Saturday, November 17, 2007

Wingnut Penilians, Know Thy Leaders and Your Bloody Selves

AMY GOODMAN: You talk, Craig Unger, about American evangelism in this book. You talk about George Bush’s religion. And you talk about Tim LeHay, as well as the new right’s multibillion-dollar effort bankrolled by billionaire philanthropists to completely reframe the national debate. Talk about -- begin with George W. Bush and his religion and his story of his conversion with Billy Graham, which he says isn’t true.

CRAIG UNGER: Right. Well, the widespread story -- and he wrote about it, or at least it was ghostwritten, in his campaign autobiography for 2000, A Charge to Keep -- it’s a story George Bush has told again and again, that in 1985 Billy Graham was in Kennebunkport, Maine with him and his parents, and the two men went for a long walk, and it was at that moment that he began to accept Christ.

Well, Billy Graham himself says he has absolutely no memory of it. But more than that, I talked to Mickey Herskowitz, who’s a Houston sportswriter and a close friend of Bush Sr., and he was hired to ghostwrite that campaign autobiography, A Charge to Keep. And as he was ghostwriting it, during that process, he had about twenty sit-down interviews with George W. Bush in Austin, and he very specifically asked Bush what conversation took place with Billy Graham. At the time, Bush had absolutely no memory of the conversation himself. So Herskowitz sort of prodded him, and he said, “Well, would he have said something like, ‘Are you right with Jesus?’” And Bush said, “No, he wouldn’t have said that.” Well, at a certain point, Herskowitz gave the tapes to Karen Hughes, who was Bush’s communications director, and in the course of finishing the book, Herskowitz's words were put in Billy Graham's mouth.

Now, I later went back, and I found a guy named Arthur Blessitt. And it turns out that even earlier, it was Blessitt who really converted Bush to Jesus. In 1984, he had made a trip to Midland, Texas and then met at a Holiday Inn. There were three people present at the meeting: Bush, a member of his Bible studies group named Jim Sale -- I talked to Jim Sale -- and Arthur Blessitt himself, who I also interviewed.

And Blessitt is most famous for carrying a twelve-foot cross of Jesus around the world. He’s been to more than 300 countries, walked 30,000 miles. And he had a Jesus Coffee House in Los Angeles, where he was most famous for what was called the toilet baptism.

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