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thinking 2012: Ron Paul; also, the Tea Party

November 1, 2010 Leave a comment

I’ve been so busy lately I’ve mostly ignored politics. I’ve ignored the Tea Party altogether since it is making no inroads whatsoever in the state where I currently vote. But recently a couple of items caught my attention.

One is what appears to be a Doug Wead endorsement of Ron Paul [link]. If I read Wead correctly he seems to be saying that he thinks the Tea Party is the natural conduit for voters who want to vote for Ron Paul in 2012, whether they know it or not.

What the American people want is something new.  Someone who will not mortgage away their futures.  Someone who will pay the bills.  Someone who will not spend trillions of dollars on foreign adventures that make more enemies than friends.  Someone who will not use government to rule their lives. Someone who will honor the constitution and the original ideas of liberty that directed the Founding Fathers.  Those issues cut across Democrat and Republican.

What the American people want is Ron Paul.

They just don’t know it yet.

This is a strange article from Wead; as far as I can tell he’s only talking about fiscal conservatism as being a good reason to vote for Paul and taking some predictable shots and Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. He doesn’t mention any of the issues important to social conservatives, particularly those important to religious conservatives. This is odd for two reasons: one is that pitching candidates to conservative evangelicals is Wead’s specialty. The other is that at first glance Ron Paul’s a good fit for a pitch to evangelicals, better than everyone ahead of him for the 2012 Republican nomination with the possible exception of John Thune (graduate of Biola) and Mike Huckabee (former Baptist preacher).

Ron Paul is that rare former Libertarian (he defeated Russell Means to become their Presidential nominee in 1988) who actually matches up well with evangelical talking points; most Libertarians tend to part ways with evangelicals on social issues, including the legalization of drugs, gay rights, and abortion [link].

The other interesting item I stumbled across this week asks the difficult questions about the religious attitude of the Tea Party [link]. Here’s the pull quote:

For example, [Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association] recently interviewed Amy Kremer, chairman of the Tea Party Express, on his nationwide radio program. Fischer told her that evangelicals want some signal that the Tea Party movement supports their views on abortion and marriage.”Can we hear that message from the Tea Party leadership?” he asked.

“You’re not going to hear it from me,” she responded. “I’m sorry, I’m going to disappoint you.”

In an interview, Kremer explains that the Tea Party movement is a big tent, including not just religious people but atheists and libertarians.

“As long as we stay focused on the fiscal issues, that’s the glue that holds us together,” she says. “If we start delving into the religious aspect or social aspect, that’s when we’re going to become divided and when people are going to disagree.”

But Fischer says this strategy could alienate Christian conservatives.

“And if they begin to discover that the leadership of the Tea Party movement isn’t going to fight for them on those issues, then I think they’re going to lose their enthusiasm for movement,” he says. “And they’ll go back to being disengaged or they’ll invest in that energy in some other direction.”

In other words, the Tea Party is happy to have religious conservatives along for the ride, but they shouldn’t expect it to return their loyalty. I suspect Kremer is taking the same calculated risk other fiscal conservative groups take regarding religious conservatives: that either they will continue to project their values onto candidates without good reason, or they will decide they have nowhere else to go. I hope folks like Fischer will keep asking the difficult questions so religious conservatives remember where their values really lie.

For the record I don’t think Paul is a viable candidate; he will be 77 in 2012, the only candidate in the current Republican field older than John McCain. With due respect to his experience and wisdom, I think he’s too old to campaign and too old to serve. Also, InTrade still has his chances at 5-6% [link], more than a point behind Newt Gingrich, and I’m still sticking to my arbitrary decision that anyone who doesn’t rank equal to or higher than Gingrich isn’t a viable candidate.

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George W. Bush: Faith in the White House (2004)

September 11, 2010 Leave a comment

The hour-long 2004 film George W. Bush: Faith in the White House is available in six pieces on YouTube:

I’ve linked to the first part here; unfortunately WordPress doesn’t support embedding of YouTube playlists. As best I can tell this is a straight-up campaign film, and assumes that viewers will project their own faith onto George W. Bush’s faith; needless to say his views on, say, penal substitution do not feature prominently. I have no idea who produced this; the host is talk show host Janet Parshall, and it includes appearances by Doug Wead and Rabbi Daniel Lapin. Wead’s appearance was before his 2005 falling-out with the Bush administration over recordings he made of phone calls with Bush and then leaked to the press.

