On page 173 of Nixonland, Rick Perlstein states the following about Republican politician George Romney, who was the father of Mitt Romney, the Republican who lost the 2012 Presidential election:
“[George] Romney, a Republican who kept on getting elected in a Democratic state (he called America’s cult of rugged individualism ‘nothing but a political banner to cover up greed’), was a media darling. The Mormon bishop with what Jules Witcover joked was a ‘full head of silvering Presidential hair’ made great copy: he didn’t work on Sundays. He fasted before big decisions. His granddad had fled with three wives one step ahead of the polygamy laws. A new book of personal reminiscenses of JFK had just come out. ‘The fellow I don’t want to run against is Romney,’ it reported him saying.”
What tanked George Romney’s Presidential ambitions was his statement that he had been brainwashed into supporting the Vietnam War. Not only did that make him look weak, but many people may have thought that Romney was a phony after they heard that statement. After all, one observer noted, Romney continued to publicly support the Vietnam War even after the time that he said he had concluded that he had been brainwashed about it!
But I can identify with why Romney was such a darling, and with how his religiosity actually contributed to his political stature. My guess is that, in the eyes of many, being religious is an indication that one takes matters seriously—-that one takes morality and human worth seriously. That is very attractive to me. And yet, I can’t say that all politicians’ religiosity is attractive. For example, I do not care for how many evangelical conservatives seemed to equate genuine Christian commitment with political support for George W. Bush. George W. Bush said that he looked to his heavenly Father rather than his earthly father for advice on Iraq. In my opinion, he should have consulted his earthly father rather than giving the impression that God was the source of his decision to wage the Iraq War. Moreover, the haste with with he got us into Iraq arguably contradicts the virtues that one can associate with religiosity: gravity and carefully weighing one’s options in prayer before God so as to make the best decision and to minimize harm to human beings.
Jimmy Carter’s religiosity was attractive when he first ran for President. Here the country was, recovering from the stench and corruption of Watergate, and this church-going man came along and gave the impression that he would clean up Washington. But his religiosity may have gone sour, a bit. I think of his sermonizing against greed. People in those hard times did not want to hear a sermon, but rather they longed for hope and encouragement.
In 2008, I thought that Republican Mike Huckabee’s religiosity was attractive. He appeared to be a kindly man. He was a pastor. And he manifested a concern for the poor and illegal immigrants, something that I did not see too often among Republicans. But, in my opinion, Huckabee became a right-wing shrill, one whose religiosity amounted to encouraging evangelical conservatives’ whiny persecution complex more than empathy or concern for the marginalized.
Personally speaking, I would like a President who fasts and prays—-not to the exclusion of learning, mind you, but as a way for that President to humbly acknowledge his or her limitations and the gravity of decisions. But something else that attracts me is intelligence: I like for Presidents to display some intelligence on the topic of religion. I don’t know if President Barack Obama fasts and prays, but I have been impressed by his thoughtful insights about religious issues.