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The Divine Calm of George W. Bush: Iraq's a mess, half the country hates you - just keep praying!
Village Voice ^ | May 3rd, 2004 9:30 AM | Rick Perlstein

Posted on 05/04/2004 10:48:27 AM PDT by dead

For George W. Bush, August 6, 2001, had to have been a pretty harrowing day, reading as he did in his Daily Brief that operatives of Osama bin Laden were "in the U.S. planning attacks with explosives," and surveilling federal buildings in New York, and mulling over plans to attack Washington, D.C. But a reporter who saw him cavorting on his Crawford ranch not long after said, "The president was probably at the most relaxed I've ever seen him."

April 9, 2004, couldn't have been too nice for the president either. That was when he was deciding whether to publicize the contents of that Daily Brief, after Condoleezza Rice's grilling at the hands of the commission investigating 9-11. He knew the document would unravel his cover story of several years' standing as to why he couldn’t have known Bin Laden was determined to strike in the U.S.; its title was "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S." But Bush blithely spent the day pulling bass out of the lake on his ranch with a TV host, who observed, "The president was very relaxed."

It is one of the abiding mysteries of the Bush presidency: that when feces start hitting the fan, the man at the center seems not to have a care in the world.

Lyn Nofziger knows something about presidents under pressure: He worked with Nixon during Watergate and with Reagan during Iran-Contra. "There was a little panic on September 11," Nofziger, now a Republican lobbyist, observes of George W. Bush. "But I don’t really see any real signs of panic now."

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Does it have something to do with growing up wealthy and handsome, the son of a powerful politician, breezing through Yale under the protection of his Skull and Bones confreres? But George Bush the father possessed those same attributes, and in the middle of his re-election campaign in 1992, his approval ratings likewise heading south, he looked about ready to walk into a wall. "Close associates and even some foreign leaders have talked privately about episodes in which Bush looked bad and seemed distracted, nervous, or not entirely focused on the subject at hand," the Los Angeles Times put it delicately at the time.

The pressures for Bush the elder were hardly as great as they are now for Bush the younger, with the occupation of Iraq falling into chaos. Yet the elder seemed wracked by doubts. The younger seems to harbor none. What accounts for the difference?

Consider this story.

Shortly after his 1998 re-election as governor of Texas, Republican heavyweights begin to discuss George Bush Jr. as a presidential prospect. W. is dubious. Then one day he's sitting in church, Highland Methodist in Dallas, with his mother. The pastor, Mark Craig, preaches on Moses' ambivalence about leading the Israelites out of bondage. ("Sorry, God, I'm busy," the minister has Moses responding. "I've got a family. I've got sheep to tend. I've got a life.")

Pastor Craig moves on from the allegorical portion of his sermon. The American people are "starved for leadership," he says, "starved for leaders who have ethical and moral courage." He reminds his congregation, "It's not always easy or convenient for leaders to step forward. Remember, even Moses had doubts."

Barbara Bush, the high-church Episcopalian whose husband rejected advice to insert scriptural references into his speeches because they made him uncomfortable, tells her son, "He was talking to you."

George W. Bush, the born-again Christian, apparently hears his mother's "he" as the providential He. According to Stephen Mansfield's sympathetic account in The Faith of George W. Bush, he then called his friend, the Charismatic preacher James Robison, host of the TV show Life Today, and told him, "I've heard the call. I believe God wants me to run for president."

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It's hard to be perturbed when you believe what our president believes. According to Professor Bruce Lincoln, who teaches a seminar on the theology of George W. Bush at the University of Chicago Divinity School, the president "does feel that people are called upon by the Divine to undertake certain positions in the world, and undertake certain actions, and to be responsible for certain things. And he makes, I think, quite clear—explicitly in some contexts, and implicitly in a great many others—that he occupies the office by a Divine calling. That God put him there with a sense of purpose."

It has been a topic of some confusion, the meaning of George Bush's religious beliefs. Some commentators trumpet the president's ties to Howard Ahmanson, a fantastically wealthy Californian who is an acolyte of the "Christian Reconstructionist" movement—which aims to place the United States under Biblical law (though Ahmanson proclaims himself personally against, say, the stoning of homosexuals). Others point up his connections to apocalyptic millennialists like Tim LaHaye, co-author of the Left Behind novels. The problem is that, theologically, Bush can't serve both these masters at once. The likes of LaHaye actively search for signs of the Second Coming of Christ and spend their days feverishly speculating about and preparing for the seven years’ battle for the world that will follow. Reconstructionists, Alan Jacobs, a professor at the evangelical college Wheaton, has explained, "are pretty confident Jesus isn’t going to show up any time soon," which is precisely their rationale for bringing the Book of Leviticus to life in the here-and-now.

