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“Jeb And The Falwells: A Match Made In Heaven”: The Histories Of Liberty University And The Bush Dynasty Are Closely Intertwined

Jeb Bush left Protestantism in his 40’s to convert to Roman Catholicism, and he’s widely perceived as the most moderate potential 2016 presidential contender.

So, at first blush, it may seem a little odd that Liberty University—the largest Christian (mostly evangelical) university in the country—gave him the honor of delivering its commencement address.

Liberty is nothing if not conservative. And conservatives hate the establishment. Right?

Wrong.

In fact, the Bush family and the Falwell family are a match made in heaven. And their bond is likely to be a boon to Jeb’s White House dreams.

Jerry Falwell, the single most influential conservative Christian power broker of the 20th century, founded Liberty in 1971 to foster evangelicals’ political and cultural clout.

Since then, the school has had some dramatic ups and downs, with the downs reaching their lowest in 1990 when the school faced $110 million in debt.

But Falwell died and God provided: Thanks in part to the pastor’s hefty life insurance policy, the school paid its dues, got in the black, and catapulted to a higher place than ever in the conservative firmament.

And even when it was short on money, it never lost its political cachet.

The histories of the university and the Bush dynasty are closely intertwined.

In 1980, former congressman and U.N. ambassador George H. W. Bush ran for the Republican presidential nomination with a less-than-red-meat record, and he was pro-choice as Reagan’s vice president. His beliefs could have permanently soured his reputation with evangelicals.

That’s where Falwell comes in: The reverend endorsed Bush in the 1988 Republican presidential primary, even though Pat Robertson—an evangelical televangelist whose ideological resume had much more overlap with Falwell’s—was also a contender.

This has often been chalked up to rivalry between the two preachers. But it was more than that.

“Establishment recognizes establishment,” said one prominent evangelical leader who was close with the late Falwell.

As he explained, Southern evangelicals have been part of their region’s cultural establishment for decades, and in a way that their Northern counterparts couldn’t have dreamed.

When it comes to said cultural establishments, Northern evangelicals have been on the outside looking in, while those from the South have been on the inside looking out. So Southern evangelicals are much more comfortable with the possession and the exercise of cultural and political power than Northern evangelicals are. And nobody possessed and exercised political power quite like the Bushes, including Bush 41, a literal senator’s son.

So Falwell had an immediate commonality with the Bushes that helped solidify their relationship. They may have differed in policy, theology, rhetoric and a host of other details. But in one key area, they had everything in common: In their respective spheres, they were boss.

“These two families have each played an iconic role in modern, American politics, and their influence has intersected on not a few occasions,” said Johnnie Moore, a former senior vice president of Liberty University.

“When it did intersect, it was a force to be reckoned with. There will be two political dynasties represented on that stage at Liberty University this weekend whose influence is not only undeniable, it’s incalculable.”

In 1990, Bush found himself at Liberty, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the reverend and delivering the commencement address to a crowd of evangelical voters who had helped secure his predecessor’s legacy.

And Bush 43 wasn’t the only so-called establishment-type to win Falwell’s imprimatur.

A few years after Sen. John McCain put him on his list of “agents of intolerance,” the pastor invited him to deliver the university’s 2006 commencement address.

The two broke bread, a reconciliation that boosted McCain’s 2008 presidential efforts.

And Falwell’s son, Jerry Falwell Jr., invited Mitt Romney to give the school’s 2012 commencement address. His decision to give that platform to a Mormon enraged many conservative Christians. But Jerry Jr. and Mitt Romney had commonality where it counted: They were both the heirs of dynasts.

If George H. W. Bush had a good relationship with the evangelicals in Falwell’s orbit, George W. Bush had a magnificent one.

“In 41, they’d take our calls,” said the aforementioned evangelical leader. “In 43, they’d call us.”

And now it’s Jeb’s turn.

And Liberty’s protestants will likely make him feel right at home.

And even though he’s pledged allegiance to Rome, they still see him as one of their own: the kid brother of their favorite president ever and the unabashed social conservative icon who tried to keep Terri Schiavo alive.

And, per excerpts of his speech provided to reporters in advance, Jeb will speak their language.

“Whatever the need, the affliction, or the injustice,” he plans to say, “there is no more powerful or liberating influence on this earth than the Christian conscience in action.”

“Consider a whole alternative universe of power without restraint, conflict without reconciliation, oppression without deliverance, corruption without reformation, tragedy without renewal, achievement without grace,” he’ll add, “and it’s all just a glimpse of human experience without the Christian influence.”

Consider a country without Falwell’s influence, and you might be considering a country without the Bushes.

