One casualty of the end of the Dean campaign is that it has preempted any stark contrast between the Democratic candidate who said, "It is time not to put up [with] any of this 'love thy neighbor' stuff," and the Republican president who is reportedly driven by the golden rule. Asked last year to characterize Bush's foreign policy goals, Don Evans told Christianity Today, "It's love your neighbor like yourself. The neighbor happens to be everyone on the planet."
It's likely that Weekly Standard publisher Terry Eastland intended to run this week's cover story at a later date, back when it looked like Dean might win the nomination. But now that Dean is out, taking special note of the contrasting views of "neighbor-love" is a now-or-never essay. And with Dean out, Eastland is left focusing almost entirely upon Bush.
Much has been written about Bush's faith, but Eastland's "Bush's Gospel" is an excellent analysis of it. Throw out your old notions of what a "religious conservative" president must look like. Bush doesn't seem to be driven by traditional cornerstones of the conservative movement. In fact, his embrace of Golden Rule government is sometimes at odds with that movement, while other ramifications of it put him at increasing odds with liberal Democrats. "It represents a modification, even a diminution, of American conservatism," Eastland writes.
To say that neighbor-love motivates Bush is not to say that it justifies particular policies or actions he's described as compassionate. Neighbor-love is a principle of high generality. Put a bunch of people around a table, give them the principle, ask them to devise a policy to address Problem X, and you may get as many proposals as you have people. Most of Bush's "compassionate" policies have drawn disagreement, often sharp. Consider, for example, the debate over tax cuts or the No Child Left Behind legislation. Moreover, the faith-based initiative itself has divided religious conservatives in his own party: Fearing the church would be entangled with the state, not a few have objected to the use of direct grants and contended that vouchers and tax credits should be emphasized instead. Or consider the war in Iraq, to which there is outright objection in some evangelical circles. The work of justifying a particular policy is the business of politics, not faith, though faith can suggest, as it has for Bush, areas where policy might be needed.
Chiefly, Eastland says, Bush's gospel has led him to reject "conservative arguments about the size and limits of government." But seeing the American government as an instrument of God's love (and therefore his justice) also has meant oversized commitments outside the American borders.
"It is overseas where the Bush presidency is most ambitious and would appear in need of a limiting principle," Eastland says. "For if, as Donald Evans says, our neighbor is 'everyone on the planet,' then the work of compassion is a daunting, even bankrupting, task, more than our military as currently supported can take on, and perhaps more than the American people are willing to support."
Jesus didn't intend his command to "love your neighbor as yourself" to be easy. And Bush's Golden Rule government opens him up to critiques about falling short. "The fall campaign could become an argument--like the one Dean initiated in Iowa--about what kind of neighbor Bush has been," Eastland says.
But did Christ intend governments to adhere to the Golden Rule? If so, must governments love other nations' citizens as their own? If the command applies, is it fair to give special attention or preference to one's own citizens? What, biblically, is the limiting principle that Eastland asks for? If Eastland is right about Bush's guiding principle, what do evangelical political theorists, theologians, and activists think? There are evangelical fault lines largely unexamined on these points.
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