The Nation's Chaplain

There are times when the president of the United States is called on to be also the nation's chaplain. Such moments can be major political opportunities, but the less political the president acts, the greater the opportunity.

One recalls Ronald Reagan's moving speech after the space shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986, where he spoke of how the fallen astronauts had -- quote -- "slipped the surly bonds of Earth to touch the face of God."

George W. Bush rallied a nation with his resolute speech at the National Cathedral after the 9/11 attacks.

And Bill Clinton began a political comeback in the aftermath of the hideous Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. What many remember about that were intimations by Clinton that conservative talk radio helped create the atmosphere for the Oklahoma atrocity. Such talk may have gained the president some traction with a liberal base demoralized by the Republican sweep of the 1994 midterm elections. But the comments kicked up a nasty and divisive fuss and did nothing to deter his conservative critics.

What started his political recovery was his speech to a nationally televised prayer service in Oklahoma City. There he stood with the state's Republican governor and told the assembled mourners -- quote -- "You have lost too much, but you have not lost everything. You have certainly not lost America for we will stand with you for as many tomorrows as it takes."

There was nothing political about that message, but in political terms it was pure gold.