Theology vs. realpolitik

Bushjesus2Many writers pursue consistent themes in their work. Mark Steyn has his campy references to show tunes. Paul Greenberg works in journalists’ inside joke of “It was as if an occult hand had.” GetReligion’s editors chafe at glib references to fundamentalism. And Jon Meacham of Newsweek chips away at “certainty” and “literalism,” which means he managed to find a theological angle in last night’s presidential debate about foreign policy.

Here’s what Meacham said as part of a panel on Hardball with Chris Matthews immediately after Thursday night’s presidential debate:

But you had consistently Bush saying, “You cannot lead if you send mixed messages, and Kerry saying, “You can be certain and be wrong.”

And I think the fight between the theological view of the president and the more historical, realpolitik view of Kerry is something that is going to shape the race the rest of the way.

In making his remarks about certainty, Kerry said that Bush is “not acknowledging what’s on the ground [in Iraq], he’s not acknowledging the realities of North Korea, he’s not acknowledging the truth of the science of stem-cell research or of global warming and other issues.”

What issue in this list is theological in nature? (Granted, Ron Reagan has implied, incorrectly, that only theological conviction could lead a person to Bush’s conclusions regarding limited funding for embryonic stem-cell research.) Has George Bush argued that the United States had to go to war in Iraq in order to convert Muslims? Has he speculated that Kim Jong-il is the Antichrist? Has he said not to worry about global warming because Jesus is coming back soon?

Does Bush’s once-frequent use of the words evil and evildoers mean that his foreign policy is theologically driven?

I agree with Kerry that a person can be certain and wrong, and that “certainty sometimes can get you in trouble.” If by “certainty” Jon Meacham refers to a proud and stubborn refusal to engage with any differing views, I join him in rejecting it.

But I find his contrast between Bush’s “theological view” and Kerry’s “more historical, realpolitik view” too certain in its tone.

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