His name is Ozzy Osbourne-the rocker of biting-the-heads-off-of-bats fame, of language-so-bad-that-MTV-bleeps-every-other-word fame.
The president rises to make a few remarks. Turning to Mr. Osbourne, he says, "The thing about Ozzy is, he's made a lot of big hit recordings. `Party With the Animals,' Sabbath Bloody Sabbath,' Facing Hell,' Black Skies' and `Bloodbath in Paradise.'"
The audience is taken aback. They are not sure what is coming next, and they are somewhat surprised that this notoriously Christian and country-music president can name those songs.
Bush, of course, is smirking. While the audience chuckles, he says, "Ozzy, my mom loves your stuff." The place erupts with laughter.
Immediately after the dinner, some conservatives and religious leader protest that the president has welcomed such a cultural villain into the hallowed halls. The White House has no comment except to say that a good time was had by all.
What type is this president now? What category in style and politics his friends in the sixties said he belonged to their parents' generation. Yet his primary ally on the world scene is the leader of the British Labor Party, Tony Blair. Virtually alone, they stood together in support of the invasion of Iraq, and they have opened up a new chapter in Anglo-American relations.
Still, he was careful about wrapping politics in religious garb. "I can't stand politicians who wear God on their sleeves," he wrote in 1996. "I do not pretend to be any better or less selfish than anyone else; I do not believe that Christians should only vote Labor." He also described prayer as "a source of solace," the Gospels as "a most extraordinary expression of sensitive human values," and Jesus as a "modernizer."
And George W. Bush, the conservative millionaire businessman, is the friend of this ex-hippie Labor leader. They have shared Scripture together, prayed together, and discussed the morality of policy on walks at Camp David. Clearly, faith trumps politics in this relationship.
So, which of the Bush-types is this?
And then: In 1994, while campaigning for governor, Bush expressed his support for a sodomy law that criminalized homosexuality. He called it "a symbolic gesture of traditional values."
It should be said, too, that his conservative Christianity brands homosexual conduct a sin, and his philosophy of culture regards it as destructive of a healthy society.
Yet, on April 9, 2001, just months after taking office, Bush appointed an openly gay man, Scott H. Evertz, as director of the Office of National AIDS Policy. Later, he appointed another homosexual man, Michael Guest, as U.S. ambassador to Romania.
On what shelf do we put this version of the president?
Chief among the slurs inspired by a conservative Christian in the White House is that he will hasten the coming of Armageddon. This is particularly a concern among the non-Christian and the nonreligious-those forced to stand outside the fold and listen to Christian end-of-history scenarios that shame the wildest science fiction. Not all Christians hold such views, though, and those who don't resent having the assumption laid on them.
The myth goes something like this: All Bible-thumpers believe that history will end with a cataclysmic battle on a plain called Armageddon just north of Jerusalem, and Bible-thumping politicians see it as their duty to bring this battle to pass. This fear was first inspired by Reagan's ruminations on the End Times and has gained new currency with the popularity of the Left-Behind series of novels in America.
Even his critics admit that this is a misrepresentation of both Bush and his staff. Journalist Christopher Hitchens has written, "Neither Gerson nor Rove has anything to do with `end time' or `premillennial' Christianity, and neither believes that an intense military tussle with Satan is soon to take place at Armageddon. This is an often circulated slander against them, and against Bush, too."
Such assumptions about religion and the religious make suspect the simplest statements. On May 8, 1999, John Ashcroft, the future attorney general, was awarded an honorary doctorate by Bob Jones University. In a short speech of thanks, Ashcroft mentioned that during the American Revolution, correspondence from the colonies to George III included the statement, "We have no king but Jesus." He went on to make comparisons between a "culture that has no king but Caesar, no standard but the civil authority, and a culture that has no king but Jesus, no standard but the eternal authority."