Among all the things that liberals loathe about George W. Bush, his religious fervor would seem to be at or near the top of the list. Some consider him a mere pretender, or a hypocrite, lashing out at his post-9/11 persona as a world-transforming warrior with bumper-sticker barbs like “Who would Jesus bomb?” For the most part, though, liberal animus toward Bush’s faith comes from the opposite direction. It is his religious sincerity that infuriates and frightens, especially when contrasted with the easy and empty Bible-toting of, say, a Bill Clinton.
One does not have to dig very deep to explain this hostility. There are the familiar issues of the culture war—the “values” divide between red states and blue. There is also Bush’s personal manner, seemingly perfectly calculated to grate on the sensibilities of worldly, secularist elites. But something more profound may be at work as well. What liberals find objectionable about Bush as a born-again Christian is the kind of politician he has become by means of and on account of his faith. But what may be most discomfiting of all is the degree to which, in this regard, he has successfully laid claim to so many elements of the liberals’ own discarded past, and thereby begun to reverse the polarities of American politics.
About the Author
Wilfred M. McClay, who holds the SunTrust Chair of Excellence in the Humanities at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, contributed “Is Conservatism Finished?” to the January COMMENTARY. His latest book is Figures in the Carpet: Finding the Human Person in the American Past.