The thought police have been lying in wait throughout the
presidential campaign season waiting to pounce, and during Monday
night’s debate, George W. Bush gave them a big chunk of red meat.
The candidates were asked to reveal their favorite political
philosopher. George W. Bush rather undramatically announced that Jesus
Christ had made a profound difference in his life once he accepted Him
into his heart.
Following the debate certain commentators went ballistic. NY Times
columnist Maurine Dowd mercilessly mocked Bush for “playing the Jesus
card.” TV pundit Chris Matthews lambasted Bush for invoking Christ in a
debate about “secular” politics.
Matthews, a Christian himself and a Democrat, is usually fair to
Republicans and intellectually honest. So I was surprised and completely
taken aback by his sardonic remarks. In fairness and to his credit,
Matthews later apologized for “being a wise-guy.” But his statements
still need to be addressed.
Matthews said, “I thought we were supposed to render unto Caesar that
which is Caesar’s and unto God that which is God’s” — implying that
even Christ agrees with him that politics and religion don’t mix.
Of course, with that pronouncement Christ was not forbidding
politicians from invoking his name, nor Christians from being involved
in politics or serving in government.
Matthews and others also asserted that Bush’s answer was the height
of opportunism — that he only brought up Christ to pander to Bible Belt
voters in Iowa. That seems very unlikely, given the fact that Bush had
no way of anticipating this question. In fact, most observers agreed
that he seemed completely spontaneous and sincere — maybe even a bit
sheepish about having to answer such a personal question.
Plus, the pandering argument completely loses steam when considered
in light of Bush’s other responses that evening and prior. Rarely in the
debate, or in the two preceding it, did Bush even address moral issues,
much less Christianity. Other candidates such as Keyes and Bauer have
made the nation’s moral decline their conspicuous cause for running.
More significantly, when Gary Bauer pressed Bush to commit to naming
a pro-life candidate as his running mate, he steadfastly refused. If
Bush’s purpose had been to shore up his Bible Belt support it is highly
doubtful that he would have rejected Bauer’s offer.
Matthews’ most offensive contention, though, was that Bush was being
unresponsive to the question, which called for his favorite political
philosopher. By injecting Christ into the debate at that point Bush
obviously could not be a very informed Christian — or maybe even a
Christian at all. For true Christians, according to Matthews, believe
that Christ was God incarnate, not just some political philosopher or
great moral teacher. Bush’s answer, then, exposed his failure to
appreciate Christ’s infinite superiority to the other “pantheon of
What is exposed here is not Bush’s error, but Matthews’. His reaction
betrays the common liberal paranoia about conservative Christians
participating in the political debate.
The fallacy in Matthews’ position, taken to its logical conclusion,
is that it assumes that Christianity is something that should be
practiced in private and only publicly at church. To the contrary,
Bush’s answer reveals his understanding that Christians believe that
following Christ and his teachings is mandated for all aspects of life,
This does not mean that Christian conservatives believe that the
government should establish a religion in contravention of the First
Amendment. But they do believe, as did the overwhelming majority of the
framers of this nation, that Christians should actively participate in
government and in solving society’s problems. And they are quite correct
about that. Christians cannot build a Chinese firewall between their
private lives and their public persona, between their Christianity and
No matter which candidate ultimately becomes the 43rd president of
the United States he will bring his world view to the White House, and
it necessarily will affect his approach to the presidency — just as the
world view of the framers was incorporated into this nation’s founding
And as for Bush, he would probably have a much better chance of
becoming number 43 if he would reconsider his answer to Gary Bauer about
choosing a pro-life running mate.