April 28, 2005


Evangelical Bush? (William F. Buckley Jr., April 27, 2005, Sacramento Bee)

Wilfred McClay, who is a learned senior fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C., gave an arresting lecture in February called The Evangelical Conservatism of George W. Bush; Or, How the Republicans Became Red. [...]

McClay lists the energizing discontents of President Bush. "His 'compassionate conservatism,' his relatively favorable view of many federal social and educational programs, his sensitivity to issues of racial injustice and reconciliation, his softness on immigration issues, his promotion of the faith-based initiative, his concern with issues of international religious liberty, his African AIDS initiative, and above all, his enormously ambitious, even seemingly utopian, foreign-policy objectives -- (these) are positions that are best explained by the effects of his evangelical Christian convictions, and by his willingness to allow those convictions to trump more conventional conservative positions."

Mr. McClay darts off here to make different points, entirely engrossing: "It is strange that, of all the things liberals loathe about Bush, his religiousness seems to be at the top of the list. For it is precisely the seriousness of Bush's commitment to his evangelical faith that has made him more 'liberal,' in a certain sense, than many of his party brethren."

But it is high time to pause. The positions listed by McClay as most likely related to evangelicalism are not plausibly removed from a general political idealism that can be said to be rooted in Christian belief, but not exclusively so. The points listed in the Bush agenda are independently backed by many non-Christians, and indeed the most conspicuous of these, the ultra-Wilsonianism of Bush's second Inaugural Address, is most reliably traced not to Christian impulses, but to a non-Christian expression of them. It is the neo-cons, most frequently identified as Jewish in orientation, who are primarily identified with such policies -- so that we have arrived at exactly what, beyond that Jewish idealism and Christian idealism can and often do converge?

How otherwise to ingest the statement by Woodrow Wilson campaigning for the presidency in 1911? "A nation which does not remember what it was yesterday, does not know what it is today, nor what it is trying to do. We are trying to do a futile thing if we do not know where we came from or what we have been about. ... America was born a Christian nation. America was born to exemplify that devotion to the tenets of righteousness which are derived from the revelations of Holy Scripture."

Whether Bush owes his election to any explicit connection with evangelical Christianity is sheer speculation, as noted. But a derivative point, made by Wilfred McClay and of quite general interest, is: What has happened to the political idealism associated with the liberals?

Isn't the point here that America is an evangelical (separable from Evangelical) nation? So much so that it makes even Jews into evangelists? And W just happens to tap into that American spirit in a way that is unusual even among presidents, though common to the best.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 28, 2005 12:00 AM

Meanwhile, "Al Gore accused Senate Republicans on Wednesday of carrying out the dirty work of right wing heretics bent on undermining the federal courts" (quote from foxnews.com)

What exactly is a "right wing heretic" ?

All I can say is that Al Gore grows ODD while George Bush gets EVEN.

Posted by: Randall Voth at April 28, 2005 6:48 AM

Randall. I hope the president's speech tonight proves you right.

Posted by: erp at April 28, 2005 9:54 AM

I noticed Gore's strange usage, too. Why would he call any Republican a 'heretic'? Perhaps he meant to say 'crusader', or 'papist', or 'inquisitor'. Whatever, he is one confused, bitter old man.

Posted by: jim hamlen at April 28, 2005 9:58 AM