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Andrew Sullivan should know better

Andrew Sullivan becomes unhinged over this statement by President Bush:

President Bush said yesterday that he doesn’t "see how you can be president without a relationship with the Lord," but that he is always mindful to protect the right of others to worship or not worship.

Here’s Sullivan’s (over)reaction:

So, out of his beneficence, he won’t trample on others’ religious freedom. But the White House? That’s for Christians only. No Jews? Or atheists? Notice also the evangelical notion of a personal "relationship" with the Lord. That also indicates suspicion of those Christians with different approaches to the divine. I must say this is a new level of religio-political fusion in this administration. To restrict the presidency to a particular religious faith is anathema to this country’s traditions and to the task of toleration. The president surely needs to retract the statement.

Here’s Jonah Goldberg’s reaction, which is spot-on:

First of all, how new is this, really? Do we really think that Jimmy Carter, never mind George Washington, never said that having a relationship with the Lord was helpful to being president? This is how I read Bush’s remarks. Second, How different is this from the spirit of all of Bush’s previous statements (including in two national campaigns) in which he made it clear that he draws sustenance and strength from his relationship with God. I am flummoxed as to why Andrew should be surprised that Bush said it again. Third, the fear that Bush is suspicious of non-evangelical Christians or non-Christians rings a bit hollow considering that yesterday he nominated a Jew to run homeland security and before that he nominated [an Episcopalian](and longtime loyalist) to be his Attorney General. Given his latest hires, how exactly does this new level of "religio-political fusion in this administration" translate itself into policy?

Here, for those less inclined than Andrew Sullivan to fly off the handle is a much longer chunk of the Washington Times interview. The relevant passage (with context):

So that’s what’s on my mind. My enthusiasm is high for the job and looking forward to it. Put a good team together. This office is the kind of place where you sit here, people stand out there, and they say, "I’m going to tell him what-for," and they walk in here and they get just overwhelmed by the Oval Office and the whole atmosphere and the great beauty of this place, and they say, "Man, you’re looking good, Mr. President." [Laughter.] So I need people walking in here saying, "You’re not looking so good." And I put a good team together in the first four years; I’ve got a good team this second four years, and ready to lead.


Wesley Pruden, editor in chief: Well, Mr. President, your point there about faith and how we look at it — many Christians today think that faith is kind of under attack in America, and they’re even talking about whether you should use the Bible to take the oath of office. What would you say — what do you think is the proper role of your personal faith in the public arena?

Mr. Bush: First of all, I will have my hand on the Bible. I read the article today, and I don’t — it’s interesting, I don’t think faith is under attack. I think there are some who worry about a president who is faith-based, a person who openly admits that I accept the prayers of the people, trying to impose my will on others. I fully understand that the job of the president is and must always be protecting the great right of people to worship or not worship as they see fit.

That’s what distinguishes us from the Taliban. The greatest freedom we have — or one of the greatest freedoms — is the right to worship the way you see fit. And on the other hand, I don’t see how you can be president — at least from my perspective, how you can be president, without a — without a relationship with the Lord.

I think people attack me because they are fearful that I will then say that you’re not equally as patriotic if you’re not a religious person. I’ve never said that. I’ve never acted like that. I think that’s just the way it is. On the other hand, I think more and more people ... understand the importance of faith in their life.

America is a remarkable place when it comes to religion and faith. We had people come to our rallies who were there specifically to say, "I’m here to pray for you, let you know I’m praying for you." And I was very grateful about that.

This has gone on pretty long, so I’ll just note a couple of things from the interview, which is worth reading in full. The President leads with and situates his own faith in the context of religious freedom. His faith is personal and gives him strength. He recognizes his own fallibility and his own humanity (which includes the temptation to overstate his own powers and abilities) and consequently acknowledges his own need for a relationship with God. I would never argue, as Sullivan does, that GWB’s language here is "code" for an evangelical "personal relationship." It seems to me that any genuine theist in the Judaeo-Christian tradition would similarly acknowledge fallibility and dependence upon God. And I might not vote for someone who was so utterly confident in his or her own abilities as not to not to acknowledge fallibility. But not offering someone my vote is a far cry from not tolerating him or her. I’m not persecuting. I’m not imposing a formal legal religious test. All I’m saying is that--like the President--I find it hard to believe that a certain kind of atheist would be appropriately humble before the responsibilities of the office and appropriately cognizant of human limitations.

