Sunday, March 2
The Blinding Glare of His Certainty
Joe Klein,, February 18, 2003

George W. Bush lives at the intersection of faith and inexperience. This is not a reassuring address, especially in a time of trouble. His public utterances are often measured and elegant, but there are frequent and rather grating lapses too. There is a tendency to ricochet between piety and puerility, an odd juxtaposition that raises a discomforting theological question: What is it about the President's religious faith that makes him seem so jaunty as he faces the most fateful decision a President can make?

Last week Bush careened from restrained but persistent evangelism before a convention of religious broadcasters to casual trash-talking with sailors in Jacksonville, Fla. "The terrorists brought this war to us — and now we're takin' it back to them," he told the troops ...

..Bush and I had several discussions about faith (and faith-based social programs) back when he was Governor of Texas, and he never displayed the vaguest hint of dogmatism or sense of destiny. Quite the contrary: his faith was humble and, well, soft. It softened his cowboy-preppie heart, especially when he was in the presence of poverty and despair. He used words like love and heart more than any other presidential candidate I've ever seen. It was a rudimentary form of compassion, to be sure. When suffering became an abstraction — a budget item — Bush lost the sensitivity he had when he confronted poor people directly. His faith enabled him to appreciate those who gave their lives to the poor, but it didn't force him to struggle toward a deeper, detailed understanding of poverty or what could be done about it.

And this, I think, is at the heart of what is disturbing about Bush's faith in this moment of national crisis: it does not discomfort him enough; it does not impel him to have second thoughts, to explore other intellectual possibilities or question the possible consequences of his actions. I asked one of Bush's closest advisers last week if the President had struggled with his Iraq decision. "No," he said, peremptorily, then quickly amended, "He understands the enormity of it, he understands the nuances, but has there been hand-wringing or existential angst along the way? [...]
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