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Religious Rhetoric and the Evolution of George W. Bush's Political Philosophy


This essay surveys George W. Bush's public statements from 1993 to 2001 to examine the evolution of his religious and political rhetoric. Bush's personal religiosity and his use of religious rhetoric during his campaigns for the presidency and in his two terms in office have received extensive comment from the press as well as from scholars. Yet very little scholarly work has considered the role of religion in his earlier political career. Although Bush had evinced a deep and genuine evangelical faith for years before he launched his bid for the governorship, he did not begin his political career as an overtly Christian leader. Instead, over the course of his governorship, he gradually incorporated Christian tropes in his speeches to develop, explain, and gain support for his “compassionate conservative” policies and to build rapport with voters.

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1 George W. Bush, “Address by George W. Bush, President of the United States, Delivered to the Nation, Washington, D. C., September 1, 2001,” in Vital Speeches of the Day, Volume LXVII, no. 24 (New York: The City News Pub. Co., 1 Oct. 2001). President Bush quoted the first part of Psalm 23:4 “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me.”

2 Bush described this agenda broadly as seeking “the end of tyranny in our world” by spreading democracy abroad, which he believed would ensure greater security and allow the American nation to control its “destiny.” George W. Bush, “Address before a Joint Session of the Congress on the State of the Union,” 31 Jan. 2006.

3 A number of authors have argued that 9/11 transformed Bush's foreign-policy vision and, therefore, the way in which he and his speechwriters talked about American engagements abroad. Citing Jim Wallis, D. Jason Berggren and Nicol C. Rae state that “the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington transformed Bush from the lamb into the lion, from ‘self-help Methodist’ to ‘a messianic Calvinist,’” and suggest that “he believes that September 11 has called him to lead the country to a new calling.” Berggren D. J. and Rae N. C., “Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush: Faith, Foreign Policy, and an Evangelical Presidential Style,” Presidential Studies Quarterly, 36, 4 (Dec. 2006), 606–32, 620; Wallis Jim, “Dangerous Religion: George W. Bush's Theology of Empire,” Sojourners (Sept.–Oct. 2003), 2026. See also Aikman David, A Man of Faith: The Spiritual Journey of George W. Bush (Nashville, TN: W Publishing Group, 2004), 162–63, 171–73; Smith Gary Scott, Faith and the Presidency: From George Washington to George W. Bush (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 397–98; Mansfield Stephen, The Faith of George W. Bush (New York: Penguin, 2003), 136; Gibbs Nancy and Dickerson John F., “Celebration and Dissent,” Time, 165, 5 (31 Jan. 2005), 3839; Bruni Frank, Ambling into History: the Unlikely Odyssey of George W. Bush (New York: HarperCollins, 2002), 256–59. Rogers M. Smith argues that after 9/11 Bush more frequently used and placed greater emphasis on providential themes in his speeches than previous Presidents had when discussing their policy agendas. Smith Rogers M., “Religious Rhetoric and the Ethics of Public Discourse: The Case of George W. Bush,” Political Theory, 36, (Apr. 2008), 272–300, 280, 282–83, 285.

4 This, and his perceived political moderation, led some observers to question whether or not the religious right would support him as a potential presidential nominee for the 2000 election. See Verhovek Sam Howe, “Is There Room on the Republican Ticket for Another Bush?New York Times Magazine, 13 Sept. 1998, 8.

5 For a selection of works that assess or discuss the relationship between Bush's faith and his political leadership see Singer Peter, The President of Good and Evil: The Ethics of George W. Bush (New York: Dutton, 2004); Guth James L., “George W. Bush and Religious Politics,” in Schier Steven E., ed., High Risk and Big Ambition: The Presidency of George W. Bush (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2004), 117–41; Knippenberg Joseph M., “The Personal Is (Not?) the Political: The Role of Religion in the Presidency of George W. Bush,” in Weed Ronald L. and Heyking John von, eds., Civil Religion in Political Thought: Its Perennial Questions and Enduring Relevance in North America (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2010), 262–79; Aikman; Gary Scott Smith, 368–71; Mansfield.

