Jewish World Review Dec. 20, 1999 /11 Teves, 5760
http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- 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 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 earthly philosophers."
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, including political.
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 their governance.
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 documents.
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
12/15/99: Beltway media bias