Time to play "spot the code" in Bush text

200501201_3p44290376515hIt’s time to play “spot the evangelical code words,” the game in which the Washington press tries to figure out when President George W. Bush is sending mysterious secret messages to those religious “values voters” who want to turn American into a theocracy.

For those who are behind on this game, please do your homework in the text of the recent talk by White House scribe Michael Gerson at an Ethics and Public Policy Center seminar in lovely Key West, Fla. This has been posted all over the place, but the original is here. Gerson is a Wheaton College graduate who turned to journalism and then speechwriting and, as an evangelical, he knows all kinds of magic words that can woo people in pews.

Here are some “code word” nominations from President Bush’s second inaugural address. Feel free to nominate your own. Let’s begin with:

America’s vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one. From the day of our founding, we have proclaimed that every man and woman on this earth has rights and dignity and matchless value because they bear the image of the maker of heaven and earth. Across the generations, we have proclaimed the imperative of self-government, because no one is fit to be a master, and no one deserves to be a slave.

In this case, “maker” is not “Maker” — at least not in the Washington Post — but I think we all know what is going on there, especially with the heaven and earth language. Perhaps there is a nod to the black-church conservatives in this, too.

We will persistently clarify the choice before every ruler and every nation: The moral choice between oppression, which is always wrong, and freedom, which is eternally right.

I think that is a statement of a moral absolute. We will have to wait for the New York Times op-eds to be sure, however.

The rulers of outlaw regimes can know that we still believe as Abraham Lincoln did, “Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves, and, under the rule of a just God, cannot long retain it.”

Whoa, we have a “just God” and “Lincoln.” Duck and cover. OK, a big finish now. Let’s combine the big two, as Gerson deals once again with the specter of “American exceptionalism.”

Self-government relies, in the end, on the governing of the self. That edifice of character is built in families, supported by communities with standards, and sustained in our national life by the truths of Sinai, the Sermon on the Mount, the words of the Koran and the varied faiths of our people. Americans move forward in every generation by reaffirming all that is good and true that came before ideals of justice and conduct that are the same yesterday, today, and forever. . . .

We go forward with complete confidence in the eventual triumph of freedom. Not because history runs on the wheels of inevitability; it is human choices that move events. Not because we consider ourselves a chosen nation; God moves and chooses as He wills. We have confidence because freedom is the permanent hope of mankind, the hunger in dark places, the longing of the soul.

OK, what did I miss? Anything really sneaky between the lines? This seems toned down to me. No angels or whirlwinds. Please send us the URLs of your favorite God-talk reviews tomorrow. I mean, other than the ones that are totally, totally predictable.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • http://www.nhreligion.com Stephen A.

    Yesterday, President Bush became the first president to evoke the Quran – Islam’s holy book -in an inaugural speech, making this a very inclusive speech indeed.

    His 2001 inaugural speech was downright secular, and this one was pretty tame, religiously, unless you pore over it like Nostradamus’ quatrains for secret messages.

    The accusation that Bush is a closet fundamentalist is ludicrous, especially considering rhetoric from past inaugurals.

    For example, check out this humdinger Wilson’s 1913 address: “The feelings with which we face this new age of right and opportunity sweep across our heartstrings like some air out of God’s own presence, where justice and mercy are reconciled and the judge and the brother are one.”

    Yikes. Can you imagine if Bush had used such purple prose?

    Of course Lincoln’s 699-word second inaugural address – widely viewed as the best ever – evokes God numerous times and in a retributive manner against slave-holders in a way some, probably fairly, accuse Bush of using against tyranny today. (so, is the Left pro-tyranny?)

    Bush kind of evoked JFK’s sentiments (and frankly, the entire “charge” of his 1961 speech.) Remember JFK said, “And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe–the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God.”

    As far as code words, I think Bush’s second inaugural was sending a message to DEISTS, if anyone, when he said, “It is human choices that move events.”

    Frankly, the tone was moderate, as this blog posting points out. Bush continues from that previous statement saying of our chosenness, “Not because we consider ourselves a chosen nation; God moves and chooses as He wills.”

    He could have quoted the Quran here: “Allah chooses especially whom He pleases for His mercy.” – Sura 2:105

    So where’s the raging Christian fundamentalism in this speech?

  • http://religiousliberal.blogspot.com/ Dwight

    There is always that leftwinger Peggy Noonan whose recent column is titled: “Way Too Much God

    Was the president’s speech a case of “mission inebriation”? She writes:

    The inaugural address itself was startling. It left me with a bad feeling, and reluctant dislike. George W. Bush’s second inaugural will no doubt prove historic because it carried a punch, asserting an agenda so sweeping that an observer quipped that by the end he would not have been surprised if the president had announced we were going to colonize Mars.

    A short and self-conscious preamble led quickly to the meat of the speech: the president’s evolving thoughts on freedom in the world. Those thoughts seemed marked by deep moral seriousness and no moral modesty.

    It was a foreign-policy speech. To the extent our foreign policy is marked by a division that has been defined as a division between moralists and realists–the moralists taken with a romantic longing to carry democracy and justice to foreign fields, the realists motivated by what might be called cynicism and an acknowledgment of the limits of governmental power–President Bush sided strongly with the moralists, which was not a surprise. But he did it in a way that left this Bush supporter yearning for something she does not normally yearn for, and that is: nuance.