 

By: Betsy Woodruff, The Daily Beast, May 8, 2015

May 10, 2015 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Jeb Bush, Jerry Falwell | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Blame Jerry Falwell For Walker’s Slip”: A Trap Devised Long Ago By The Moral Majority

Well, we’re getting a pretty quick narrative rethink on Scott Walker, aren’t we? Two weeks ago he was a conquering hero. Now he’s a nincompoop. The truth is undoubtedly somewhere in between—although exactly which of the two poles he ends up nearer is one of the coming campaign’s mysteries.

But whether you’re liberal or conservative—that is, whether you think his cutesy refusal to confirm Barack Obama’s religiosity to The Washington Post was an outrage or act of truth-telling—the bottom line here is what my colleague Matt Lewis said it is: The way Walker and his people handled it was plain old not-ready-for-prime-time-ism. A first-time presidential candidate doesn’t get many mulligans on that front before the media decide he’s a second-rater and start covering him that way.

The most interesting thing about this hubbub, though, is the nature of the defense of Walker, which reveals a breathtaking lack of self-awareness on the right, or maybe dishonesty, or maybe both.

The main defense has been: Why was this question relevant? Why does Scott Walker even have to be asked about whether the president is a Christian? Well, maybe because for the last 30 or 35 years, the political right has dragged the question of a candidate’s piety from the fringes of the political debate, where it belonged and belongs, to the white-hot center, where it is a malignant tumor on our politics.

It wasn’t always this way. Of course we’ve had moralizers from the beginning. Thomas Jefferson’s political foes called him an “infidel” and a “howling atheist” and warned that if he won the presidency, churches would be converted into whorehouses. But then America matured, a little, and became a world power, and began taking in large numbers of immigrants, and started thinking about the world not only in terms of spirituality but in terms of psychology, social science, and so on. By the time all those forces had coalesced—the 1930s, let’s call it; the thermidorean backwash of the Scopes Trial—we by and large stopped having religious litmus tests for the presidency.

Ah but 1960, you’re thinking; well, yes, but that was totally different. No one questioned John Kennedy’s lack of religious faith. Indeed the issue was the opposite—that his Catholic faith was so all-defining that he’d govern as a Vatican fifth-columnist. For many years after that, a candidate’s religious beliefs were part of the story, certainly, but what reigned was a quality of tolerant and easy-going religious neutrality that was a reflection of the regnant, and largely bipartisan, Protestantism of the day. Candidates didn’t run around dog-whistling to the pious and implying that the impious were somehow lesser Americans whose votes ought to count for less.

Oddly it was a Democrat who first wore his religion on his sleeve in the presidential arena. Still, Jimmy Carter, though an evangelical, was still enough of a liberal to not tie his religious beliefs to a particular ideological agenda.

This all changed—and give the man his due—with Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority, and the growing evangelization of the Republican primary electorate. Professions of faith from GOP candidates became more and more grandiose, like George W. Bush’s claim that Jesus Christ was his favorite philosopher. I’ve never known whether it was planned that he would say that or whether he just said it off the cuff, but whatever the case it was kind of brilliant of him, it must be admitted. When liberals made fun of him for not saying Locke or whatever, they managed to sound like snooty eggheads and Jesus-haters both at once.

At the same time that the religious right pushed Jesus into the presidential boxing ring, it did all it could to throw traditional religious neutrality out of it, such that positions that had been completely uncontroversial 20 years before grew to be toxic for Democrats. I think here of Al Gore being afraid to say in 2000 that he believed in evolution, one of the nadirs of recent presidential history.

In other words, it’s Republicans and conservatives who have made religious belief central to the conversation of presidential politics. And not just religious belief—a particular kind of (conservative) religious belief. Republicans made this a topic.

Now in fairness, Obama’s faith was a question in 2008, because of Jeremiah Wright, and that pot got a stirring not only from Republicans but from Hillary Clinton too. But the guy has now been the president for a long time, and voters twice elected him by reasonably comfortable margins. So these kinds of questions about Obama are still raised only in the fever swamps where Walker is trying to launch his dinghy. It’s only over there that these things matter.

So the question the Post put to Walker was completely logical and defensible within that tradition for which conservatism was responsible and to which Walker has recently been pandering, by weaseling around recently on the topic of evolution.

So it’s supposed to be unfair for Walker to have to answer a simple question like the one he was asked? Ridiculous. Liberals didn’t make faith a litmus test. If Walker and the others want to parade their own Christian credentials, any question along those lines is fair game. Besides, as Lewis said, there’s an easy answer: I don’t doubt that he is, it’s just his ideas and policies that are wrong. But of course that’s not enough for their base. If Walker got caught in any trap over the weekend, it’s one of conservatism’s devising, not the media’s.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, February 23, 2015

February 25, 2015 Posted by | Jerry Falwell, Religious Beliefs, Scott Walker | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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