KP sends along a link to this article by Gary Wills, famous for being a former conservative who now attacks conservatives. Wills blazed the path that Andrew Sullivan has been treading for the past couple of years.
The thrust of the article is that George W. Bush is a religious zealot without peer as president in American history and that he has packed the government with like-minded wingnuts. Wills ought to get together with David Kuo and compare notes. Wills believes Bush to be a Methodist mufti; Kuo thinks Bush is an evangelical poseur and the apparent religiosity of the administration is a sham. As for Sullivan, it’s clear to me after reading Wills for the first time in a while that Sullivan isn’t merely treading the path Wills blazed. Sullivan is borrowing Wills’ entire worldview. There is no surer path to MSM praise than to have a pedigree that includes public rejection of conservative values you once held. For Sullivan that’s doubly so, given the purple poetry he once wrote to George W. Bush.
But back to Wills. The entire article is rife with the kind of paranoid thinking that typifies the left nowadays. Conspiracies to fill the government with Christians abounds, as though that’s an evil agenda in and of itself. Wills begins with a curious comparison between GW Bush and Ike, both of whom accepted Christianity relatively late in life and both of whom were led to faith by that dangerous radical preacher, Rev. Billy Graham.
George W. Bush was not only born-again, like Jimmy Carter. His religious conversion came late, and took place in the political setting of Billy Graham’s ministry to the powerful. He was converted during a stroll with Graham on his father’s Kennebunkport compound. It is true that Dwight Eisenhower was guided to baptism by Graham. But Eisenhower was a famous and formed man, the principal military figure of World War II, the leader of NATO, the president of Columbia University—his change in religious orientation was just an addition to many prior achievements. Bush’s conversion at a comparatively young stage in his life was a wrenching away from mainly wasted years. He joined a Bible study culture in Texas that was unlike anything Eisenhower bought into.
So which was it–late, or early? And why the comparison to the steely Eisenhower? Mostly because Ike’s seen these days as a “good Republican” by the left, while Bush is the personification of evil. Ronald Reagan gets a similar treatment by Wills, and even U. S. Grant comes in for some faint praise, leading to the interesting thought that perhaps in the world of the hard left, the only good Republican is a dead one. Wills can’t find it within himself to praise any living Republicans in this piece.
As an aside, I happened to work in George W. Bush’s NASA for several years. I worked in Clinton’s NASA before that, and Clinton’s Air Force before that. There were good appointments and bad appointments by both presidents, some based on merits and some on ideology and by both presidents, but any fair minded observer would be hard pressed to find a better person to lead NASA than Michael Griffin, whom Bush appointed last year. And during the transition from Clinton to Bush, there was remarkably little turnover in the agency’s upper echelons. There wasn’t enough turnover in my opinion, as Clinton-appointees used their posts to thwart the Bush administration from the first day it took office.
But back to Wills. Given the chance, I would like to ask him a simple question: Do Christians deserve a place at the table in American politics? Yes or no will do. Qualifiers count as a “No.”
To me, it’s simple. There are between 50 and 100 million evangelicals in this country, depending on how you count and which questions you ask. That’s an awful lot of people to discount, and if you’re going strictly by numbers, it’s foolish for people like Wills (and Sullivan) to continue to demonize us. Put us up against any individual voting bloc and we outnumber them. This is a republic, where majorities tend to vote in the government they want. Demonizing us, as Wills does in this article and Sullivan does every single day, turns off millions of voters en masse.
If we don’t deserve a place at the table, and it’s clear that Wills thinks we don’t, what are we to do except keep voting against everything Wills wants? Which means that we keep voting against his ideology and his party. And as he insists on demonizing us, we just become more convinced that we have to keep voting against Wills and his party in order to protect ourselves. That increases turnout among the very voters Wills despises, whether the Republicans happen to be any good or not. Additionally, there are evangelicals in both political parties. But if Wills’ secularist, conspiracy-minded worldview dominates one party, pretty soon the evangelicals in that party will defect to the other one. Who wants to support a party that serves as the base of operations for people who despise your core beliefs?
At any rate, read the article if you have a few minutes to kill. Wills engages in historical revisionism, line-blurring and mind-reading throughout, all to build a rather flimsy case that George W. Bush is doing anything that his predecessors haven’t. Unless you think Wills is right, and that no other president has appointed people to government who share his own views. What has been standard American politics for centuries is, to Wills, worth several hundred words of scorn and whispers.