    The administration’s approach to history is at odds with what has been described by a communications adviser to the president as the “reality-based community.” A dumb phrase, but not a dumb thought: He meant that the administration sees history as dynamic and changeable, not static and impervious to redirection or improvement. That is the Bush administration way, and it happens to be realistic: History is dynamic and changeable. On the other hand, some things are constant, such as human imperfection, injustice, misery and bad government.

    This world is not heaven.

    The president’s speech seemed rather heavenish. It was a God-drenched speech. This president, who has been accused of giving too much attention to religious imagery and religious thought, has not let the criticism enter him. God was invoked relentlessly. “The Author of Liberty.” “God moves and chooses as He wills. We have confidence because freedom is the permanent hope of mankind . . . the longing of the soul.”

    It seemed a document produced by a White House on a mission. The United States, the speech said, has put the world on notice: Good governments that are just to their people are our friends, and those that are not are, essentially, not. We know the way: democracy. The president told every nondemocratic government in the world to shape up. “Success in our relations [with other governments] will require the decent treatment of their own people.”

    The speech did not deal with specifics–9/11, terrorism, particular alliances, Iraq. It was, instead, assertively abstract.

    “We are led, by events and common sense, to one conclusion: The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands.” “Across the generations we have proclaimed the imperative of self government. . . . Now it is the urgent requirement of our nation’s security, and the calling of our time.” “It is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in the world.”

    Ending tyranny in the world? Well that’s an ambition, and if you’re going to have an ambition it might as well be a big one. But this declaration, which is not wrong by any means, seemed to me to land somewhere between dreamy and disturbing. Tyranny is a very bad thing and quite wicked, but one doesn’t expect we’re going to eradicate it any time soon. Again, this is not heaven, it’s earth.

    “Renewed in our strength–tested, but not weary–we are ready for the greatest achievements in the history of freedom.”

    This is–how else to put it?–over the top. It is the kind of sentence that makes you wonder if this White House did not, in the preparation period, have a case of what I have called in the past “mission inebriation.” A sense that there are few legitimate boundaries to the desires born in the goodness of their good hearts.

    One wonders if they shouldn’t ease up, calm down, breathe deep, get more securely grounded. The most moving speeches summon us to the cause of what is actually possible. Perfection in the life of man on earth is not.

  • Molly

    Caution! Totally OT:

    “The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands.”

    When I heard this said aloud with W’s Texas Twang, I heard:

    “The survival of liberty in IRELAND increasingly depends on the success of liberty in THE NETHERLANDS.”

  • RyanH

    While this blog is mostly focused on print MSM, here’s today’s radio commentary by Chuck Colson on Bush’s inaugural address, since tmatt asked for “God talk reviews.”

    http://www.pfm.org/AM/Template.cfm?Section=BreakPoint1&Template=/CM/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=15191

  • tmatt

    I plan to wait a day or so and then do some kind of round-up on some of the manifest destiny commentaries — Noonan, Revealer, Weekly Standard, etc.

    Also, watch for Beliefnet.com. I talked to the editor today and they might put up a whole bulletin board on this topic.

    Keep sending those URLs!

  • http://www.nhreligion.com Stephen A.

    Well, I don’t know what happened to Peggy Noonan. The speeches she wrote for Ronald Reagan, notably the one commemorating the Challenger disaster (“…slipped the surly bonds of earth and touched the face of God”) were dripping with religious language.

    What the extreme secular Left doesn’t realize, or deliberately chooses to ignore, is that an acknowledgement of our nation’s historic general reverence for God is entirely appropriate in a public forum.

    Why Peggy Noonan has chosen to go over to the dark side on this issue is beyond me.

  • http://religion-society.blogspot.com Shawn

    GWB’s exhortation to young people to “believe the evidence of your eyes” is code one way or the other.

    1. A speechwriter has a really cracked-up sense of humor and is making a sly reference to a popular quote from George Orwell’s 1984 — “The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.”

    2. Alternatively, it is a reference to 2 Corinthians 10:7 — “Look at the evidence of your eyes. Anybody who is convinced that he belongs to Christ should go on to reflect that we belong to Christ no less than he does.” The English text is from the New Jerusalem Bible, an ecumenical translation by Catholic scholars initially developed in France. The entire passage is available at http://www.kofc.duq.edu/scripture/2corinthians.html — there are some interesting similarities between GWB and Paul’s self-justification here.

  • http://www.nhreligion.com Stephen A.

    I suspect the second choice you offer is the origin of that quote. Honestly, don’t you, too?

    And we wonder why the level of discourse – religious AND political – is so low, when someone could honestly suggest that Bush is quoting Orwell. (Is the implication that he wants to start a police state and impose Christianity by force???)

  • http://wetzell.blogspot.com/ dlw

    Perhaps, Orwell himself was inverting the scriptural passage. It’s not like one has to be religious to use scripture, I believe Satan quoted scripture on occasion….

    dlw

  • http://www.nhreligion.com Stephen A.

    DLW: Exactly. That’s far more plausible, and actually the more probable, origin of Orwell’s line, although my 1984 Cliffs Notes escape me at the moment, since I haven’t seen them in 20 years now, so I can’t assess his original intent.

    Or maybe the Bush speechwriter was just quoting Orwell, by way of scripture.

    – And no, I don’t mean that last line seriously.


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