One of Those Political Posts

A few days ago I watched the episode of The West Wing in which President Bartlet is inaugurated for his second term in office, and it reminded me of something I hadn’t thought about in years. On January 20, 2001, I was at a hotel in Pigeon Forge, TN, attending a retreat with other men from my church. I remember the date because that morning, during one of the small-group sessions, someone interrupted to turn on a TV. We all watched as Bush took the oath of office. Several men in the room began to pray. Others smiled and offered “Hallelujah”s. I muttered under my breath, “Thank God. Finally an end to eight years of peace and prosperity,” and my friend poked me in the ribs. I was the “liberal” of our group. He’d learned to expect and even appreciate my snark.

In the years since, I’ve come to feel increasingly alienated from evangelical culture, and politics is an important reason. I used to write about this a lot more on Long Pauses, but I grew tired of my own voice and my own hypocrisies. Too much finger-pointing. Plus, the results of the 2004 election broke my heart. I’ve felt more than a bit defeated and hopelessly cynical ever since. It didn’t help when, a few months ago, I ran into one of those old friends and noticed the “W: Still the President” sticker on the back window of his car. I just don’t get it.

Bush was elected on the promise of restoring “honor and dignity” to the White House, which, let’s face it, wasn’t an unappealing idea. I was as disgusted as anyone by Clinton’s personal behavior, by the 24-hour media shitstorm, and by the very real political fallout. So I wasn’t all surprised when Bush’s call to do away with the lying and the scandals that had disgraced the last few years of Clinton’s second term struck a chord with most evangelicals I know, particularly because that call was coming from someone who spoke their language, who had a bona-fide Christian testimony, and who promised to protect the “sanctity of human life.” (That Bush had an unimpressive pre-Presidency track record when it came to eliminating scandal was a point I soon gave up arguing with friends who supported him.)

I’ve always had a begrudging respect for the political skills of the Bush administration. They play the game so well. They say they’re fiscal conservatives, then, with a Republican Congress in their back pocket, they explode the size of the federal government and deficit. “Support me on my big issues,” he seems to have promised House and Senate leaders, “and I won’t even threaten to veto a spending bill.” And he hasn’t. Not surprisingly, the amount of pork has more than tripled under his watch.

Congress was more than willing to return the favor when Bush asked them for the right to declare war. With one eye on their home states and the upcoming midterm elections, they grabbed his cooked intelligence with both hands, hoisted it up onto the stump, and sounded a few more cheers for fear-mongering. “Mushroom cloud, you say? Mushroom cloud! We must do something! And do it today!” To hell with his campaign promise to never “nation-build.” Bush and his boys wanted this war, wanted to reshape the Middle East, wanted to re-engage America’s permanent war economy, and, boy, if you got in their way — if you questioned their motives or diverted from the War on Terror narrative they were writing — boy, you were fucked.

Even though today’s announcement had been predicted for most of the week, I was still stunned when the indictments were read. I had to watch for five or ten minutes before I could accept what was happening. I’m not crazy. What a sad and pathetic week in the life of a sad and pathetic presidency.