A Cautious Man
October 04, 2004
Brilliant Disguise
Digby at Hullabaloo has an extended discourse on the President, and on a perceived contrast between his public and private faces. Among the litany of examples in that essay:
He ostentatiously calls himself a committed Christian and yet he rarely attends church unless it’s a campaign stop or a national occasion. The man who claims that Christ is his favorite political philosopher famously and cruelly mocked a condemned prisoner begging for her life. He portrays himself as a man of rectitude yet he pumped his fist and said "feels good!" in the moment before he announced that the Iraq war had begun. (One would have thought that if there was ever a time to utter a prayer it was then.) How many funerals of the fallen has he attended? How many widows has he personally comforted?

Now, I don't think that anybody would be counting days of church attendance, if the President's supporters hadn't made such a big deal about it. It's not just the Kerry "wafer watch", but also those news stories that Republicans are "more religious". And how is that determined? Why, by church attendance! So, they can't have it both ways. If the President can be both religious and an infrequent church attendee, then maybe we can stop hearing about a "religion gap" and claims that Religious=Republican?

Church attendance aside, the other examples in the above passage do seem to show an inconsistency between professed beliefs and visible actions. This personality trait was seen even before the Republican primaries for the 2000 election. An old National Review web page preserves excerpts from Tucker Carlson's Talk magazine interview with Mr. Bush from 1999, including the following:
In the week before [Karla Faye Tucker's] execution, Bush says, Bianca Jagger and a number of other protesters came to Austin to demand clemency for Tucker. "Did you meet with any of them?" I ask.

Bush whips around and stares at me. "No, I didn't meet with any of them," he snaps, as though I've just asked the dumbest, most offensive question ever posed. "I didn't meet with Larry King either when he came down for it. I watched his interview with [Tucker], though. He asked her real difficult questions, like 'What would you say to Governor Bush?' "

"What was her answer?" I wonder.

"Please," Bush whimpers, his lips pursed in mock desperation, "don't kill me."

What's interesting is that the George W. Bush summed up in Digby's essay, appeared evident in the National Review excerpt from 1999:
Carlson's major theme is that Bush is "comfortable with himself" and "doesn't give a damn what you think of him." (Message: I don't care.) He has risen above the obsession with what other people think that marks most politicians. Yet the Bush who emerges from the profile is remarkably thin-skinned. Carlson notes that while "the Larry King–Karla Faye Tucker exchange Bush recounted never took place" on television, "Tucker did imply that Bush was succumbing to election-year pressure from pro-death penalty voters. Apparently Bush never forgot it. He has a long memory for slights." If this is what Bush considers payback, remind us to stay on his compassionate side.

For sheer ugliness, nothing else in the article matches Bush's remarks on the death penalty. (When he sees Carlson's horrified reaction, Bush "immediately stops smirking": " 'It's tough stuff,' Bush says, suddenly somber, 'but my job is to enforce the law.'") But the section other Republicans in the race are likely to seize on comes when Carlson asks "whether the number of abortions has gone up or down since he's been governor. 'I don't know,' he shrugs. . . . 'Probably down. Not because of anything we've done, though. We haven't passed any laws.'" Where Carlson sees a refreshing reluctance to exaggerate accomplishments, others -- including a lot of pro-lifers who have been giving Bush the benefit of the doubt -- are likely to see a breezy indifference to what Bush says he considers to be the taking of innocent human life.

Does any of this really matter? Well, yes, since religiosity is a theme for the President's supporters (his own as a positive, and an implied lack in Kerry, as a negative). I don't think the press should "tear down" anybody, but I also don't think that the President should get a "free pass", with his supporters using religion as a way to lift him up, and push down Senator Kerry.



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