March 20, 2003, on this blog: It begins.
CNN is appalling. Wolf Blitzer is making his “O face.” He’s covering this war like it’s Bobby Thompson’s home run. He’s wound up like a little kid on Christmas morning.
And also: Down in My Heart.
The dangers of such an approach are obvious. All considerations of consequence and outcome (including respect for the potential of unforeseen consequences) become secondary to the matter of intent. For Mr. Bush, if someone has a “Good Heart,” his intentions are pure and he can do no wrong
This sentimental approach is also aggressively individualistic, producing idiosyncratic and novel ethical positions that may, in fact, contradict longstanding, catholic (small “c”) Christian tradition. These positions are not held in deliberate opposition as a challenge to the tradition, but rather in blissful ignorance of that tradition. After all, if you’ve got a Good Heart, all that tradition is just an unnecessary distraction.
This evangelical sentimentalism also explains Bush’s impatience with the cautious, disciplined ethics of the Christian just war tradition. It did not matter to the president that the papal emissaries pleading against a “pre-ventive/emptive” war of aggression could cite 2,000 years of Christian thought. For evangelicals like Bush, all that Christian teaching just showed that these people were spending a lot of time reading and writing books other than the Bible — the meaning of which, he believes, is self-evident and unambiguous to anyone with a Good Heart. Apostolic traditions, systematic theologies and the like are seen as barriers between individual Christians and the Jesus who lives in your heart.This approach also explains why evangelicals — including George W. Bush — can get so angry and aggressively personal in any political or ethical dispute. If you believe that the only (or at least the primary) reason you hold political opinion X is because you love Jesus, then you will also come to believe that anyone holding opinion Not-X must therefore not love Jesus. Thus evangelicals who disagree will quickly move to accusing one another of not loving Jesus, which — for an evangelical — is about the worst thing anybody can accuse you of (except, of course, for homosexuality or voting for Clinton).
This is what prompts President Bush’s angry indignation when any initiative or position of his administration is questioned. He interprets all such questions as challenges to the Goodness of his Heart. Thus his response is usually to angrily reassert that he has a Good Heart, without ever responding to — or hearing and considering — the substance of the critique.