Friends of ours, a gentle-spoken and kindly atheist couple, ride a truck with an "Impeach Bush" bumper sticker on it. I haven't broken it to them that on the wall of my office is a framed invitation to the 2001 Inaugural.
I have long wondered about the animosity that the younger Bush has attracted, when he hardly governed as a conservative, and when, by all accounts, he is personally a likable enough fellow. I mean the absurd accusations of complicity in the deaths of 3000 Americans in New York, or the nonsense that he was another Hitler, or that he lied in order to involve the nation in a war, and so forth. So I'd like to perform a couple of thought experiments.
Put a (D) after Bush's name, and remove from him all the most obvious influences of his Christianity. That is, make him a man who hardly darkens a church door, is pro-abortion, would never think of faith-based initiatives, and is uncomfortable praying. No National Hymn played for the second inaugural. Keep everything else exactly the same.
What would people say about him? What would Democrats say? What would Republicans say?
I can think of one thing people would say. "If you knew that the man in the cell was in on a plot to kill your child," or, since it's the politically correct military we're talking about now, that new creature called "your sunnerdotter," "what would you do to get the information out of him? I know what I'd do. I'd hold a knife to his throat. I'd beat him within an inch of his life!" I'm not justifying anything here, folks. I am wondering what people would say. By the way, if I thought that somebody was threatening my kids or my wife — well, I better not dwell on it, because it would keep me up all night.
You can probably think of many other things. But I'm betting that much of the antagonism that Bush met with has to do with his profession of faith. Clinton, a cad and a scoundrel, could sing in the choir because everybody knew he was a cad and a scoundrel, and could guess (I am not sure how accurately) that he was just putting on. (I believe there's a real soul somewhere inside of ol' Jethro, but I don't think that that was a side of him that his supporters cared about.) Suppose George W. Bush was Bob Packwood, or Arlen Specter, thoroughly secular, and yet suppose that in eight years he did pretty much the same things (like tabbing Harriet Myers for the Supreme Court). Suppose he were someone who might say, "Yes, they get frightened, and so they cling to their guns and their religion." Suppose he bowed and scraped to "science" every other day. And yet suppose, based on the information he had on hand, that he decided to invade Iraq, and all the rest of it, just as President Clinton involved us (yes, to a much lesser degree) in Serbia (and for no clear reason related to national security). What would the "religulous" Bill Maher say about him? Or the erstwhile sportscaster with the dyspeptic grimace, Keith Olbermann?