The source for the YouTube clips is a Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) aircheck; the TBN logo and toll-free number are frequently visible.

the faith of George W. Bush

September 2, 2010 Leave a comment

The other quotes from Doug Wead in Jacob Weisberg’s Slate article [link] shed some light on Wead’s view of Bush’s faith:

But [Bush] was so anxious to avoid any whiff or rumor of infidelity that he asked Wead to stay in his hotel room one night when he thought a young woman working on the campaign might knock on his door. “I tried to read to him from the Bible, because by that time he was sending me these signals,” Wead told me. “But he wasn’t interested. He just rolled over and went to sleep.”

But Bush resisted religious overtures as firmly as sexual ones. “He has absolutely zero interest in anything theological—nothing,” Wead said. “We spent hours talking about sex … who on the campaign was doing what to whom—but nothing about God. And I tried many, many times.”

But the experience left Wead troubled about the sincerity of Bush’s beliefs. “I’m almost certain that a lot of it was calculated,” he says. “If you really believed that there’s some accountability to life, wouldn’t you have Billy Graham come down and have a magic moment with your daughters? Are you just going to let them go to hell? You have all these religious leaders coming through. If it changed your life, wouldn’t you invite them to sit down in the living room and have a talk with your daughters? Or is it all political?”

Wead’s case against Bush basically boils down to two points:

  • Bush had no interest in the Bible or anything theological.
  • Bush’s daughters aren’t born again.

The other stuff about Bush’s interest in other people’s sex lives is nothing new to anyone who’s seen e.g. Alexandra Pelosi’s 2002 campaign travelogue Travels With George. All things considered I don’t consider that sort of boundary-issue problem a big deal; I’ve seen comparable from more than one authority figure, and it’s rude etc. but not necessarily a fatal flaw.

The other questions about Bush’s spirituality and that of his daughters are more pertinent; I’m tempted to discount Wead’s comments as those of someone who grabbed for the proverbial brass ring and missed (Weisberg suggests he was originally on par with Karl Rove and Dick Cheney) and understandably bitter. But I do wonder what it says about Evangelical Christians that we don’t know more about Bush’s faith and that of his family. Did nobody ask? Did someone ask and get well-crafted answers? Or do we believe on some level that moderates like John McCain are right, and personal faith really is too personal and private to be a sticking point? Did anything we would want to know about his faith vanish in the glare of a terrorist attack and two foreign wars?

Or worse, do we really think that a couple of soundbites about Jesus and Oswald Chambers are sufficient to make someone a Christian President?

the faith of George W. Bush

September 1, 2010 Leave a comment

The third excerpt of Jacob Weisberg’s book The Bush Tragedy (2007) at Slate yields the choicest quotes. Most of them come from former Bush adviser Doug Wead:

“When he got the one on Texas, his eyes just bugged out,” Wead remembered. “This is just great! I can become governor of Texas just with the evangelical vote.” [link]

This is from 1987 or 1988, when George W. Bush was still the family failure. This quote from Bush is so perfect and prescient it’s almost too good to be historical.

“Evangelicals believe that [Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis] is so effective that they will automatically assume that if the Vice President has read it, he will agree with it,” Wead wrote.

And earlier:

Wead argued for “an effective, discreet evangelical strategy” to counter Jack Kemp, who had been courting the evangelicals for a decade, and Pat Robertson, whom he accurately predicted would run in the 1988 primaries. Wead compiled a long dossier on the evangelical “targets” he saw as most important for Bush. (“If Falwell is privately reassured from time to time of the Vice President’s personal friendship, he will be less likely to demand the limelight,” he wrote.)

These quotes by themselves portray Wead as a savvy political operative, and may be just a bit self-serving; it’s important to remember that by the time Wead spoke to Weisberg on the record his relationship with the Bushes had ended, and not especially well.