6 For example, in his excellent chapter on religion and the George W. Bush presidency, historian Kevin Kruse notes that Bush entered the campaign for President seeking to put “a kinder, gentler face” on conservatism, and noted that the fact that “his faith formed an essential part of both his private character and his public persona” made him particularly well suited to this task. Kruse does not, however, address how Bush had developed that outwardly religious public (and political) persona during his governorship; he simply states that he employed this persona to good effect in building connections with key constituent groups while campaigning for the presidency. See Kruse Kevin M., “Compassionate Conservatism: Religion in the Age of George W. Bush,” in Zelizer Julian E., ed., The Presidency of George W. Bush: A First Historical Assessment (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010), 229. Likewise, in his analysis of Bush's governorship, Brian McCall offers little in the way of discussion about how Bush drew on religion to shape his legislative agenda in Texas. McCall Brian, The Power of the Texas Governor: Connally to Bush (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2009).

7 Wells John W. and Cohen David B., “Keeping the Charge: George W. Bush, the Christian Right, and the New Vital Center of American Politics,” in Rozell Mark J. and Whitney Gleaves, eds., Religion and the Bush Presidency (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), 129–54, 147–48.

8 Ibid. Political scientists Wells and Cohen argue that “Bush has used the social issues agenda of the Christian Right to facilitate a kind of triangulation in American politics,” in order to enhance the appeal of the Republican party to moderate and independent voters and thus attempt to build a “big-tent” party.

9 Zelizer Julian E., “Reflections: Rethinking the History of American Conservatism,” Reviews in American History, 38, 2 (June 2010), 367–92, 387. Briefly, Zelizer posits that the first wave of scholarship on conservatism focussed on the elite, intellectual history of the movement and the second wave on grassroots conservative activism. For major works of the first wave see Nash George H., The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America since 1945 (New York: Basic Books, 1976); as well as the more recent Allit Patrick, The Conservatives: Ideas and Personalities throughout American History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009). On the second wave see McGirr Lisa, Suburban Warriors: The Origins of the New American Right (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001); Lassiter Matthew D., The Silent Majority: Suburban Politics in the Sunbelt South (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005); Kruse Kevin M., White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007); Critchlow Donald T., The Conservative Ascendancy: How the GOP Right Made Political History (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007). For recent work that might be included in the new third wave see Courtwright David T., No Right Turn: Conservative Politics in a Liberal America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010). Select literature on the rise of the religious right as part of the conservative ascendancy includes Martin William C., With God on Our Side: The Rise of the Religious Right in America (New York: Broadway Books, 1996); Boyer Paul, “The Evangelical Resurgence in 1970s American Protestantism,” in Schulman Bruce J. and Zelizer Julian E., eds., Rightward Bound: Making America Conservative in the 1970s (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008), 2951; Dochuk Darren, From Bible Belt to Sunbelt: Plain-folk Religion, Grassroots Politics, and the Rise of Evangelical Conservatism (New York: W. W. Norton, 2011).

10 See, for example, Aynesworth Hugh, “Bush Son Puts Hat in Ring, Admits Richards Is Liked,” Washington Times, 9 Nov. 1993, A3; Ratcliffe R. G., “George W. Bush: From the Golf Course to the Boardroom, the GOP Candidate Banks on His Desire,” Houston Chronicle, 20 Oct. 1994, Voter's Guide, 9.

11 Garcia James E., “Bush Backs Home-Rule Plan for Schools,” Austin American-Statesman, 22 Feb. 1994.

12 Aynesworth; Eskenazi Stuart, “Bush Pitches Shutout; Anti-Democrat Fervor Helps,” Austin American-Statesman, 9 Nov. 1994.

