snopes.com  

Go Back   snopes.com > Urban Legends > Questionable Quotes

Reply
 
Thread Tools Display Modes
  #1  
Old 29 July 2007, 12:06 AM
barbrainey's Avatar
barbrainey barbrainey is offline
 
Join Date: 05 December 2003
Location: Phoenix Arizona
Posts: 647
Icon05 George H. W. Bush's alleged remark about atheists

A few years ago I posted a query concerning a remark former president George Herbert Walker Bush--the incumbent president's father--supposedly made about atheists. However, nothing came of it.

It was a comment Mr. Bush allegedly made to one Robert Sherman at a formal press conference at Chicago's O'Hare airport in which Mr. Bush, then vice president, said that he didn't think atheists should be considered citizens or patriots since, "we are one nation under God." Not be citizens??

It seems unlikely that a potential presidential candidate would said such a thing since no one would vote for him if he believed that certain people should not be citizens just because they did not believe in God.

The primary source for this myth is the following:

holysmoke

Any information?
Reply With Quote
  #2  
Old 29 July 2007, 12:57 AM
Silas Sparkhammer's Avatar
Silas Sparkhammer Silas Sparkhammer is offline
 
Join Date: 22 September 2000
Location: San Diego, CA
Posts: 26,844
Whalephant

Bush has never admitted that the conversation actually took place -- but he has not denied it either. If it hadn't occurred at all, I think, by now, he would certainly have set the record straight.

This is a very tenuous form of confirmation, but it is nevertheless true that, at times, "Silence gives assent."

Silas (gives a cent)
Reply With Quote
  #3  
Old 29 July 2007, 01:24 AM
callee's Avatar
callee callee is offline
 
Join Date: 05 March 2004
Location: Ontario
Posts: 5,716
Default

Quote:
Originally Posted by Silas Sparkhammer View Post
This is a very tenuous form of confirmation, but it is nevertheless true that, at times, "Silence gives assent."

Silas (gives a cent)
I agree with you that at times it can, but I wonder if in this case it doesn't push more into the area of something too silly to dignify with a response. I mean, Bush Sr. never seemed to play the religion card like Bush Jr. does, and from what I've seen there isn't much evidence that he's a hugely religious person on his own. In other words, I can't see much political or personal reason for him to say such a thing, or have such an opinion.
Reply With Quote
  #4  
Old 29 July 2007, 03:24 AM
Silas Sparkhammer's Avatar
Silas Sparkhammer Silas Sparkhammer is offline
 
Join Date: 22 September 2000
Location: San Diego, CA
Posts: 26,844
Whalephant

Quote:
Originally Posted by callee View Post
I agree with you that at times it can, but I wonder if in this case it doesn't push more into the area of something too silly to dignify with a response. I mean, Bush Sr. never seemed to play the religion card like Bush Jr. does, and from what I've seen there isn't much evidence that he's a hugely religious person on his own. In other words, I can't see much political or personal reason for him to say such a thing, or have such an opinion.
Agreed...but in the years since, he has been asked if it was an accurate quote or if the interview took place, and he has not denied it. If I were misquoted on something that sensitive, I'd sure as hell say so.

A wise man may have "no opinion" on atheists as patriots, but never on being misquoted!

Silas
Reply With Quote
  #5  
Old 29 July 2007, 11:30 AM
matches
 
Posts: n/a
Default

I actually first came to this board over this quote.

There is only one source for the quote that I have ever found, which is Mr. Sherman, who at least does not seem to be the most reputable source.

Since it is such a controversial quote, and was given at a press conference, it seems highly unlikely that no audio or video record of it exists, let alone no written accounts outside of Mr. Sherman's. IIRC Mr. Sherman explains this away by saying that only print media was there (because it was unscheduled) and that only he had the courage to publish the quote. None of that rings true to me.

I think this is a quote that get's bandied about because it reafirms what people want to belive but has no basis in reality.

