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 the
Illinois primary later this spring, neither my vote nor that of anyone
else in our state will matter.
No, the real reason I cannot vote for the former senator is that he
played on the hated New York Knicks. It would be unpardonable for a
Chicago Bulls fan -- admittedly now in remission -- to vote for a Knick
for president! Or anything! Wouldn't it?
That being made clear, I still have to admire Bradley's resolute
refusal to discuss his religion at a time when all the other candidates
are parading their piety.
Indeed, the former senator's campaign posture of maintaining privacy
about his advisers, his reading habits, his favorite philosopher and the
date of his wedding anniversary is admirable.
The American presidency desperately needs a return to privacy. It is
nowhere written in the Constitution, to say nothing of elementary canons
of morality, that a president of our republic loses his right to a
There is no doubt Bradley is a religious man. Rumor even has it the
former senator has some Jesuit friends. No good can come of that in a
country where a Roman Catholic priest can't be chaplain of the House of
But suppose he was not? Would this be a character flaw? Would this
mean he could not be trusted to lead the country? Would this mean his
abilities and proposed policies and goals were somehow deficient?
Many evangelicals would think so, but do they determine the
political values of this republic as well as those of the incumbent
House of Representatives? Have we not had enough presidents who were
practicing believers and failures in the presidency to call this
theocratic notion into question? Do we really want a religious test for
holding public office?
But, it will be said, the president is a celebrity. If you become a
celebrity then you are freely giving up you privacy -- just like
Leonardo DiCaprio or Michael Jordan. In fact, if we reduce the
presidency to the status of an actor or a basketball player (even,
admittedly, the best in the history of the sport), we do violence to the
office and to the country over which the occupant of the office
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't
hear any noisy public clamor to learn about how Bradley relates to God.
The public seems much more interested in what he proposes to do about
health care and gun control and how he intends to sustain the present
happy condition of the economy.
I suspect many of the public are not a little put off by the pieties
the various candidates are slinging around.
That may be my Catholic bias. We tend to suspect public officials
who are too obvious, not to say sanctimonious, about their faith and
their virtues. We tend to worry about what our leaders are doing on such
matters as public education or public housing than whether they go to
church every week. I'm sorry, but I think that's the American way.
I confess the highly publicized pieties of the current candidates
make me sick to my stomach. If the occupant of the White House wants to
have a prayer breakfast there, it's fine. When he traipses off to a
public prayer breakfast, I get nervous.
St. Teresa of Avila once remarked she would rather have a wise
confessor than a holy one. I'd vote for a wise president in preference
to a holy one or one who claims to be holy. She also said that from
silly devotions and sour faced saints, libera nos domine -- deliver us O
I'll vote for that.
I'd also vote for a candidate -- if he were not an ex-Knick -- who
said to the American people, "You have a claim on me to perform well at
my job. I'll do my best. However, you have no right to poke your noses
around into what I'm doing, what I think or how I pray when I'm not on
the job. Or what I read. Or what my favorite recent movie was."
Some of my friends, who despair of my hardened heart, point out that
Phil Jackson was also a hated Knick. To which I reply that when he
coached the Bulls he did penance for that!
Andrew M. Greeley is a Roman Catholic priest, best-selling novelist
and a sociologist at the University of Chicago National Opinion Research
Center. Check out his home page at www.agreeley.com or contact him via
e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.