13 Hollandsworth Skip, “Born to Run,” Texas Monthly, 22, 5 (May 1994), 112–27. In this article, Bush also stated, “‘A governor can't pass a law to make you love … But he can pass a law to protect the innocent, law-abiding citizens from thugs.’” This language about the inability to inculcate love through legislation appeared again during his governorship when promoting faith-based initiatives, which I address later in this essay. Given the centrality of love (or loving others as God loves) to Christianity (see, for example, 1 John 4:9–10; 1 John 3:16), this might be read as a persistent religious trope that appeared early in Bush's political rhetoric.

14 Morganfield Robbie, “Texas Governor's Race; Bush Cites Foe's ‘Failed Leadership,’” Houston Chronicle, 4 Nov. 1994, A1.

15 Madigan Tim, “Christian Right Gaining Clout within GOP,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 5 June 1994, 1, 20.

16 “50 State Report – Texas: Dem. Convo. Pushes GOP as Party of ‘Religious Right,’” National Journal Hotline, 6 June 1994; “Politics – Rightward March?” National Journal Hotline, 6 Aug. 1994.

17 “Governors '94 – Texas: Richards Pushes Buttons on Abortion, Race,” National Journal Hotline, 24 Oct. 1994.

18 Morganfield Robbie, “Campaign '94; Governor Race Down to Wire; Confident Bush Goes to Church,” Houston Chronicle, 7 Nov. 1994, A1. Bush later stated that he avoided talk of religion because after one occasion when he discussed beliefs (relating his understanding that, according to the New Testament, God allowed only those who “accept[ed] Christ as one's savior” into Heaven) Richards “ran ads in a Jewish newspaper that pointedly stated – Bush says you cannot go to heaven,” costing him votes. George W. Bush, “Commitment to the Vision,” speech, Westlake Hills Presbyterian Church Congregation Banquet, Austin, TX, 3 Nov. 1996, 1, Box 2002/151–67, Texas Governor George W. Bush Executive Office Speeches, Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

19 Bush won by 350,000 votes. Burka Paul, “More Power to Him,” Texas Monthly, 23, 2 (Feb. 1995), 116.

20 Bush George W., “State of the State,” State of Texas, Journal of the House of Representatives of the State of Texas, 74th Legislature, 7 Feb. 1995, 322–23. Available from

21 Ibid., 323.

22 Ibid., 324–25.

23 Ibid., 325.

24 Bush George W., “Inaugural Address,” State of Texas, Journal of the House of Representatives of the State of Texas, 74th Legislature, 17 Jan. 1995, 36, available from See also George W. Bush, “A Budget Policy Message to the Seventy-Fourth Legislature Assembled in Regular Session,” 15 Feb. 1995, available from

25 Ratcliffe R. G., “Away from the Spotlight, Governor Makes His Mark,” Houston Chronicle, 15 Apr. 1995, A1.

26 Burka Paul, “Four for Four,” Texas Monthly, 23, 6 (June 1995), 106.

27 Bush, “Inaugural Address,” 35. That said, in its coverage of the inaugural address, the Houston Chronicle did include a quote from an interview with Bush in which he stated that he intended “to be part of a catalyst for cultural change,” which the reporter interpreted as evidence that Bush's focus on personal responsibility signified his belief that “God and government help those who help themselves.” Ratcliffe R. G., “Bush Aims to be Catalyst for Wide Cultural Change,” Houston Chronicle, 15 Jan. 1995, A1.

28 On the political leanings of Texans during Bush's campaign for and first term as governor see Lois Romano and George Lardner Jr., “Bush's Move up to the Majors,” Washington Post, 31 July 1999, A1; on Texas's constitutional limits to the power of the governor see McCall, The Power of the Texas Governor, 132.

