Daniel Burke at the Washington Post thinks that President Bush might be pulling a Tony Blair. Burke tells of the Catholic based culture that rules the west wing and some other lingering suspicions.
Shortly after Pope Benedict XVI’s election in 2005, President Bush met with a small circle of advisers in the Oval Office. As some mentioned their own religious backgrounds, the president remarked that he had read one of the new pontiff’s books about faith and culture in Western Europe.
Save for one other soul, Bush was the only non-Catholic in the room. But his interest in the pope’s writings was no surprise to those around him. As the White House prepares to welcome Benedict on Tuesday, many in Bush’s inner circle expect the pontiff to find a kindred spirit in the president. Because if Bill Clinton can be called America’s first black president, some say, then George W. Bush could well be the nation’s first Catholic president.***
“I don’t think there’s any question about it,” says Rick Santorum, former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania and a devout Catholic, who was the first to give Bush the “Catholic president” label. “He’s certainly much more Catholic than Kennedy.”
While this concept of a Catholic run White House may be humorous to some, Fr. Richard John Neuhaus says that it is not so far fetched.
Bush has also placed Catholics in prominent roles in the federal government and relied on Catholic tradition to make a public case for everything from his faith-based initiative to antiabortion legislation. He has wedded Catholic intellectualism with evangelical political savvy to forge a powerful electoral coalition.
“There is an awareness in the White House that the rich Catholic intellectual tradition is a resource for making the links between Christian faith, religiously grounded moral judgments and public policy,” says Richard John Neuhaus, a Catholic priest and editor of the journal First Things who has tutored Bush in the church’s social doctrines for nearly a decade.
Finally, Burke hints that some close to the President might not be suprised if he pulled a Tony Blair one day by converting after leaving office.
Moreover, people close to Bush say that he has professed a not-so-secret admiration for the church’s discipline and is personally attracted to the breadth and unity of its teachings. A New York priest who has befriended the president said that Bush respects the way Catholicism starts at the foundation — with the notion that the papacy is willed by God and that the pope is Peter’s successor. “I think what fascinates him about Catholicism is its historical plausibility,” says this priest. “He does appreciate the systematic theology of the church, its intellectual cogency and stability.” The priest also says that Bush “is not unaware of how evangelicalism — by comparison with Catholicism — may seem more limited both theologically and historically.”
Former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson, another evangelical with an affinity for Catholic teaching, says that the key to understanding Bush’s domestic policy is to view it through the lens of Rome. Others go a step further.
Paul Weyrich, an architect of the religious right, detects in Bush shades of former British prime minister Tony Blair, who converted to Catholicism last year. “I think he is a secret believer,” Weyrich says of Bush. Similarly, John DiIulio, Bush’s first director of faith-based initiatives, has called the president a “closet Catholic.” And he was only half-kidding.
Color me skeptical, but I don’t think so.