“Nobody spends more time on his knees than George W. Bush. The Bush administration hums to the sound of prayer. Prayer meetings take place day and night. It’s not uncommon to see White House functionaries hurrying down corridors carrying Bibles.”
Allegedly a documentary, George W. Bush: Faith in the White House is a work of supreme arrogance and misinformation; a film of such simplistic moralizing and propagandistic fury that it stopped just short of offering up Bush himself as Christ the Redeemer. While its stated intent is to present “independent research” in support of Bush’s religious faith, its ambitions reach beyond a personal portrait to tackle 9/11, Iraq, the Constitution, and the whole of American history. As the film states, Bush is not merely the “right man at the right time,” he is the end result of history’s righteous march in the direction of a Jesus-centered government. All efforts are made to put to rest the idea that a church/state separation is historically sound; but more than that, the film suggests that even if it were to be the case, it wouldn’t be proper. After all, in the never-ending global war on terror, God is needed more than ever and we should, in the words of the film, “align our faith with the President’s.” That turn of events, however, is predictable for a film of this nature. What I wasn’t prepared for, however, were the patent falsehoods that passed for truth (okay, I expected that, but not to this level), and the amateurish tone featuring re-creations that wouldn’t have passed the smell test on Unsolved Mysteries.
Hosted by radio wacko Janet Parshall, Faith in the White House stacks the deck so heavily in favor of its message that it uses the actual voices (and images) of pro-Bush forces, while resorting to “voice talents” to recreate quotes from those who dissent. When, for example, we “hear” from the likes of Al Franken, Richard Gere, and Barry Lynn (Americans United for the Separation of Church and State), the voices are snide, whiny, and full of snooty elitism. It is clear that these people are meant to be objects of scorn, while the Bush team comes across as reasonable and humble. Had it stopped there, it might have been merely silly, but the distortions fly fast and furious from then on:
- When discussing George Washington’s “faith in God,” we see the famous image of the Father of Our Country kneeling in prayer beneath a tree at Valley Forge. And yet, as told in the brilliant Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong, “the Valley Forge story is utterly without foundation in fact.” And never mind that Washington was a Deist, not a fundamentalist Christian. Nevertheless, the myth is perpetuated and we are meant to believe that Bush’s obsessive prayer is merely in the spirit of those who came before.
- It might be nitpicking, but how can I trust a film that misspells both Rehnquist and Afghanistan?
- If one were to believe this film, Bush single-handedly built The Ballpark at Arlington. Nowhere is it mentioned that taxpayers picked up the tab, thus enabling Bush to make a fortune on a paltry investment.
- Ann Richards ran a nasty, vile campaign in the 1994 Texas Governor’s race, while Bush and his team remained decent, charitable, and soft-spoken. Yes, with Karl Rove on board.
- Friends and family alike insist that Bush would never impose his faith, and is so kindhearted that he “wants everyone to be better off,” unless black, poor, non-religious, and not from Texas.
- Bush’s faith in God is linked with Lincoln’s on numerous occasions, as is the assertion that like Lincoln, Bush merely wants to be on “God’s side.” But what of Lincoln’s words in the Second Inaugural:
“Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still must it be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’”
Religious? Undoubtedly. Yet Lincoln believed the destiny of America was far from secure, and even God himself would do little to prevent absolute destruction. In fact, he might even seek bloody retribution against a nation bourne of sin. In order for the comparison to be apt, Bush would have to argue that the War on Terror might not turn out as we hope, and we may have to pay a price for our hubris and hypocrisy in the world. In other words, the absolute fucking opposite.
- The Supreme Court pulled the idea of separation between church and state out of its ass, apparently, believing that only “distortions” and “illegal intrusions” have kept prayer from the public schools.
- As sinister tones fill the soundtrack, it is said that officials once told students in Texas that they’d be “arrested and locked up” for mentioning Jesus at graduation. In the same state that had an official and state-sponsored “Jesus Day?”
The film moves from madness to farce, however, with insipid re-creations that highlight the comic relief the filmmakers no doubt sought to avoid. The first image, fittingly, is of George’s baptism (there always was great things for that there boy). In another piece, an abnormally somewhat attractive Babs is comforted by her wonderful boy as she deals with the death of her daughter. The scene is so phony and filled to the brim with pathos that it was no doubt invented to save for a later, more politically opportune, time. Then, in a riotous scene, a Bush lookalike (that is, if Bush has ever looked like Miguel Ferrer) is propositioned by a fellow worker on his father’s 1988 campaign, only to meet the flirting with righteous indignation. “I’m a married man! Not interested!” he bellows, which was not half as hard to accept as the look of disappointment on the woman’s face for not being able to ride Dubya like a mustang. Then we see Bush/Ferrer again, appearing with even less hair, storming out of a meeting with a Congressman who suggested that a bill had “something in it for him.” To reinforce the point, friends speak up for Bush, saying, “His sense of ethics is without parallel.” And why is that? Because he follows the living word of God. The final re-creation involves Bush’s conversion after a meeting with Billy Graham. The scene avoids the outright nuttiness of the others, but throughout, the relationship with Jesus is seen as pre-ordained, as if America was hungry for a godly president at exactly the time he came around. Since God let 9/11 happen, he knew that Bush would best calm the waters of a troubled world. Or some such bullshit.
The final piece of intolerable crap involves Bush’s alleged empathy, which envisions the President as a Saint Among Mortals; a Christ-like prophet who manages to fill his day with prayer and Bible study, in addition to the laughable suggestion that he reads 12-inch thick stacks of policy papers and “other books.” After meeting Meagan Gillan, the head of Bush’s “Presidential Prayer Team,” we are provided testimony of Bush’s divine grace. When a friend’s son is killed in a car accident, Bush calls the father to offer prayer! From Air Force One! In the middle of a war! And then there’s young Sam Haynam, afflicted with cystic fibrosis and a gap between his teeth wide enough to drive a truck through, whose only wish is to meet Bush because he’s a “godly man.” Sam presents Bush with a Bible and bookmark that says, “F.R.O.G.” Bush asks the apple-cheeked (but dying) youngster what that means, and is told, “Fully Rely On God.” Not missing a beat, Bush replies, “Then I guess I’m a frog too.” I’ll be darned if that don’t bring a tear to the eye of ev’ry god-fearin’ man alive.
Everything else was what you’ve heard countless times: the booze, the immaturity, the wandering, and finally, the commitment. It’s ironic that he gave up drinking while staying in Colorado Springs, for if that town inspires anything, it’s the desire to drown one’s sorrows in alcohol. Trust me, I lived there for 26 years. But it’s the disinterested shrug regarding the Constitution that is so troubling, for if, as the DVD states, “Nobody spends more time on his knees than George W. Bush,” we are faced not merely with a religious man (which would not be uncommon in our history), but a powerful, influential leader who seeks to overturn the secular control of the public sphere. Again, public men may have religious faith, but such beliefs are forbidden from ever influencing public policy. A president can seek guidance from the tooth fairy all he likes, but the inner-workings of government — the rulings and decisions that affect all those held under the guidance of the Constitution of the United States — must have as their inspiration and substance the rule of law as mandated by reason, justice, and empirical truth. That is the important difference between Bush and his predecessors. Otherwise, a president becomes a priest, and the Oval Office his altar, which removes the only protection from theocratic tyranny we have the right to expect.