29 Barone Michael, “Best Little Governor in Texas,” U. S. News and World Report, 1 Jan. 1996.

30 Bush viewed Mexico as “‘crucial’ to the Texas economy,” and sought to improve business relations between the two countries, while also adopting “a strict stand on border enforcement but a compassionate, or at least pragmatic, view of those who slip through.” Indeed, when President Bill Clinton met with the nation's governors in January 1995 to garner support for his proposal to rescue the ailing Mexican economy through a federal loan guarantee, Bush jumped to his defense. Despite outcry from Republicans outside Texas, Bush expressed concern that without the loan guarantee the value of the peso would decline, hurting the Texas economy and potentially leading to increased illegal immigration. See Pendleton Scott, “Stetson-Size Agenda for Texas,” Christian Science Monitor, 15 Dec. 1994, 2; “Mexico/Aid/Clinton,” NBC Evening News, 20 Jan. 1995, Vanderbilt Television News Archive, available from; “Buchanan: Gets a Strong Warning from George W. Bush,” National Journal Hotline, 16 Aug. 1995.

31 Pendleton, 2.

32 Burka Paul, “The Honeymoon Is Over,” Texas Monthly, 25, 1 (Jan. 1997), 134.

33 Ibid.

34 Curtis Gregory, “Scattered Applause,” Texas Monthly, 25, 3 (March 1997), 7; McCall, 124.

35 Rae Nicol C., Conservative Reformers: The Republican Freshmen and the Lessons of the 104th Congress (Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 1998), 209–10. Rae argues that “by the early 1990s, the conservative critique that [the] incremental expansion of government [over the previous forty years under Democratic Congressional control] was largely responsible for ballooning federal deficits had become conventional wisdom among the public.” He also notes that Republicans made political hay of the moral and ethical scandals that plagued Democrats this period.

36 Julian Zelizer suggests that these efforts revealed the fits and starts of conservative realignment and power in Congress in the 1990s, and highlights tensions between conservative factions within the Republican Party. Zelizer, “Reflections,” 373–75. On conservatism and the Republican Revolution in 1994 see Critchlow, The Conservative Ascendancy, 221, 240–43, 254–77; Balz Daniel J. and Brownstein Ronald, Storming the Gates: Protest Politics and the Republican Revival (Boston: Little, Brown, 1996); Rae, 2761; Coleman John J., “Clinton and the Party System in Historical Perspective,” in Schier Steven E., ed., The Postmodern Presidency: Bill Clinton's Legacy in U.S. Politics (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2000), 145–66, 151–52. On the conservative realignment and the religious right see Lindsay D. Michael, “Ties That Bind and Divisions That Persist: Evangelical Faith and the Political Spectrum,” American Quarterly, 59, 3, Religion and Politics in the Contemporary United States (Sept. 2007), 901–2; Roof Wade Clark, “American Presidential Rhetoric from Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush: Another Look at Civil Religion,” Social Compass, 56, 2 (2009), 286–301, 299.

37 Zelizer, “Reflections,” 373–75; Rae, 59–61; Strahan Randall and Palazzolo Daniel J., “The Gingrich Effect,” Political Science Quarterly, 119, 1 (Spring 2004), 89114; Jacobson Gary C., “The 1994 House Election in Perspective,” Political Science Quarterly, 111 (Summer 1996), 203–23; Frymet Paul et al. , “Party Elites, Ideological Voters and Divided Party Government,” Legislative Studies Quarterly, 22 (May 1997), 195216; Bader John B., Taking the Initiative: Leadership Agendas in Congress and the “Contract with America” (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 1996), 171205.

38 In his first speech as Speaker of the House, Gingrich cited Olasky's book The Tragedy of American Compassion. In subsequent discussions of welfare reform and the Contract with America, Republicans referenced Olasky's work frequently. See Gingrich Newt, “Election of Speaker,” Congressional Record, 141, 1 (4 Jan. 1995), H3; House Committee on Ways and Means, Contract with America: Overview, 104th Cong., 1st Sess., Jan. 1995; Stout Hilary, “A Texas Professor's History of Poverty Programs Has Made Him the Darling of Conservative Elite,” Wall Street Journal, 20 March 1995, A16.

