Democrats tend to overreact to Bush's use of religious rhetoric, which has usually been responsible, inspiring, and poetic. Typical was the moment during his convention speech in which he marveled at those who had prayed for him despite their own losses.
But while Bush's public comments about faith have been mostly within the mainstream tradition of presidential rhetoric, his supporters lately have gone in a less-familiar direction: conveying the idea that God is responsible for Bush being in the White House.
"He is one of those men God and fate somehow lead to the fore in times of challenge," said George Pataki in the high-profile introduction of Bush at the Republican National Convention, an introduction almost certainly scrubbed if not written by the White House.
"I thank God that on September 11th, we had a president who didn't wring his hands and wonder what America had done wrong to deserve this attack," he added. "I thank God we had a president who understood that America was attacked, not for what we had done wrong, but for what we did right."
If he'd said "thank God" just once we might have concluded this was simply colloquial usage—a dramatic way of saying, "it's a darn good thing." That the man introducing Bush thanked God three times makes it suspicious, even more so given these lines from Rudy Giuliani's speech two nights earlier: "Spontaneously, I grabbed the arm of then Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik and said to Bernie, 'Thank God, George Bush is our president.' " And, to reinforce the point, Giuliani added, "And I say it again tonight: Thank God, George Bush is our president."
This is not the first time it's been suggested that God deserves thanks for the 2000 election results. Several sympathetic books about Bush and his faith make a big deal of his deciding to run for president after hearing a Texas minister named Rev. Mark Craig preach about how Moses had been called to service by God. Bush's mother reportedly turned to her son after the sermon and said, "He was talking to you."
Stephen Mansfield, author of The Faith of George W. Bush, goes on to say: "Not long after, Bush called James Robison (a prominent minister) and told him, 'I've heard the call. I believe God wants me to run for President.' " Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention heard Bush say something similar: "Among the things he said to us was: I believe that God wants me to be president, but if that doesn't happen, it's OK.' "
After 9/11, the sense among his supporters that God had chosen him increased. "I think that God picked the right man at the right time for the right purpose," said popular Christian broadcaster Janet Parshall. Gen. William "Jerry" Boykin, who got in trouble for derogatory comments about Islam, argued that it must have been God who selected Bush, since a plurality of voters hadn't. "Why is this man in the White House? The majority of America did not vote for him. He's in the White House because God put him there for a time such as this." (Boykin still has his job.)
Time magazine reported, "Privately, Bush talked of being chosen by the grace of God to lead at that moment." World Magazine, a conservative Christian publication, quoted White House official Tim Goeglein as saying, "I think President Bush is God's man at this hour, and I say this with a great sense of humility."
Even former President George H.W. Bush speculated that perhaps he needed to be defeated so that his son could become president: "If I'd won that election in 1992, my oldest son would not be president of the United States of America," he said. "I think the Lord works in mysterious ways."