger, and that is wrong and I will never allow myself to do that again.”)

And then, one evening, driving home from a party, David had a seizure on Rock Creek Parkway. The car veered into oncoming traffic, but somehow his incredible wife, Kim, managed to maneuver onto the opposite verge. That was the tumor announcing its presence in David’s brain—even then offering the hope of survival against all odds, while showing David and Kim the brutal face of death. I cannot say enough about Kim’s courage and support over the last 10 years. She refused to be beaten. She and David had two children (David has two others by a previous marriage). David and Kim were going to live their lives, build a family, despite the cancer. They were going to make this thing disappear—and the cancer cruelly tantalized them. It went away. It actually disappeared once, twice. But it always came back.

I spent Easter Sunday with David in hospice. He couldn’t talk and had difficulty swallowing. We held hands for seven hours. He could understand what I was saying and he would squeeze my hand in response to my recollections of our times together—the red convertible, the Bible study, the times he asked me—a man old enough to be his father—for advice, the times, the many times, he gave me comfort and support and inspiration.

David always closed every conversation by saying, “I love you, Joe Klein.” I think he probably said that as often as my wife has. And so I must close this by saying one last time, “I love you, David Kuo.” And I will always love you, and I will always have your enormous heart and spirit to guide me. And I will miss you, and so will the world, especially the least of these. I love you, David Kuo.

73 comments
DebbieArdanChristian
DebbieArdanChristian

I have read this tribute a half dozen times, never without tears. Thank you, Joe. Your words bridge divides--yea, canyons--between Jew and Gentile, Democrat and Republican, liberal and conservative. I don't mean to place those labels in any particular order. I just love that you and David loved each other, and that labels were of no import. Shalom.

wisdomforlife
wisdomforlife

This took me back to the loss of a close friend at age 47 to cancer. Mark had been building a successful medical career specializing in laser and skin cancer surgery. As a derma surgeon, Dr. Hassel was highly respected in the medical community. Mark was on staff at Lancaster General and Lancaster Regional Hospitals. He was also an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at the Hershey Medical Center in Hershey, Pennsylvania. I tell his story here: http://thinkpoint.wordpress.com/2013/01/25/reflecting-on-the-life-of-my-friend-dr-mark-hassel/


kathy
kathy

Joe - so sorry for your loss.  I had been following David's journey on Andrew Sullivan's blog.  I marvel at his wife's generosity at her willingness to share David in his few remaining days.

It doesn't surprise me that you and he were such friends.  (I do wish sometimes that more of your readers understood what a remarkable life you have led, how open your mind is, and how wide the circle of your friends).  Peace to you and to David's family.  Thanks for this remembrance of him.

HoofHearted
HoofHearted

Rest In Peace, David. My heartfelt condolences, Kim. And to all of his dear friends and family, including you Joe and Sully.

I have to be honest here and tell you David, that I had a distaste of you when I first read about you about 11-12 years ago, working for Bush/John Ashcroft. To be fair though, I had that impression of just about everyone who worked or supported GWB. But my opinion of you (along with my opinion of Ashcroft, lying in a hospital bed) changed ever so slowly, as how you are, what you are, percolated through the filter of various blog articles and other Time pieces. You were one of the good guys indeed. 

And finally when I saw the video of you and read the story in Dish (thanks Andrew) sometime back, the transformation of you were complete. Not that any of this really matter to you, but it does matter to me. 


christl
christl

So sorry for your loss.  What a beautiful tribute to a most loving soul.




jen_halverson
jen_halverson

@mchoulj David wrote one of the best books I've ever read, and he & his wife supported me in 2007-08 when I was in Haiti. Wonderful people.

krs1
krs1

Brain cancer?  Well, that certainly explains a lot...


lisecodde
lisecodde

@ariannahuff Beautifully written. I shed tears for a man I never met, and now wish I had had the opportunity.

ACetronio
ACetronio

@TIME @TIMEPolitics I did'nt know David Kuo but from your memorial I gather he was very special. Thanks for sharing your touching experience

Sparrow55
Sparrow55

"A great man is one who leaves others at a loss after he is gone"  

Paul Valery

Thank you Joe for a great tribute to an incredible person. 

