The caucus' in Iowa last week brought to light something that has really changed in American politics in the last 50 years.
In 1960 John Kennedy, who was running for president at the time, made his famous speech about being Catholic. At the time there was a huge controversy about having a Catholic president because all that had gone before were confessed to be some kind of Protestant. Kennedy basically told a group of ministers in Houston in that speech that he would do what was right for the American people, not what the Pope would have him do.
Kennedy was still assailed from many corners of Protestantism for his Catholic belief just the same. We all know Kennedy was elected to the office and became the first, and up until now, the only Catholic president to ever serve.
Four years ago Mitt Romney did a somewhat similar thing when he gave his Mormon speech. However, the speeches weren't that much alike. Kennedy and his campaign actually used his speech to rally his base and it did a lot of good to get people sitting on the fence to vote for him. Romney used his speech to try and prove to Protestant groups that his church is not a cult and that he, morrally and spiritually, was just like every other Christian.
But I am not writing this to analyse the speeches and their similarities or differences, but to show how the times change. Kennedy and Romney, while holding onto their religion, were in a sense saying "I am an American first and a (insert religion here) second." They weren't running away from their religions, but they were distinguishing their political life from their religious one.
Last week Rick Santorum took second in the Iowa Caucus after a surge no one expected. He along with Michelle Bachman and Rick Perry went hard after the evangelical vote in the state. These candidates made no bones about their religious attitudes, their beliefs in those religions and how those religions would to a large extent influence their decisions if they were president. It was actually exactly the opposite tack that the Kennedy and Romney campaigns produced.
Santorum (who interestingly enough is a Catholic) seems to blend in well with the evangelical groups, groups that 50 years ago had great fear about a Catholic becoming President. But it seems those same groups now seem to have great fear of a Mormon becoming a President instead.
No screen writer could create a stanger mini-series on television that what we have been doing in this country for some time. We walk into the "do as we say, not as we do" trap continually. We have pushed so hard for other countries to have secular democracies so one religion or type of religion cannot dominate their governments, yet we seem to be hell bent on creating one of our own.
I remember an old joke I heard on television in the 1960s from a standup comic who said that when he was a kid (in the 1940s) the government told the public to love the Russians and Chinese, but to hate the Germans and the Japanese. Then in the 1960s similar agencies told everyone to hate the Russians and the Chinese and love the Germans and the Japanese.
This thing with love/hate relationships over religion and politics seems little different than what that joke spelled out about nationalities. The enemy yesterday is the allie today; tomorrow it may be different.
Hey wasn't that one of the main themes of Orwell's 1984?
People should be able to practice their religion openly, and politicians should be no different. Some say that religion shows character and that is why it is important. I say look at all those with "character" that have been unmasked over the years for things they did that they condemned others for when they were in power. Character isn't about the religion (or non-religion), it's about the individuals behavior.
A fountain can produce many streams of water, but the streams are all made of tiny drops that flow their own way.
Leadership and vision, which we need badly in this country, does not spring only from one well, but many.