But my sense is that Bush is more like Kuo, too willing to believe the best about people, too easily entranced by personal testimonies, too naive about the ways of the world. And this, I think, is a significant caveat to my earlier argument that religious conservatives aren’t to blame for the worst failures of the Bush Administration. Yes, Iraq wasn’t high up on the “theocon” agenda, but there does seem to be a sense in which Bush’s personal religious sensibility (one shared by many people on the evangelical right) has played a role in enabling our blundering and naive approach to Middle Eastern politics. Christians are supposed to be as innocent as doves and as wise as serpents; Bush, to judge by both his actions and his words, only seems to have the first part down. ~Ross Douthat
There might be something to this. The anecdote of the meeting with Putin where Bush claimed to have seen the man’s soul (no mean trick!) ranks high on the list of examples where Bush has seemed almost childlike in his willingness to believe whatever someone else self-servingly tells him. Thus Ariel Sharon became a “man of peace,” because, presumably, Sharon said that he was, and Bush took him at his word. This may have less to do with being an evangelical and more to do with being simply an unduly trusting person, which may in turn be related to having been a rather trivial and fatuous person in his formative years. But there has been a weird tendency when Mr. Bush would introduce a new appointee or official and would feel the need to talk about how the person has a “good heart.” Besides sounding stupid, how on earth would he know something like that? Because he had a sit-down and chatted about agriculture or disaster-relief policy? Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? Bush knows!
Yet I am reluctant to go along with Ross on this one (though it is not because I am particularly fond of the rather, well, dippy, saccharine spirituality of many evangelicals–I have suffered through one Intervarsity meeting too many in my time), because it echoes too much a Sullivanesque theme that Bush’s personal religiosity–that of a “fundamentalist” freed from the blessed state of doubt that St. Andrew recommends to us–reinforces his unwillingness to consider dissenting views or his habit of being intellectually incurious. Contra Sullivan, having absolutely firm religious convictions and an experience of conversion do not necessarily program you to be uninterested in empirical reality, and in a similar way I am unsure that evangelical piety encourages people to expect only the best in people. Perhaps I don’t know as many evangelicals as some other folks (they are not exactly over-represented in Hyde Park), but while they may heed the counsel to be innocent as doves I am not certain that these people naively assume that everyone else is equally innocent and dovish. While it may not be true of the Rick Warren and Joel Osteen type of evangelicalism, conservative evangelical Christianity seems to be loaded down with the assumption that the world is filled with wicked people (which is true), many of whom are out to do harm to the evangelical Christians in one way or another (which is at least partly true).
Arguably, it might be this kind of view that has influenced the President more than anything else, since he was constantly drawn back to Hussein’s history of crimes as proof of the magnitude of the threat from Iraq (”he killed his own people!”); there was, and still is, an inability to attribute rational, self-interested motives to “the evildoers” and this tends to ratchet up the rhetoric into that of an apocalyptic confrontation. It is possible that this derives from Bush’s religiosity, but it seems to be supported as much by the ideological assumptions of war supporters who are constantly preaching just how untrustworthy dictators are and how there can be no deals made with such governments. The problem of the Bush administration vis-a-vis Iraq was not that it trusted in the good intentions of others too much but that it assumed the worst about everything related to Iraq even when there was little or no evidence that would suggest that the threat was anywhere near as bad as they made it out to be. Is this a function of an evangelical mentality tied to potentially paranoid fears of persecution? I am skeptical. It seems much more likely that it is the product of the neoconservative morality tale in which appeasement always leads to disaster and only bold action and resolve (which, of course, means the extensive use of violence and coercion) can save the day. Perhaps there was something in Bush the evangelical that responded favourably to this kind of hogwash, but I suspect that its role was minimal. Only to the extent that he believed his election as President was also a kind of vocation from the Most High might we associate his stubborn, almost inexplicable paranoia about threats to the United States from the most implausible sources with his religion. Whatever else we might say about Mr. Bush’s views, I am almost positive that he and David Kuo have a very different kind of religiosity. If Kuo’s runs towards the mushy (it does), Bush’s runs towards the oppressively fatalistic and missionary that mixes together God (the God of universal freedom, of course) and History and American destiny in a big bowl of revolutionary activism. He doesn’t exactly expect the best of people; he is just confident that the victorious outcome is inevitable and the details will attend to themselves.