Bush’s Faith-based Incompetence

Dan Boylan
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Wednesday - November 29, 2006
| Del.icio.us

You may have noticed that President George W. Bush was in town last week. He visited military bases, wreaked his usual havoc (this time at the expense of four motorcycle cops) and departed - mercifully - after 15 hours.

Then again, unless you were caught in the traffic jam his motorcade caused on the H-1 Tuesday morning, maybe you didn’t notice him. For good reason, because on General Election Day three weeks ago, George W. Bush became irrelevant.

His party, because of its members’ slavish support for Bush’s consistently wrong-headed policies, lost control of Congress. On Nov. 7, the nation’s voters, from Boston to Barking Sands, told the self-proclaimed “decider” that they’d had enough of his decisions.

Some among the faithful last week didn’t notice Bush’s irrelevance. Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona, one of the small official welcoming committee allowed to get near the president at Hickam Field Monday night, was quoted as saying Bush “looked refreshed. He looked energized. He looked like a leader should look.”

It’s all looks, Duker, it’s all looks; and only the faithful - like yourself - think otherwise.

Indeed, the faithful - the nation’s evangelical community - may have been Bush’s problem all along. He won the Republican nomination in 2000 with their support, and Bush and his principal handler, Karl Rove, cultivated them at the expense of reason, fairness and ultimately the best interests of the country.

In “A Country Ruled By Faith” in the Nov. 16 issue of The New York Review of Books, historian Gary Wills outlines Bush’s systematic effort to turn the United States into a religious state, an evangelical theocracy.

Wills cites Bush’s naming “Jesus Christ” as his favorite philosopher during the 2000 election campaign and his assertion that God called him to run for president. “I know it won’t be easy on me or my family,” Bush said, “but God wants me to do it.”

According to Wills, Bush “promised his evangelical followers faith-based social services, which he called ‘compassionate conservatism,’” plus “a faith-based war, faith-based law enforcement, faith-based education, faith-based medicine and faith-based science.”

“Bush’s brain,” adviser Rove, set out to keep his boss’s promises. The president appointed Pentecostal Christian John Ashcroft attorney general, and came out for Constitutional amendments banning abortion and gay marriage. He launched “faith-based initiatives,” i.e., grants to churches to do social services, to aid his friends - like evangelical Chuck Colson ($2 million) and Pat Robertson ($1.5 million) and to woo the support of African-American religious leaders to a Republican administration.

What about the country’s revered separation of church and state? AG Ashcroft called it a malicious “wall of religious oppression.”

The Yale- and Harvard-educated Bush (ah, those legacies) said during his first presidential campaign that “the jury is still out” on the merits of Darwinism; but as Wills makes clear, that’s “true only if the jury is not made up of reputable scientists.”

Bush urged the teaching of “intelligent design” in the schools - along with evolution - in the science classes. “Now class,” sayeth the teacher, “close your biology textbook and turn to your Bible, the Book of Genesis.”

The Bush administration and its Republican majorities in Congress also denied scientists’ warnings about global warming. Oklahoma GOP Sen. James Inhofe called it “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.”

Following the faith-skewed health care as well: Bush approved millions of dollars to fight AIDS in Africa and the nation cheered, but “30 percent of that money was earmarked for promoting sexual abstinence, and none of it for condoms,” writes Wills. “Religion trumped medical findings on what is effective.”

Then, of course, there was stem-cell research, where Bush heeded the evangelicals’ contention that “embryos are human persons” and this past July used his first veto to block a stem cell research bill that passed both houses of Congress - Parkinson’s patients and people with spinal injuries be damned.

But perhaps faith-based politics had its most dire consequences in Iraq. Under Bush, the deputy undersecretary for defense intelligence, Gen. William Boykin, traveled the country preaching to evangelical congregations, showing slides of Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, Kim Jong Il and various Taliban leaders.

In uniform - battle fatigues - Boykin lectured that those in the slides were not the enemy, but “a guy called Satan. Satan wants to destroy this nation. He wants to destroy us as a nation and he wants to destroy us as a Christian army.”

Critics called for Boykin’s firing for turning Afghanistan and Iraq into religious wars. Instead, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Bush sheltered him in the Pentagon.

But the politics of the faithful contributed to incompetence in handling Iraq’s reconstruction. Wills argues that the White House “trolled the conservative foundations, Republican congressional staffs and evangelical schools for loyalist appointees” to staff the Iraq Coalition Provisional Authority under Paul Bremmer: “Right moral attitude was more important than competence.”

Turning Afghanistan and Iraq into religious wars has consequences. During his visit to Indonesia, Bush passed on spending a night in Jakarta, capital of the nation with the world’s largest Islamic population. A military base in Honolulu would have to do.

“There is a particular danger with a war God commands,” writes Wills. “What if God should lose? That is unthinkable to evangelicals. They cannot accept the idea of second-guessing God, and he was the one who led them into war.

“Thus, in 2006, when two thirds of the American people told pollsters that the war in Iraq was a mistake, the third of those still standing behind it were mainly evangelicals (who make up about one third of the population). It was a faith-based certitude.”

Certitudes like that spell danger - and political irrelevance.

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