Today is the National Day of Prayer. In modern American politics, that means one thing: the God strategy will be in full effect.
Since Ronald Reagan's election in 1981, politicians-especially U.S. presidents-have gone to unprecedented lengths to signal their support for those citizens who rely heavily on religious cues to make voting decisions. The National Day of Prayer is a perfect day to send such signals.
Here's what to expect. President Bush will issue a proclamation extolling the virtue of prayer. Most people will pay little attention. They'll go on about their lives, praying or not as they see fit.
A small but politically important cohort, however, will see Bush's proclamation as a crucial show of support for their religious beliefs. And these are the people to whom Bush is speaking.
The targeted audience is organized by the National Day of Prayer Task Force. This organization was first headed by Vonette Bright, wife of Campus Crusade for Christ founder Bill Bright, and has been chaired since 1991 by Shirley Dobson, wife of Focus on the Family founder James Dobson. The Brights and the Dobsons are iconic figures among religious conservatives, and their connection to the National Day of Prayer has given the event a decidedly conservative and Christian character.
Consider that those who volunteer for the National Day of Prayer Task Force have to affirm this statement of faith: "I believe that the Holy Bible is the inerrant Word of The Living God. I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the only One by which I can obtain salvation and have an ongoing relationship with God." Volunteers must also pledge that the activities they organize "will be conducted solely by Christians," though "those with differing beliefs are welcome to attend."