Many years before my father was governor of California, when America began naming things after John F. Kennedy, I remember thinking how really weird it must have been for his children to have highways and airports named after their father. Now, all these years later, I can say from experience that it truly is a surreal experience. "A traffic accident on the Ronald Reagan freeway…" "Delays at Reagan National Airport…" Believe me, you never really get used to it.
But that's not nearly as strange as seeing the 2008 presidential candidates try to imitate my father and proclaim themselves more Reaganesque than their competitors. Where is Lloyd Bentsen when you need him? "I knew Ronald Reagan… Senator [or Governor], you're no Ronald Reagan."
On Friday's “Today Show”, Mitt Romney again brandished my father's name, and claimed that, just as Ronald Reagan ended the Cold War, Romney can effectively govern and manage foreign policy in this horribly troubled world.
This, of course, was preceded by Romney's televised speech about his religion and his personal faith—something my father would never have dreamed of doing because his faith was, well, personal.
Putting Reagan and religion aside, there's another great issue consuming the 2008 campaign. Who is the more authentic, experienced hunter? Romney has claimed to be a “lifelong hunter.” Huckabee said liar, liar, pants on fire (OK, not his exact words, but close) because Romney has only ventured out twice to slaughter animals. "I think it was a major mistake," said Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor. "It would be like me saying I've been a lifelong golfer because I played putt-putt when I was 9 years old and I rode in a golf cart a couple of times." Oh great, now the candidates are worried about miniature golf.
To prove his virility, Huckabee has been photographed in those ridiculous hunting clothes holding a large rifle and several dead pheasants. Lest we forget about God, Huckabee's campaign offered up a special Christmas advertisement—complete with the now famous “floating cross” behind him—something Huckabee has said was simply a bookcase. Yes, with the books removed and lit with a golden glow that looked like the Star of Bethlehem had been summoned for duty in a political ad.
So, apparently, we are being told that a competent, trustworthy president is someone who brandishes his religion like a neon sign, loads a gun and goes out hunting for beautiful winged creatures, and tries to imitate a past president (who, by the way, never shot a bird or felt the need to imitate anybody.) Lest you think I'm only zeroing in on Republicans, I haven't forgotten John Kerry’s awkward donning of camouflage for a duck hunt.
I'm getting really nervous for our feathered friends. In this endless campaign, what if more candidates get in on this? Will pheasants be on the endangered species list by November? I'd like to personally plead with Hillary: Don't even think of picking up a rifle. And please, Barack, we don't want to see you in an orange vest and a hat with ear-flaps … not a good look for you.
I don't think I'm alone in my reaction to all of this when I say, "Do you think we're stupid?" If we want religious evangelism, we can turn on one of those cable channels. If we want leadership, we don't ask, "Now who has killed the most birds?" And most importantly, when we are thinking about trust and confidence, we don't look for someone who is trying to mimic anyone else.
Can't we just leave the ducks, the rabbits, the deer alone, and focus on a world that is aching with strife, that is weighed down by wars and conflicts, not to mention disease and hunger in vast stretches of Africa? Can't we go back to respecting the privacy of religious faith and stop using God as a campaign tool? And can't we please, please, please admit that imitation is not the sincerest form of flattery; it's just an indication that the imitator is going through a serious identity crisis.