Slick Statement Signifying Nothing
It now should be easy to understand how George W. Bush (almost) got elected President and four years later (arguably) was re-elected. Last weekend
President George W. Bush cautioned against criticizing gay couples, saying in an interview on “This Week” that you shouldn’t criticize others “until you’ve examined your own heart.”
Bush had waded into the revitalized same-sex marriage debate last week - if only barely - in a comment to a reporter in Zambia, who asked whether gay marriage conflicts with Christian values.
“I shouldn’t be taking a speck out of someone else’s eye when I have a log in my own,” Bush said last week.
In an interview in Tanzania with ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl, the former president explained his comment further.
“I meant it’s very important for people not to be overly critical of someone else until you’ve examined your own heart,” Bush told Karl.
As president, Bush opposed gay marriage, and Republicans pushed ballot measures to ban it at the state level. The topic has seen rejuvenated discussion after the Supreme Court overturned the federal ban on same-sex marriage, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
The Atlantic's Garance Franke-Ruta recognizes
That was the genius of compassionate conservatism as party strategy: a small helping of moderate rhetoric at the top never prevented the hardest-right elements in Bush's party from getting their way on social issues, even as the gentler tone helped woo a broader base of support for the president.
The genius of Bush's comment not only is that it appears compassionate, but that he's making it without actually committing himself to anything- whether gay marriage or even re-evaluating his own position. "Until you've examined your own heart," the former President remarks, without saying that he himself will examine his own heart. He maintains "I shouldn't be taking a speck out of someone else's eye when I have a log in my own," which many of his supporters recognize as a reference to Matthew 7:3-5. And most of his other fans (including some who are agnostic or atheistic) will appreciate that at least he quoted Scripture, which they notice Democrats avoid. He is, they are reassured, with them: would any pro-gay, pro-abortion heathen even know what's in the Bible?
And give Bush extra credit. He refers to Scripture without citing chapter and verse, which would bring on charges of being a "Bible thumper." He oozes just the right amount of Christianity.
When This Week's host Jonathan Karl (program transcript, here) followed up on Bush's statement, the former President said
I meant that I wasn't going to answer the question then and I'm not going to answer it now in terms of the political question about whether or not, uh, you know -- just don't wanna wade back in the debate. I'm out of politics. But I meant it's very important for people not to be overly critical of someone else until you've examined your own heart .... I'm not going to wade back into those kinds of issues. I'm out of politics .... I'm off the stage unless I'm promoting something I strongly believe in.
If GWB had been more explicit about his views of same-sex marriage or of gay rights generally, he would have alienated opponents of the concept or annoyed its supporters, and possibly create a problem for brother Jeb, who would like to be the 3rd President Bush.
Franke-Ruta, who notes "Bush's historic kinder, gentler approach is suddenly being treated as a kind of GOP novelty act, concludes "It was classic Bush: compassionate rhetoric followed by ... what exactly?"
But it is doubtful many minds would have been changed if the most conservative President since Herbert Hoover came out in favor of gay men and women being allowed to marry whomever they choose. It doesn't take a Democrat to question the judgement of someone who started two wars the U.S. now apparently has lost; imposed tax cuts which exploded the budget; enacted a prescription drug benefit further enriching the industry and again exploded the budget; continued the Clinton policy of deregulating the financial industry; and conducted a fly-over above the city of New Orleans while it was being virtually destroyed. (There are quite a few other examples but, really, who has the time?)
One may wonder when Bush 43 has exhibited the sound judgement that should persuade us to care what he thinks about same-sex marriage. Or why I would apparently care, except that any statement by George W. Bush about public policy is an easy target.