George Bush, going mystical on us again
I supported (and defended) Bush for a long time after 9/11, because he seemed, by his actions, to understand what was at stake, and have the nerve to face it. The "religion of peace" stuff I put down as typically good-hearted American fairness; of course you distinguish the innocent from the guilty, and don't start egging on people to scapegoat and and launch pogroms. Besides, my knowledge of Islam was pretty hazy; I've seen the Taj Mahal, I know Islam DID produce great art and culture once upon a time. Sure, that was almost 400 years ago, but still, I figured Islam must still have some credit in the bank. Six years have taught me a lot.
But even back then, I had a twinge of worry when it came to his variety of Christianity. It's not that he was too narrow - if anything, he seemed too broad in his beliefs. He had this assumption that ANY kind of faith was preferable to skepticism - that somehow, all of us "God-folk" were united in knowing something that unbelieving outsiders didn't know. I think this is why he could be bamboozled by a thug like Vladimir Putin - he figured that because the guy was some variety of Christian (apparently he wears a cross), that made him "one of us", and a natural ally.
This same kind of muddled camaraderie is extended to Muslims too, this conviction that "deep down, we're all the same", even if the other side is vociferously denying it. This has led to the famous "Imam Bush" lectures on "true Islam", which very conveniently sits neatly and tamely on the shelf alongside Christianity and Judaism. Muslims who don't cooperate with this healthy vision are simply not "real" Muslims - they don't understand their own religion the way Bush does.
But it was when he started "going mystical" on us that I began to feel repulsed. I'm all for praying for guidance; what I don't like is a President who goes from "God is in charge" to "therefore, what I'm doing is what God wants." I've read comments by Bush-fans who insist that he is "God's instrument", but I really get the creeps when I think that HE believes this too. If God is using American elections to get His will carried out, He seems to be reduced to rather blunt tools. And since I never got the engraved stone email from Mount Sinai saying otherwise, I guess I'll have to just assume that Bill Clinton was His instrument as well. This is just carrying us along to the rather passive Muslim idea that God is personally making everything happen, which I don't believe.
What got me started on this was reading bits of an article by David Brooks in the NYT (unfortunately, not the whole thing - it's behind a subscriber wall). Here's where it started. (Ross Douthat has written even more strongly on this interview.)
—The other debate is whether or not it is a hopeless venture to encourage the spread of liberty. Most of you all around this table are much better historians than I am. And people have said, you know, this is Wilsonian, it's hopelessly idealistic. One, it is idealistic, to this extent: It's idealistic to believe people long to be free. And nothing will change my belief. I come at it many different ways. Really not primarily from a political science perspective, frankly; it's more of a theological perspective. I do believe there is an Almighty, and I believe a gift of that Almighty to all is freedom. And I will tell you that is a principle that no one can convince me that doesn't exist.Yes, this sounds like that "Messiah complex" people have talked about before, and it really bugs me. I don't think that "freedom" is a fundamental bedrock desire that all humans desire. What we call freedom today didn't even exist a few hundred years ago. But just as some Protestants think that Christianity never really got started properly until Luther, people like Bush think that history only began in 1776. I've read enough history to know that lots of cultures existed very well under different kinds of kings, emperors, chieftains and leaders, long before democracy was a form of government, and I expect big parts of the world will still function that way. This idea that God wants us all to have ballot boxes is just historically illiterate.
And the other thing that annoys me is that Bush is not even very energetic in his pursuit of his great ideal. For a man who thinks he's doing God's work, he's pretty lazy about it. Four years in Iraq, and suddenly, NOW, it's down to the wire, white-knuckle time, trying desperately to hold on until General Petraeus comes to the rescue in September, with the big report on the surge. And if that doesn't pay off...what? Oh, no backup plan. I guess God will have to do the heavy lifting on that one too. But this has always been his style. Mark Steyn identified it at the end of his book "The Face of the Tiger":
Anyone who followed George W. Bush during the 2000 Presidential campaign will recognise the pattern:And in the 6 years that followed, we've seen him do it again and again. Maybe that's how he got through Yale - goofing off most of the time, then pulling an all-nighter to get through the exam. I've seen the pattern before, but it always catches up with you in the end. It's nothing to do with intelligence; indeed, it's only the intelligent who can manage to pull it off at all. But you can't get through life that way; eventually the luck runs out, and the slipshod methods fail. That's how he dealt with the Katrina disaster, and more recently immigration bill debacle. Do nothing, do nothing, then a frenzy of activity. I think that's how he's run this war. He lolled about as if he had all the time in the world, tinkering with constitutions and elections and "winning hearts and minds", and now time's running out and the alarm bells are sounding.
He stacked up more money and a bigger poll lead than anyone had ever seen in a competitive race - and then he didn't bother campaigning in New Hampshire. So he lost the primary.
But he clawed his way back and won the nomination - and then he pretty much disappeared from sight to spend the summer working on his new ranch house back in Texas. So by Labour Day Al Gore was ahead in the polls.
But he stirred himself and eked out a small lead in the run-up to November - and then, in the wake of a damaging last-minute leak about an old drunk-driving conviction, he flew back home and took the final weekend of the campaign off.
But he just about squeaked through on election day, even though his disinclination to rebut the drunk story almost certainly cost him the popular vote and a couple of close states.
This is the way George W. Bush does things and his rendezvous with history on September 11th - the day that "changed the world" - did not, in the end, change the Bush modus operandi.
But he isn't worried. Like the Paul Simon song goes, "These are the days of miracles and wonders." I think George Bush wakes up every day thinking, "Maybe the miracle will happen today." I never think that. I never count on miracles for anything. But it's like we've all been cast as extras in a giant remake of 'The Ten Commandments', with George Bush as Moses. Our job is to huddle on the ground, bigeyed with awe, while he stands above us thundering, "The Lord of Hosts will do battle for us! Behold his mighty hand!" And triumph, like salvation, comes unearned to those with faith.