Jewish World Review Jan. 14, 2003 / 11 Shevat, 5763
Bush's faith has influenced his conduct in public office
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | David Frum, who returned to journalism after spending 2001 as a presidential speechwriter, has just published what he saw from inside the White House during that historic year. The book is titled "The Right Man". It is a study of the president's character, and as such - this i s the book's most interesting feature - it can't avoid the man's faith.
Indeed, Mr. Frum ends his account by relating what Mr. Bush told five religious leaders - three Christian, one Jewish and one Muslim - during an Oval Office visit last year. Having asked them to pray for him, he said:
"You know, I had a drinking problem. Right now I should be in a bar in Texas, not the Oval Office. There is only one reason that I am in the Oval Office and not in a bar. I found faith. I found God. I am here because of the power of prayer."
It is startling to be reminded (and by Mr. Bush himself) that a man not so long ago shuffling from bar to bar is now the president of a nation engaged in a global war on terrorism. Cultured despisers of religion may scoff at the notion that faith could have moved a man with "a drinking problem" into the Oval Office for such a time as this. But it is obvious that Mr. Bush believes that.
Mr. Frum, himself Jewish, takes seriously the proposition that Mr. Bush's faith has affected his conduct of office. He recounts how from their first meeting he found the president "unperturbed" by difficulties and confident about the future. Was it arrogance, the speechwriter wondered? Mr. Frum concluded it wasn't. He quotes the commencement address Mr. Bush gave at Yale in 2001:
"When I left here, I didn't have much in the way of a life plan. I knew some people who thought that they did. But it turned out that we were all in for ups and downs, most of them unexpected. Life takes its turns, makes its own demands, writes its own story. And along the way we start to realize we are not the author."
Comments Mr. Frum: "That was why Bush was so confident: not because he was arrogant but because he believed that the future was held in stronger hands than his own."
Mr. Frum also credits the president's faith for the restraint he exhibited right after the terrorist attacks: "He made it clear to his writers that he would pronounce no words of vengefulness or anger. When he spoke off the cuff, he again and again paraphrased the commandment of Romans 12:21: 'Be not overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.' "
Meanwhile, Mr. Bush didn't shy from using "evil," calling terrorists "evil ones" and "evildoers." And then, in last year's State of the Union speech, Mr. Bush spoke famously of an "axis of evil" in describing Iraq, Iran and North Korea.
Mr. Frum, not incidentally, contributed to that speech with a draft in which he referred to the three nations as an "axis of hatred." Mr. Frum recalls how his boss, chief speechwriter Michael Gersen, decided to conform that phrase to "the theological language that Mr. Bush had made his own since Sept. 11."
Mr. Frum also reports on "the tone" inside the White House, one shaped by numerous aides (including Mr. Gersen) who share the president's evangelical Protestantism. This is a White House, we learn, of prayer and Bible study, of "moral fervor" grounded in faith. "I did my best to live up to the upright and hygienic local norms," writes Mr. Frum, who found "the predominant creed" around him "a kindly faith, practical and unmystical," though apparently not a proselytizing one.
He defends the administration against the charge that the Christian commitment of the president and so many of his aides has biased it against non-Christians. "Unjust and unintelligent," he writes, noting how Mr. Bush routinely welcomes those "of no faith at all." Shrewdly, Mr. Frum observes that evangelicalism as he saw it around him "had absorbed a surprising amount of the culture of the non-evangelical world around it: feminism, country-rock music, psychotherapy, even permissive child rearing."
Mr. Frum's book, the first by a former Bush White House aide, underscores
the importance of understanding Mr. Bush in terms of his faith. Indeed,
without his faith, it would appear, he would be a different man and
certainly not - he has said so himself - president of the United States.
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