Newt Gingrich, Rod Blagojevich: What do these guys have in common — besides the hair?

Illinois voters ought to be able to tell the nation a couple of things about governance by charisma, ego and brilliance run amok. After all, we danced with Rod Blagojevich for a lot of years before the ex-governor flamed out while selling Barack Obama’s U.S. Senate seat.

None was better than Blago in front of an audience. Witness him at Rockford Register Star Editorial Boards, which I did many times. Having a governor in for an edit board always draws a full house. Even Pat Quinn gets a decent showing. Having Blago meant standing room only.

He could sing, weave tall tales, spin a vision for the state with which few would argue. He could remember what seemed like everything, from names and titles to questions asked the last visit. Veteran board members gave it up and sat back to watch the show.

It’s hard not to channel Blago while watching the Newt Show. The brilliance is similar; ditto the vision thing. So are the abilities to absorb complex information and re-purpose it to strategic ideas that make — at the moment — perfect sense. There’s the chuckling and eye contacting; the remembering of things.

Blago is the more charming of the two, and there are other differences, including the great hair color.

I never saw Blago lose his temper the way that Newt does publicly, though there are plenty of reports that he did. Blago didn’t walk about actively hating the news media; he used his not inconsiderable skills to manipulate it to his advantage.

Illinois’ ex-governor rode that hubris right off the ranch. Given enough time, Newt Gingrich will follow. It won’t of course, be the first time for Newt; his former Congressional seatmates will be more than happy to explain the 1990s back story.

Gaad, how we Americans love these charismatic politicians. Let’s hope we don’t have to learn on a national stage — as did Illinois on its state stage — that governance by brilliance-run-amok ought be a non-starter.

The Christian — Protestant — litmus test for American presidents

At 10, I wasn’t today’s news junkie. I did “know” that the POPE IN ROME was going to run the United States and we were going to have to eat fish on Fridays if John F. Kennedy were elected president.

Not being fond of fish, I sure didn’t want that JFK as president. I wasn’t sure who the POPE IN ROME (people always said it like that) was, being the good, little, mainstream Presbyterian girl that I was. But, by gosh and golly, how could any guy in Italy know what was good for Americans?

The fact I remember hearing those kinds of things — at school, church and around, but never at home — meant there was a lot of anti-Catholic noise back in the early 1960s. The American president must be a mainstream Protestant — not just a Christian, mind you. Not just a God-fearing believer. A Protestant, and preferably one who didn’t roll around on the floor, shouting and healing and waving snakes.

Fifty years later and Americans still can’t give up that litmus test. Heck, these days, among some of us, we’re more likely to vote for the snake wavers than a Muslim or a Mormon. I don’t get it. Why does the American president’s religion — or lack thereof — make a dime’s worth of difference?

Don’t even bother to tell me it matters because it’s a good indicator that said president will be morally strong and ethically upright. There are plenty of political and corporate examples to the contrary. Let’s don’t go there today.

Last time I checked, “one nation under God” and “in God we trust” didn’t require a membership card to a mainstream Protestant congregation. God has a pretty big wingspan, covering, as it were, Muslims, Mormons, Jews and Catholics. Feel free to add your own one-God denomination.

Anyone can run for U.S. president. There are no Constitutional restrictions. The Constitution mandates only that the person who serves must be at least 35 years old and a natural born citizen. That’s it. No litmus test for religion, or anything else for that matter.

Gary Gutting is a philosophy professor at Notre Dame. He argues well in a recent New York Times blog post that a “candidate’s religious faith may ground a sustaining core of values, but it may also conflict with meaningful discussion of policy or conflict with the nation’s best interest.”

It will be fascinating to watch some voters squirm as they are forced to choose between Barack Obama (Christian, Protestant, but oops, all those rumors about being a closet Muslim and, gasp, that politically active black pastor who said all those awful things) and Mitt Romney (powerful, steadfast, practicing Mormon; you know, Mormon, the one about the Broadway show, the “cult” religion thing; wonder how many wives he has.)

Personally, I don’t care too figs what pew the president sits in on what day. I care about integrity, wisdom, compassion, smarts. A membership card at the nearest church, synagogue, temple or Stonehenge isn’t required.

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