Public piety.

Author:Conniff, Ruth
Position:The Word from Washington

Washington, always strange place, is under the Bush regime ever more alienating for people with even mildly progressive impulses. I was reminded of this the other day as I listened to an exasperated liberal policy wonk snapping at a reporter who had picked up on some of the Bush Administration's rhetoric. It's not good P.R. to browbeat reporters. But I understand why people with a deep knowledge of particular issues are losing their cool. It's a brave new world in D.C. these days, and the left, while used to being marginalized, now faces the additional problem of culture shock.

Most notable is the new religious fervor in Washington--from the prayer meetings at the White House and Justice Department to the evangelical overtones in the State of the Union address. The sudden ubiquity of religious references affects the daily lives of public servants and bureaucrats who are not used to having God injected into their work.

In the State of the Union address, Bush's reference to a "day of reckoning," his assertion that the liberty Americans cherish is "God's gift to humanity," and his intense self-assurance about America's role as guardian of morality and avenger of offended innocence were right off late-night Christian cable TV. The most laudable initiative he announced--new funding to fight AIDS in Africa--Ruth Conniff is Political Editor of The Progressive. seemed like it came from nowhere, unless you're familiar with Christian fund drives to save pagan children around the globe. Then it fit right into the Bush gestalt.

If you want to get in tune with the Bush Administration, flip to the high end of the cable spectrum, and watch the Christian broadcasters do their thing. Take one recent late-night offering: an evangelical Christian show urging people to spend $50 to help "save the Jews." As in a fund drive for public television, the evangelists were giving out prizes to viewers who called up to pledge. In this case, the premium was a genuine sho-far. It was a very weird show. An enthusiastic evangelical Christian dressed as King David in a gold crown played a harp and sang Hebrew songs in front of the Western Wall. A Jews for Jesus couple in Florida sat in a living room crammed with Stars of David, loaves of challah, and various Jewish tchotchkes, reading Christian Bible verses. What the hell is this? I thought. Turns out the effort to save the Jews is already familiar to Washington insiders--and not just John Ashcroft. The International...

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