I have never found a reference to the Elder Bush being asked about this quote by a source other than Mr. Sherman's office, or an associated group, and the form letters he received back are clearly not in reference to anything in particular.
Reply With Quote
  #6  
Old 29 July 2007, 06:33 PM
snopes's Avatar
snopes snopes is online now
 
Join Date: 18 February 2000
Location: California
Posts: 108,549
Icon103

What I find most curious about this issue is the apparent gap between the supposed statement by Bush and the reporting of it. Although Bush allegedly made the "atheists" remark in August 1987, the first generally cited print reference to it is the Fall 1988 issue of Free Inquiry magazine. Why the delay? Even if, for whatever reason, the mainstream media didn't bother with the story, Rob Sherman was the publisher of American Atheist magazine -- why didn't he put this story in the very next issue? Seems to me that a sitting Vice-President (and a major presidential candidate to boot) saying he didn't think atheists should be considered citizens or patriots would be big news in atheism circles, even if the rest of the world didn't care.

Quote:
Agreed...but in the years since, he has been asked if it was an accurate quote or if the interview took place, and he has not denied it. If I were misquoted on something that sensitive, I'd sure as hell say so.
I don't really see much evidence that he has been asked about it, at least by anyone deemed significant enough to merit an official response. All I ever see is a single sentence supposedly quoted from a February 1989 letter drafted by Bush's White House counsel:

"As you are aware, the President is a religious man who neither supports atheism nor believes that atheism should be unnecessarily encouraged or supported by the government."

Okay, but where's the rest of the response? And where's the original inquiry? There's no way to tell what this statement was made in reference to, nor in what context it was made. This sounds to me like a generic response just about any major (Republican) politician would issue if asked something like "What's your position on atheism?"

- snopes
Reply With Quote
  #7  
Old 30 July 2007, 08:22 PM
Ramblin' Dave's Avatar
Ramblin' Dave Ramblin' Dave is offline
 
Join Date: 11 May 2005
Location: Singapore
Posts: 13,120
Default

The quote fits in with Bush's losing but persistent struggle, throughout his presidency, to prove his bona fides to the pCms. Admittedly, that's not proof that he said it. But the issue of whether he was ever asked about it does not raise any red flags with me. It sounds like something he would say, so I don't see why most people would bother trying to find out whether he said it or not.
Reply With Quote
  #8  
Old 30 July 2007, 08:41 PM
meanjelly meanjelly is offline
 
 
Join Date: 23 June 2002
Location: Portland, OR
Posts: 1,538
Default

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ramblin' Dave View Post
The quote fits in with Bush's losing but persistent struggle, throughout his presidency, to prove his bona fides to the pCms. Admittedly, that's not proof that he said it. But the issue of whether he was ever asked about it does not raise any red flags with me. It sounds like something he would say, so I don't see why most people would bother trying to find out whether he said it or not.
What???

the PCM's where not that strong in 1987. I also do not remember Religion being an issue during Bush's Presidency. Although, I may be wrong.

"It sounds like something he would say, so I don't see why most people would bother trying to find out whether he said it or not."

I do not think it sounds like anything he would say. Alteast not on the record.
Reply With Quote
  #9  
Old 30 July 2007, 08:50 PM
Tarquin Farquart's Avatar
Tarquin Farquart Tarquin Farquart is offline
 
Join Date: 20 November 2005
Location: London, UK
Posts: 16,354
Default

Quote:
Originally Posted by meanjelly View Post
What???
the PCM's where not that strong in 1987. I also do not remember Religion being an issue during Bush's Presidency. Although, I may be wrong.
I thought that the "religious right" (for want of a better term) first came to prominence during Reagan's run for the presidency.
Reply With Quote
  #10  
Old 30 July 2007, 08:55 PM
Chloe's Avatar
Chloe Chloe is offline
 
Join Date: 13 September 2004
Location: Kentucky
Posts: 39,321
Default

Quote:
Originally Posted by meanjelly View Post
What???

the PCM's where not that strong in 1987. I also do not remember Religion being an issue during Bush's Presidency. Although, I may be wrong.
The "Moral Majority" got credit for Reagan's victory in 1980, so PCMs were certainly strong before 1987. In 1988, Pat Robertson ran for the Republican Party nomination and won the Washington state primary. In Iowa, he got more votes than Bush Snr. He spoke at the Republican National Convention in both 1988 and 1992. Trust me, religion was "an issue."
Reply With Quote
  #11  
Old 30 July 2007, 10:11 PM
Isabel
 
Posts: n/a
Glasses Somewhat off the original topic, but...