39 Karl Rove provided Bush with a copy of Olasky's book, and Bush and Olasky met in person and began developing a close relationship in 1995 when the two swept in to save the Christian drug rehabilitation program Teen Challenge from closure due to alleged violations of state safety codes. Olasky subsequently provided guidance to the Advisory Task Force on Faith-Based Community Service Groups that Bush set up in 1996; by 1999, Bush had appointed Olasky to chair his policy subcommittee on religion. Bush also wrote an approving introduction to Olasky's Compassionate Conservatism: What It Is, What It Does, and How It Can Transform America, published in July 2000. See David Grann, “Where W. Got Compassion,” New York Times, 12 Sept. 1999; David Harris, “New Book Reveals Truth about Governor Bush, Marvin Olasky, and ‘Compassionate Conservatism,’” PR Newswire, 23 June 2000; Moore James and Wayne Slater, Bush's Brain: How Karl Rove Made George W. Bush Presidential (Hoboken, NJ: J. Wiley, 2003), 168, 170; Aikman, A Man of Faith, 100–1.

40 Critchlow, 255. Critchlow argues that Republicans took Gingrich's successful mobilization of the party base in 1994 to heart in their strategies for the 2000 election, despite the setbacks he caused the party in 1996 and 1998.

41 Burka, “The Honeymoon Is Over,” 134.

42 Bush George W., “State of the State,” State of Texas, Journal of the House of Representatives of the State of Texas, 75th Legislature, 28 Jan. 1997, 151, available from

43 Ibid., 155.

44 Ibid. Bush referred to the proposed tax on business as “low” and “capital-friendly.” His plan also included “a half-cent increase in the sales and motor vehicle tax.” In his plan, these new taxes would offset the loss of funding to schools that the property tax cut would create. Democrats had hoped to use the surplus to expand state programs. According to journalist Paul Burka, by balancing increased education spending with new revenue and offering tax relief to property owners, Bush could argue that his plan provided a net tax cut to Texans, even though in reality the plan would cut taxes for some while raising them for others (as Democrats duly noted). Burka speculated that the popularity of tax relief might help Republicans win the House in 1999 too. See Burka, “The Honeymoon Is Over,” 134. Although Republicans had captured the Texas Senate in 1996, ostensibly making it easier for Bush to achieve his agenda despite the end of his “honeymoon” with Laney and Bullock, not all Texas Republicans approved of Bush's 1997 tax plan, which contributed to the challenges it faced when it came up for a vote. McCall, The Power of the Texas Governor, 125.

45 Bush George W., A Charge to Keep: My Journey to the White House (New York: Morrow, 1999), 129.

46 Burka, “The Honeymoon Is Over,” 134. See also McCall, 124. McCall makes a similar argument, noting that Republican governors and potential candidates John Engler, Christine Todd Whitman, and William Weld had already implemented tax cuts in their states, and that Bush seized on a large budget surplus to do the same in Texas.

47 Bush, A Charge to Keep, 223.

48 Bush George W., “State of the State,” State of Texas, Journal of the House of Representatives of the State of Texas, 75th Legislature, 12 Jan. 1999, 160, available from

49 Moore and Slater, Bush's Brain, 235. Moore and Wayne suggest that Bush aggressively pursued tax cuts in 1999 as part of a strategy directed by Karl Rove to beat out other potential Republican nominees. If nothing else, the 1999 State of the State address emphasized tax cuts, balanced budgets, and small government. See Bush, “State of the State,” 160.

50 Burka, “The Honeymoon Is Over,” 134.

51 Bush, “State of the State,” 28 Jan. 1997, 152.

52 Ibid.

53 Governor's Advisory Task Force on Faith-Based Community Service Groups, “Faith in Action … A New Vision for Church–State Cooperation in Texas,” Dec. 1996, vii, available from

54 Ibid., 2.

55 Ibid., 4–6.

56 Ibid., 11.

57 Bush, “Commitment to the Vision,” 1.

58 Ibid.

59 Ibid.

60 Bush, “Commitment to the Vision,” 13. See note 13 above. In the 1994 campaign, he did not reference faith explicitly as the solution, but simply stated that government could not make people love one another. The inclusion of religious faith as part of the solution was thus a new development (rhetorically at least) that came with this initiative. See also George W. Bush, “Talking Points,” Faith-Based Bill Press Conference, Austin, TX, 11 March 1997, 2, Box 2002/151–67, Texas Governor George W. Bush Executive Office Speeches, Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

