June 15, 2009
There’s an important article in the Politico, titled, “Obama invokes Jesus more than Bush.” President Barack Obama, says the article, has mentioned Jesus Christ “in a number of high-profile public speeches,” more so than did President George W. Bush, and in much less “innocuous contexts.”
Obama has done so in order to promote certain policies, especially his economic policies, and “to connect with a broader base of supporters.” He does this via various “targeted messages.” Most remarkable, the article considers whether Obama is using the bully pulpit to pursue “an even larger goal” of resurrecting the Christian left, of appealing to disillusioned conservative evangelicals, and to attract “swing Protestants” and “swing Catholics.”
In other words, Obama is doing the things, faith-wise, that Bush was angrily accused of doing.
That’s not surprising. Obama will pursue these goals with the secular-liberal media’s acquiescence, silent approval and encouragement, and warmest appreciation. To cover for this political recruitment by their president, liberals in the press will ignore the activity, and certainly not expose it in their news coverage.
Among the claims in the Politico piece, I was struck by the one that’s most verifiable: the frequency of the mentions of Jesus. Within about a year, we will be able to tabulate these through the Presidential Documents as they become available on-line.
I did those tabulations for George W. Bush compared to Bill Clinton. I ran the data because I sensed that Bush’s references to God—which sent liberal journalists into fits of irrational rage—were less frequent and considerably more benign than anything I heard from Bill Clinton, not to mention a long line of Democratic presidents and politicians. Revisiting those findings here is worthwhile, since they tell us much about how Democratic presidents use faith and, far more important, how the liberal media manipulates public perception.
I searched The Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents, which are the exhaustive, official collection of every public presidential statement. I compared the mentions of “Jesus,” or “Jesus Christ,” or “Christ” by Bush and Clinton. (Hereafter referred to as “Christ.”) Clinton, of course, won handily.
Most telling, however, was the how and when. Bush’s biggest year was 2001, when he mentioned Christ in seven statements, typically relating to September 11 memorial services. In 2002, Bush cited Christ five times. Most interesting, in all of 2003, the Presidential Documents display only two statements in which Bush mentioned Christ: Easter and Christmas messages. This downward trend continued, suggesting that the hostile press reaction to Bush’s mentions of Christ pressured him into silence.
Such pressure, naturally, was never placed on Bush’s Democratic predecessor. President Bill Clinton’s biggest year for Christ remarks was 1996—the year of his reelection campaign—when he spoke of Christ in nine separate statements. For a single year, Bush never outdid Clinton in references to Christ.
Generally, Clinton’s biggest years for references to Christ were election years: nine statements in 1996, seven in 1998, six in 2000, and five in 1994. In total, Clinton mentioned Christ 27 times in the four election years, compared to only 14 times in the four non-election years. He mentioned Christ twice as much in election years.
Also, the way in which Clinton employed these references would have scandalized the press if Bush had used them. Clinton openly said that his personal “ministry” as president was “to do the work of God here on Earth” (Temple Hills, Maryland, August 14, 1994); declared that “God’s work must be our own” (Newark, New Jersey, October 20, 1996); cited the teachings of Christ in support of federal legislation (July 26, 2000); said that his attempted impeachment was “in God’s hands” (December 18, 1998); and constantly exhorted congregations to vote for him or Al Gore or other Democrats (Alfred Baptist Church in Alexandria, Virginia, October 29, 2000, and the Kelly Temple Church of God in Christ in Harlem, October 31, 2000, to cite just two examples).
Never heard this before? Of course, you haven’t. It was never reported. It was left to researchers to dig it out years after the fact.
I could go on and on with examples. Vice President Al Gore sounded like a Baptist preacher on the 2000 campaign trail, and Hillary Clinton obliterated any propriety with her breathtaking statements in dozens of New York City churches during her 2000 Senate campaign. (See my article, “Rev. Hillary Takes the Pulpit,” National Review, October 4, 2007.)
What I’ve noted here is the tip of an iceberg. I’ve devoted chapters and books to liberal Democrats’ extremely expressive public expressions of faith. A core element of that story is how the press embraces these expressions but then, on a dime, turns and blasts conservative Republicans for much milder statements.
Thus, I fully expect President Obama to talk about God in much stronger terms and far more often than did President Bush. Liberals will not politically crucify him as they did Bush. When the double standard is pointed out—strictly by conservatives—liberals will cover their ears, wink, and move on. At best, when confronted, they will conjure up the usual excuses as to why the reaction is different.
So, be prepared to be greatly frustrated. The press has made it abundantly clear: there are different sets of rules for conservative Christian politicians and liberal Christian politicians.
Paul Kengor is professor of political science and executive director of The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. His books include God and Ronald Reagan, God and George W. Bush, and God and Hillary Clinton.