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World Opinion Roundup by Jefferson Morley

Is God an American Voter?

Conservative Pundits Question Bush's Religious Appeals

By Jefferson Morley
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 26, 2004; 10:26 AM

"George Bush did what God wanted him to do," one U.S. voter told a reporter. "Who cares what the rest of the world thinks?"

That kind of religious fervor among President Bush's supporters, reported yesterday by the Sydney Morning Herald, is provoking a broad and deep backlash in the international online media. Even in news sites that supported President Bush's invasion of Iraq, pundits assert that the president's religiosity is a menace.

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With Bush consistently invoking religious themes, Democratic candidate Sen. John F. Kerry overtly discussing his faith last Sunday in an appeal for votes at an African-American church in Florida and the Vatican releasing a guide to Catholic political thought, the subject of faith and U.S. politics is rapidly moving to the fore of the intense international coverage of the U.S. presidential race.

In Central America, the Honduran daily El Heraldo (in Spanish) recaps the candidates' religious views for readers. A Spanish TV documentary (in Spanish) traces 50 years of evangelical efforts to influence the White House.

The coverage is driven partly by recognition of a seemingly ironic American reality. As El Diario (in Spanish), a daily newspaper in Juarez, Mexico, reminds its readers this week, "the United States has secular laws and the most religious population of any industrialized country."

But commentary is also driven by fear of a political movement -- and a president -- who seems to claim divine inspiration.

Correspondents for El Correo (in Spanish) in Bilbao, Spain, and the Guardian in London attended Bush rallies in New Jersey and came away "shaken" by Bush's religious appeal.

"People said 'amen' when he spoke," one Norwegian correspondent said. "It was chilling to see who are his followers."

Uneasiness with Bush's evangelical Protestantism seems to lie at the heart of Bush's well-documented unpopularity abroad.

"What deeply alarms many non-Americans," writes Toronto Sun columnist Eric Margolis, "is the prospect of a second Bush term dominated by a coalition of evangelical Christians, Christian 'Rapturists,' American partisans of Israel's PM Ariel Sharon, and rural voters from the Deep South who reject evolution and think French is the native language of Satan."

This complaint is not new. Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes, who likens contemporary America to pre-Nazi Germany, tells Red Voltaire, a leftist Spanish-language Web site, that Bush's religiosity makes him want to start drinking again.

It is hardly surprising that Jean Daniel, a veteran centrist French journalist, told a Spanish audience that "no nation can try to by itself incarnate the good, the virtue and the humanity. Let us leave to God that pretension."

But when Rupert Murdoch's conservative organs start echoing variations on this theme, there may be something new afoot.

In the Australian, the flagship of Murdoch's global media empire, conservative U.S. journalist Scott McConnell writes this week that Bush's presidency combines "two strands of Jewish and Christian extremism"—pro-Israel neoconservatism and the Christian Right. McConnell calls for Bush's defeat.

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