The Religiosity of George W. Bush: Is the Personal Presidential?
Cohen, Edmund D., Free Inquiry
Until recently, I had not seriously thought that supernaturalism or superstition could be an issue of concern as regards the second Bush presidency. George W. Bush is, to be sure, a practicing fundamentalist Christian who begins each day meditating on the fustian prose of Oswald Chambers's My Utmost for His Highest. But he is also an Ivy League graduate, the scion of an old Republican establishment family, and the chosen front man for the conservative Republican Party establishment. Surely that establishment must have vetted its candidate well enough to rule out nominating an unstable religious eccentric. When he speaks in churchly terms, surely he is only employing regional idiom and one cannot take him literally. Or can one?
When then-Governor of Texas Bush was seeking the presidency in 2000, a story circulated that he had phoned the televangelist James Robison and said to him, "I've heard the call. I believe God wants me to run for president." (1) Even that struck me as nothing more than standard Bible Belt hyperbole. What changed my mind is Stephen Mansfield's unauthorized 2004 campaign hagiography, The Faith of George W. Bush. (2) In it, Mansfield sets out an account of events following upon that phone call, based on an apparently recent interview with Robison:
On the day that the evangelist entered Bush's office, he was surprised to find political strategist Karl Rove there as well, and even more surprised at what Bush was about to say. "My life is changed," the governor said. "I had a drinking problem. I won't say I was an alcoholic, but it affected my relationships, even with my kids. It could have destroyed me. But I've given my life to Christ." Robison, who had heard rumors of Bush's conversion, was struck by the sincerity he sensed. He was not prepared, though, for what came next. "I feel like God wants me to run for president," Bush said. "I can't explain it, but I sense my country is going to need me. Something is going to happen, and, at that time, my country is going to need me. I know it won't be easy, on me or my family, but God wants me to do it." "In fact," Bush continued, "I really don't want to run. My father was president. My whole family has been affected by it. I know the price. I know what it will mean. I would be perfectly happy to have people point at me someday when I'm buying my fishing lures at Wal-Mart and say, 'That was our governor.' That's all I want. And if I run for president, that kind of life will be over. My life will never be the same. But I feel God wants me to do this, and I must do it."
The president's prophetic profession, if it really was expressed this way, definitely goes over the line into the realm of magical thinking and delusion. Neither he nor Karl Rove has come forward to correct or to clarify Mansfield's account.
The president and Robison enjoy a very close relationship. Both the White House and Robison downplay it, and the mainstream media have not caught onto it yet. Robison visited with the president in the Oval Office in spring 2001, fall 2002, and perhaps at other times. Robison has been a guest repeatedly and perhaps frequently at the president's ranch in Crawford, Texas. Of "Bush's unique friendship with James Robison ...," Mansfield writes, "[t]he two have prayed together while hiking Bush's ranch or talked about faith, gun in hand, while waiting for game to approach." (4)
Robison was the featured speaker at the prayer breakfast preceding Bush's inauguration as Texas governor. In February 1999, then-Governor Bush appeared on Robison's televangelism show, Life Today--his only appearance on that kind of television program. Of the frequent phone conversations between the president and Robison, Darren Barbee, writing in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, reported:
In the new century, his cell phone rings with George W. …