Bill Keller’s essay in today’s New York Times helps to explain Bush’s response to Sen. Santorum — a response called “tepid” by the Family Research Council.

I’ve been talking to people who think seriously about religion, including some who know Mr. Bush, and I’m convinced that the notion of a White House powered by fundamentalist Christianity badly misses the point. The critics are right that Mr. Bush’s religion is both the animating force of his presidency and one of his greatest political assets, but not in the ways they assume.

Keller believes Bush’s faith “enjoins him to try to do the right thing, but it doesn’t tell him what the right thing might be.”

As for the enduring notion that Mr. Bush takes his instructions from the organized Christian right, it misses a much more interesting story: as an independent political structure, the Christian right is dying.

Keller concludes that Rove may be succeeding in making the religious right a captive of the GOP, and not the other way around.

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