1946– PRESIDENT FROM 2001 TO 2009
George W. Bush represents the one president since World War II who converted to evangelicalism from a background in mainline Protestant Christianity. His conversion, which occurred in the mid-1980s, became central not only to his life but also to his political outlook. Not since the year 1900 had Christianity played such a role in a presidential campaign as it did in 2000. In 1900, William McKinley—a Methodist of strong beliefs who espoused the duty of the United States to spread Christianity (which he interpreted as Protestantism) to other nations—ran against the leading fundamentalist spokesman and orator, William Jennings Bryan. In 2000, the presidential campaign featured two evangelicals, George W. Bush and Albert Gore Jr.
George Walker Bush was born on July 6, 1946, in New Haven, Connecticut, where his father, George Herbert Walker Bush, was completing his bachelor’s degree at Yale. The younger Bush was raised in Midland and Houston, Texas.
Despite his Connecticut birth, George W.—the name the Bushes used to distinguish him from his father—became viewed in his family as the child most closely attuned to Texas and its values. “His homage to his parents, his respect for his elders, his respect for tradition, his belief in religion, his opposition to abortion,” Midland resident Joe O’Neill mused, “that’s the philosophy he grew up with here.”1 If people “want to understand me,” Bush declared during his first presidential campaign, “[they] need to understand Midland and the attitude of Midland.”2
Dusty and segregated, Midland in the postwar years was an oil boomtown characterized by many churches and unlocked doors. In later years Bush and many of his classmates looked back on the town as an idyllic place in which to spend a childhood. Although George H. W. and Barbara Pierce Bush came from East Coast upper-class society, their eldest son was