Theocons and Theocrats | The Nation


Theocons and Theocrats

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More telling still, in the years since 1988 dozens of reports have quoted Bush the Younger telling ministers, supporters and foreign officials that God wanted him to run for President and that God speaks through him. In mid-2004 one Pennsylvania newspaper reported his telling a local Amish audience, "I trust God speaks through me. Without that, I couldn't do my job." Reports that he told Middle Eastern leaders that God told him to invade Iraq have been denied by the White House, but this is clearly the sort of language he uses from time to time.

article was adapted from Kevin Phillips's latest book, American Theocracy, just
published by Viking.

About the Author

Kevin Phillips
Kevin Phillips has been an author and commentator for four decades.

Also by the Author

When it comes to mixing God and government, conservatives differ greatly from the rest of the electorate.

John Kerry can win, given George W. Bush's incompetence, and White House strategists realize that.

Since Robertson's run for the White House in 1988 and the victory that same year by Bush the Elder, the Republican Party has clearly moved closer to this constituency--and the process was speeded by Bill Clinton, whose politics and personal conduct offended the churchgoing South, in particular, enabling George W. Bush to pose as the standard-bearer of moral restoration in 2000. This metamorphosis gained further momentum after September 11, 2001, when the younger Bush responded to the terrorist attacks by declaring the start of a war between good and evil, speaking in a relentlessly religious idiom that several biblical scholars have described as double-coding--only mildly religious on the surface, but beneath that full of allusions to biblical passages and Christian hymns. They, too, suggested that Bush cast himself as a prophet of sorts--one who spoke for God.

The upshot of this escalating religiosity on the part of the Republican national leadership has been an escalating and parallel religiosity on the part of the Republican rank and file. Those voting Republican for President since 1988 have become increasingly religious in motivation. After 9/11 pro-Bush preachers described Bush as God's chosen man while hinting that Saddam Hussein, whose Iraq was the biblical "New Babylon" of fundamentalist preacher Tim LaHaye's eerie Left Behind series, was the Antichrist or at least the forerunner of the Evil One. In 2004 a further wave of evangelical, fundamentalist and Pentecostal turnout helped to cement the Republican transformation, even as moderate mainline Protestants shuddered and turned in a small Democratic trend between 2000 and 2004.

As early as 1988, Ohio academician John Green, a specialist in religious political behavior, had commented on how the growing correlation between frequent church attendance and Republican presidential voting was starting to raise a US parallel to the religious parties of Europe, most notably the Christian Democrats in Germany and Italy. By 2000-04, this correlation was much stronger, and political journalists began to speak of the "religious gap" that was replacing the "gender gap." The less discussed but even more significant aspect of this upheaval lay in a second set of polls that showed the increasingly theocratic inclinations of the Republican electorate (see chart).

These sentiments did not spring from nowhere. A majority of Americans take the Bible literally in many dimensions, including subjects ranging from the creation and Noah's Ark to the Book of Revelation. Within the ranks of Republican voters, the ratios are lopsided. For example, in 1999 a national poll by Newsweek revealed that 40 percent of American Christians believed in Armageddon and virtually as many thought the Antichrist was already alive. Because such believers were most numerous in the Republican electorate, I would calculate that roughly 55 percent of Bush 2004 voters believed in Armageddon--and it could be higher.

Such voters are especially prone to theocratic views, and foreign policy is by no means immune. In 2004 a survey by the Pew Center found that 55 percent of white evangelical Protestants consider "following religious principles" to be a top priority for foreign policy. Only a quarter of Catholics and mainline Protestants agreed, but given the makeup of the Bush coalition, I would guess that about half its voters would favor that position. This explains both why so many of Bush's core supporters cheered the first-stage US involvement in Iraq--and why Bush bungled things in the Holy Land so badly.

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