Ann Coulter, the folks at National Review need you back after all. Because maybe then the neo-con periodical wouldn’t run utter schlock like Paul Kengor’s “God & W at 1600 Penn.”
Yes, that’s right. The magazine that never met a bombing run it didn’t like holds forth on our Commander-In-Chief’s purported religious proclivities. As you would expect, the piece is written by the most qualified person imaginable for such a task; author Paul Kengor is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Grove City College.
At least that’s Kengor’s title. His real role is to enforce one of the most recurrent myths perpetrated by the Bush White House; namely, that the current President is motivated primarily by not simply religious faith but something approaching a direct connection to the Most High. Those who wonder why so much energy is devoted to making our American Caesar seem apostolic need only examine the connection between the policies of this government and the principles laid out by Jesus in the Gospels.
Because what the US Government does in the course of its normal business runs directly counter to the Christ who advised us to forsake earthly riches and do God’s will, the portrayal of Bush as devout believer must be made on the slant. Kengor follows that rule, putting forth Bush’s use of the phrase “evil ones” as one piece of evidence of his Christlike demeanor. But this being the Bush White House, there’s no shortage of mawkish claptrap for Professor Kengor to document.
Kengor describes a Concerned Citizen “earnestly” asking Bush what she can do to help in the War of Terror. This question seems to pop up every time Bush takes questions from those who gave him such a rousing mandate in 2000, and we of course can assume that to be both utter coincidence and an indication of how fired up we all are to fight with Terror. Having been asked this question roughly 213 times, Bush naturally has a polished response.
Bush wants to be prayed for. “”I can just feel it, I can’t describe it very well, but I feel comforted by the prayer.” Concerned Citizens are to pray for “God’s protection,” a “shield of protection” – a “spiritual shield that protects the country.”
Funny, but I don’t remember Christ nodding to the onlookers as he carted his cross up the hill, mouthing the phrase “pray for me — the big guy knows what’s up”. Bush’s position is not that of an actual spiritual seeker bound up in understanding this Babylon we call home. Rather, his rhetoric is that of a poser. Of Reverend Ike hawking prayer cloths. Of Hulk Hogan telling his little Hulksters to pray and take their vitamins. Of a thousand false idols who are fine and dandy with religion, as long as they’re sitting by God on the bus.
And Bush of course deserves to be up there with the big man. Kengor is full of descriptions of our President’s “intense piety” affecting the most important decisions in his life. “I quit drinking in 1986 and haven’t had a drop since then. It wasn’t because of a government program in my case. I heard a higher calling.” No, sir, it wasn’t because of a government program. The Bush clan have always been the kind of folks to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Scrappy Prescott Bush made a few extra dollars in the 30s by trading with the “moderate regime” in Germany. What a prescient guy, cutting deals with the Thousand Year Reich! Then there was Bush’s dad, who never had to go on welfare, so busy he was doing hatchet work for the Republican Party and revitalizing the CIA. No government programs there!
Of course, that’s not what Bush is talking about. He actually seems willing to claim that God facilitated his recovery from alcoholism. Fine and dandy! Did that same God sanction Prescott doing business with a wartime enemy? How about the CIA work W’s father did? Or the well-documented affronts to democracy that took place during Bush 41’s tenure?
One can’t expect a brownnosing political science professor to pose those questions to a sitting president, though. So Kengor sticks to painting absurd scenarios that illustrate that Bush’s faith is his compass. According to Kengor, Bush “has begun each day praying on his knees. Each morning he reads the Bible and studies from a guide that features a daily Bible lesson. It is nothing for him to turn to a Cabinet member and request a prayer before kicking off a Cabinet meeting.”
Well, actually it is something. Does Bush turn to atheistic or agnostic Cabinet members and ask them to lead prayers? Because if that’s the case, he almost certainly is violating federal guidelines. Perhaps if Kengor wasn’t so focused on writing a puff piece that meets the highest standards of North Korean journalism, he’d investigate that matter as closely as his magazine’s Joel Mowbray does US-Saudi relations.
Paul Kengor isn’t up for that task, though. He’s got bills to pay, and he’d rather stick to painting the most powerful man in the world as one of the most spiritual. So Kengor gives us fluff about Bush going down on “bended knee” on September 11th. Fluff about “compassion warriors” telling Bush to “preach on, brother!” Lines that can only be conscious parody, like “he confidently, calmly plows ahead. . . Where does he find this confidence, this serenity? He and his aides point to his wellspring of faith.” Despite producing 1000 words of such genuflection, though, Kengor’s conclusion expresses a marked lack of faith in his essay’s central premise: “God was calling him to seek the Oval Office. It was the summit in his spiritual sojourn, which would lead him to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Skeptics can make of that what they will. But in the case of this particular politician, it no doubt seems sincere. And, importantly, it’s a potent factor in the life and presidency of George W. Bush.”
What strikes me here is the passive voice, a barometer for Kengor’s wavering conviction. And he is right not to be convinced by his own argument. It’s hard to imagine God inspiring such fiascos as our war on Afghanistan, our glaringly obvious imperial overstretch, our Drug War — three decades old now. God’s not in favor of rampant deficit spending, if historical Judaism or the tenets of Islamic finance are any guide. God’s not in favor of the veneration of the state over those who live in it, but the post 9/11 environment is primarily catered to the cult of the state. Meanwhile, Washington’s bills are long past due, yet no one has any ideas about how to pay them. One can only conclude that Bush’s connection with God is as much help right now as his adherence to the principles of fiscal responsibility.
ANTHONY GANCARSKI’s columns appear regularly in CounterPunch. Emails are welcome at Anthony.Gancarski@attbi.com