Finally, since I’m not convinced that Andrew Sullivan is as stupid or thoughtless as his reaction makes it seem, I’m forced to wonder why he said what he said. Any ideas out there?

Discussions - 25 Comments

So I suppose that if our President had said, rather, that he would wonder how anybody could lead this country based ON a personal relationship with the Lord that he would have been applauded for his "open-mindedness", and the Christian reaction would be referred to as overzealous fanatacism or overreactive senseless fear?

I think Andrew Sullivan is suffering from dementia ever since the whole gay marriage issue popped up in Massachusetts. He has become Johnny-One-Issue that clouds everything he writes about. I’ve stopped reading him and I used to read him several times a day.

If nothing logically comes to mind maybe the right conclusions is that he is as stupid and thoughtless as it seems.

On this subject, Sullivan is as stupid and thoughtless as his reaction shows. We have all met reasonable people who had a blind spot, a subject on which no amount of reason would sway their worldview. For Sullivan, one of these subjects is religion. He fears it, and therefore hates it and those who support it. His writing skill only serves to blur the sharp edges of his contempt for religion.

Jonah Goldberg is correct about Bush not shutting non-Christians from the White House. I suppose W’s Press Secretary from 2001-2003, Ari Fleischer, was just some Irish-Catholic kid from Chicago? And that Wolfowitz character is a fine upstanding Lutheran from Eden Prairie, Minnesota.

I’m glad you asked the question at the end. You did such a good job of responding it would have been hard to add to it.

Perhaps AS is like so many others I’ve met on this subject. As soon as you say “I’m a Christian”, you get painted as being the stereotype of the hateful religious hypocrite that Hollywood and TV likes to use as the bad guy. Also, we all have the same weakness to one sin or another. By calling on a religion you can find strength against it. I believe some are intimidated by the faithful person living a good and decent life, knowing that he/she does not possess that kind of strength. The same could be said for the character transformation that often comes with being actively faithful.

I can think of two reasons why Sullivan is so unhinged:
1. Hatred- Just another lefty that has exploded for no apparent rational reason.
2. Fear- In his mind, being Republican and religious means being anti-gay.
A question for Andrew- How many rights have you lost since Bush took office? Let me answer that for you. The same number that Clinton protected during his eight years.

President Bush said yesterday that he doesn’t "see how you can be president without a relationship with the Lord," but that he is always mindful to protect the right of others to worship or not worship.

Umm . . . it seems to me like Andrew Sullivan was right on the money when he saw this as the President saying that he thinks all Presidents should have a relationship with "the Lord". It looks like that to me. But this should be no surprise. Andrew Sullivan really has become an interesting writer since the whole gay-marriage thing in Massachusetts. I can’t blame him, though. I mean, he really cares about that and I’m not surprised one bit that it’s always on his mind. It’d be on mine if I was gay too.

Martin, I’ve seen little writings by Sullivan that would suggest he hates religion like you seem to suggest. I’ve been reading that guy since I got my first Time Magazine (way back in the day . . . 1996, I think . . . hehe). I’ve never seen anything to suggest he hates religion. He, obviously, does not like Christians (or anyone, for that matter) who condemns homosexuality . . . but he’s a homosexual, so I can understand where he’s coming from (although I strongly disagree with his lifestyle).

Jonah Goldberg’s comments about Bush allowing non-Christians to have an impact in his administration is totally irrelevent. Sullivan was criticizing Bush for taking the position that only Christians should be the President. Not on the Cabinet or in his staff.