I don’t want to be too hard on Wead, but in these quotes it sounds like he’s selling out Evangelicalism for votes, and he’s genuinely hurt and surprised when Bush turns out to be more politician than Christian. He seems to have had a “David Kuo moment,” when he discovered that politics is about power and not values. Unfortunately Weisberg is interviewing just the post-moment Wead, so we can’t know with any certainty what the pre-moment Wead thought he was doing.

Still, Wead has some interesting things to say about Bush and his faith, and we’ll take those up in a later post. It’s just important to remember that as ever, Wead is a single witness, and a disgruntled former employee at that. I’d want to be very careful about concluding that Bush is some sort of pseudo-Christian on the basis of Wead’s characterization alone.

the faith of George W. Bush

August 30, 2010 1 comment

To my knowledge only two Evangelicals with ties to the George W. Bush administration have spoken or written about experiences:

  • David Kuo, former Deputy Director of the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, published a book in 2006 called Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction, about his disappointment with the focus of the Initiatives office and how it was used to deliver votes in key states (notably Ohio) in the 2004 election.
  • Doug Wead, former special assistant to George W. Bush, was interviewed by Slate editor Jacob Weisberg for the latter’s 2007 book The Bush Tragedy, excerpted in Slate.

(We’re still waiting for a tell-all book by Michael Gerson, Wheaton graduate and Bush speechwriter, one of the men most responsible for helping Bush as candidate and President speak in Evangelical code in a way his father never could. Gerson is still gainfully employed, so it may be a while before he takes his turn.)

In one of the Slate excerpts [link] Weisberg tells a story about Bush editing his own past, rewriting his apparently true conversion story (from Episcopalianism to a self-styled Methodism) from a by-the-book born-again encounter with Cross walker Arthur Blessitt to a more picturesque story about a walk on a beach with Billy Graham. As Weisberg takes pains to point out, Bush’s conversion story was polished over time; published accounts differ, and Bush himself related the story differently on different occasions. Many of the various elements of his story are true: Billy Graham visited the Bush home in Maine; Graham and Bush conversed; Bush at some point “got right with God.” They just don’t fit together as advertised.

The result is something that was useful as a campaign narrative: Bush had something in common with an important voter bloc, and the published version made better telling than the truth, especially among voters who might find Billy Graham palatable but might be put off by Arthur Blessitt. Weisberg takes Bush’s appropriation of his conversion story as a campaign tool to be indicative of his faith as a whole:

What his faith stories have in common is the way they put George W. Bush’s religious experiences to political use. The beliefs themselves may be entirely genuine. But Bush does not appear to surrender himself to the will of God in the way a conventionally religious person does. If we look closely at his relationship to religion over a period of two decades, we see him repeatedly commandeering God for his exigent needs. His is an instrumentalist, utilitarian faith that puts religion to work for his own purposes.

This is a complaint about Bush that arose more than once during his time in the White House: that there were aspects to his personality that seemed entirely untouched by his faith, whatever it was.

As per usual I’m less interested in Bush than in what the loyalty he got from various evangelical leaders says about Evangelicalism. But I will need to deal with several other things Weisberg says before discussing that.

The Red Memo

August 19, 2010 Leave a comment

Turns out my local public library has a copy of Russ Baker’s book Family of Secrets, which is mostly a book about the two Presidents Bush and their relationship to the intelligence community. Baker also devotes a chapter (19: The Conversion) to the younger Bush’s born-again experience and how it was presented as a bona fide to the evangelical community. The short version: George W. Bush may or may not be a born-again Christian; Arthur Blessitt may have actually led Bush to Christ; the rest of the story (the walk with Billy Graham on the beach, any relationship between Bush’s faith and his alcohol or drug use) may or may not be um accretions by a later hand to heighten the effect. Any correspondence here to the Ergun Caner story is probably coincidental. Yeah.

Anyway, the selling of the two Bushes in the evangelical community can apparently be credited or blamed in large part to Doug Wead. Put simply, Wead put together a plan to sell the elder Bush to the community, the plan failed because of Bush, but his son “got it” and the rest as they say is history.