Quote:
Originally Posted by Chloe View Post
The "Moral Majority" got credit for Reagan's victory in 1980, so PCMs were certainly strong before 1987. In 1988, Pat Robertson ran for the Republican Party nomination and won the Washington state primary. In Iowa, he got more votes than Bush Snr. He spoke at the Republican National Convention in both 1988 and 1992. Trust me, religion was "an issue."
The 1976 election of Jimmy Carter could also be attributed in part to Christian fundamentalist voters. While I'm pretty sure Carter did not actually receive a majority of the fundamentalists' votes, he certainly received a greater proportion of their votes than other Democrats and in a close election such as that one, every little bit helps. I watched a documentary a year or two ago (I think it may have been "With God on Our Side", but that might be a misattribution) which suggested that religious conservatives' disappointment with the first "born-again" president played a major role in the formation of the Moral Majority - sort of a "no, no, no, next time we'll make sure that Christian votes go to the conservative candidate."

If anyone can find a vote breakdown for that election that specifically addresses the percentage of fundamentalist votes that Carter and Ford received, I would be willing to Dole () out points, kitchen appliances, etc. While I am not specifically authorized to hand out toasters per se, I think I've got a vegetable steamer lying around that I never use

On the issue of the original post, my opinion is that it is hooey, but I will admit G.H.W. Bush is not known for his eloquence nor his political prowess. You know what they say about the apple and where it falls in relation to the tree...
Reply With Quote
  #12  
Old 31 July 2007, 08:51 PM
Ramblin' Dave's Avatar
Ramblin' Dave Ramblin' Dave is offline
 
Join Date: 11 May 2005
Location: Singapore
Posts: 13,120
Default

Quote:
Originally Posted by meanjelly View Post
I also do not remember Religion being an issue during Bush's Presidency. Although, I may be wrong.
Religion as such was not a big issue. But throughout his presidency, Bush did just about everything he could to convince the fundies to trust him, from calling for Roe v. Wade to be overturned within a few days of taking office (it might have even been on his first day but I can't recall for sure) to railing against gay rights whenever there was an opportunity to do so. It never quite worked, though - the religious right just never accepted him as one of their own. This is believed to be one reason why Bush Jr. is so hard-right - he wanted to leave no room for the doubt that dogged his father.
Reply With Quote
  #13  
Old 01 August 2007, 12:59 AM
barbrainey's Avatar
barbrainey barbrainey is offline
 
Join Date: 05 December 2003
Location: Phoenix Arizona
Posts: 647
Icon204

It's true that none of the major news media outlets--major newspapers or TV networks, including cable news networks like CNN--ever presented this supposed quote of Geo. Bush Sr. It would have been especially big news for VP Bush's opponent in the 1988 presidential race--Massachuttes governor Michael Dukakis. If everyone had known that Bush had thought that certain people should not be considered citizens just because they denied the existence of a supreme being, then Dukakis would most likely have won the election. And he would have exploited the quote to his own political advantage, no doubt.

What prompted me to bring up this subject again is the presence of the mythical quote on the website, Skepdic.com. On the webpage describing atheisim, Geo. Bush Sr quote appears at the top of the page. It seems like so many people believe anything they want, even if there is no proof!
Reply With Quote
  #14  
Old 01 August 2007, 03:22 AM
Silas Sparkhammer's Avatar
Silas Sparkhammer Silas Sparkhammer is offline
 
Join Date: 22 September 2000
Location: San Diego, CA
Posts: 26,844
Whalephant

Quote:
Originally Posted by barbrainey View Post
. . . It seems like so many people believe anything they want, even if there is no proof!
To paraphrase Pontius Pilate, "What is proof?" At this point in time, the "preponderance of the evidence" is that the quote is real. i.e., one witness has said he heard it...and no one has said otherwise. If I make a claim, and you don't even bother to dispute it, this doesn't make it true, but it tilts the balance in that direction.

If Bush the elder were to dispute it, then we would have a classic "A says, B says" situation, also known as "Your word against mine." Out of common etiquette, we tend to give more weight to the denial than to the claim, except when there is a very significant disparity in the reputations of the two persons. (If Walter Cronkite says, "He said it," and Fred Phelps says, "I never did," I know who I'm gonna believe!)