Kaz-Man - as I’ve said before, I think Sullivan has a pretty justifiable reason for being angry at Bush: the man wants to bar him from ever getting married. I’d be pissed too. I certainly don’t see that reasoning as irrational. You said fear was one reason for Sullivan’s unhinging. I think he’s pretty unafraid, actually. I don’t think he’s "frightened" of any anti-gay religious people or Republicans. If he was, he wouldn’t have such a blatently anti-anti-gay people blog. :-D Also, real quick, Sullivan’s not a big fan of Clinton. If you look at his writings, Sullivan is a very conservative person with the exception of the war and gay-marriage. However, I have definitely seen him become more and more left as the Bush administration became more and more openly conservative. But oh well. More people on the right side of the aisle (er . . . left side??).

Andrew Sullivan says almost everything he says about Bush these days because he is fixated, obsessed and stuck on the one issue of ’gay marriage’. He turned against the war over Bush’s stand on gay marriage, he opposes all Christians over it, he opposes most all Republicans over it and he attacks any Dem who doesn’t toe the gay line.

I’ve stopped reading him because, not being gay, I don’t give a rat’s ass about the topic other than considering its another in your face gambit to make gayism acceptable and ’normal’. Well that’s a laugable goal, but you don’t do it by tearing down institutions that have stood since the dawn of civilization to fit your gay agenda, sorry Andrew. He is worthless as a commentator on ANY subject anymore because its all filtered through gay coloured glasses.

I personally never cared if Sullivan was gay or not, I enjoyed his insights, but now he is all gay all the time and its just boring, and it affects his ability to add any meaningful insights to any story out there when he always starts with the gay marriage trope as his frame of reference. I think he became the main and most popular blog because he tacked right at the right time, I’m guessing more and more readers like me are tired of being preached at by an anti-Christian as much as he seems to hate being what he perceives as Christians preaching at him. The hell with Sullivan, who cares what he thinks is my attitude. I don’t read the guy. He’s irrelevant.

docweasel - Sullivan is far from irrelevent. He’s the topic of the post. :-D I have never read anything by him that I would consider "anti-Christian". I have read things that are "anti-homophobic" and "anti-Federal Marriage Amendment". I’d assume he doesn’t really like churches that preach the immorality of homosexuality. But I don’t think he condemns them for it. Can you really not understand where he’s coming from? First, let me just state that I think homosexuality is immoral. Also, I’m a Christian. And last, but not least, I support gay marriage. Those things all effect what I write and what I do. Same thing applies to Sullivan. And you call him worthless because of that. You say "to hell with him" and stop reading his essays. Well, I guess that that is your perogative. But I think you’re more than a little over-the-top.

It seems that the key is that Bush explicitly said (parenthetically)’"... don’t see how you can be president — at least from my perspective, how you can be president...". HE SAID "FROM MY PERSPECTIVE". What more do people want from the man? Clearly he is not saying that he wouldn’t accept an atheist president; he is merely stating the logical conclusion of taking his beliefs seriously. (Perhaps I can add that I don’t share his beliefs, I’m Jewish, but I have NO PROBLEM with GWB believing in G-d and feeling that that is his most important relationship).

Sullivan is upset about the whole gay thing. Period. My sympathies.

Andrew Sullivan votes and thinks his zipper. His brain has relocated to his gonads.

Matt: Your example and response..."President Bush said yesterday that he doesn’t "see how you can be president without a relationship with the Lord," but that he is always mindful to protect the right of others to worship or not worship.

Umm . . . it seems to me like Andrew Sullivan was right on the money when he saw this as the President saying that he thinks all Presidents should have a relationship with "the Lord". ***** I think you, and AS are too literal here. I have said before, and heard others say things like, "I don’t know how we got along before with out microwaves ovens"...or..."I can’t do my work without a computer"... It’s a figure of speach. Obviously people got along before without microwaves and computers, but I would agree with Bush. Today, with all the presures of life in business and family, I do not know how to get by without my faith. And I don’t know how anyone can. But clearly, people without faith do. And I dare say, Bush would probably admit that there are good presidents that did not appear to be that faithful. AS is doing what may do with this. They hear the man say he’s a Christian, and automatically assume that he’s being judged (or at least the presidential candidates are) on the basis of their faith. The guy is out of bounds here, and WAY too sensative.

