It is ethics.
I look at the list of most-honored Presidents and I see Washington, Adams and Jefferson from the original Founders; Abraham Lincoln, in a class by himself; the two Roosevelt’s; then in the post-war era, JFK.
Why we honor these Presidents
Washington: first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen. He is almost revered—many wanted to make him king. He set many standards other Presidents followed. As a first President, I can think of no better.
Perhaps the greatest political document of all time was written by Jefferson. Adams not only represented the British soldiers accused of the Boston Massacre, but he signed the treaty of Tripoli in 1796, which declares that we can be trusted by Muslims because “the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.”
Lincoln was the heart and soul of what it means to be American—he held the Union together and gave freedom to all in this country.
Teddy Roosevelt fought the monied interests who had almost taken over the country and saved it for the everyman.
FDR—who some hate and some despise—brought the country and the world out of a financial disaster created by forces similar to what happened in 2007-2008.
Kennedy had a striking vision of America, powerful and electric. Too much so because he was assassinated for these thoughts.
Private vs. Public ethics
These men were not saints. Washington distilled whiskey (trouble with certain of the religious right), owned slaves and married into wealth. In religion, he was primarily a Deist, but as Virginia was Episcopalian, attended that church. And to be very clear, Deists are not Christians because they specifically deny the divinity of Jesus Christ, as do most Unitarians.
Adams, most consider to have not been a good President because of the Alien and Sedition Act, among many other things, but he did have the internal strength to do what was unpopular and right, including the defense of the British soldiers—I shudder to think how he would be tarred and feathered for something similar now. He changed religion from Congregationalist to Unitarian.
Thomas Jefferson, who was not an official member of any church but held strong Deist and Unitarian tendencies, who spent long nights alone during his Presidency creating his own version of the Bible, owned slaves and had children with at least one of them.
Lincoln, well, no one says anything bad about him, but he was most certainly not a Christian, but a Deist.
And we all know about JFK and Marilynn.
But it is not personal issues that decide the greatness of Presidents, it is their love of country, their love of the American ideals—that we are all created equally and all have the right to express our beliefs—that made them great. It was their willingness to fight for what they believed to be right and not only right, but in line with what it means to be an American. We Champion the underdog, we fight for those who cannot defend themselves. We rally together to eliminate discrimination and prejudice here and around the world.
This is what it means to be American.
Outside of the economic focus of the Roosevelt’s, who I think saved the country and many believe ruined it, we remember none of these great Presidents for their economic policies, but for their definition of America and Americans. They are the people we want to be our representatives to the world. More than John Wayne, these are the true Americans.
Romney and Obama
First of all, I do not see this kind of greatness in either Romney or Obama. So I look for other things.
Obama, finally, stated publicly his support for gay marriage, which would grant full civil rights to all American without regard to race, religion, or who they love.
Romney has had the chance to be Kennedy here, to go beyond the requirements of his religion on this issue, but either will not or cannot. When he met a gay Vietnam Veteran and was asked about what he would do as President regarding gay marriage and equal rights for gays, it looked like he could not get away fast enough, only reciting his religious belief that marriage is between a man and a woman. This disgusted me. Fortunately, someone recorded it and it can be seen here.
This causes me great concern because a President is first and foremost an American. If personal religious belief prevents him from acting in the best interest of the American Ideals, he should say so and step aside. If he can get beyond them, demonstrate it. Either way, I would have more respect for him.
The issue of abortion is about using public funds for abortion. Romney not only opposes this, his party’s platform calls for a Constitutional Amendment banning all abortion. This is thinly-veiled misogyny. Abortion was not created at the Roe v. Wade ruling, it was made safer for all. If Romney’s party has its way, most women will be returned to the days before safe abortions could be had; the rich meanwhile will just leave the country to get what they want. I don’t think Lincoln of Jefferson would have felt this way—all should have access.
And when using the ideal of being our brother’s keeper and all that, I just do not see Romney stacking up in action as much as Obama. This ain’t Christian ideal only, even though it is in the Bible. It is as old as mankind. It is a belief that we are all in this together and that we all have an obligation to each other.
Right now, the person I want to represent me to the world is not Romney, it is Obama. I suppose Romney could do something to change that in the next fifty-six days, but if he does, then I think he may lose the base of his party.