Monday, September 19, 2005

God, George Bush, the Universe, and everything

I watched the last half of George Bush's national address regarding Hurricane Katrina the other day, and unlike most of the US news channels, felt distinctly underwhelmed. The flowery stuff in the speech was excellent - talking about the resilience of America in the past, making appeals to hang together and all that jazz. Indeed, if Bush had gotten his ass down to New Orleans within a day or two and delivered a speech like that, its impact would have been huge. It would have provided the rallying call, and set the tone for the recovery effort - rather than the impetus being provided by voluntary groups. (It looks as if the Red Cross and the Sally Army might let Bush off the hook on this one).

Yet the substance of the speech wasn't particularly great. There wasn't much less that he could have said in those circumstances. What's more, the sticking to doctrine remained as strong as ever. Throwing money at the problem is only going to make the budgetary problems of the US worse and worse. If they had the money to cover the disaster fund, it would be fine. But proposing tax breaks left right and centre, whilst refusing to countenance any countervailing tax rises, isn't going to help. I can only hope the fiscal conservatives succeed in forcing spending cuts elsewhere - although look what happened when they slashed the Engineering Corps budget.

The most striking aspect of the speech, however, was how regularly Bush referred to churches, God, and religious organisations - at one point seeming to single out religious organisations for special funding to support the work they had made in the recovery effort. This worried me for two reasons - firstly, it's again supporting the idea that voluntary organisations, not government, should be organising relief work like this. The unprecedented (for America) scale of the damage means governments should be playing a role. Secondly, it is worrying when an evangelical zeal is finding its way into government. I'll no doubt expand on this at a later point, but while the executive needs vigour and despatch, constantly referring to God doesn't get you out of problems. To my mind, God only gives assistance, and man still has to make use of them anyway. But beyond that - isn't there supposed to be, in the US, a separation of church and state? Were the actions of the government so poor they can only be justified by trying to tap into the work of religious organisations?

I was at Gettysburg yesterday (more to follow) - the place was understandably full of plaques containing the text of the Gettysburg Address. It's one of the most powerful pieces of prose ever written. And it didn't have to rely on references to God to testify ot the indomitable spirit of man. Why does George Bush need to do differently?