Iíve been praying a lot since George W. Bush became president. I pray that he doesnít screw up too badly; I pray that he stays safe from harm because the prospect of a Dick Cheney presidency is terrifying. I pray that we still have some civil liberties left after he leaves office. I pray for the environment; will Yosemite be there for my grandchildren? I pray that he stop calling on God publicly because people might get the idea that weíre a theocracy instead of democracy. Then again, maybe weíre just an idiotcracy--is there such a word? We should ask Bush; heaven knows heís made up enough words.
I was praying in private until someone got the bright idea of starting a Presidential Prayer Team. If you sign up on the Internet--no fee required--you get a sticker that shows George Washington genuflecting, his head bowed, his hat in hand. Each week members receive an e-mail detailing the difficulties the President must deal with that week so that they can pray for heavenly guidance. After all, scientific studies have shown that prayer helps those who are ill to heal even when they donít know that people are praying for them! (What kind of a control group did they use for this study, I wonder?)
So I signed up and the e-mails started coming. They asked for Godís blessings on Bush and various members of Congress. (Heaven knows they need our prayers: 435 people who canít agree on what to put on a pizza are making decisions for our whole country!) They prayed for the debut of Mel Gibsonís controversial film on Jesus Christ, and for the end of "unlawful unions" taking place between same-sex couples in San Francisco, though I canít imagine what either of those issues have to do with the presidency. They offer weekly prayers for the members of the presidentís cabinet and the Supreme Court. So I looked again: All of the names mentioned are _Republican_ members of the government. How odd. If I were a conservative, I think Iíd be praying to change some liberal minds.
What America do the founders of the Presidential Prayer Team live in? It doesnít look like my America. Where I live, there are people living on the streets. In winter, they are forced by the cold into emergency shelters. There are more food banks than ever and greater contributions than in the past but they still run short. Seniors buy their drugs from Canada; they used to buy them from Mexico before the U.S. government forbade us to buy them there. So much for NAFTA. Women on welfare have no childcare and few choices. Iíve never seen them mentioned as recipients of the Presidential Prayer Team rogations.
The PPT mailings ask for divine protection for our troops but what about our veterans? In addition to the services needed for veterans of past wars, there are newly-minted veterans with major problems. Jessica Lynch, the young supply clerk who was taken as a prisoner of war, suffers memory loss, a fractured disk in her back, three breaks in her left leg, multiple breaks in her right foot, a broken right arm, and lacerations on her head. She just wants to be able to walk again. Had it not been for the help and cooperation of the Iraqi doctors who were the first to treat her, she might not have survived. In earlier conflicts, it is doubtful that someone with her injuries would have made it back. In this day of medical miracles, she will walk again but it wonít be cheap. At todayís prices, the medical bills for Ms. Lynch will be astronomical. The treatment and rehabilitation that she must undergo in order to return to a semblance of normal activity will take months if not years. The Army has given her an 80% disability rating and she will receive a pension based on that rating. She is 19 years old. She could live to be 90 years old. We, our children, and grandchildren will pay for her for over the next seventy years. Multiply Jessica Lynch by hundreds, perhaps thousands of seriously injured American soldiers; do not forget the pensions for the widowed spouses who relied on their loved onesí incomes, and their childrenís eventual need for college scholarships. Then there are the psychological effects of troopís suicides: 21 have committed suicide in Iraq and Kuwait, The Pentagon has not reported how many have committed suicide after returning home. Presidential Prayer Team: Our veterans and their families need more than just prayers.
I would rather that my tax dollars go to the families of servicemen and -women than to the maintenance of Mr. Bushís adventurism. Apparently, he never considered the long-range costs of the war or just didnít care that American soldiers would pay the bill in blood and in grudging recognition of their service, and the rest of the American people would pay in taxes for the next three generations. Perhaps the PPT could pray for a divine forgiveness of the terrible debt that is falling on our children and grandchildren.
It has been well-documented that most of the members of the armed services are working-class people. Mobilizing the working-class, including the members of the military who are surviving on food stamps because even combat pay doesnít make up for the loss of income from the reservistsí jobs, could depose George Bush once and for all. They live in our America, not Bushís. The real mystery is why 51% of Americans still approve of his performance in office. Can the panic generated by 9-11, by the ever-increasing security measures such as the Patriot Act and the Homeland Security administration with its multicolored warnings, conspire to make us so fearful of outside attack that we fail to tend to the decay of our society?
Perhaps if Bush had been more attentive to the lessons of history than to the statistics of baseball, he would have learned that the founders of our republic believed in a strict separation between church and state. Bushís public piety and pronouncements about sin would have appalled George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. While the Presidential Prayer Team is not a governmental agency, and it does not violate the separation of church and state, it seems determined to bridge that gap.
I say we should pray to protect the separation of church and state as well as all of our precious civil liberties, and pray for a new administration in November. It canít hurt.
Rosa Maria Pegueros is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Rhode Island
To contact her, write to firstname.lastname@example.org