Someone needs to get in Bush's face and ask him, point blank, and with witnesses present, whether the quote is accurate or not.

Silas
Reply With Quote
  #15  
Old 01 August 2007, 01:40 PM
matches
 
Posts: n/a
Default

Quote:
Originally Posted by Silas Sparkhammer View Post
To paraphrase Pontius Pilate, "What is proof?" At this point in time, the "preponderance of the evidence" is that the quote is real. i.e., one witness has said he heard it...and no one has said otherwise. If I make a claim, and you don't even bother to dispute it, this doesn't make it true, but it tilts the balance in that direction.

If Bush the elder were to dispute it, then we would have a classic "A says, B says" situation, also known as "Your word against mine." Out of common etiquette, we tend to give more weight to the denial than to the claim, except when there is a very significant disparity in the reputations of the two persons. (If Walter Cronkite says, "He said it," and Fred Phelps says, "I never did," I know who I'm gonna believe!)

Someone needs to get in Bush's face and ask him, point blank, and with witnesses present, whether the quote is accurate or not.

Silas
Yes, getting in the former president's face, that will solve the dispute. =o)

Here's the basic problem with the entire scenario.

Problem 1) No one but the lone reporter claims the report is real, not the other press present, not persons who witnessed the original event outside of the press.

Problem 2) No record of the quote exists, not on video tape, not on audio tape, not even in the scribbled notes of a reporter. Since it is an exact quote, one would think a confirmation of some sort should be appropriate.

Problem 3) given the lack of verifiable evidence, and the outlandishness of the quote (note that there are no other similar quotes from Bush the elder making such an extreame statement) most persons would fall on the line of disbelife in the veracity of the quote.

Problem 4) given that most people would rather simply ignore the likely false quote, no respectable reporter is going to go up to Bush the elder and ask him, "Hey you know that quote from the late 80's where some one said you said that atheists weren't citizens? Did you say that?" Because as soon as the words come out of your mouth you realize it's a question not worth asking.

I can say that Jimmy Carter in private conversation we had while building a habitat for humanity in Macon Gerogia told me that he had been abducted by aliens, rectally probed, and impregnated with a human alien hybrid prior to becomeing president. Mr. Carter, though arguably a believer in UFO's, would likely not dignify the question with an answer. If I said he made this statement at a pressconference and no other reporter can verify the statement you would likely say my statement is rubbish.

That's roughly the situation we find ourselves in with this quote. 1 witness to an event that should have atleast a half dozen witnesses doesn't quite make sense. In truth I have never even been able to find evidence that Bush was in Chicago on the day in question.
Reply With Quote
  #16  
Old 02 August 2007, 09:10 AM
Ramblin' Dave's Avatar
Ramblin' Dave Ramblin' Dave is offline
 
Join Date: 11 May 2005
Location: Singapore
Posts: 13,120
Default

Quote:
Originally Posted by barbrainey
If everyone had known that Bush had thought that certain people should not be considered citizens just because they denied the existence of a supreme being, then Dukakis would most likely have won the election. And he would have exploited the quote to his own political advantage, no doubt.
Not bloody likely. One reason why Dukakis blew a 17-point lead and lost 40 states to Bush is that he never really did fight back against Bush's character assassinations. As for opportunities to sling some mud of his own, he not only did not take them, he fired a staffer at one point for suggesting they should exploit rumors that Bush had had a mistress when he was ambassador to China. (He also called Mr. and Mrs. Bush to apologize...but both they and the "liberal" media nevertheless accused Dukakis of playing just as dirty as Bush did. Had that been true, as you say, he probably would have won.)
Reply With Quote
  #17  
Old 02 August 2007, 02:34 PM
Johnny Slick's Avatar
Johnny Slick Johnny Slick is offline
 
Join Date: 13 February 2003
Location: Phoenix, AZ
Posts: 11,628
Default

Although ironically enough Bush lost the '92 election in large part because he went dirty on the Clintons early and often and Clinton just ignored him and kept talking policy. It wasn't until pretty late in the game that Bush started emphasizing how he was better than Clinton as a candidate - more experience, his own fairly decent record as a President, etc. - and by then it was too late. As his 8-year run showed, Clinton was a guy who the public could believe having done some pretty immoral things but they didn't seem to care too much about him doing them.

