Evangelicals, Christians who view the Bible as the inerrant, literal word of God, believe in winning over others to their way of faith, a conversion process akin to being "born again." George H. W. Bush Sr. and his son, George W. Bush Jr., were extensively influenced by evangelical leaders during their years in the White House. Evangelical tenets crept into the elder Bush's policies while he was vice president, and continued after he was elected president in 1988. A stronger influence appeared in the faith-based policies enacted by his son, who served as president for two terms after a successful campaign in 2000.
Before serving as vice president to Ronald Reagan, the elder Bush, in interviews, referred to evangelicals like Pat Robertson as "snake handlers and swindlers." Coincidentally, he would later run against Robertson in the Republican primaries, by which point the evangelical voting bloc had become a significant portion of the Republican party. Recognizing that the bloc could help him get elected in 1988, the elder Bush enlisted missionary and policy adviser Doug Wead to improve his standing among evangelical Christians during his vice presidency, and into his presidency.
Wead wrote "The Red Memo" in 1985, detailing "an effective, discreet evangelical strategy" to court evangelical votes. His recommendations influenced the elder Bush to invite high-ranking evangelicals to the White House and cement his position on abortion as pro-life. The presidential candidate won 81 percent of the evangelical vote in 1988, but it wasn't until his son ran for president that the full advantage of courting the evangelical bloc was demonstrated. In the 2000 election, $3.2 million of the younger Bush's $8.8 million in independent contributions came from ardent anti-abortion groups, a key issue among evangelical voters, according to campaign finance databases.
While the evangelical influence on the elder Bush's policies were relatively minor, the same cannot be said for George W. Bush Jr. While serving as de facto evangelical liaison during much of his father's presidency, the younger Bush established strong bonds and even friendships with powerful religious leaders that continued into his presidency. In an interview with PBS Frontline, Southern Baptist Convention leader Richard Land said of the younger Bush's administration that "there's no question this is the most receptive White House to our concerns and to our perspective of any White House that I've dealt with, and I've dealt with every White House from Reagan on."
The hallmark of the evangelical imprint on Bush Jr.'s presidency was his faith-based initiatives. These included social services based on religious ideals and restrictions, such as policies that favored the pro-life stance on abortion, and encouraging the teaching of creationism in public school class rooms. To enforce these policy changes, the younger Bush stocked his administration with religious leaders and evangelical figures that included evangelical Daniel Cooper as secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs and faith in government promoter Tim Goeglein as a White House aide.
The embrace of evangelical Christian political policy during George W. Bush's presidency has exerted a long-lasting conservative political influence. To this day, the inclusion of creationism in science curriculums, and even public school funding, reflects the impact of lessening the separation of church and state. And with the younger Bush's Supreme Court appointment of conservative John Roberts -- a lifelong post -- the evangelical influence will reverberate for many years to come.
- The Impact of Evangelical Christianity on Bush Presidency and Nation
- Slate.com: The Bush Tragedy
- The New York Review of Books: A Country Ruled By Faith
- PBS Frontline: The Jesus Factor: Bush and Evangelicals
- National Association of Evangelicals: What is an Evangelical?
- Political MoneyLine: NATIONAL RIGHT TO LIFE POLITICAL ACTION COMMITTEE
- Political MoneyLine: BUSH, GEORGE W 1999 - 2000 Election Cycle (See Independent Expenditures For/Against)
- Inter Press News Service: POLITICS-US: Bush Appointee Campaigns for Evangelicals
- NPR: "Man in the Middle": Between Faith and Politics
- David Cannon/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images