As a journalist, I spend much of my time on the telephone. But nothing could have prepared me for the call I received a few Fridays ago.
Mr. Drake, how would you like to attend a meeting as a special guest of the president of the United States?
Talk about a wake-up call!
Why me? Evidently, my volunteer work supporting local pro-life candidates had landed me on a short list of Minnesotans a certain political party wants to woo for the coming elections. In attendance would be approximately 100 people from four different states.
My wife and children, busy in the garden, must have thought I'd gone crazy when, immediately upon hanging up the phone, I ran outside to tell them the news. No matter. A couple of weeks later, there I was enjoying a private tour of the East Wing. (As private as you can be when you're one of 100, anyway.) This was followed by a series of speeches in the briefing room of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.
Then the president himself stepped up to the podium.
I counted myself blessed to be there, considering that the event was closed to the media. But I didn't know quite what to expect. I'd had mixed feelings about the president, but had been impressed, like everyone, with his leadership after Sept. 11. What I found surprised me. It was obvious he was speaking off the cuff, not from a prepared speech, and I found the “real Bush” to be a man of character, intelligence, wit, faith — and, though it sounds odd to say it, humility.
With his first statement alone, one realized that we have a president who is very different from the last one.
He began, quite simply, by saying, “Let's see. What can I tell you? My marriage is fabulous. That's pretty surprising, considering that we live in a fish-bowl and we don't get out much. But it's never been better.” Then the president framed a 23-minute talk around the various pictures that he has hanging in the Oval Office.
First he spoke of a picture of a horse and rider climbing a hill. It is a picture that reminds the president of home. “I've changed addresses, but I haven't changed my home,” he said. “My home is Texas.”
The president realizes the historic moment our country faces and of the dark days that his presidency has already seen. Yet, he said, the picture reminds him that “a better day is coming.”
Then the president commented on a Methodist hymn framed and mounted on an Oval Office wall. The hymn says that “we must serve something greater in life than ourselves.”
Here, the president showed real humility. It was clear that he is not so concerned with how history will judge him as he is concerned about being a leader. “I serve my country and the Lord,” he said plainly.
Finally, President Bush made it evident that he looks to Abraham Lincoln as a role model for troubled times like ours, and that he has a clear vision for the country. A painting of Lincoln in the Oval Office reminds him that the job of a president is to be a peacemaker and to unite the nation. “When I have peace, I will keep our nation united,” he said, quoting Lincoln. The president recalled the pain of growing up in a country that was divided on civil rights.
“There are a lot of people that didn't vote for me. You know that,” President Bush added. “But, they're stuck with me. My job is to unite the country.”
His candor was appreciated. But is it naïve to trust a politician?
His short speech echoed sincere Gospel values and pro-life convictions. He remarked, “If you want to fight evil, do good. Love your neighbor.” He also said that “we must always hold true to the value that each life matters.”
For people of faith, maybe it isn't so much of a stretch to believe that a politician can be a good man. After all, he's one of the most prayed-for presidents in memory. Sept. 11 made sure of that. In addition to the private imperatives of countless American believers, there are the evangelical Presidential Prayer Team's 1.2 million prayer pledges and Catholics who have rallied behind Pope John Paul II's repeated calls for daily rosaries.
The president made it clear that he recognizes the importance of faith and prayer. “I'm a grateful president,” he said. “It's great being the leader of a nation where people pray for its president. The greatest gift you can give the president is prayer.”
Will Bush apply his faith and courage to attacks on unborn life with the same energy as he has shown in the war on terrorism? Will he do with abortion what his hero Lincoln did with slavery? Will he find effective ways to put it on a path to extinction, even in a divided nation?
Let us pray.
Culture of Life editor Tim Drake writes from St. Cloud, Minnesota.