There's no evidence that George Bush believes what Christian Reconstructionists believe. And in contrast to Ronald Reagan, who was always letting loose intemperate slips about America's role in Revelation's End Times showdown, the University of Chicago's Bruce Lincoln says, "in [Bush's] public messages I find very little that's apocalyptic."

Cautioning that it's almost impossible to know anyone's true beliefs, Lincoln still thinks he's got a pretty good sense of Bush's. The results help illuminate this question of how Bush maintains his peace of mind under such unimaginable stress.

When the drunken and dissolute prodigal finally found Jesus in the mid 1980s, the book of the Bible his study group was poring over was the Acts of the Apostles. "It's focused on missionizing, evangelizing, spreading the faith," Lincoln explains. "It's not end-of-the-world stuff. It's expansionist—it's religious imperialism, if you will. And I think that remains his primary orientation."

What's more, Lincoln adds, his primary orientation also holds that "the U.S. is the new Israel as God's most favored nation, and those responsible for the state of America in the world also enjoy special favor. . . . Foremost among the signs of grace—if I read him correctly—are the cardinal American virtues of courage, on the one hand, and compassion, on the other." For Bush to waver would be to tempt God's disfavor; what's more, we can speculate that the very act of holding to his resolve—what his critics identify as stubbornness and arrogance—becomes, tautologically, a way of both producing, and reassuring himself of, his special place in God's plan. The existential benefits are obvious. "Wherever the U.S. happens to advance something that he can call 'freedom,' he thinks he’s serving God's will, and he proclaims he's serving God's will."

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The Al Qaeda attacks play into this vision perfectly. They have allowed George Bush to move his administration into a Manichaean realm that pre–9-11 issues like stem cell research and estate tax repeal never could have. It's why so much of his re-election rhetoric, both from the campaign and from his followers, proceeds as if his inauguration took place on September 12, 2001. Or, as the jacket copy for The Faith of George W. Bush puts it, "From the tragedy of September 11 to the present-day conflict in Iraq, President Bush has learned to use his faith to help him live his life—both in office and in private." It is a field of force that Bush helps shape every time he ends his speeches with the homiletic "May God continue to bless America."

Explains Lincoln in his book Holy Terrors: Thinking About Religion After September 11, it's a phrase that, by transcending the clichéd version of the formulation, "suggests Bush and his speechwriters gave serious thought to the phrase and decided to emphatically reaffirm the notion that the United States has enjoyed divine favor throughout its history—moreover, that it deserves said favor insofar as it remains firm in its faith."

Lincoln points out an especially cunning aspect of the post–9-11 incarnation of Christian militancy: that Bush's invocation of Islam as a "religion of peace," a great religion hijacked by the terrorists, need not contradict the specifically Christian aspects of this vision. Some Christians, Lincoln observes, "would maintain that Christianity is not a religion. The others"—Islam, Shinto, whatever—"are religions." Christianity, simply, is reality: the truth. Bush can praise Islam to the skies, but it needn't take away from the Christian right's sense that Bush knows it's really Christ who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

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This belief among his followers is another element behind Bush's apparent imperturbability. His signals to them have produced a mass of people who unequivocally embrace the notion that their president was given to them by Providence.

Jennifer Shroder is the pseudonym of a California housewife and religious-right activist whose agitations against textbooks she claims teach children "how to pray to Allah" and "to participate in any and all religions except that of His Son, Jesus Christ" have won her coverage from the Associated Press, the New York Post, and USA Today. In an e-mail to the Voice, she explains President Bush's divine selection by way of 1 Corinthians, and also the Book of Isaiah—the latter for its injunction "Behold, I have given him for a witness to the people, a leader and commander to the people," the former for its description of the leader Jehoiada, "who is very similar to President Bush, using 'sword and shield' along with the leaders with him."

She illustrates an article on her website, blessedcause.org, called "President Bush, National Hero" with a painting of the president alongside the ghostly figures of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, who rest their hands upon his shoulders, heads bowed. A halo of light emanates from Bush's head; in intersection with the horizontal of the presidential lectern, it appears to form a crucifix.

Lest you think Jen is alone, the painting comes from a another website, presidentialprayerteam.com, through which 2.8 million members receive daily instructions on how to coordinate prayer for the president. I don't know about you, but if I had 2.8 million people advertising the fact that they were praying for my well-being every day—and, to boot, if I actually believed that prayer worked—I'd feel pretty damned relaxed, too.