61 George W. Bush, “Remarks,” Texas Legislative Prayer Breakfast, Austin, TX, 13 Feb. 1997, 4, Box 2002/151–67, Texas Governor George W. Bush Executive Office Speeches, Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

62 Ibid., 16. Bush used this language, in nearly identical form, in the following speeches: Bush, “Talking Points,” Faith-Based Bill Press Conference, 11 March 1997; Bush, “Talking Points,” Faith-Based Bill Signing Ceremony (HB 21, HB 2481, HB 2482, SCR 44), Arlington, TX, 12 June 1997; Bush, “Remarks,” National Baptist Congress of Christian Education, Houston, TX, 17 June 1997; Bush, “Remarks,” Dedication of the Power Center's Jesse H. Jones Ballroom, Houston, TX, 8 July 1997. All speeches from Texas Governor George W. Bush Executive Office Speeches, Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

63 Bush emphasized the need for cultural change and “personal responsibility” as part of his effort to cast the Clinton era as one of cultural crisis and declension; he often stated his objection to what he characterized as the “if it feels good, do it, and if you've got a problem, blame somebody else” culture of the 1990s. Bush, A Charge to Keep, 25. On the influence of Olasky, Rove, and Hughes on Bush's thinking and strategy see Minutaglio Bill, First Son: George W. Bush and the Bush Family Dynasty (New York: Times Books, 1999), 289, 317; Gary Gerstle, “Minorities, Multiculturalism, and the Presidency of George W. Bush,” in Zelizer, The Presidency of George W. Bush, 252–81, 261. Aikman, A Man of Faith, 100–1; Aikman , “Religion and the Presidency of George W. Bush,” in Espinosa Gastόn, ed., Religion and the American Presidency: George Washington to George W. Bush with Commentary and Primary Sources (New York: Columbia University Press, 2009), 477–502, 487; Cottle Michelle, “The Enforcer: The Woman behind George W.'s Iron Bubble,” New Republic, 29 Nov. 1999, 20–23, 22.

64 Curtis, “Scattered Applause,” 7.

65 George W. Bush, “The Future of America,” Midwest Republican Leadership Conference, Indianapolis, Indiana, 23 Aug. 1997, in Vital Speeches of the Day, 63, 23 (15 Sept. 1997), 733–35, 733.

66 Ibid., 735.

67 A number of commentators have noted that Bush zeroed in on compassionate conservatism as a way to establish his conservative bona fides without stating too forcefully his views on divisive issues, such as abortion, that might alienate independent, moderate, and Democratic voters. See Verhovek, “Is There Room,” 1–2; James L. Guth, “George W. Bush,” 139; Kruse, “Compassionate Conservatism,” 228, 230.

68 Political scientist James L. Guth notes that Bush experienced success in cultivating relationships with prominent African American pastors in Texas after 1996 because of “his evident personal faith and sympathy for their vision of a broader social role for religious institutions.” Guth, 120.

69 “Bush Touts Compassionate Conservatism, Says There's A Role For Government,” White House Bulletin, 4 Nov. 1998.

70 “Victories for Bush Brothers Show GOP How to Lure Voters; Texas Governor Suggests That ‘Compassionate Conservatism’ Is Future,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 5 Nov. 1998, A8.

71 Bush, A Charge to Keep, 213–18.

72 Nicol C. Rae, “The George W. Bush Presidency in Historical Context,” in Schier, High Risk and Big Ambition, 17–36, 31, 34; Black Amy E., Koopman Douglas L, and Ryden David K., Of Little Faith: The Politics of George W. Bush's Faith-Based Initiatives (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2004), 7883; Wells and Cohen, “Keeping the Charge,” 144–45. This, indeed, became a key part of Bush and Rove's strategy in the 2000 election. See Bruni Frank, “Bush Sends 2 Signals in Minority Contacts: Political Memo Minority Voters Dot Bush's Campaign Calendar,” New York Times, 18 Oct. 1999, A1, A19.

