Culture Wars: President Bush and Secularism

This is a partial transcript from The O'Reilly Factor, March 4, 2004.

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BILL O'REILLY, HOST: In the Culture War segment tonight, as we mentioned in the Talking Points memo, President Bush is reluctant to fight the growing secularist trend in America. But why?

Joining us now from Washington, Byron York, White House correspondent for National Review, a conservative magazine.

All right, you heard what I said up top. What say you?

BYRON YORK, NATIONAL REVIEW: Well, you know, fighting the culture war is simply not George Bush's thing. He's not inclined to do it. If you remember back the 2000 campaign, his platform was basically I want to cut your taxes and bring everybody together. And even on, you know, on the really divisive issues like abortion, for example, he said look, if Congress passes a partial birth abortion (search) bill, I'll sign it, which he did. But he also says I'm not going to fight anymore about this. The country's not in a place where Roe versus Wade would be overturned.

And I'm simply not going to be fight on that. Fast forward to the issue of gay marriage today. And I think Bush has been very reluctant to get into this, was very much hoping that it wouldn't come to it.

O'REILLY: Yes, but why? Quick question is, is it just he doesn't care about these issues?

YORK: Right.

O'REILLY: Is that what it is?

YORK: Well, there's two things. One, I mean, they're very, very divisive issues. And you're going to make a significant number of people mad every time you step into something like school prayer or something like that.

The other thing is, personally, I believe Bush comes from a religious background in which it's a very contemporary, Christian non-judgmental kind of faith. You know, it's kind of in the Democrats' interest to try to portray him as a fire and brimstone member of the religious right, but that's simply not him. And I think he doesn't like these divisive fights.

O'REILLY: All right now, if that's true, and I believe you're right that he doesn't like them, I don't know if that's the reason he doesn't like them, but that leaves no leadership at all for the traditionalist side. And then that angers many conservatives. They say look, where are our spokespeople? They're MIA, whereas the other side has got every bomb thrower in the world banging down the door to change the country in dramatic ways.

YORK: Yes, but I think Bush believes that he was called by history after September 11th to fight very, very big fights. And you know, I...

O'REILLY: This is a big fight, Mr. York.

YORK: Well, it's not...

O'REILLY: This is not some little thing. I mean, these people are socially engineering the country to be a totally different country. And they see weakness on the traditional side. And they're moving fast.

YORK: But I believe he thinks that protecting the country from terrorists in the wake of September 11 and even directing the economic recovery is simply more important now. And that if he pulled out an issue, if he wanted -- you know, some people are talking about flag burning, it would seem in -- terribly artificial in light of the other clearly more pressing issues.

O'REILLY: All right, but are you of the opinion the president couldn't do the war on terror, the economy over watch and the culture war? He's incapable of doing those three things?

YORK: Well, he's got gay marriage in his hands right now. So he's got to do it. I think as far as the culture war is concerned, I don't think he wants to pick fights. Now he's been forced into one. He believes, you know, the gay marriage fight is not in his view a fight against homosexual activists or anything like it. It's really against what he views as activist judges. And the idea of gay marriage being judicially imposed on people, as well -- as opposed to, you know, to being approved by legislature.

O'REILLY: All right. So in his gut, the president is really not a social conservative or a traditionalist. He is willing to basically give those issues a pass and let the other side -- I'm sure you know this. But the secularist forces in this country have an enormous amount of power on President Bush's watch.

YORK: But you know, I think that this is something that we saw in the 2000 campaign with compassionate conservatism. If you -- you know, if you want to try to turn Bush into Jerry Falwell, it's just not going to work. He has never been...

O'REILLY: But why can't you just...

YORK: ...a culture warrior.

O'REILLY: You don't have to be Jerry Falwell. You can just say look, this is what I believe and this is what we're going to do. I know Bush doesn't like the activist judges, but he doesn't go after them very hard.

YORK: Well, you know, actually, I would disagree a little bit. If you look at 2002 campaign when Bush went around the country campaigning for Republican Senate candidates, the judges was not a big issue in the Washington press at the time, but he was pushing it every single speech that he made. We need judges in Washington who will not legislate from the bench, not make these crazy decisions like the pledge of allegiance decision. And that's going to be actually a bigger issue this year for him.


YORK: And I would be surprised if he didn't mention that almost every campaign speech he makes.

O'REILLY: Well, we'll see. But I agree with you -- I think he's going to concentrate on the economy and the war on terror. And the social stuff is going to go by the wayside.

Mr. York, thanks very much. We appreciate taking the time.

YORK: Thank you.

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