Jon Meacham and The Faith of Presidents
Newsweek’s Jon Meacham was my guest today. You can read the interview here, but this is an interesting excerpt: that begins with Mecham’s understanding about why Gerald Ford’s religious argument for issuing the pardon to Richard Nixon has not been commented upon much:
HH: Now Jon Meacham, do you think the reason that’s been forgotten is that it was little noticed at the time, so unexceptional was the language, or that simply it was obscured by the brouhaha? I think it’s the former, really, that only in recent times has the nerve ending begun to tingle, collectively, when presidents use God talk. I think it was very common up through Ford’s presidency. Your thinking on that?
JM: I agree with you mostly, I think. I think it’s been from…I think Carter did it, I think Reagan did it, George Herbert Walker Bush opened his inaugural address in 1989 with a prayer. Didn’t close it, didn’t just say God Bless America, he said let us bow our heads in prayer. And because he was an Episcopalian, and I sometimes joke, perhaps badly, that George H.W. Bush thinks of being born again as a mulligan on a golf course. You know, he’s not intensely interested in these matters. And Clinton…you know, the best speech Bill Clinton ever gave was that extemporaneous talk in Memphis in 1993, when he talked about what would Martin Luther King say about black America today if he came back, did it in a Church to a group…I think it was a gathering of AME bishops. So I think President Bush the second, I think the 43rd president, is completely within the mainstream of presidential religious expression, and I think people who attack him, and say he’s overly religious, or too much God talk, I think are wrong.
HH: Now you do have the line in here, which I agree with, it’s a very sound observation, that such an understanding, such as Ford had, naturally has hardly been unanimous, and many Americans are reasonably uncomfortable with the idea that our leaders think they are either communing with the Divine, or carrying out God’s mission. Do you think Bush has given off more indications of that? Or is that simply being layered on to him by political opponents?
JM: I think the latter. I really do. I have asked people who have been in conversations where he might have said something like