Today is Say Something Nice About Bush Day. The American people have spoken, and today all must pay homage. (Tomorrow—next week at the latest—we can go back to insulting him.) Characteristics that grated throughout the election and much of his first term are today redefined in more positive ways. Is Bush ideological and stubborn? I saw Tom Brokaw on NBC earlier today praising Bush for his manly “resolve.” I’ve thought hard all day about how I might contribute to this round-robin of reconciliation without completely sacrificing all self-respect. Here goes.
I like the fact that Bush, whenever he has occasion to invoke America’s tradition of religious tolerance, always has a kind word for atheists. I am an atheist. (Please, no e-mails in response trying to save my soul. I consider my atheism to be a personal matter between me and my nonexistent Creator.) Typically, whenever a politician affirms Americans’ right to practice religion as they choose, he leaves out those of us who choose not to worship at all. Or, if he acknowledges us, he does nothing to dispel any impression some might have that we’re bad people. In the 2000 campaign, Al Gore drove me up the wall by adopting this stance (and sometimes actually scolding us—denouncing, for instance, “the allergy to faith that is such a curious factor in much of modern society”).
Bush, to his credit, does not ignore or show disdain for those of us who sleep late on weekends. At today’s press conference, Bush was asked, “What do you say to those who are concerned about the role of a faith they do not share in public life and in your policies?” His answer was tolerant of atheists and other non-churchgoers:
[M]y answer to people is, I will be your president regardless of your faith, and I don’t expect you to agree with me necessarily on religion. As a matter of fact, no president should ever try to impose religion on our society. A great—the great tradition of America is one where people can worship the way they want to worship. And if they choose not to worship, they’re just as patriotic as your neighbor [italics mine]. That is an essential part of why we are a great nation. And I am glad people of faith voted in this election. I’m glad—I appreciate all people who voted. I don’t think you ought to read anything into the politics, the moment, about whether or not this nation will become a divided nation over religion. I think the great thing that unites is the fact you can worship freely if you choose, and if you—you don’t have to worship [italics mine]. And if you’re a Jew or a Christian or a Muslim, you’re equally American. That is—that is such a wonderful aspect of our society; and it is strong today and it will be strong tomorrow.
I couldn’t have put it better myself. Well, OK, I could have put it better. But the way Bush put it was just fine. And he’s put it this way many times before. (See, for instance, this talk with visiting mayors from last January or this speech in Wisconsin from last May.)
If today weren’t Say Something Nice About Bush Day, I might wonder how praising the patriotism of people who “choose not to worship” became part of Bush’s boilerplate. I might wonder whether Karl Rove slipped that in subtly to remind the Christian right that there are a lot of brie-eating, New York Times-reading non-churchgoers out there, and that they always vote for Democrats, and that that’s a good reason to give your all for the God-fearing Republican you see before you. I might wonder, in short, whether Bush is employing the “For Brutus is an honorable man” style of rhetoric wherein you put down the person you’re purportedly praising. Even if I wondered that, however, I’d still think that the benefit to society, when the president urges tolerance for non-churchgoers, would be well worth enduring whatever sneaky subliminal message might be contained therein. So thank you, Mr. President.
That’s all I’ve got. I’m not even going to say Bush is a “great dad,” as Bush said about John Kerry when asked what he admired about his opponent during the first debate, because how the hell do I know whether Bush is a good father or not? How the hell does Bush know Kerry’s a good father? He doesn’t. He made it up because it sounded more gracious than, “I like that striped pattern in your tie.”