Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Bush, a Methodist by choice not birth - Telegraph

Why Bush is America's natural leader, stupid
The Telegraph (U.K.) Sept 4, 2004 Charles Moore

What single fact tells you more about George W Bush and American politics than any other? That he converted from his family's Anglicanism and became a Methodist.

It is inconceivable that such a thing would happen in Britain. In the first place, Methodism has almost collapsed in this country. There are hardly any Methodists left here, let alone converts.

More to the point, the habit in Britain is the other way round. If you start life as a Methodist and then rise in the world socially, you tend to graduate ("convert" is much too strenuous a word) to Anglicanism.
Methodism was a purifying movement within Anglicanism. Eventually, it broke with its mother Church and claimed an independent existence as a cleaner, simpler, more personal faith, one that rejected worldly status. Bush junior's conversion follows that path - a turning away from personal failure (in his case drinking and getting nowhere) through a direct experience of God, a journey away from social grandeur to something that seemed more rugged, a journey from Connecticut to Texas.

No doubt this journey was and remains profound and sincere, but it was also brilliant politics. Mr Bush has the good fortune to be considered stupid by his opponents, so they don't study him properly. What he has done is not stupid at all: he has found a way of embodying and uniting the different strands of conservatism in America.
Geography, biography and theology have all combined in Mr Bush's favour. If he hadn't put down roots in somewhere like Texas (silly phrase, sorry: there's nowhere like Texas), he would for ever have been vulnerable to the jibes about being an effete East Coaster. Now he can make a good joke about his "swagger" being what, in Texas, they call "walking".

If he hadn't made a bit of a mess of the first 40 years of his life, he would not have been able to appeal to the American love of a story of sin, struggle and redemption. If he hadn't experienced this story as one of divine love, he would not have been able to speak the language that touches the hearts of a people 40 per cent of whom go to church "at least once a week".

If, on the other hand, Mr Bush had never been near Harvard Business School and Yale and if his father had not been so powerful and so rich, he would have been poorly placed to reach the other important conservative constituencies - big business, dealmakers, networkers, problem solvers, soldiers. In other words, he genuinely combines fervent personal faith, a popular touch, superb connections and a huge pile of loot. Such a combination shouldn't surprise us - we had it here in the 19th century with Gladstone. It is formidable.

Once one understands how this works, the suggestion that Mr Bush is stupid looks, well, stupid. Intelligence in politics doesn't mean deep reading or having original ideas: you can be a very clever fool. It means knowing how to do what you want and believe with the constantly varying weapons at your disposal. It means being in tune with the culture.
Mr Bush has that uniquely American gift for reinventing yourself with perfect sincerity, whereas Mr Kerry's self-reinvention looks insincere. Since three years ago next Saturday [see date of article], George W Bush has looked the natural leader of America. He still does.

Whether you take Moore's conclusions as good news or bad, it's hard to argue that they're not true.

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