Why Is Bush Afraid of Franklin Graham?

If Bush wants to convince the world this isn't a war against Islam, he needs to tell the Christian leader to stay out of Iraq

BY: Steven Waldman

 

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Even other evangelical leaders seem to be aware of the volatile nature of Graham's comments. Richard Cizik, vice president for governmental affairs of the National Association of Evangelicals, told Religion News Service, "Evangelicals need to be sensitive to the circumstances of this country and its people. If we are perceived as opportunists, we only hurt our cause."

So why has no one in the administration been willing to rein in Graham? The most generous explanation is simply that they were slow to understand the significance of Graham's intended move. Another possibility is that they're conscious of Graham's popularity with evangelical Christian voters, a key to Bush's election and to his re-election.

I know that's a serious criticism--implying that the President is putting domestic politics over national interest. But this isn't the first time Bush has weighed domestic political factors in dealing with Graham and other evangelical leaders. Throughout 2002, Christian leaders like Graham, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson issued ever more caustic criticisms of Islam - at the same time President Bush was saying it was a "religion of peace."

Yet the White House remained quiet -- until after the midterm election. Eight days after the votes were counted, Bush and Powell then rebuked the Christian leaders. "Some of the comments that have been uttered about Islam do not reflect the sentiments of my government or the sentiments of most Americans," Bush said. Referring to a comment from Robertson comparing Muslims to Nazis, Powell said, "This kind of hatred must be rejected. This kind of language must be spoken out against. We cannot allow this image to go forth of America because it is an inaccurate image of America."

Why did they wait until after the election? Michael Cromartie, director of the evangelical studies program at the Ethics and Public Policy Institute, speculated at the time that they didn't want to dampen enthusiasm among crucial evangelical Christian voters: "Why alienate the base before the election? Why not do it now when you have serious political capital?"

Since the post-election rebuke, Graham has been careful not to criticize Islam publicly. But, according to Graham, no one at the White House or State Department told him to stop his people from going to Baghdad.

Are domestic politics keeping Bush or Powell from doing what's right for the country? Sure looks like that way. If that's not the reason, why won't they tell Franklin to stay home?

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