- The Magazine
Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor and likely contender for the GOP nomination for the presidency in 2016, will address the graduates of televangelist Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., on Saturday, May 9, according to a university-issued press release.
By making the commencement speech at Liberty, Bush, who needs the support of religious conservatives if he is to win the Republican primary, as well as in the general election, can bolster his socially conservative bona fides. Jerry Falwell, Sr., the founder of Liberty, was a major figure in conservative circles and also a founder of the Moral Majority, an organization aimed at melding religion and politics by mobilizing conservative Christian voters for the purpose of promoting particular economic and social policies during the 1980s. Since then, the Falwell family has had an outsized influence on GOP politics, with many politicians have sought to curry favor with either Falwell, Sr., or, after his death in 2007, his son, Jerry Falwell, Jr., the current president of Liberty. Those names include former presidential candidates Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Gov. Mitt Romney (R-Mass.) in 2008 and 2012, and, in 2013, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who has since declared his candidacy for the 2016 presidential nomination but has yet to address the school as an official candidate. Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-La.), who is also thought to have presidential ambitions, delivered the keynote address at Liberty for last year’s commencement exercises.
Jerry Falwell, Jr. has also notably been bold and upfront about his desire to marshal Liberty University students and alumni into a conservative voting bloc to influence elections, as he did on a local level in 2009 to defeat then-Del. Shannon Valentine (D-Lynchburg), who some saw as a potential future candidate for statewide office due to her moderate voting profile, in a race for the Virginia House of Delegates in 2009. Valentine ended up losing to Del. Scott Garrett (R-Lynchburg, Madison Heights, Bedford) by 209 votes after Liberty University’s student newspaper ran multiple one-sided articles attacking her and promoting Garrett. Falwell also sent out a “voter guide” to Lynchburg voters featuring those articles and editorials, according to Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
Bush becomes the second 2016 Republican contender to address the students at the university, following Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-Texas) announcement that he would seek his party’s nomination for the presidency in March. In that speech, Cruz particularly played up his views on social issues such as his opposition to both abortion and marriage equality.
“Liberty University is honored to welcome Governor Jeb Bush to campus for our 42nd Commencement exercises,” Falwell, Jr. said in a statement released by his office. “Throughout his years of public service, Governor Bush has been a champion for excellence in education and so many other issues of vital importance to our university community.”
Bush will become the second member of his family to address the socially conservative university. While his brother, President George W. Bush, never spoke at Liberty, his father, President George H.W. Bush, spoke to graduates in 1990 and received an honorary doctorate in the humanities.
Editor’s Note: This post was updated to distinguish between the actions of Jerry Falwell, Sr., the founder of the Moral Majority, and his son, Jerry Falwell, Jr., the current president and chancellor of Liberty University.
These are challenging times for news organizations. And yet it’s crucial we stay active and provide vital resources and information to both our local readers and the world. So won’t you please take a moment and consider supporting Metro Weekly with a membership? For as little as $5 a month, you can help ensure Metro Weekly magazine and MetroWeekly.com remain free, viable resources as we provide the best, most diverse, culturally-resonant LGBTQ coverage in both the D.C. region and around the world. Memberships come with exclusive perks and discounts, your own personal digital delivery of each week’s magazine (and an archive), access to our Member's Lounge when it launches this fall, and exclusive members-only items like Metro Weekly Membership Mugs and Tote Bags! Check out all our membership levels here and please join us today!