To begin with, I could not possibly vote for former Sen.Bill Bradley, D-N.J.. Not that it matters, for by the time of theIllinois primary later this spring, neither my vote nor that of anyoneelse in our state will matter.No, the real reason I cannot vote for the former senator is that heplayed on the hated New York Knicks. It would be unpardonable for aChicago Bulls fan -- admittedly now in remission -- to vote for a Knickfor president! Or anything! Wouldn't it?That being made clear, I still have to admire Bradley's resoluterefusal to discuss his religion at a time when all the other candidatesare parading their piety.Indeed, the former senator's campaign posture of maintaining privacyabout his advisers, his reading habits, his favorite philosopher and thedate of his wedding anniversary is admirable.The American presidency desperately needs a return to privacy. It isnowhere written in the Constitution, to say nothing of elementary canonsof morality, that a president of our republic loses his right to aprivate life.There is no doubt Bradley is a religious man. Rumor even has it theformer senator has some Jesuit friends. No good can come of that in acountry where a Roman Catholic priest can't be chaplain of the House ofRepresentatives.But suppose he was not? Would this be a character flaw? Would thismean he could not be trusted to lead the country? Would this mean hisabilities and proposed policies and goals were somehow deficient?Many evangelicals would think so, but do they determine thepolitical values of this republic as well as those of the incumbentHouse of Representatives? Have we not had enough presidents who werepracticing believers and failures in the presidency to call thistheocratic notion into question? Do we really want a religious test forholding public office?But, it will be said, the president is a celebrity. If you become acelebrity then you are freely giving up you privacy -- just likeLeonardo DiCaprio or Michael Jordan. In fact, if we reduce thepresidency to the status of an actor or a basketball player (even,admittedly, the best in the history of the sport), we do violence to theoffice and to the country over which the occupant of the officepresides.
The president's private life is no one's business save his own,unless he clearly violates the law.The public has the right to know, it will be argued. Funny, I don'thear any noisy public clamor to learn about how Bradley relates to God.The public seems much more interested in what he proposes to do abouthealth care and gun control and how he intends to sustain the presenthappy condition of the economy.I suspect many of the public are not a little put off by the pietiesthe various candidates are slinging around.That may be my Catholic bias. We tend to suspect public officialswho are too obvious, not to say sanctimonious, about their faith andtheir virtues. We tend to worry about what our leaders are doing on suchmatters as public education or public housing than whether they go tochurch every week. I'm sorry, but I think that's the American way.I confess the highly publicized pieties of the current candidatesmake me sick to my stomach. If the occupant of the White House wants tohave a prayer breakfast there, it's fine. When he traipses off to apublic prayer breakfast, I get nervous.St. Teresa of Avila once remarked she would rather have a wiseconfessor than a holy one. I'd vote for a wise president in preferenceto a holy one or one who claims to be holy. She also said that fromsilly devotions and sour faced saints, libera nos domine -- deliver us OLord!I'll vote for that.I'd also vote for a candidate -- if he were not an ex-Knick -- whosaid to the American people, "You have a claim on me to perform well atmy job. I'll do my best. However, you have no right to poke your nosesaround into what I'm doing, what I think or how I pray when I'm not onthe job. Or what I read. Or what my favorite recent movie was."Some of my friends, who despair of my hardened heart, point out thatPhil Jackson was also a hated Knick. To which I reply that when hecoached the Bulls he did penance for that!
Andrew M. Greeley is a Roman Catholic priest, best-selling novelistand a sociologist at the University of Chicago National Opinion ResearchCenter. Check out his home page at www.agreeley.com or contact him viae-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.