Garry Wills, A Country Ruled by Faith

Tom Shipka

It is no surprise that George W. Bush made campaign promises to his political base - evangelicals. But, as a recent article in The New York Review of Books by Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Garry Wills shows ("A Country Ruled by Faith," Nov. 16, 2006, pp. 8-12), the ambitious scope of the President's evangelical agenda is surprising.

The President began by ridding government of as many holdover liberals as possible and replacing them with evangelicals. To implement this plan, he appointed Kay Coles James head of the White House Office of Personnel. (8) James had worked for Pat Robertson and James Dobson, two evangelical major leaguers. (8) Also, the President picked key advisors and cabinet members, among them Condoleeza Rice, Karen Hughes, John Ashcroft, Andrew Card, and Michael Gerson, who shared his religious worldview. (8) Even appointees to the Iraqi Provisional Government came largely from a pool of evangelicals, Wills says. (11)

Next, President Bush gave evangelical leaders unprecedented access. Either the President or his key staff consulted them routinely on virtually all issues of interest to them.

Further, the President established the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives to funnel money to them. (8) Grants went to Pat Robertson, Chuck Colson, James Dobson, and many others, including selected African-American clergy, such as Bishop Sedgwick Daniels of Milwaukee.

The President also carried the evangelical perspective to scientific and social issues. Saying that the jury is still out on evolution, he proposed teaching intelligent design, a version of creationism, alongside science in science classrooms. (10) Also, his administration ignored objections by scientists to the sale of a book at the Grand Canyon "claiming that the Grand Canyon was formed by Noah's Flood," (10) and it scuttled publication of a draft guide for park employees which pointed out that the canyon was not formed in the alleged time period of the Flood. Additionally, to pacify the religious right, Wills says, the Bush administration
*opposed embryonic stem cell research, in defiance of moderates in his own party,
*ignored scientific warnings about global warming,
*spent $170 million on abstinence-only sex education in the public schools while removing from the web site of The Centers for Disease Control the findings of a panel that abstinence-only programs don't work,
*refused to make the morning-after pill available to women over-the-counter, despite the recommendations of the board of the Food and Drug Administration, *sought a Constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage,
*forbad the expenditure of U.S. foreign aid to any organization which distributed condoms or provided information to women about abortion, despite the fact that birth control and abortion remain legal in the U.S., and
*protected a controversial general who publicly characterized the war on terrorism as a battle of Christians against Satan. (10-11)

Wills' article shows that he views George W. Bush as a president on a mission to destroy the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Yet Wills overlooks an important fact: the President is not universally loved among evangelicals. Some have protested that he politicized the faith-based initiatives by spending mostly in battleground states to help Republicans and that there remains a huge gap between the billions which Bush promised to evangelicals and the millions which he actually delivered to them. And surely, if exit polls are accurate, many evangelicals deserted him in the recent elections.

Copyright © 2006 by Tom Shipka