This really is much ado about nothing. Andrew Sullivan isn’t taking Bush’s words as he actually spoke them. He said he didn’t see "how" a person could be president "without a relationship with the Lord." He didn’t say he didn’t think anyone should be "allowed" to be president without a relationship with the Lord. He didn’t say that such a person would be unqualified for the position. His statement was quite obviously a personal observation indicating that he believes that, without his own relationship with God, he wouldn’t be capable of standing up to the stress and difficulty of the job. I think it was something akin to a football coach saying, "I don’t see how anyone can coach in the NFL without having first been a player in the league."

Major overreaction from Sullivan here.

On a side note directed at Matt, I really don’t think Sullivan has been leaning left at all lately as you suggest. Certainly he is on the left on many social issues, particularly gay marriage, but on almost everything else, particularly economic and spending issues, he is much more conservative than the President. I think you are confusing disagreement with President Bush for being on the left. It is possible to disagree with the President from the right, as many of us on the right often do. For instance, a few who have commented here have accused Sullivan of being against the war. He was very much in favor of the war and remains so. However, he has been highly critical of the President and Sec. Rumsfeld for the manner in which the war was handled. He has stated numerous times that he believes that we needed more troops and has been very critical of the handling of the prisoner abuse scandal.

I don’t want to sound like a Sullivan apologist, because I’m not. But I think Matt has confused disagreement with Bush with being a friend of the left.

Andrew Sullivan cannot seen beyond gay marriage - he is on a tirade that Lincoln was gay - he says that Lincoln is the greatest president we ever had after he states that Lincoln was gay - Andrew probably doesn’t know that Lincoln was the only president ever to authorize the slaughter of over 300 Indians, only freed the slaves in south because he was losing the civil war, threw over 40,000 citizens sympathetic to the south into jail - he suspended the write of habeas corpus and imposed marshall law as well (which later after he died Congress almost started criminal charges against Lincoln for doing this) and also shut now numerous newspapers that were also sympathetic to the south. Just think, what Lincoln did was way worse than any thing that took place in Abra Gharub prison - but in Sullivan’s small gay world the only thing about Lincoln that is important is that he might have been gay. Sullivan cannot see beyond gay and is losing credibility on a daily basis

Dominick - I completely understand the Sullivan has very conservative political beliefs and I’m sorry if I didn’t make that more clear in my earlier post. I did not make the unfortunate tie between disagreeing with Bush and leaning left. I should have been more clear. I think that he may be having second thoughts about his political affiliation (which he makes apparent in some of his older essays (back in 2002)). But that is speculative. I stated that "Sullivan is a very conservative person with the exception of the war and gay-marriage." I still believe that. I’m sorry if I wasn’t clear. I disagree with the Democrats all the time, but that doesn’t mean I’m becoming a conservative. Heh. :)

I think Sullivan has a pretty justifiable reason for being angry at Bush: the man wants to bar him from ever getting married. I’d be pissed too. I certainly don’t see that reasoning as irrational. I doubt very much that anybody on the Earth wants to "bar" Andrew Sullivan "from ever getting married". As far as I know, Sullivan can marry any woman he wants to marry who wants to marry him. And I’m rather sure that George W. Bush wouldn’t intervene. Now, if you’re talking about Sullivan wanting to pretend to marry another man, well that’s a different story........

Sullivan’s support for the war began to waiver almost the exact moment that President Bush came out for the Marriage Amendment. I also have stopped reading him. I find homosexuality boring and don’t want to hear about it. Do what you want, but leave me alone.

Mr. Bush has been extremly tolerant of other people’s religious beliefs. That is obvious to anyone who is paying attention.

The overraction to Mr. Bush’s remarks says more about those offended that it does him. Intolerance of religion is on the rise.

Mmm. I can more or less sympathize, since I’m an atheist and I found Bush somewhat threatening at first too. (His father’s remark that atheists should not be considered "real" American citizens combined with his blatant born-againness was alarming to my college-student self.) However, after the first two years of his presidency, I GOT OVER IT. His faith-based initiative went nowhere, Ashcroft didn’t turn out to be nearly the Ed Meese everyone thought he would be, and in general nothing bad happened, so I relaxed and stopped looking for reasons to get wound up again.

