A most curious first question following President Bush's speech
today in Cleveland:
Q Thank you for coming to Cleveland, Mr. President, and to the City Club. My question is that author and former Nixon administration official Kevin Phillips, in his latest book, American Theocracy
, discusses what has been called radical Christianity and its growing involvement into government and politics. He makes the point that members of your administration have reached out to prophetic Christians who see the war in Iraq and the rise of terrorism as signs of the apocalypse. Do you believe this, that the war in Iraq and the rise of terrorism are signs of the apocalypse? And if not, why not?
PRESIDENT BUSH: The answer is -- I haven't really thought of it that way.
(Laughter.) Here's how I think of it. The first I've heard of that, by the way.
I guess I'm more of a practical fellow. I vowed after September the 11th, that I would do everything I could to protect the American people. And my attitude, of course, was affected by the attacks. I knew we were at war. ...
Bush, as you can see from the above, failed to answer "no." Now ask yourself, why?
With a straightforward, or even defiant answer, Bush could have unequivocably defended Republicans, his administration, and supporters of the Iraq War and his handling of the war on terror.
"No," he could have said. "That's a ridiculous idea, and it saddens me to think that there are some Americans who feel that way about what we are trying to accomplish in Iraq and why."
Or he could have said, "I haven't read the book you're talking about, but if that's the argument the author is making, he's wrong. And I would think many Christians, myself included, would be offended by such an argument."
Instead, Bush pretends he's never heard this criticism before and then launches into a stump speech about the Bush philosophy on a post-September 11th universe. It's a politician's answer, using a linguistic trick that no doubt Bush's speechwriters have made clear to him -- when in doubt, quickly turn to the familiar.
Bush's failure to say "no" caught the attention of people on all sides of the political spectrum. No less than Michael Savage, hardly a left-winger, chastised Bush on his syndicated radio show this evening, questioning Bush's intelligence for failing to decisive distance himself from the theory proposed by Phillips, and in turn, the questioner in Cleveland.
Phillips, who helped craft President Nixon's successful Southern strategy in 1968 and wrote The Emerging Republican Majority
a year later, has long since distanced himself from the current Republican party's modus operandi. He's clearly against the Bush family, and wrote a book, American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune, and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush
to say as much. In the current book, he takes on the ties between the Republican Party and the religious right.
In American Theocracy, Phillips devotes roughly one-third of his pages talking about the ties between the religious right and the Republican Party. With regard to so-called apocalyptic Christians, Time
in its review says
"(Regardless of why the Iraq War began), Bush was ensured a cheering section from those elements of the Christian right fascinated by 'end times' theology -- the belief in Christ's imminent return, and the prospect of Armageddon beginning in the Middle East -- popularized in brimstone best sellers like Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins' Left Behind novels. Phillips is convinced that many Americans underestimate the power of that idea among large parts of the electorate. ... (I)t's useful to point, as Phillips does, to polls suggesting that half of those who voted for Bush in 2004 believe in the word-for-word accuracy of the Bible."
Why didn't Bush say "no" when given the chance? Maybe because he knows his popularity is eroding
among his party's base, and any slight against a pillar of the party -- the religious right -- can only increase the chances of Democrats taking over Congress in November, and decreasing the chances of him getting much of anything accomplished in his final two years in office.
Let's hope that's the reason. The alternative -- that Phillips is right and Bush was caught unprepared to discuss such things -- is too scary to consider.