I agree strongly with all of Shannon’s post entitled To Thine Own Self be True. I’d add an additional supporting detail in Bush’s case. I will do something I rarely do, while I’m at it, which is speculate on the personal psychology of the two presidential candidates. But, if you can’t do baseless and almost fact-free speculation on a blog, where can you do it?
President Bush’s practice of Christianity is largely a private matter, though it has a public dimension, and he refers to openly. And in his case the private and devotional element seems to be the core. According to things he has said, he has recourse to frequent personal prayer, which necessarily involves self-examination and asking forgiveness from God. This practice, if done diligently, forces a person to face his true nature, his strengths and weaknesses, to sort out flattery or unfair criticism from reality. And the essence of any such prayerful self-examination is to do so honestly, which is hard. But it is, after all, pointless to lie to yourself or to an all-knowing God.
I suspect that most ChicagoBoyz readers are of a libertarian mindest. Therefore, I imagine that most would consider Bush’s religious practices to be either irrelevant or a negative, perhaps embarrassing, basically a superstition. But I will assert that Bush’s prayer life provides him with a practical and intellectual advantage which is particularly important in a struggle like this current election campaign. Sun Tzu said know yourself and know your enemy and you will be victorious in a hundred battles. Doing either is hard, and knowing yourself may be the harder of the two. Bush has for a long time devoted the effort needed to know himself as he truly is. This strengthens him in these political struggles in many ways, most of which his enemies cannot understand.
I am not saying that prayer and examination of conscience provide some magic recipe for success. If a person lacks other important qualities needed for a particular task, he will fail. Jimmy Carter seems to have been a man who believed in and practiced his religion, but his basic model of how the world works seems to have been fundamentally defective. So despite good intentions, his intellectual shortfall doomed him to a frustrating and unsuccessful presidency. Nonetheless, an accurate and objective self-awareness cannot hurt a politician or anybody else, and Bush seems to have it, and his practice of prayer, I would suggest, has a lot to do with that.
Kerry, on the other hand, shows no signs of engaging in any such day-to-day process of realistic self-evaluation. His lack of accurate self-understanding is acutely noticeable in his lack of humor. Everyone has feet of clay, and if you know who and what you really are, if you try to see yourself and your pretensions as God sees you in all clarity, you can always find humor in yourself. Kerry’s detachment from reality, I suspect, grows in part from ordinary egotism but also from being surrounded by sycophants and hired guns who do not engage him in an honest way but sustains his delusions. Like Gore, he seems to have few real friends who could look him in the eye and tell him hard, blunt things that it would help him to hear and know. Since Kerry doesn’t know who he is, or what he is, he has nothing to offer others on a personal level. He is reduced to using words and people as instruments to obtain whatever tactical goal is in front of him, frantically scurrying to avoid turning around and looking in the mirror. Or so I imagine it. I have never met the man. But I don’t think I’m likely to be far off in my description.
These deficiencies allowed Kerry to tell a false story to himself and to others until he believes it. Nietzsche said something like this: “My memory says I did it, my pride says I cannot have done it. Ultimately pride wins.” The corollary is that pride will always win except it is resisted in some consistent and practical way. Kerry appears to have no such internal reality-checking mechanism, and this in turn leads to an absence of any external check either, in the form of sincere friendships.
Bush has incorporated an important element of self-awareness into life by means of prayer, and there are ramifications in his family life, his ability to deal with other people and his ability to persevere in struggles he embarks on or which are thrust upon him. Kerry, it seems, lacks any equivalent internal mechanism, and this shines through in all his actiivities. Kerry suffers for this, not just spiritually and personally and morally, but in the practical affairs of life as well.
If you didn’t see it, this interview with President Bush from Christianity Today magazine, from May of 2004, is very, very interesting, in large part because it sounds like President Bush speaking earnestly and informally. I don’t think it was widely commented on in blogs when it came out, for some reason. This article is the basis for the factual assertions I made about President Bush’s prayer life in this post, which he describes briefly in this article.