Beliefnet News

Chicago Tribune
Daniel Darling thinks George W. Bush is doing a good job as president, and that means roughly 70 percent of Americans think Darling is a nut.
He is not.
What he is, perhaps not surprisingly, is the pastor of an evangelical church in the far north suburbs. He is a man of faith–the same general faith as Bush. He is passionately anti-abortion. He believes all leaders make mistakes and that even those mistakes are part of God’s grand and infallible plan.
“We don’t despair,” said Darling, pastor of Gages Lake Bible Church. “That’s why I come back to Bush and say, ‘Has he made mistakes? Sure. But he has been a good man, and he has led us through some tough times.’ It’s kind of like a family member. You stick with him through thick and thin.”
The Republican Party’s family reunion began Monday in Minnesota and was immediately thrown off course by Hurricane Gustav in Louisiana. To some, that might have been a reminder of what they disliked about the Bush administration and its response to Hurricane Katrina.
It’s clear the once-thick number of people sticking with Bush has thinned. The president’s approval rating hit a low point in polls about a year ago, and it has hovered around 30 percent ever since.
That has forced GOP candidates such as Sen. John McCain to become political contortionists, at once trying to embrace the president–appealing to Darling and the part of the country that remains Bush fans–while distancing themselves from the top Republican to reassure everyone else.
McCain has balancing act “The people who do still support Bush, the core of the Republican Party, McCain can’t turn away from them,” said Robert McElvaine, a history professor at Millsaps College in Mississippi and an expert on contemporary politics. “He’s in a position where he has to stay fairly close to Bush, even though that’s very bad for his image among independents and Democrats and even some Republicans. He needs the 30 percent that still like Bush.”
But who are the people that make up that 30 percent?
In a country with an appetite for gripes and criticism, there has been no end of talk about those who dislike the president. But people like Darling, part of Bush’s lonely band of supporters, have been largely sidelined, forced to root quietly–sometimes very quietly–for one of the most unpopular sitting presidents in U.S. history.
Demographically, the pro-Bush folks are what you might expect: predominantly white, heavily evangelical Christian and decidedly against abortion. That’s Darling.
For those who despise the president, it would be easy to tag Darling a right-wing zealot or any of the knee-jerk terms that have sprung up from the ideological chasm that divides the country. But swift categorization is unfair to both sides.
The pastor from the northern suburbs may have views a majority would disagree with, but he’s a perfectly nice guy to chat with, a bright and thoughtful man, a young father with a second child on the way.
“We’re supposed to love our neighbors,” said Darling, who stopped watching Fox News because he grew sick of what he perceived as one-sided political rhetoric, even though it favored his side. “We’re supposed to love the Democrat that we might not agree with. But that doesn’t seem to happen much.”
He grew up in Lake County, and his support for Bush is grounded in the president’s firm opposition to abortion, as evidenced by Bush’s appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court. He also believes Bush is a man of conviction, a rare politician willing to make decisions he knows may not be popular.
Darling is able to see past the mistakes the president has made–the pastor admits there have been many–and judge Bush simply as a man he believes has tried to do best by his country.
“I feel he has gotten the big things right,” Darling said. “Leaders who do big things, leaders of consequence, are often not very well liked in their time. But history usually views them well.”
A personal connection Jan Klaas, chairman of the Winnebago County Republican Party, shares Darling’s admiration for Bush and believes he’ll one day be viewed as a great president.
Klaas is 54, married 32 years, a mother of three grown children and a Protestant. Like the Gages Lake pastor, Klaas feels a personal connection with Bush, sees him as a regular person she can relate to, someone who shares her conservative social and political values.
“He does what he believes is right, even though not everybody agrees with him,” said Klaas, who lives near Rockford. “He’s a real person. He goes to his ranch, and he likes to cut down the brush and spend time with his family.”
McElvaine, the historian, said that outside of simple matters of personal opinion, there are some fundamental rules of politics that explain why people such as Klaas and Darling will back the commander in chief, even when the tide has turned so strongly against him.
“One thing that I think always should be kept in mind is that when you’re down in the 28 or 30 percent favorability range like Bush is, you’re about as low as any president can go,” he said. “On either side there’s about a quarter of the people who are absolutely, steadfastly behind their party and they’re going to stick with their guy no matter what.”
That certainly seems to be the case with Klaas and Darling.
‘But that’s just Bush’ On the most controversial aspect of Bush’s presidency–the war in Iraq–both believe the president did what he believed was right, and if anything was the victim of bad information from those below him.
“I wish he had more clearly articulated the Iraq War,” Darling said. “But that’s just Bush. He’s not a Ronald Reagan-like communicator.”
“I think he did the right thing,” Klaas said resolutely. “I feel the nation is safer under him.”
Darling acknowledges that, at least in his case, much of the deep connection he feels with Bush stems from their shared evangelical faith: “I think there’s an unspoken bond, where evangelicals see Bush as one of them. I think the fact that Bush is an evangelical Christian is why they still trust him.”
Trusting this president is unthinkable for some, even reprehensible. Darling knows that and rather calmly accepts the ridicule that can come with pulling for a figure as unpopular as Bush.
The pastor believes what he believes and doesn’t apologize for it. Not at all unlike the president he looks up to.
Copyright (c) 2008, Chicago Tribune

Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus