What people sometimes forget is that playing politics with religion is nothing new for the Bushes. However, morphing their New England Protestantism into Pentecostal fervor sounded rather stilted at first. Dad Bush never really mastered the new lingo. Just as he was gaining fluency, along came Bill Clinton, a Bible-talking Baptist from Arkansas.
“America is still the most religious nation on earth,” said Bush Sr. during the 1992 presidential campaign. “Our fundamental moral standards were established by Almighty God.” Bush did his best to whip up enthusiasm among religious groups. The platform was pro-life, pro–school choice, and for prayer in the schools. The “Judeo-Christian heritage,” it said, “informs our culture.” The party believed that Americans are “free men and women with faith in God.” Bush said, “If you are looking to restore America’s moral fiber, why buy a synthetic when you can get real cotton?” And Pat Robertson, at the time a loyal surrogate among evangelicals, tried bashing Clinton by labeling his faith “pseudo-Christianity.”
But neither Robertson nor Bush was a match for Clinton, who worked his audiences like a televangelist, tossing in quotes from Scripture with ease. To one audience, he said, “The Scripture says let him who is without sin cast the first stone. All I can say is in the last month I met a lot of perfect people.” Hillary Clinton also became adept at using religion in politics and toured Arkansas telling people what it was like to be a Methodist.
Additional reporting: Nicole Duarte, Laurie Anne Agnese, and David Botti