No, President Bush feels little reason to doubt. "It's different from, say, Dick Nixon," says Lyn Nofziger, "who was putting on a brave front but knew underneath he was wrong—that he was doing things that if he ever got caught he would be in trouble. I don't think this guy thinks that. He thinks he's doing the proper thing."


TOPICS: Culture/Society; Government; News/Current Events; Politics/Elections; US: New York; War on Terror
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I received a freepmail from Rick Perlstein yesterday, alerting me that this would be appearing today. He said this article was inspired partially by Free Republic's recent President Bush News Conference Live Thread.

He's looking forward to a lively response from Freepers. Enjoy!

1 posted on 05/04/2004 10:48:27 AM PDT by dead
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To: dead
I thought it a fair piece.

Mr. Perlstein; regarding the President's calm demeanor, he's a devout poker player too.

2 posted on 05/04/2004 10:54:41 AM PDT by Vigilantcitizen (Donít go around stating the world owes you a living; the world owes you nothing; it was here first.)
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To: dead
I'm still behind the president 100% and I'm getting tired of conservatives bashing him on petty issues. If you've got a legitimate gripe, fine. But please don't be like Laura Ingraham was this morning.

Bush, in his speech, said people neededed to understand that people of every skin color desired freedom. Well he said nothing untrue. But apparently it rubbed her the wrong way and was worth stirring people up over.

3 posted on 05/04/2004 10:57:25 AM PDT by Sockdologer
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To: Vigilantcitizen
Uh, I wouldn't say half the country hates Bush--though the pollsters who increase their capital by purveying such a machination would have you believe that. More likely is, the pollsters know to whom they can go for polling results in order to fashion such a notion with specious statistics.
4 posted on 05/04/2004 10:59:01 AM PDT by MHGinTN (If you can read this, you've had life support from someone. Promote life support for others.)
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To: dead
I think part of the President's calm also comes from a certain contentment.

I've always had the feeling, even during the 2000 election recount debacle, that if Bush didn't win, he'd go back to his ranch in Crawford and be happy.

Same about reelection. He wants to be re-elected, but it's not about a lust for power or a need to have an identity.

If he's not re-elected (I don't even like to think about that), but if he's not, he'll go back to Crawford and be content.

Just MHO.
5 posted on 05/04/2004 11:01:13 AM PDT by dawn53
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To: Vigilantcitizen; Perlstein
I thought it was a fair piece as well. Wrong factually on certain points (“his cover story of several years' standing as to why he couldn’t have known Bin Laden was determined to strike in the U.S”), but not a hit piece by any means.

Plus, it also the kind of article that will actually scare the living crap out of the typical Village Voice reader, which is always funny to contemplate.

I am not religious in the least, but I still find the idea that Bush feels he is answering to a higher power comforting. It insures that Bush will do what he believes to be right thing for the greatest good, which is a pretty solid guideline for any individual who isn’t a sociopath.

It sure beats the hell out somebody like Clinton, who answered only to money, his libido and his lust for more power.

6 posted on 05/04/2004 11:05:02 AM PDT by dead (I've got my eye out for Mullah Omar.)
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To: All
It just drives the fish wrap writers of the Village Voice (and NYT) absolutely crazy that GWB is a man of principle AND Faith.
7 posted on 05/04/2004 11:13:41 AM PDT by Prov1322 (Enjoy my wife's incredible artwork at www.watercolorARTwork.com! (This space no longer for rent))
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To: dead
I am not religious in the least, but I still find the idea that Bush feels he is answering to a higher power comforting. It insures that Bush will do what he believes to be right thing for the greatest good, which is a pretty solid guideline for any individual who isn’t a sociopath.

Another comforting facet of the President's religious beliefs is the fact he doesn't constantly remind the public of them, while still letting everyone know where he stands.

8 posted on 05/04/2004 11:28:17 AM PDT by Vigilantcitizen (Donít go around stating the world owes you a living; the world owes you nothing; it was here first.)
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To: Prov1322
"It just drives the fish wrap writers of the Village Voice (and NYT) absolutely crazy that GWB is a man of principle AND Faith."


