"A Calling from Beyond the Stars"
Bush is to God-talk what Clinton was to policy-talk and Michael Phelps is to swimming. He's the master, the best. Though he occasionally stumbles, for the most part, there is no one better at discussing faith in a way that is both inspiring and non-threatening. In sheer number of words, he actually spoke about faith less in his acceptance speech than Kerry did in his. But when he did, it was powerful. Instead of saying directly that we have divine mandate to fight for freedom in the world, he said "we have a calling from beyond the stars to stand for freedom."
In talking about the mothers of soldiers who died, he said, "And I have met with parents and wives and husbands who have received a folded flag, and said a final goodbye to a soldier they loved. I am awed that so many have used those meetings to say that I am in their prayers to offer encouragement to me."
And how brilliant was this story about an Iraqi man who had been tortured by Saddam Hussein? "During our emotional visit one of the Iraqi men used his new prosthetic hand to slowly write out, in Arabic, a prayer for God to bless America," he said. Bush certainly can't be accused of promoting American religious triumphalism: It's about Muslims calling on Allah to bless America!
Oh, and Did We Mention God Must Be Thanked for Giving Us George W. Bush?
However, it must be remembered that Bush was, in effect, the author not only of his own words but all the words uttered by the major speakers. They all were written or edited by campaign central command. So while Bush's rhetoric was subtle and inspiring, he signed off on speech after speech that heavy-handedly implied he was put in office at this moment by God Almighty.
"He is one of those men God and fate somehow lead to the fore in times of challenge," said George Pataki.
"I thank God that on September 11th, we had a president who didn't wring his hands and wonder what America had done wrong to deserve this attack," he added.
"I thank God we had a president who understood that America was attacked, not for what we had done wrong, but for what we did right," he added again, in case you didn't get the message.
This echoed lines from Rudy Giuliani's speech:
"Spontaneously, I grabbed the arm of then Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik and said to Bernie, 'Thank God George Bush is our President.' And I say it again tonight: Thank God George Bush is our President."
The Silent Scream of the Platform
The Republican platform, p. 92: "We support a human life amendment to the Constitution." That means the official position of the party is banning pretty much all abortions, not just partial birth. And yet in the speech Bush merely said he would work to value "the unborn child." His refusal to actually speak about one of the most important positions of the Republicsan Party platform struck me as not exhibiting the forthrightness and moral clarity about which he spoke in other contexts.
I was surprised Bush had only one line about the faith-based initiative. That seemed like a missed opportunity since his approach to that issue is actually quite similar to the approach he took to Iraq, showing hte same sense of toughness and swagger. He met with resistance from the cumbersome legislative branch, so he went around them and enacted his policies through executive order.