Bush Cites Faith, Sets Agenda

The Christian Century, February 22, 2005 | Go to article overview

Bush Cites Faith, Sets Agenda


IN THE 12 DAYS between his second inaugural speech, replete with religious references, and his State of the Union address, delivered in more secular tones, President George W. Bush enjoyed what appeared to be a moment of success in his administration's effort to spread democracy in the Middle East.

The Iraqi national elections January 30 had a larger-than-expected turnout, despite some violence from Iraqi insurgents. During Bush's address to a joint session of Congress February 2, onlookers cheered the prolonged embrace between an Iraqi voter and the mother of a U.S. soldier killed in combat.

The moment was a historical rarity. Not since President William McKinley in 1901 has a Republican president started a second term with a majority of the popular vote and strong GOP majorities in the Senate and House. Republican neoconservatives and Religious Right activists hope to reach their respective long-term goals.

Bush has often couched his presidency in religious terms, thereby stirring up his theologically conservative constituency but also drawing resistance from liberal-to-moderate Christian leaders.

Some of the latter press for a timetable for a U.S. exit from Iraq, pointing to estimates of 100,000 Iraqi deaths and more than 1,400 U.S. troops killed. "The presence of U.S. occupation forces has been--and will continue to be--a flashpoint for violence," said Peter Lems of the American Friends Service Committee, commenting on what he call Bush's "rosy picture" of Iraqi democracy and freedom in his February 2 speech.

One of the president's most ambitious goals is reform of Social Security retirement programs, but shouts of "No, no" from some Democratic lawmakers were heard when Bush said the system faces bankruptcy. Many elected officials in both parties remain skeptical about the nation's ability to stem the ever-rising federal deficit, a gap driven in part by escalating military costs and no commensurate rise in tax income.

The president's new term featured traditional religions events, including a formal prayer service at the Washington National Cathedral and the annual National Prayer Breakfast, held this year on February 3.

At the breakfast, Bush praised churches, synagogues and mosques for their response to the devastating tsunamis in South Asia that left at least 158,000 dead in late December. "People of faith have no corner on compassion," Bush said. "But people of faith need compassion if they are to be true to their most cherished beliefs."

Bush's brief remarks to clergy, diplomats and lawmakers, including his 2004 election opponent Senator John Kerry, featured the religious rhetoric that has become commonplace in his administration. …

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