Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Bush as pragmatic Christian 

I seem to be getting stuck in this mode of linking two other posts together, but I find the linkage allows me to synthesize some thoughts. Here's another. I first read this article last week, on how both George W Bush and William Rehnquist don't like strict adherence to theory. Now of course not having a theory makes you both unpredictable and unlikely to know when enough is enough, as Professor Stuntz argues. But, it has the virtue of perhaps preventing you from making huge mistakes. Thus, while one can argue...
[Bush] isn't running around the world toppling governments and rebuilding nations. A better summary would go like this: America's interests changed after September 11, and in the Muslim world, some targets of opportunity appeared. Bush exploited them, or tried to. His is the sensibility of a business executive who says: Here's some money on the table. Let's pick it up. can see that he's likely to be benefitted by good luck. Some people -- you know them, don't you? -- can have lots of good luck but are so beholden to being right that they avoid that luck. Stuntz continues:
There is something charmingly modest, and deeply conservative, about that vision of law and governance. Conservatives have long believed that human nature disposes us to arrogance, that we're not as smart and not nearly as farsighted as we think we are. The world is a terribly complicated place. If I think I've figured it out, I'm bound to be wrong, maybe disastrously so. Those who run things should not be enforcing some ideological orthodoxy but muddling along -- looking for targets of opportunity, picking up money on the table, testing their intuitions against those of others. It's not a grand vision of how the Supreme Court or the White House should work. But perhaps all those grand visions -- there is no shortage of them -- will lead us to very bad places.

Now here's where readers not kindly disposed to the President will protest but he never admits failure! Or at least he didn't, until now. And I left it there until reading Grant McCracken today on Bush as a practicing Christian.

He reaches out and thanks these people for their criticism. After his meeting with Bush, the mayor of New Orleans, Mr. C. Ray Nagin, said, "If anything, he told me he kind of appreciated my frankness and my bluntness."

This might be the triumph of a Christian generosity, a turning of the cheek. It's hard not to notice that no one takes Bush's Christianity seriously, unless, in my opinion, they take it too seriously. No one seems ever to read Bush's behavior as if he were being animated by Christian beliefs or practices. Instead, people treat his Christianity as if it were somehow "part of the act," an opportunistic play for sun belt, heart land, anti-coastal voters. No one seems to believe that George W. Bush is ever actually listening when in church. {emphasis mine --kb}

My impression of most scribblers is that they are wholly uninformed on what it means to be a "practicing Christian." I use the quotes because what I would call practicing is probably different than others, but the differences aren't as important as the action of trying to be like the person you want to be when you leave Sunday service. An opening part of the service I attend each week is a confession, that you didn't hit the mark. That doesn't mean you didn't take it seriously, only that you recognized your sinful nature. I do sense that part of Bush.

Of course, McCracken argues, this could be just another part of the Bush pragmatism, but even that has the quality of charity.
Or Bush's response to the mayor of New Orleans might be a triumph of a leader's pragmatism. It says, effectively, �your criticism helped me see the work we had to do. Thanks.� This is the selflessness of leadership. The leader accepts that people will behave badly. He/she accepts that people will behave badly at his/her expense and the expense of his/her presidency. The leader might engage in a blame game, but, really, what would that accomplish? A leader "takes the hit" and moves on to solve the problem.

I'm forwarding that paragraph on to others that I work with, and that's the goal I'll try to hit. I will confess not hitting it each Sunday, and resolve to try again next week, and the next, and the next.