Wead is an interesting character: an Assemblies of God minister, motivational speaker, has connections to the DeVos family of Amway fame, and by 1985 was already an experienced ghostwriter. Baker seems to have gotten most of his interesting material on Wead and the Bushes from Jacob Weisberg’s book The Bush Tragedy, excerpted in Slate:

To help him with this problem, Bush Sr. brought in Doug Wead as his evangelical adviser and liaison. Wead had been involved in a group called Mercy Corps International, doing missionary relief work in Ethiopia and Cambodia, and gave inspirational speeches at Amway meetings. He was also a prolific memo writer. The most important of his memos is a 161-page document he wrote in the summer of 1985 and a long follow-up to it known as “The Red Memo.” Wead argued for “an effective, discreet evangelical strategy” to counter Jack Kemp, who had been courting the evangelicals for a decade, and Pat Robertson, whom he accurately predicted would run in the 1988 primaries. Wead compiled a long dossier on the evangelical “targets” he saw as most important for Bush. (“If Falwell is privately reassured from time to time of the Vice President’s personal friendship, he will be less likely to demand the limelight,” he wrote.) Wead made a chart rating nearly 200 leaders for various factors, including their influence within the movement, their influence outside of it, and their potential impact within early caucus and primary states. Billy Graham received the highest total score, 315, followed by Robert Schuller, 237; Jerry Falwell, 236; and Jim Bakker, 232.

Unbeknownst to Wead, Vice President Bush gave the Red memo to his oldest son. After George Jr. pronounced it sound, George Sr. closely followed much of its advice. [Salon]

Baker portrays Wead’s two memos as being more closely related (the Red Memo was a 44-page edit of the 120-page original) but more or less follows Weisberg’s description of Wead and his role in helping pitch the elder Bush.

Needless to say I’d love to see either version of The Red Memo.

It’s important to remember that in 1985 The Moral Majority was still a going concern, but Wead ranks Falwell’s ability to deliver votes as between Schuller and Bakker. Amazing.

thinking 2012: Mike Huckabee

August 13, 2010 Leave a comment

I had never heard of Doug Wead until a few days ago, when I heard Russ Baker, the author of Family of Secrets, suggest that Wead was the man who pitched to George W. Bush what became his literal come-to-Jesus story, complete with Alcoholics Anonymous overtones. Baker did not clarify whether Wead also suggested the Billy-Graham-on-a-beach part of the story. I’ve long been fascinated with the way politicians appear to promise so much to evangelical Christians, deliver so little, and still get their support election after election, so I found the story interesting even though I have no way of knowing whether it’s true or not.

A little digging online and I found this article from Wead’s on blog, from 2008, on how to court the evangelical vote and how Mike Huckabee blew it.

When seeking to establish a base among evangelical voters, presidential contender, Governor Mike Huckabee, made a big mistake. It is one that many presidential wannabes have made before him. He went over the heads of the evangelical leaders of influence and talked directly to the people. It works well with most constituencies, Catholics, Labor, Jews, Hispanics, Women but it never works with Blacks and it never works with evangelicals either. It cost Mike Huckabee the presidential primary in South Carolina and it will probably cost him the nomination.

I recommend the entire article; it makes for unpleasant reading, but it’s helpful for understanding e.g. why voting instructions go from politicians through Richard Land to Southern Baptist voters and not the other way around.

Oh yeah: Mike Huckabee. For Huckabee to become a viable candidate he needs to get past Sarah Palin among evangelicals and past Newt Gingrich (and Sarah Palin again) among Fox News viewers. And he has to rid himself of the stink of failure from his loss to McCain and Romney in 2008. And he has to explain to law and order non-evangelical voters why they should trust him as head of the Executive Branch after he pardoned Maurice Clemmons, who went on to shoot four police officers in Washington state. The phrase “Huckabee’s Willie Horton” doesn’t just alliterate; it’s just too good to pass up.

Intrade has Huckabee at about 7% chance of winning the 2012 nomination. That strikes me as a bit high.