My own family consists of happily coexisting atheists and devout Methodists, about half of each, so I at least know that’s possible. We all share the same values and keep our relationship or lack thereof with the divine on a strictly personal basis: no problem. I think some people who have lived more or less isolated in liberal enclaves or were ostracized by their own family for their sexuality or religious choices have a hard time not percieving such differences as not leading inevitably to conflict.

hey Labrat, you have a link to where GHWB said that "Atheists aren’t real Americans"? I find that pretty hard to believe. Let’s see some attribution.

Too much excitement about religion. The president has his beliefs and (as far as I can tell) I don’t believe that my beliefs have been insulted or diminished because of GW’s beliefs.

Andrew used to hold my attention through-out the day. Since his website started posting "major sponsors" things have changed. I don’t know why.

I don’t think Andrew Sullivan has necessarily changed his content since his web site started posting "major sponsors" as Scott insinuates.

I understand the perspective you guys come from in saying that the comment was typical and non-inflamatory. But I agree with Sullivan, here is why:

The context of the statement followed a comment distinguishing us from the Taliban and theocracy, Bush’s statement was a qualifier to this.

"That’s what distinguishes us from the Taliban. The greatest freedom we have — or one of the greatest freedoms — is the right to worship the way you see fit. And on the other hand, I don’t see how you can be president — at least from my perspective, how you can be president, without a — without a relationship with the Lord."

What distinguishes us from the Taliban is to what extent Reason shall be left free. The Taliban wants to suppress Reason in favor of Faith. Our right to worship is at root a right to determine our course of action, to determine if we will be led by reason or faith. When Bush qualifies this statement he is saying that his faith is a rudder that is moving the ship. The entire argument then goes back to a faith/reason debate. For Sullivan faith is blind and there is no For Sullivan I would guess that reason leads him to the compromise between faith and reason. You either know something because of a reasoning process or you know it because your faith inclines you to that feeling. conclusion that gay marriage is a right, a right that is thwarted at least in part by an epistemological process that blends faith with reason to come out against gay marriage. Thus for Sullivan, Bush’s qualifying comment means that there is only a difference of degree and not a difference in kind between Bush and the Taliban. Now that difference in degree can be tremendous but the fact that it is a difference in degree is demonstrated in Bush’s positions on such things as gay marriage and abortion.

This is assuming that reason alone is not sufficient to oppose gay marriage or abortion or cloning and that Bush’s faith is the primary influence on how he comes down on these issues.

Now if Bush is serious about needing people who can say "you aren’t looking so good" then Sullivan’s is a voice worth listening to.

I don’t think the issue is or ever will be tolerance of other people’s religious beliefs, but the extent to which other peoples religious beliefs should be tolerated when they run counter to reason and find reality in policies. At issue is whether or not the law should embody religious/moral creeds. Should we legistlate morality? Is it possible not to? The deeper issues here are common to most of Dr. Knippenburg’s posts.

The quote is from a press conference in Chicago during HW Bush’s campaign in 1987. It is quite real.

From the site of the journalist he had the exchange with

If you don’t like that link, you can Google "George HW Bush atheists" and see many others, some of which include the entirety of the exchange for context. (In context he comes off worse, not better.)

It’s actually rather low on the list of reasons I don’t think much of Bush the first. There are so many better ones to think his kid’s a cut above him.

However, he will always have a warm place in my heart for throwing up on the Prime Minister of Japan. Great moments in diplomatic honesty.

That guy you have linked is not in the least credible, and Googling the phrase doesn’t yield a single legit news organization reporting the story. Its either a hoax or an attempt to smear GHWB. Let’s see an attribution by AP, UP, or any major news organization. If he truly said it I’m sure they would not hesitate to report it.

Since the alleged quote dates from 1987, we are NOT going to find any online AP/UPI press articles, for the simple reason that they didn’t print such things online until years after.

So no, we’re not going to find a source that satisfies you unless you feel like taking a mutual trip to Bush’s presidential library to confirm it, which I don’t. We’ll call it unsubstantiated but widely recorded and move on with our lives, shall we?

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