There's nothing in this article that indicates any craziness on the part of the author, but rather (it seems) the author seems to be observing and commenting on Bush's faith and what it's meant to his presidency. There are bad VV columns but this doesn't appear to be one of them.
9 posted on 05/04/2004 11:42:11 AM PDT by Blzbba
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To: Prov1322
When you have Jesus on your side, there is a deep, settled peace in your soul. Real, committed Christians who are secure in their faith do not panic every time the world tries to dish it to them. They do not change course with every breeze that blows past them.
10 posted on 05/04/2004 11:42:31 AM PDT by vandykelastone (I'm so glad Goober Pyle is the Governor of New Mexico, aren't you?)
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To: Prov1322
When you have Jesus on your side, there is a deep, settled peace in your soul. Real, committed Christians who are secure in their faith do not panic every time the world tries to dish it to them. They do not change course with every breeze that blows past them.
11 posted on 05/04/2004 11:42:31 AM PDT by vandykelastone (I'm so glad Goober Pyle is the Governor of New Mexico, aren't you?)
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To: dead
Air America radio shows..."Glowing Success" bwahahahaha demonstrates that the left is full of it on every issue...especially the one that claims half the nation hates President Bush
12 posted on 05/04/2004 11:43:01 AM PDT by joesnuffy (Moderate Islam Is For Dilettantes)
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To: joesnuffy
...that the left is full of it on every issue...especially the one that claims half the nation hates President Bush

The funny part is that even if it were true that half the nation hates Bush (and it isn't true), he still would have a better following than the last idiot we had for president.
13 posted on 05/04/2004 11:57:44 AM PDT by fr_freak
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To: dead; DittoJed2; esther2; Azbushgal; GretchenM; ohioWfan; rabidralph; Hila; califordubya; ...
Agree that it's not entirely accurate, but definitely trying to be fair.

PING for an interesting article about the depth and calm of our President's faith.....

14 posted on 05/04/2004 12:14:46 PM PDT by ohioWfan (BUSH 2004 - Leadership, Integrity, Morality)
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To: dead
BTTT for Jesus!
BTTT for prayer!
BTTT for GWB!

:-)
15 posted on 05/04/2004 12:23:16 PM PDT by Bradís Gramma (Take THAT Kerry and Hitlery! FREEPERS ROCK!!!!)
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To: dead
Bush's inner strength drives his opponents nuts.

His leadership style is old school: disciplined, steady, reliable - with a much needed twist of genuine cheer.

Attempts to diminish Bush's personal fortitude by snickering at his faith or his background have only made him stronger.

Bush is comfortable with himself and doesn't look to others for validation.
16 posted on 05/04/2004 12:31:11 PM PDT by Spotsy (Bush-Cheney '04)
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To: Brad's Gramma
OK. Perlstein here. Let's discuss. Everyone seems to agree that it's a fair piece, that it reports a fact that people are comfortable with: that Bush sees no reason to question his policies, because he believes them to be in concert with his faith.

My question: let's just assume, for the sake of argument, that George W. Bush did something you didn't like, that you thought was disastrous. Even in the face of bad results, he kept at it. You get frustrated, and hope he will hew back to a course you do agree with. But then you realize he will never change, because Bush thinks his course is divinely ordained.

Assuming that
1) Bush is human, and will make mistakes;
2) That when you make a mistake, the best course often is to CHANGE course;
3) The depth of Bush's faith makes him so imperturbable that it's unlikely he will ever change course because he never admits to making a mistake;

then isn't this an abuse of faith, not a way of honoring God?
17 posted on 05/04/2004 12:34:54 PM PDT by Perlstein
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To: dead
I find it incredibly hypocritical that the left almost universally thinks that any reference to one's faith or God's will in a conservative Christian is a sign of lunacy or dementia, yet the rabid, obsessive devotion to one's faith, even to extremes of death, in Muslims is seen to be a sign of character and sincerity.

What the left would really like to see is a President that openly states that there is no God and there will no longer be any restrictions whatsoever on sexual behavior so bugger away, boys, and that the USA will now be run entirely by the United Nations and promises never, ever to intervene in any foreign country ever again.

18 posted on 05/04/2004 12:45:28 PM PDT by Sender (I actually voted for inconsistancy before I voted against it.)
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To: dead
Speaking of President Lincoln, half the country hated him, actually, likely more, and the US was in a civil war. He seemed rather peaceful too. He was reelected in those circumstances. The author probably prefers people who are hand wringers, rather than a confident person who knows the value of hand wringing.
19 posted on 05/04/2004 12:48:55 PM PDT by TheDon (The Democratic Party is the party of TREASON)
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To: Perlstein
Perlstein, as in the actual excretor of the above article?
20 posted on 05/04/2004 12:49:38 PM PDT by Sender (I actually voted for inconsistancy before I voted against it.)
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