Did you hear that Jeb Bush defended religious liberty at his Liberty University commencement speech? Hooray, right? Not really. From the NYT account:
Jeb Bush delivered a forceful defense of religious freedom from a secular government during a speech at an evangelical university on Saturday, deploring the rise of “coercive federal power” under President Obama that he said was seeking to impose progressive dogma on the country’s faithful.
But in an intriguing omission at a school known for its long-time opposition to same-sex unions, Mr. Bush did not mention the raging debate over the legalization of gay marriage, or express his opposition to it, even as he touched on the environment, sex trafficking and abortion.
In his commencement address to students at Liberty University, a Virginia school well known for hosting Republican presidents and presidential candidates, Mr. Bush bemoaned that “federal authorities are demanding obedience, in complete disregard of religious conscience — and in a free society, the answer is no.”
I love those words, but he can’t avoid forever the greatest threat to religious freedom in our present moment: the advance of gay rights. Even President Obama’s solicitor general conceded in oral argument before the Supreme Court that the tax-exempt status of religious organizations that hold to Biblical (or Koranic) standards of sexual morality may well be at issue. What’s happening to Gordon College in Massachusetts shows what’s ahead for many Christian institutions in the near future. Don’t you believe it when people say it won’t happen. It is happening, and it’s going to happen. I know that Republican candidates get extremely squeamish when talking about anything to do with homosexuality, but it is impossible to talk meaningfully about the politics of religious liberty without discussing the pink elephant in the room.
Republicans are going to have to quit being so defensive about this stuff, and take the argument to Hillary Clinton. Does she favor religious institutions losing their tax-exempt status if they don’t accept homosexuality? Does she want them to be Bob Jones’d, or would she support laws to protect these institutions? For that matter, what do Republican candidates plan to do to protect religious liberty in this new legal environment for gay rights? It’s not enough to mouth pro-religious platitudes. Conservatives must expect more.
Then there’s the clip from an exclusive Megyn Kelly interview with Jeb, in which he says he would have invaded Iraq, just like his brother. You need to watch the clip here. It’s actually more complicated than the headlines. Kelly puts the question to Bush like this:
KELLY: Knowing what we know now, would you have authorized the invasion?
BUSH: I would have, and so would have Hillary Clinton, just to remind everybody, and so would have almost everybody who was confronted with the intelligence they got.
KELLY: You don’t think it was a mistake?
Bush goes on to blame faulty intelligence, and poor post-invasion security. It’s a slippery answer all around, and a classic example of a politician asking the question he wishes he was asked by a reporter, instead of the question he was actually asked. Kelly’s question was not, “Had you been sitting in the White House on 9/11, would you have authorized the invasion?” She specifically conditioned the question with “knowing what we know now” — which is that Saddam did not have WMDs. I can’t believe Kelly let him get away with that evasion. Granted, Jeb Bush is in a terrible spot, given that his brother did authorize the disastrous invasion of Iraq. But if he runs for president, as it seems clear that he will, he (and every Republican candidate) must have their feet held to the fire on these foreign policy questions. If they cannot show evidence of having learned a damn thing from the Iraq catastrophe, it raises questions about their fitness for office.
Of course religious and social conservatives like me are so afraid of what a Democratic president would do on the religious liberty front that many of us will vote Republican no matter what. Still, it would be nice to think that we weren’t having to vote for the war party.
On the other hand, if Hillary Clinton is the candidate, on hawkish foreign policy there won’t likely be much difference between her and whoever the GOP nominates.