Also, there wasn't even a hint in 1992 about how Clinton's infidelity had anything to do with his governorship whereas one could at least argue that the Willie Horton incident was the result of a bad law. Mind you, I still think Willie Horton was spurious but not on the same level as "OMG CLINTON HAD SEXOR W/ PPL NOT HIS WIFE!!! BURN THE WITCH!"
Reply With Quote
  #18  
Old 02 August 2007, 11:03 PM
Silas Sparkhammer's Avatar
Silas Sparkhammer Silas Sparkhammer is offline
 
Join Date: 22 September 2000
Location: San Diego, CA
Posts: 26,844
Whalephant

Quote:
Originally Posted by matches View Post
Yes, getting in the former president's face, that will solve the dispute. =o)
It's the easiest way to get his side of the story.

Quote:
Problem 4) given that most people would rather simply ignore the likely false quote, no respectable reporter is going to go up to Bush the elder and ask him, "Hey you know that quote from the late 80's where some one said you said that atheists weren't citizens? Did you say that?" Because as soon as the words come out of your mouth you realize it's a question not worth asking.
I disagree. If it were being widely repeated, even as an unfounded urban legend, that you or I said something we hadn't, wouldn't we be glad of an opportunity to set the record straight? For my part, the moment I became aware of it, I would publish a rebuttal.

Is Bush aware of the attributed quote? If not, he should be made aware of it, for his own protection. And if he is, he should by now have responded.

Quote:
I can say that Jimmy Carter in private conversation we had while building a habitat for humanity in Macon Gerogia told me that he had been abducted by aliens, rectally probed, and impregnated with a human alien hybrid prior to becomeing president. Mr. Carter, though arguably a believer in UFO's, would likely not dignify the question with an answer. If I said he made this statement at a pressconference and no other reporter can verify the statement you would likely say my statement is rubbish.
Putting it in the hypothetical removes any interest from this scenario. Do you actually claim that Carter said that to you? The reporter who published the original snippet of interview with Bush did actually claim it to have happened.

In other words, your scenario automatically presumes upon your own dishonesty. Yes, if you were a no-good liar, you could tell a no-good lie. But we do not know if the quote from Bush is real or not. That's why we owe it to ourselves to try to find out the truth.

Quote:
. . . In truth I have never even been able to find evidence that Bush was in Chicago on the day in question.
Which means you also haven't been able to find evidence that he wasn't.

I want to know the truth. One of the best ways to find out the truth is to ask the people who were involved. One of the worst ways is to apply a priori reasoning, as you are doing.

Silas
Reply With Quote
  #19  
Old 16 August 2007, 08:55 PM
Legion600
 
Posts: n/a
Default

Quote:
Originally Posted by matches View Post
That's roughly the situation we find ourselves in with this quote. 1 witness to an event that should have atleast a half dozen witnesses doesn't quite make sense. In truth I have never even been able to find evidence that Bush was in Chicago on the day in question.

Well, here is the proof that he was in Chicago on the day in question.

From the Chicago Tribune.

Here is the proof that he held a news conference at O'Hare.

From the Chicago Sun-Times.

It's the fifth headline down. Bush was not exactly doing a campaign stop as the article on Holysmoke.org states as he still had not made a formal announcement to run. The press conference at O'Hare concerned adding several Cook and Du Page county townships to a federal disaster relief list.
Bush did go on though to a meeting with Du Page Republicans wherein he met with his newly formed Illinois steering committee.

However, one would think that at a news conference about area disaster relief that likely had every major paper and network there that someone else would have heard the comment.
Reply With Quote
  #20  
Old 17 August 2007, 12:08 AM
barbrainey's Avatar
barbrainey barbrainey is offline
 
Join Date: 05 December 2003
Location: Phoenix Arizona
Posts: 647
Icon204

I have wondered what the press conference would be about. Robert Sherman didn't say anything about the nature or purpose of the news conference.

Also, no one but him referred to the alleged atheists comment.

B. A. Rainey
Reply With Quote
Reply

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is On

Forum Jump


All times are GMT. The time now is 07:24 AM.


Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.7
Copyright ©2000 - 2014, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.