73 “Texas/George W. Bush,” NBC Evening News, 17 Jun. 1998, Vanderbilt Television News Archive, available from

74 Ibid.

75 Lawrence Jill, “Ralph Reed Heeds a New Political Calling,” USA Today, 14 April 1998, 8A.

76 George W. Bush, “Election Night,” Election Night Celebration, Austin, TX, 3 Nov. 1998, 7, Box 2002/151–169, Texas Governor George W. Bush Executive Office Speeches, Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

77 Bush George W., “Inaugural Address,” State of Texas, Journal of the House of Representatives of the State of Texas, 76th Legislature, 19 Jan. 1999, 137, available from

78 Ibid., 138.

79 Ibid., 139. Bush notes that he first read the phrase “living on the sunrise side of the mountain” in the writing of his friend Tom Lee; Episcopal Minister Frederick Stecker has suggested that this phrase is an “oblique reference to Jesus' resurrection.” See Stecker Frederick, The Podium, the Pulpit, and the Republicans: How Presidential Candidates Use Religious Language in American Political Debate (Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 2011), 58. It is perhaps a reference to Acts 1:9–12, which suggests that Jesus ascended to Heaven from the Mount of Olives, a mountain to the east of Jerusalem's Old City, and Matthew 28, which links the dawn or sunrise and the resurrection.

80 Bush, “Election Night,” 4; Bush, “Remarks,” Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act News Conference, TX, 11 Jan. 1999, 1–3, Box 2002/151–169, Texas Governor George W. Bush Executive Office Speeches, Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission; Bush George W., “State of the State” State of Texas, Journal of the House of Representatives of the State of Texas, 76th Legislature, 27 Jan. 1995, 160–61, 164, available from

81 Bush, “Remarks,” Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act News Conference, 3.

82 George W. Bush, “Remarks,” Faith, Family, and Freedom Conference at Great Hills Baptist Church, Austin, TX, 1 Mar. 1999, 20. He repeated this speech several days later: George W. Bush, “Remarks,” Second Baptist Church Services, Houston, TX, 6–7 Mar. 1999. Both Box 2002/151–169, Texas Governor George W. Bush Executive Office Speeches, Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

83 Bush, A Charge to Keep, 135–39; Bush , Decision Points (New York: Crown Publishers, 2010), 3034. On page x of the foreword, Bush notes that the title of A Charge to Keep “is based upon a hymn written by Charles Wesley, ‘A Charge to Keep I have.’” The hymn itself is a reference to Leviticus 8:35.

84 The theological tropes vary somewhat by denomination, but the basic structure of the salvation narrative is remarkably similar. See Peters Gerald, The Mutilating God: Authorship and Authority in the Narrative of Conversion (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1993), 35; Lawless Elaine J., “Rescripting Their Lives and Narratives: Spiritual Life Stories of Pentecostal Women Preachers,” Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, 7, 1 (Spring 1991), 53–71, 59; Cox Harvey Gallagher, Fire from Heaven: The Rise of Pentecostal Spirituality and the Reshaping of Religion in the Twenty-First Century (Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Publishers, 1995), 163.

85 Bush, A Charge, 135–39. A reference to the Parable of the Mustard Seed (and the way Christianity spreads).

86 Bailey David C., “Enacting Transformation: George W. Bush and the Pauline Conversion Narrative in A Charge to Keep,” Rhetoric & Public Affairs, 11, 2 (2008), 215–41, 216, 224.

