CNBC Topic A with Tina Brown, August 29, 2004


TINA BROWN, host: Stephen Mansfield usually writes about faith, but this past week Stephen Mansfield, a former pastor and the author of "The Faith of George W. Bush," wrote a letter to President Bush asking the president, in honor of all veterans, to stop the Swift Boat ad campaign, calling it `fratricide and a small-minded fight that has sullied the honor of our nation's heroes.' Stephen Mansfield joins me now, along with Paul Krugman, the op-ed columnist for The New York Times, whose latest book is "The Great Unraveling." First, Stephen, welcome, and Paul.

Mr. STEPHEN MANSFIELD (Author, "The Faith of George W. Bush"): Thank you.

BROWN: So is there some kind of connection between, you know, hitting below the belt and turning the other cheek? I mean, you know, how do you square this as someone who's really such a chronicler of his faith with his Christian ethic?

Mr. MANSFIELD: Yeah, I think that everyone in politics, especially Bush, who is attempting to live out sort of a religious-based politic is always wrestling with these ethical issues. And I wish that he would take the higher road. I think he could go into his convention on a much higher tone of statesmanship. I don't think there's anything for him to be gained politically. I know he's a little ahead of the polls, but I think it's going to backfire if he doesn't distance himself. And I think probably the delay that we see in him distancing himself and condemning these ads is a result of him trying to wrestle with his own ethical sense.

BROWN: But do you think there is any real connection between public sort of behavior, as it were, in politics and private faith? I mean, you see people in business who are, for instance, great family men and then go to work and they're total killers.

Mr. PAUL KRUGMAN (Author, "The Great Unraveling"): Well, that's just the question. But if that's true, there really is no connection, why should the faith matter to the public? Why should voters care? If the man is faithful to his wife but, you know, ruins the country or just is a dirty player in politics, what difference does it make? And I think that goes to the heart of the whole question of what does it mean to have faith in politics?

BROWN: Well, Stephen, how do you feel that Bush's faith is really playing itself out in the daily politics of his life?

Mr. MANSFIELD: I think every politician comes to office with a certain--what Henry Kissinger called intellectual capital or a world view. Bush's world view is shaped by his conservative Christian faith. That's why we hear him talking about evildoers and axis of evil and things of this nature. So I'm not preoccupied with Bush's daily devotions and his time in Scripture and prayer. I want to know how it plays out in his politics. And I think it does. I think almost everything he does throughout his day is shaped by his basic world view, which is rooted in Scripture, which is moralistic and which understands a divine--sense of divine mission and a divine cause, so I think it permeates everything he does.

BROWN: Such as? Give me an example.

Mr. MANSFIELD: Well, I think we went into Iraq not so much because there were weapons of mass destruction, but because Bush had concluded that Saddam Hussein was an evildoer and in the battle between good and evil in the world, Bush came down on a certain side. I think that's why he didn't feel that much of a need to give us a rationale beyond just simply labeling the man evil. I think that's the case in much of his foreign policy.

Mr. KRUGMAN: Let me put it this way. I think this is probably true, but it's true in a way that's kind of disturbing to those of us who don't necessarily share the views, because there's always a sense that what Bush is doing is catering. Bush himself comes across as a tolerant guy, open-minded guy, but there's clearly a wing of political Christianity in the United States that is not tolerant. It's the General Gerry Boykin wing that says, you know, `My God is bigger than your God and Islam is an evil religion.' And there's always the sense that Bush's underlying policies, although he gives universalist rationales for them, end up catering to that. So Boykin is still there. He's still head of counterterrorism at the Pentagon and maybe this is really a war against Islam, which is what really bothers a lot of people.

BROWN: Now, Paul, obviously this is a very religious country. We have a lot of people who were very relieved, you know, after Monica-gate that we were going to have this return to moral values at the center of Bush's administration. Let's just take a look at this moment from the recent campaign.

(Excerpt from campaign stop)

Unidentified Man: I'm 60 years old and I voted Republican from the very first time I could vote, and I also want to say this is the very first time that I have felt that God was in the White House.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: Thank you.

(End of excerpt)

BROWN: There was a lot of cheering there, Paul.

Mr. KRUGMAN: That's right. And...

BROWN: Maybe we just don't get it in the media, in a way, because it's a more secular media that we are?

Mr. KRUGMAN: Well, the question is: What do they mean by God is in the White House? Do they mean that--and this is a real question. I actually don't know the answer. Do they mean that we have a moral man in the White House or do we--do they mean that we have a man that we believe, once he gets the chance, will impose our conceptions of morality, our conceptions of behavior on the rest of Americans who don't necessarily share that faith? That's the big question here.

BROWN: Stephen, do you think there is a chance that people will be as much turned off by this kind of religiosity as it is turned on in the swing vote?

Mr. MANSFIELD: Oh, there's no question. It's simplistic. It's moralistic. It's messianic. It even turns me off to some extent. God was present in the Clinton White House. Whether anybody was listening or not is the question and that's exactly what we're dealing with with Bush. I think to see Bush as some kind of a messiah who brings God to the White House is simplistic and offensive, especially, as you say, to that Reagan Democrat swing vote faction.

BROWN: Do you think he's become much more religious during his presidency?

Mr. MANSFIELD: I think he's become--yes, I do. I believe that he has pressed into his faith because of the daily press of office. At the same time, I'm not sure that he's as clear on how to apply his faith to public policy. I think there are people who are constantly trying to appeal to his sort of religious soul and help him think out his public policy, his foreign policies particularly, but I don't--I think that while he's become more religious, he's become less clear on how to apply it.

BROWN: Paul, on the campaign trail recently we saw, in a way, I felt, Bush trying to distance himself a little bit from some of this religiosity.

Mr. KRUGMAN: Well, there is a real danger for them--for Bush and his people politically that the hard-line religious wing of the party will come to be perceived by voters as the dominant wing and that is not popular. Most people do not want to be dictated to and you have to realize that, in some ways, I think the people like Tom DeLay are a more authentic vision of what Christianity in today's Republican Party means, because they worked their way up through the ranks. Bush was essentially chosen as an amiable face for this movement. And they are very hard line. DeLay's hobby horse is he wants to end the teaching of evolution in the schools. That's what religion and politics means to him.

Mr. MANSFIELD: But let's notice, too, that Bush doesn't see himself as preacher in chief. He's appointed homosexuals to office when we know, as a conservative evangelical, he has to believe that homosexuality is sin and an abomination to God. We know, for example, he hasn't turned to Israel the way that a lot on the religious right would like him to. And he's in trouble with that base to some extent on Israel, during--in this next election. So even though he's a religious man, this is not a man who's trying to institute a theocracy or ram his faith down the throats of the nation.

BROWN: Paul.

Mr. KRUGMAN: Well, I think--this is a question, I guess. Some of us think or some of us fear that what he's actually doing is he's managing to convey to one part of his base the fact that, `Well, just give me a chance. Let's get this election behind us and I will ram a theocracy down the throats of the people,' while at the same time conveying a message to the swing voters that `I won't.' And then the question is which is the real Bush?

BROWN: OK, Paul Krugman, Stephen Mansfield, thank you so much.

Mr. MANSFIELD: Great to be with you.

BROWN: Good to have you with us.

Mr. KRUGMAN: Thank you.

Ms. EDIE FALCO: Everybody must go out and see "Napoleon Dynamite." I was one of the first people to see it and I ran out and told all my friends. I have never laughed so hard.


Originally broadcast, 8.29.04