In the days following last November’s election, I saw the best minds of my generation, starving hysterical naked, and—just as if there had never been a Jimmy Carter—wondering where the Democrats could possibly find a liberal evangelical Christian to run for president in 2008.
Initially well regarded by his co-religionists and then (once they saw his support for an equal-rights amendment!) anathema, Carter is a key figure in the British tele-documentary With God on Our Side. Using archival clips and talking heads to track the rise of the religious right from the Cold War crusades of Billy Graham (“Jesus taught the value of private property”) through the creation of the Moral Majority and Pat Robertson’s 1988 candidacy, With God on Our Side convincingly maintains that the evangelical movement reached its political apotheosis in the person of born-again prodigal son George W. Bush—referred to by more than one admiring Christian as the “real deal.”
The 100-minute doc, broadcast by Britain’s Channel 4 on the eve of the U.S. election and opening here in time for the second Bush inaugural, argues that the evangelical vote provided both Reagan’s victory margin in 1980 and Bush the Elder’s in 1988. (No less than Carter, Bush I turned out to be too socially liberal for the religious right—an error that his son would not repeat.) Whether or not Moral Majority organizer Paul Weyrich and spokesman Jerry Falwell, both of whom appear understandably smug, had a master plan to gain control of the White House, one can detect a certain dialectic: Just as Carter’s authentic religiosity enabled Reagan’s born-again pandering, so Bill Clinton’s peccadilloes made the world safe for Dubya’s sketchy past.
With God on Our Side (which was known, more humorously, as God Bless America in the U.K.) is certainly not as incredulous or mocking as it might have been. If anything, the mood is apprehensive. But it’s depressing that—Carter aside—the filmmakers failed to find even one liberal believer.