The Real Reasons Evangelicals Love Bush
Persecution. Transformation. Calling. Clarity.
George W. Bush didn't have those kinds of obstacles, so he and his biographers have emphasized somewhat more pedestrian failings. He had dyslexia, for instance. "That Bush might be dyslexic makes his academic struggles and success all the more poignant," writes Stephen Mansfield in "The Faith of George W. Bush." He was a business failure, a wise-ass, and a drunk. His friend John Ellis sums it up: "To go through every stage of life and be found wanting and know that people find you wanting, that's a real grind."
(Amusingly, biographers want to portray Bush as bad, but not TOO bad. So the film says the temptation to drink arose from "a thirst that comes from a throat full of Texas dust.")
But in the context of a Christian transformation this is good stuff. Mansfield writes, "The burden might have crushed him. Men have commited suicide over less, ruined marriages and children in their attempt at self rescue. But before long something would change in Bush, and it would give him the direction his life had lacked. In Ellis's words, "he gathered it together." Though he was "going nowhere at forty....At the age of 52, he's the frontrunner for the Republican president nomination. That's a pretty incredible turnaround."
And the transformation happened, Bush says, because of faith: "There is only one reason that I am in the Oval Office and not in a bar. I found faith. I found God."
Interestingly, the film emphasizes that he turned away not only whiskey but hussies. It includes a dramatic re-enactment of the moment in the 2000 campaign that a "staffer was trying to get him to have an intimate relationship." The actor playing Bush angrily rebuffs her and you see the wave of disappointment flow over the face of the flirtatious blonde.
"She's just trying to get you to relax," an aide reportedly said. "You hurt her feelings."
"Good!" Bush responded. "I'm a married man and I'm glad she got the message!" The film is also chock-a-block full of stories about Bush's personal tenderness toward friends or soldiers who have suffered loss and even--Democrats should be seated for this--a gentleness and turn-the-other-cheek attitude he showed in political campaigns. Evangelist James Robison says, "The great change is not what he stopped doing but what he started doing--living for others."
When Beliefnet nominated Bush as a finalist in its 2001 Most Inspiring Person awards, it was because we were flooded with messages from users like "Pwicekearney" who wrote, "The manner in which he emerged over the last year from being one who did not even win the popular vote...to the man today is a remarkable metamorphosis! He is so real, so genuine. What you see is what you get! He's so human, willing to mention the name of God without fear or shame. Never has there been such a change in one man."
Third, Bush was called. Moses was reluctant to lead but God called him. Jonah did not want to go to Nineveh but God called him. Seldom do Biblical leaders lobby for their positions of leadership.
Both Kengor's and Mansfield's books make a big deal of Bush hearing the sermon of Rev. Mark Craig in which he discussed Moses's calling. Bush's mother turned to George after the sermon and said, "He was talking to you. Mansfield goes to say: "Not long after, Bush called James Robison (a prominent minister) and told him, 'I've heard the call. I believe God wants me to run for President.' Richard Land of the Southern Bapstist convention heard Bush say something similar: 'Among the things he said to us was: I believe that God wants me to be president.'"
After 9/11, the sense that God had chosen Bush certainly increased among his supporters and perhaps in Bush himself. "I think that God picked the right man at the right time for the right purpose," said popular Christian broadcaster Janet Parshall. General William "Jerry" Boykin got in trouble in part because of his comment that God must have put Bush in the White House since the voters didn't. "Why is this man in the White House? The majority of America did not vote for him. He's in the White House because God put him there for a time such as this."
Even former president George H.W. Bush speculated that perhaps he needed to be defeated so that his son could become president. "If I'd won that election in 1992, my oldest son would not be president of the United States of America...I think the Lord works in mysterious ways." This notion was strengthened after 9/11 when Bush so clearly rose to the challenge. That fed the evangelical view that his election was part of God's mysterious strategy.
Finally, there is the war on moral relativism. For many evangelicals, the root of all Baby Boomer evil is moral relativism, the sense that there is no absolute good or evil. So when Bush so clearly and frequently uses those terms, it has resonance well beyond foreign policy. When he says Al Qaeda is evil, he is, indirectly, talking to evangelicals about abortion, gay marriage, divorce, birth control, loud music, thongs, and anything else they might think resulted from moral relativism. Moral clarity is essential for fighting not only terror but American cultural rot.
There are other, more pedestrian reasons evangelicals love Bush. Evangelicals tend to be conservative so they like his policies. After all, they mostly voted for the very non-evangelical Gerry Ford over born again Christian Jimmy Carter. (And, to be sure, there are many evangelicals who dislike Bush altogether). But the connection between Bush and a great many evangelicals is deep and personal--indeed, it's grounded in their reading of how God transforms men and chooses leaders.