In a New Oxford Note in April, we told you how George Weigel was campaigning enthusiastically for George W. Bush in the 2004 presidential election. With Bush safely re-elected, we then heard a different tune from Weigel, saying not to expect too much from Bush on abortion.
In First Things (Aug./Sept. 2004, p. 102), Fr. Richard John Neuhaus gave a sly endorsement of Bush based on his prolife credentials sly, so as not to risk losing the tax exemption for his First Things. Of course this is no surprise. Long before, during the primary season of the 2000 presidential election, Neuhaus along with Michael Novak, Deal Hudson, and George Weigel had been coaching Bush on how to win the conservative Catholic vote.
On May 26, 2004, Bush met with Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, Deal Hudson, Russell Shaw, and other religious journalists at the White House. As Time tells it (Feb. 7, 2005), When Bush met with journalists from religious publications last year, the living authority he cited most often was a man he called Father Richard, who, he explained, helps me articulate these [religious] things (brackets in original). Time says Bush cherishes Fr. Neuhaus because he has a finger on the conservative Catholic vote.
But now that the 2004 election is over, and Bush cannot run again, we hear a different tune from First Things. Hadley Arkes, another White House insider, says in First Things (April) that after the 2004 election: On the matter of abortion the President did not seem to be seized with any heightened awareness of possibilities now come into sight. And yet, in the case of abortion, the new possibilities had already been visible for more than two years. The President showed no keen awareness of these possibilities now, just as he had shown no awareness earlier. It was not that the facts were not there to be seen, or that the President had no means of knowing. For at least two years the White House staff, and the President it advises, had ample reason to conclude that America had reached a turning point, and that, with the slightest moves on the part of the administration they could have produced some striking gains for the pro-life cause . With moves modest by any measure, Mr. Bush could have advanced the pro-life cause . That the President should have had no interest , at virtually no cost to himself, must be ranked among the great political mysteries of our time. But apparently more pressing has been the Presidents desire to preserve his reticence on the matter of abortion.
Arkes goes on: For Mr. Bush, this reluctance to speak on abortion has been part of a policy fixed in his makeup and critical to his political design. In 1999, when he was preparing for his first presidential campaign . the word went out: he was emphatically, decisively, on the side of the pro-lifers. But, as the report went, he did not feel that he could lead with the issue of abortion . He would speak on this vexing issue only when it was absolutely necessary for him to do so. We could not grasp at the time  just how strictly he intended to follow this rule. But we grasp it now, for it has become chillingly clear in the experience of the last two years. It was as though the White House had taken an account of the simplest, slightest measures that might be taken, and then come to the judgment that it was not in the interest of the President to do the slightest thing.
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