Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Democracy Means Rule by the People, Not Appointment by God

I cannot think of anything more alien to the Enlightenment principles at the core of Jeffersonian American democracy than the belief that the president of the United States is divinely inspired and appointed to his office. That, however, is the kind of attitude Steve Benen finds among some on the right:

This post doesn't really have a specific point in mind, but I can't help but marvel at the jaw-dropping hero worship some on the right fall into when it comes to Bush. John Hinderaker, for example, was able to have a small, private audience with the president yesterday, and said Bush's performance "may have been the best I've ever seen any politician."

The conventional wisdom is that Bush is not a very good speaker. But up close, he is a great communicator, in a way that, in my opinion, Ronald Reagan was not. He was by turns instructive, persuasive, and funny. His persona is very much that of the big brother. Above all, he was impassioned. I have never seen a politician speak so evidently from the heart, about big issues -- freedom, most of all.

I've sometimes worried about how President Bush can withstand the Washington snake pit and deal with a daily barrage of hate from the ignorant left that, in my opinion, dwarfs in both volume and injustice the abuse directed against any prior President. (No one accused Lincoln of planning the attack on Fort Sumter.) Not to worry. He is, of course, miles above his mean-spirited liberal critics. More than that, he clearly derives real joy from the opportunity to serve as President and to participate in the great pageant of American history.

My friend A.L. pointed to a similar perspective a couple of days ago from the National Review's Mario Loyola. Under a headline that read, "Remembering why we prayed for a Bush victory," Loyola wrote:

Bush has virtually never in his political career made a decision that he didn't think was the right thing to do and the right way to do it. ... [I]t was not so long ago that Americans could only wish for a president who was obviously trustworthy, upstanding, and principled. And the day is not far off when we will think ourselves lucky to have seen this President defend the honor and integrity of his office -- and the American people -- for eight years. The times are difficult, and nobody could have gotten through the last five years without making mistakes. But in that station to which God called him, George W. Bush has been himself honestly, and thank God for that.


The only other president I can think of offhand who was idolized to anywhere like this degree was Ronald Reagan -- but he was not regarded even by his most unhinged fans as being appointed to the presidency by God.

You know, there may be some younger members of the blogosphere who don't know the origin of the popular idiomatic expression, "drinking the Kool-Aid." It might be instructive for such people to learn, and for the rest of us to be reminded.

1 comment:

ScurvyOaks said...

Jefferson was clearly a Deist, of course, so he would have considered the notion of a president being appointed by God nonsense. But TJ wasn't the only founder, and a lot of them were theists of some stripe or other. (They covered a range, from John Jay, an orthodox evangelical, to George Washington, who seems to have been a theologically liberal Episcopalian). My point is that American democracy is not solely Jeffersonian. It was the product of both deists and theists.

From the theist point of view, God is sovereign and in control of history. You see references to God as the God of history again and again among the founders, who regularly thanked God for victory in the Revolutionary War. (Franklin, for one, comes to mind.)

So theists -- including a bunch of the founders -- see every president as holding that office at least by the permission of God, and possibly by God's particular design. Obviously, that applies to presidents you think are doing a good job and presidents you think are doing a bad job.

I don't think I've ever heard someone assert that our current president is divinely inspired. There are certainly a lot of theists who also happen to be political conservatives who thank God that Bush is in the White House. If Kerry had won the last election, a lot of theists who are political liberals would be thanking God for that.

I don't see a lot here to get worked up about.