Thursday, October 21, 2004

Bully Pulpit

When I first saw Bush, Jr. in the 2000 GOP primary debates, he struck me as a follower, not a leader. Despite his "mano a mano" threat to his financial keeper (Bush, Sr.), Bush seemed like someone who wouldn't/couldn't himself knock a man down, but would happily join in kicking the man after he was down. The ensuing years have not changed my opinion, but have added the knowledge that Bush was and is a bully, from childhood to the present. I don't advocate fighting, but if some victim's older brother had beaten the tar out of Bush when he was a kid - and Bush had learned from the experience - perhaps he would have turned out better. (Oh, that's right, Bush was the older brother when he was picking on his younger brothers!)

I laughed when I saw Bush (and Cheney and Rumsfeld) walking away from a 15-minute "press conference" in Crawford prior to the GOP convention. Bush stopped, puffed his arms out and assumed a tough-guy stance, and called out, "Come on, Barney, come on." Good grief, he can't even drop the facade when calling his dog?! As Straw Man commented on another blog after the second presidential debate:
Just heard on CNN. GWB walks like he is waiting for his Right Guard to dry.
Coincidentally perhaps, soon after Bush's come-here-or-else confrontation with Barney, I happened upon a John Wayne/Jimmy Stewart movie while channel surfing. Not surpisingly, I was reminded of Bush and John Kerry, respectively.

Like his cowboy pose, Bush's oft-professed religious faith has always been deeply suspect to me. Ayelish McGarvey's recent article in The American Prospect, "As God Is His Witness", takes a good critical look at Bush's faith (or lack of):
[W]hen judged by his deeds, an entirely different picture emerges: Bush does not demonstrate a life of faith by his actions, and neither Methodists, evangelicals, nor fundamentalists can rightly call him brother. In fact, the available evidence raises serious questions about whether Bush is really a Christian at all.

Ironically for a man who once famously named Jesus as his favorite political philosopher during a campaign debate, it is remarkably difficult to pinpoint a single instance wherein Christian teaching has won out over partisan politics in the Bush White House.

... [Bush] does not live and govern like a man who “walks” with God, using the Bible as a moral compass for his decision making. Twice in the past year -- once during an April press conference and most recently at a presidential debate -- the president was unable to name any mistake he has made during his term. His steadfast unwillingness to fess up to a single error betrays a strikingly un-Christian lack of attention to the importance of self-criticism, the pervasiveness of sin, and the centrality of humility, repentance, and redemption ...

Once and for all: George W. Bush is neither born again nor evangelical. As Alan Cooperman reported in The Washington Post last month, the president has been careful never to use either term to describe his faith ...

If he is anything at all, Bush is nominally Methodist, the denomination of his home church in Dallas. John Wesley, Methodism's founder, emphasized an emotional “warming of the heart” to Christ as fundamental to conversion. (That self-help ethos is evident in the resident's “compassionate conservatism.”) But Wesley was equal part freedom fighter: As a pastor in 17th-century England, he was barred from the pulpit for crusading against the abhorrent evils of slavery. Wesley died a poor man, his life a testament to Christ's exhortation of charity in the Gospel of Mark: “Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.”

... Ironically, the theology embedded in [Bush's evangelical] language is not even the president's own -- it belongs to Michael Gerson, Bush's crack speechwriter, himself a devout Christian and a graduate of Wheaton College, the “evangelical Harvard.” Far too often, though, the press confuses Gerson's words with Bush's beliefs.

The distinction is critical, as the press, as well as many of Bush's most ardent supporters, curiously points to the president's words, not his deeds, as evidence of his deep Christian faith.
McGarvey makes many more substantial points in the article - read it! Let me finish up with a quote from Bill Moyers in "Democracy in the Balance" regarding the hijacking of Jesus by the Religious Right:
Let's get Jesus back. The Jesus who inspired a Methodist ship-caulker named Edward Rogers to crusade across New England for an eight-hour work day. Let's get back the Jesus who caused Frances William to rise up against the sweatshop. The Jesus who called a young priest named John Ryan to champion child labor laws, unemployment insurance, a minimum wage, and decent housing for the poor - 10 years before the New Deal. The Jesus in whose name Dorothy Day challenged the church to march alongside auto workers in Michigan, fishermen and textile workers in Massachusetts, brewery workers in New York, and marble cutters in Vermont. The Jesus who led Martin Luther King to Memphis to join sanitation workers in their struggle for a decent wage.


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