Skip to comments.Why Bush is America's natural leader, stupid
Posted on 09/03/2004 4:38:30 PM PDT by Pokey78
What single fact tells you more about George W Bush and American politics than any other? That he converted from his family's Anglicanism and became a Methodist.
It is inconceivable that such a thing would happen in Britain. In the first place, Methodism has almost collapsed in this country. There are hardly any Methodists left here, let alone converts.
More to the point, the habit in Britain is the other way round. If you start life as a Methodist and then rise in the world socially, you tend to graduate ("convert" is much too strenuous a word) to Anglicanism. And even if, like Mr Bush, you wanted to distance yourself from your privileged upbringing, it would not occur to you to do so by becoming a Methodist. Buddhist, Ba'hai, Muslim even, but not a Methodist.
You could scarcely be more New England Anglican (or, as they call it, Episcopalian) posh than the Bush family. The reason the President is called George is that one of his great-grandfathers, George Herbert Walker, was named after George Herbert, perhaps the greatest poetic voice of Anglicanism ("Teach me, my God and King " etc).
Those three names were duly given to the future George Bush senior at his baptism, and he passed the George and the Walker on to his son. The Bushes are Yale and Andover and Wall Street and all that: George W is the 13th cousin once removed of the Queen. Religion in those parts may be serious, but it is not worn on the sleeve.
Methodism was a purifying movement within Anglicanism. Eventually, it broke with its mother Church and claimed an independent existence as a cleaner, simpler, more personal faith, one that rejected worldly status. Bush junior's conversion follows that path - a turning away from personal failure (in his case drinking and getting nowhere) through a direct experience of God, a journey away from social grandeur to something that seemed more rugged, a journey from Connecticut to Texas.
No doubt this journey was and remains profound and sincere, but it was also brilliant politics. Mr Bush has the good fortune to be considered stupid by his opponents, so they don't study him properly. What he has done is not stupid at all: he has found a way of embodying and uniting the different strands of conservatism in America.
In a lucid and objective new book called The Right Nation (Allen Lane, £14.99), two English authors, John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge, set out how conservatism has gradually undermined the claim of American liberals, established by Roosevelt's New Deal, to be able to solve the nation's problems.
Emphasising values more than class, it has taken ideas seriously, and also the organisation required to promote those ideas. It is made up of potentially opposed groups - the extremes varying from strict Puritans who believe that the divine "Rapture" is about to bring the world to an end to libertarians who want no government at all.
But it can bring together many, even most, Americans round what the authors call "four of the most basic American passions - for business, property, choice and, most especially, national security". Ronald Reagan forged this unity in the Cold War. Now George W Bush has done it in the war against terrorism.
Geography, biography and theology have all combined in Mr Bush's favour. If he hadn't put down roots in somewhere like Texas (silly phrase, sorry: there's nowhere like Texas), he would for ever have been vulnerable to the jibes about being an effete East Coaster. Now he can make a good joke about his "swagger" being what, in Texas, they call "walking".
If he hadn't made a bit of a mess of the first 40 years of his life, he would not have been able to appeal to the American love of a story of sin, struggle and redemption. If he hadn't experienced this story as one of divine love, he would not have been able to speak the language that touches the hearts of a people 40 per cent of whom go to church "at least once a week".
If, on the other hand, Mr Bush had never been near Harvard Business School and Yale and if his father had not been so powerful and so rich, he would have been poorly placed to reach the other important conservative constituencies - big business, dealmakers, networkers, problem solvers, soldiers. In other words, he genuinely combines fervent personal faith, a popular touch, superb connections and a huge pile of loot. Such a combination shouldn't surprise us - we had it here in the 19th century with Gladstone. It is formidable.
Once one understands how this works, the suggestion that Mr Bush is stupid looks, well, stupid. Intelligence in politics doesn't mean deep reading or having original ideas: you can be a very clever fool. It means knowing how to do what you want and believe with the constantly varying weapons at your disposal. It means being in tune with the culture. This week in New York, Mr Bush and his party look as if they possess that sort of intelligence.
This is not necessarily the same as saying that they are right. It could yet turn out that the difficulty of settling Iraq will prove insurmountable. But what is clear is that he sets the agenda and the Democrats try to hurry along behind. John Kerry feels the need to say that he has "conservative values", which allowed George W Bush his best bits of raillery in the speech yesterday. All this astonishing dispute about what Mr Kerry did or did not do in the Vietnam war is the result of the fact he fears he may be thought unpatriotic. The Democrat candidate has to prove something to conservative America, whereas the Republican has to prove nothing to the liberals.
Looked at in this way, I find the Bush story reassuring. It shows that Mr Bush is not the half-witted fanatic of the BBC's imagination. He is an absolutely mainstream figure in a country that has always gone very big on God and Mammon and does its best to see if the two can't achieve peaceful coexistence. It is a country that believes very deeply in freedom, but its idea of freedom is so strongly related to its sense of itself that, when it feels external threat, it reacts with unified fury.
Mr Bush has that uniquely American gift for reinventing yourself with perfect sincerity, whereas Mr Kerry's self-reinvention looks insincere. Since three years ago next Saturday, George W Bush has looked the natural leader of America. He still does
Good read from across the pond
Yes, it is a good read. Don't misunderestimate George W.
Mr Bush has that uniquely American gift for reinventing yourself with perfect sincerity, whereas Mr Kerry's self-reinvention looks insincere.
I wonder if this guy's parentage includes an American soldier from World War I or World War II. Perhaps he's a Scott... He certainly can't be descended from the French. ;-)
Great piece from across the pond. Bookmarked.
As My Hero Teddy Roosevelt would say: Bully!
USA,USA,USA,USA....It is a country that believes very deeply in freedom, but its idea of freedom is so strongly related to its sense of itself that, when it feels external threat, it reacts with unified fury...USA,USA,USA,USA!!!
Europe lost that belief a century ago. It was replaced by something called SOCIALISM. It saps the people of freedom, will, courage, values and turns them into...sheeple.
GOB BLESS AMERICA AND GOD BLESS GEORGE W. BUSH
John Kerry's family "graduated" from Judaism to Christianity so they could social-climb.
Interesting and right on target, too.
Why is it the Brits see America in a better light then the Liberals in this country???
God Bless GWB, and God Bless America
Thank God for making me an American.
Quality analysis bump!
I liked it.
It is a country that believes very deeply in freedom, but its idea of freedom is so strongly related to its sense of itself that, when it feels external threat, it reacts with unified fury.
I don't believe I've seen it described as well in so few words..from a foreigner yet!
To separate an American from Freedom is to cut off their ability to breathe. It cannot be done. It can be stifled for awhile but eventually we get tired of existing on one lung and shove back hard.
God Bless our President.
Hey, that's just what I said in the thread about President Bush's speech here, that he was setting the agenda and making the 'rat candidate scurry like a rat to keep up,I feel vindicated:)
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