Here's a fine opportunity for our friends to denounce me as a shill for the Bush administration, but bear with me, if you would be so kind. A reputable friend of mine approvingly sent me the text of a June 7 speech by a talk show host named Chuck Baldwin, called "Could Teresa Heinz Kerry Get Away with This?"
Baldwin takes the Bushes to task for Mrs. Bush's speech before the White House Correspondents' Association dinner in Washington, D.C.
Baldwin accurately recounts what happened:
"In a scripted 'interruption' of the President's remarks, Laura began by comparing herself to the sleazy characters of the television sitcom, Desperate Housewives. She said, 'Ladies and gentlemen, I am a desperate housewife. I mean, if those women on that show think they are desperate, they ought to be with George.' Her remarks only went downhill from there.
"Mrs. Bush continued by saying, 'One night, after George went to bed, [Vice President Dick Cheney's wife] Lynne Cheney, [Secretary of State] Condi Rice, [Bush adviser] Karen Hughes and I went to Chippendales [a strip club where women tuck cash into male dancer's skimpy thongs]. I wouldn't even mention it except [Supreme Court Justices] Ruth Ginsberg and Sandra Day O'Connor saw us there. I won't tell you what happened, but Lynne's Secretary Service code name is now "Dollar Bill."'"
. . . "Mrs. Bush then referenced President Bush's lack of ranching skills by saying, 'He's learned a lot about ranching since that first year when he tried to milk the horse. What's worse, it was a male horse.'"
Baldwin is horrified by this, writing as follows:
"[A]s our President and First Lady, Mr. and Mrs. Bush have a duty to hold high the moral standard of our nation. That they are willing to publicly use vulgar and profane innuendos, even in jest, reveals a serious lack of character and discernment."
Here I think it important to note that Baldwin's accusation of the President having used "vulgar and profane innuendos" in public is entirely unfounded. Mrs. Bush is the only one of the two to whom the accusation may apply.
But let us proceed to Baldwin's main contention:
"The real point of this story, again, is not the misjudgments and misconduct of the Bush family, but the unwillingness of the Religious Right to hold this President to the same standards that they would hold Al Gore, John Kerry, or any other Democratic president to.
"This is simply another glaring lesson on the dangers of Christians putting partisan politics above commitment to bedrock principle. Unfortunately, it's been going on since President Bush was first elected in 2000 and there is no sign that it will stop anytime soon."
Baldwin notes that Mrs. Bush has said that she supports Roe v. Wade, and once stood up to applaud a play about a transvestite (which I have not seen and hence cannot judge its merits, if any). Those are things of which the Christian Right strongly disapproves.
I am not aware, however, that Mrs. Bush made any statements supporting Roe v. Wade at the correspondents' dinner or at any other time since her husband was elected president. And even if she did, I would not care about it from a policy point of view: her husband is the president, and she isn't.
Of course Mrs. Bush's attempt at humor was vulgar and stupid—because it was so horribly inept and unfunny. Her writers should be shot. But that is not Mr. Baldwin's complaint.
It is that good Christian people, especially right-wing preachers, have not jumped up to denounce President Bush: "Their willingness to overlook, and even condone, the improper conduct of President Bush, or in this case, First Lady Laura Bush is appalling."
That may well be true, but it is important to recognize that there are serious religious reasons for much of the Christian Right to refrain from making a big deal out of this.
The big reason is to avoid being hypocrites and vipers.
Yes, Mrs. Bush's monologue was putrid and inane, and the Bushes don't remind us of the Cromwells.
But what, exactly, would Mr. Baldwin suggest President Bush do about his wife? Divorce her? Muzzle her? Beat her? Forbid her to go to the theater? This seems a rather strange attitude, to me.
The point Mr. Baldwin is aiming to make is that the Christian Right should condemn President Bush as a bad man, or at least a bad Christian, because he does not prevent his wife from acting a little weird at times. If that is correct, then my wife is a very bad woman for not preventing me from being as foolish as I frequently am.
I think we can all agree that the Bushes are far from perfect, or even as moral as Chuck Baldwin claims to be. But I cannot get worked up about it, and I guess it is because I do not come from a pietistic religious tradition, as Mr. Baldwin evidently does, and am highly aware of my own imperfections. To me what counts is what you stand for, and if you are morally weak and unimaginably far from perfect, then we definitely have something in common.
Baldwin says that the preachers of the Right refuse to criticize President Bush because . . . well, he never does say precisely why the Christian Right supports President Bush so unquestioningly in this case and others. But it is a question he has to answer if his claim is to have any credibility at all. Exactly what is it that the Christian Right gets from President Bush that they would not have got from a President Kerry?
I would submit that what the Christian Right gets from President Bush is rhetoric, and that they are very grateful for it. Rhetoric is powerful and can change the world.
Many people stand for antinomianism and live like it, and they have a great effect on the course of society. The Bushes stand for morality and live it about as well as the rest of us do, on average. I certainly cannot claim superiority, and I suspect that some of the preachers Mr. Baldwin condemns feel the same way about themselves, that their own lives have not been devoid of transgressions, and they are acutely aware of their own weaknesses. As long as a person stands for morality, even though he or she falls short of Baldwin-like perfection, the Christian Right ought to be expected to stand behind them.
Hence, I shall respectfully refrain from casting stones in this particular case.