87 Ratcliffe, “George W. Bush,” 9.

88 So too do secretly taped conversations between Bush and his friend Doug Wead, who later published a book based on the tapes. A New York Times article described some of these conversations, including one in which, “preparing to meet Christian leaders in September 1998, Mr. Bush told Mr. Wead, ‘As you said, there are some code words. There are some proper ways to say things, and some improper ways.’ He added, ‘I am going to say that I've accepted Christ into my life. And that's a true statement’ … Mr. Bush also repeatedly worried that prominent evangelical Christians would not like his refusal ‘to kick gays.’ At the same time, he was wary of unnerving secular voters by meeting publicly with evangelical leaders.” David D. Kirkpatrick, “In Secretly Taped Conversations, Glimpses of the Future President,” New York Times, 20 Feb. 2005.

89 “Campaign 2000/Bush,” CNN Evening News, 7 March 1999, Vanderbilt Television News Archive, available from

90 “In Depth (Campaign 2000/Bush Candidacy),” NBC Evening News, 14 June 1999, Vanderbilt Television News Archive, available from

91 “Campaign 2000/Iowa/Straw Poll/Republicans/Bush,” NBC Evening News, 14 Aug. 1999, Vanderbilt Television News Archive, available from

92 Ibid. An essential strategy given that conservatives and evangelicals did not represent a large enough portion of the party to ensure a victory for Bush; he needed to attracted broad-based Republican support to win the nomination.

93 “Republican Presidential Candidates Debate,” CNN, 9 Dec. 1999, Vanderbilt Television News Archive, available from

94 “Campaign 2000 (Bush/Foreign Policy),” NBC Evening News, 19 Nov. 1999, Vanderbilt Television News Archive, available from See also “Campaign 2000 (Bush: Interview and New Hampshire Primary),” NBC Evening News, 21 Nov. 1999, Vanderbilt Television News Archive, available from

95 Ibid.

96 See notes 67 and 68 above.

97 George W. Bush, “Christian Coalition Introduction,” Road to Victory Conference, Washington, D. C., 1 Oct. 1999, 3, Box 2002/151–170, Texas Governor George W. Bush Executive Office Speeches, Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

98 Ibid., 5.

99 George W. Bush, “The Duty of Hope,” Draft #11, The Front Porch Alliance, Faith-based Initiative, Indianapolis, IN, 22 July 1999, 5, Box 2002/151–70, Texas Governor George W. Bush Executive Office Speeches, Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

100 Brian Knowlton, “Republican Says Bush Panders to the ‘Agents of Intolerance’: McCain Takes Aim at Religious Right,” New York Times, 29 Feb. 2000.

101 Cottle Michelle, “Campaign Journal: More Like Us,” National Review, 20 March 2000, 16–18, 1617.

102 Ibid., 17–18.

103 This boost allowed him to take the Republican nomination, but did not give him enough of an edge to win the popular vote in the presidential election. Karl Rove and other Bush strategists posited that low turnout among evangelical voters contributed to this discrepancy. Bush would go to great lengths in his 2004 reelection campaign to ensure that evangelicals went to the polls. “Evangelicals Urged to Vote and ‘Shape Public Policy,’” Washington Times, 22 June 2004. See also Wuthnow Robert, Boundless Faith: The Global Outreach of American Churches (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009), 193.

104 Smith, Faith, 372; Guth, “George W. Bush,” 120–21; Black, Koopman, and Ryden, Of Little Faith, 78–80, 87; Rae, “George W. Bush,” 31–34.

105 Jacob S. Hacker, “Faith Healers,” New Republic, 28 June 1999, 16–18.

106 Black, Koopman, and Ryden, 75–87; Guth, 122–128; Rae, 31–34.

107 Even though, as Kevin Kruse has noted, the political power and presence of the religious right may have begun to wane in the 1990s. Kruse, “Compassionate Conservatism,” 227–28.

108 See note 104.

109 Wuthnow, Boundless Faith, 200.

110 Ibid.

The author would like to thank Melvyn P. Leffler, Brian Rosenwald, Molly Scudder, Christina Simko, and the two anonymous readers for the Journal of American Studies for their invaluable feedback and suggestions.

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Journal of American Studies
  • ISSN: 0021-8758
  • EISSN: 1469-5154
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