George W. Bush is still standing, but not as tall as before. His victory over John McCain was ugly. But from the moment it became apparent he would be the winner, he began reviving his "I'm a uniter not a divider" routine. The day before the seminational primary, Bush spoke at the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles and called for teaching tolerance. He even recently said, finally, that he is willing to meet with gay Republicans.
Back on the campaign trail, he will continue to portray himself as the No. 1 family guy: a devoted father, a loving husband, a loyal son. "The most important job," he says time and again, "is to love your children ... It's important for a president to say that repeatedly."
Bush has hardly been shy about using his own family in appealing for votes. Though neither of the Georges, father or son, are known for self-analysis, it doesn't take a therapist to see that a key motivation for George the Sequel is a desire to avenge the honor of his father, who was humiliated at the polls by the Democrats eight years ago.
But there is a specter haunting Bush's effort to be both Mr. Tolerance and the Good Son, and that is Pat Robertson, the evangelist who founded the Christian Coalition.
At the Wiesenthal Center, Bush declared himself a foot soldier in the never-ending battle against hate and bigotry: "We must teach our children to respect those whose ancestry or religion is different from their own," he proclaimed.
Robertson, for starters, could use such instruction. In 1991, the televangelist said Episcopalians, Presbyterians and Methodists represent "the spirit of the Antichrist." He also maintained that "liberal Jews" were mounting "an ongoing attempt to undermine the public strength of Christianity." He has repeatedly called Hinduism "devil worship."
Not exactly the language of tolerance, nor, for that matter, "compassionate conservatism." Yet after John McCain blasted Robertson for leading conservative Christians down the path to bigotry, Bush, looking to bolster his standing with religious right voters, quickly sided with Robertson and chided McCain for daring to criticize this upright Republican.
Robertson, after all, had been assisting Bush's campaign in Michigan by launching blistering taped phone messages against McCain. And Robertson's one-time lieutenant, Ralph Reed, is a key consultant for Bush. When Robertson's calls backfired in Michigan, the Bush campaign asked him to cool it. But that was a tactical decision, and Bush has not chosen to publicly repudiate Robertson, and he seems unlikely to do so since he wants (and needs) the votes of the Christian conservatives who compose up to a third of the GOP electorate. Besides, look what happened to John McCain when he took on Robertson.
So Bush the Tolerant won't hold Robertson's mean and excessive rhetoric against him. But Bush also has a personal reason for excommunicating Robertson from his campaign, however. In 1992, Robertson published a bizarre book called "The New World Order." In this barely coherent tract, Robertson claimed there was a global (if elusive) conspiracy involving the Council on Foreign Relations, the Trilateral Commission, other policy elites, secret societies and New Agers.
The goal of this nefarious coalition was to impose a new world order that would wipe out national sovereignty, foment a "complete redistribution of wealth," and bring about the "elimination of Christianity." The key to penetrating the plot, Robertson argued, was to see that the Gulf War that had been waged and won by President Bush was, in fact, "a setup."
This was Robertson's reasoning (using the word loosely): "Powerful people of the world wanted a situation that was so obviously dangerous to the entire world that all nations would join together to deal with it ... [a situation] that would cause the nations of the world to forget for a time their own claims of sovereignty in order to submerge their interests into that of a worldwide authority such as the United Nations."
See what was going on? The conspirators cleverly and covertly had orchestrated the origins of the Persian Gulf crisis and then used Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait as a pretense for the first step toward a world government that would eventually obliterate Christianity and bring about all the other horrors Robertson feared.
Robertson revealed that the term "new world order," which Bush used to justify the Gulf War, has been for the past 200 years "the code phrase of those who desired to destroy the Christian faith ... They wish to replace it with an occult-inspired world socialist dictatorship."
Robertson based his unorthodox insights on his reading of the Bible. The anti-Saddam coalition, he observed, "was the first time since Babel that all of the nations of the earth acted in concert with one another." And as God showed with the Tower of Babel, he is not fond of nations toiling together.
Robertson didn't pick on President Bush alone. He accused Jimmy Carter of being in cahoots with the secret schemers. So, too, was his vice president, Walter Mondale, for, as Robertson noted with suspicion, Mondale's brother had once signed a humanist manifesto. Robertson also pointed at Henry Kissinger, Bush foreign policy aide Brent Scowcroft, and other prominent figures in the foreign-policy establishment
In his book, Robertson forged numerous creative connections. In the first chapter, he lumped President Bush in with a famous musician who asked people to "imagine" a time of no religion, no possessions, no heaven, no hell and one world. "George Bush and John Lennon," he wrote, "are not alone in championing a new world order." By the way, Robertson noted, so did Adolf Hitler. And who did Robertson peg as the primary force behind this dangerous, anti-Christian new world order? The devil himself!
According to Robertson, President Bush was, wittingly or not, "carrying out the mission and mouthing the phrases of a tightly knit cabal whose goal is nothing less than a new order for the human race under the domination of Lucifer and his followers."
So Robertson literally called President Bush a tool of Satan. Yet eight years later, Robertson was campaigning for the son of this tool of Satan, George W. How could Robertson be certain that W. wasn't in on this new world order conspiracy, picking up where his dad left off? After all, Father Bush has been giving W. plenty of campaign advice. And George W. is a member of the Methodist Church, which according to Robertson is in the pocket of the Antichrist.
It's foolish to expect consistency, let alone logic, from Robertson. He must have some way of explaining his alliance with W. Perhaps he took George W. Bush's inability to name foreign leaders as a sign Bush II was incapable of building the much-dreaded one-world government.
The question remains, which is more troubling -- Robertson's willingness to work for the offspring of Satan? Or George W. Bush's decision to welcome the assistance of a man who has preached intolerance and called his father a pawn of the Antichrist? What does all of this say about W.'s loyalty to his father, his family values and his commitment to tolerance?
More to the point, if any candidate accepts the open support of an outright bigot who accuses the candidate's own father of being part of a Satanic conspiracy to destroy Christianity and enslave billions of people, what won't that candidate do to win an election?
It's a good bet we'll find out between now and election day.