September 27, 2005
With God on Our Side - George W. Bush and the Rise of the Religious Right in America (DVD)
If you want to know the history and the strategy by which the Evangelicals came to power in the George W. Bush administration, then you must see this insightful documentary. Beginning with the golden age of a young, charismatic Billy Graham in the '50s, the film follows the growth of the Evangelical/fundamentalist political movement up to and through the George W. Bush presidency.
What is even more remarkable -- and we have viewed the film twice -- is that the primary resources for the documentary are the "A" list of Evangelical/Fundamentalist television celebrities (including Falwell, Robison, LaHaye, Robertson, etc.) who speak openly about the political strategy that the religious extremists adopted to finally seize power in 2000 (remember that Bush lost the popular vote by 520,000, but these guys think that God willed his victory.) Except for the wimpy Howard Fineman of Newsweek (who actually manages to offer up some insightful thoughts for once), all the interviewees are Bush supporters. But what makes them fascinating is that they discuss the process by which the Evangelical vote became so strong.
Falwell and Ralph Reed are amazingly forthright about how they strategically went about merging Christian fundamentalism with the political process. And their success is due to their diligence in pursuing a disciplined and coordinated plan of action. What might seem surprising to many BuzzFlash readers is that the Evangelical/Fundamentalist movement grew disenchanted with Reagan rather quickly, because his staff was filled with political operatives who gave religion short shrift when it came to action -- and the Christian faithful practically loathed George Herbert Walker Bush.
It took the parallel growth of an Evangelical/Fundamentalist political infrastructure and the emergence of willing "faith" candidate partners like DeLay and George W. Bush to push the movement that started back in the '50s over the top. It is clear from the documentary that these people believe that the United States government is one anointed by a Christian God who speaks through a literal interpretation of the Bible, and that the world is divided into good and evil. It took a simpleton like George W. Bush to hoodwink a nation into thinking life and international affairs were that simple, although the television preachers, obviously, see it differently.
Another remarkable observation about this film is that supporters of Bush and Fundamentalism would not probably object to anything in the documentary. They say what they mean; and they mean what they say. The producers don't take sides. They let the story be told by the self-anointed men of faith who took over the American government in the name of a Christian God as they see him. And they are quite open about how they did it (except for the major point that Bush was selected by the Supreme Court in 2000, not the American people.)
Perhaps the most important message for Democrats and Independents in this documentary is that the conventional wisdom that America is a nation of people who reflect a "right center" political outlook is disproved by the fact that in 1964, Goldwater ran pretty much on the same platform Bush ran on in 2000 and was trounced. It's just that the Evangelicals never gave up and were so tenacious that they pushed media coverage -- as well as legislation and politicians -- through think tanks and voting drives to accept their way of thinking as conventional wisdom. Oddly enough, they do prove that the power of "faith" can change reality, whereas Democratic leaders accept the outlook of the fundamentalists as unalterable public opinion. What the Democratic leaders lack is what the Evangelical/Fundamentalists have: passion, conviction and tenacity --- even it is entirely misdirected and destructive to our Constitutional democracy.
The Evangelical/Christians have the conviction of their faith. You can hand them that. It may bring America to its knees and precipitate their beloved Armageddon, but they are fighting for something they believe in. The Democratic leaders lack the passion of conviction to save democracy from them.
This documentary first appeared on PBS and is just being released on DVD in the United States.
Note from Co-Director David Van Taylor: This film grew out of a six-hour history series that did premiere on PBS in 1996. The current 100-minute film, which incorporates parts of the history, did not air on PBS. It was commissioned by Channel 4 UK, and premiered on the Sundance Channel in October '04.