Matthew73
Matthew73

I met Dave a few times but didn't know him well.  I am close friends with one of Dave's close friends, however. 

Mr. Klein’s remembrance of Dave was, for the most part, a fitting tribute to someone why by all accounts was a remarkably kind and decent man.  But I thought it was unfortunate that Joe couldn’t bring himself to write with the same sense of decency that he admired in Dave. 

I know lots of political conservatives, but none who inhabit a “place of cruelty,” to quote Joe.  I was disappointed to see that Joe couldn’t resist, just once, demeaning people who embrace a political philosophy that differs from his.    

mmurphy313
mmurphy313

@kirstenpowers10 Because at the Times, taking another gratuitous shot at W is more important than paying tribute to a good man.

JamieParsons
JamieParsons

Met David in his Value America days... What a nice human being... Always saw the best in others...his faith in Christ will carry him now... See you on the other side... Jamie Parsons

donnac1188
donnac1188

@MikeEmanuelFox We should all wish our lives might elicit such a tribute when our days on earth are over. Wish I could have known Mr. Kuo.

FloydThursby
FloydThursby

I read Kuo's interesting, illuminating memoir. After it was published, the conservative media and his former colleagues in the Bush administration launched a concerted attack on him, suggesting that his brain cancer made him untrustworthy and insane. He was right; they're still wrong.

grape_crush
grape_crush

Beautiful,  Joe. It's not often you read a remembrance about someone you don't know that makes you wish you did.

samgamgee
samgamgee

words well said, mr. klein.  grateful for your honesty.  grateful for your risking to be with him in those difficult last days. 

MaryLouSavage
MaryLouSavage

Truly loving and moving tribute and reminiscence. Makes me wonder what the world would be like is people really followed Christ -- especially Christians.

RandyBrockway
RandyBrockway

@MattChandler74 he was a great and faithful servant of Jesus. He touched many lives @ ForestHill & Charlotte community. Leaves a gr8 legacy!

jrlind
jrlind

@CheerTheAnthem people who find the American Left-Right spectrum as inadequate expressions of their politics are oft misunderstood

rpearlston
rpearlston

@Matthew73, please open your eyes.  Republicans these days are almost nothing but politacal conservaties who live at least their professional lives in "place(s) of cruelty".

MikeEmanuelFox
MikeEmanuelFox

Amen! @donnac1188:We should all wish our lives might elicit such a tribute when our days on earth are over. Wish I could have known Mr. Kuo.

krs1
krs1

@FloydThursby Brain cancer causes religion...it's as good an explanation as anything.


krs1
krs1

@ainacarruth @MattChandler74 Praying for what?  Jesus said if 2 people pray for something it will be granted so why don't you get a fellow believer and pray for the guy to be resurrected...or was Jesus lying...as usual?


RoccoJohnson
RoccoJohnson

@MaryLouSavage 

Too many think of Christians are like the ones they see on TV, which is a shame. True Christians would never stand on a street corner professing "God hates fags," because that is just errant theology. Jesus said that the greatest commandment is that you love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and the second is like it, that you love your neighbor as yourself. Most leading research has shown that religious people in general give one-third more of their personal time and resources to charities, than do others*. Please, I'm not making a political statement, only saying that genuine Christians are much different, than those who make the evening news.


* Who Really Cares; America's Charity Divide: Who Gives, Who Doesn't, and Why It Matters; Arthur C. Brooks

rpearlston
rpearlston

@YellowC6Z06 @kirstenpowers10 @TIMEPolitics  And how would CONS allow that to be funded?  Who would pay for teaching those skills?  Who would pay for the resources to improve the schools, the recreation facilities, the libraries, the grocery stores?  All of these services are about improving skills, and all of them require money.  Are YOU willing to fund them?

CheerTheAnthem
CheerTheAnthem

@jrlind Yup. He was used and abused by both right and left at different times. Glad to see Klein and Sully set the record straight.

CecilBeaton
CecilBeaton

@krs1 @FloydThursby Nice people can also be totally delusional, as this guy seems to have been. I just tune out when a grown man talks about Jesus. This guy got all misty about GWB? Jesus christ indeed. Sorry for you loss Mr. Klein, but your frind sounds like a simpleton.