Americans like to believe they choose rational men and women for their political leaders.
This is especially true when it comes to deciding who will govern the country for the next four years as President of the United States.
But this has not always been the case.
One such irrational President was Richard M. Nixon, elected in 1968 and re-elected in 1972.
In 1970, while deciding whether to widen the Vietnam war by bombing Cambodia, he repeatedly watched the movie “Patton.” Then he ordered the bombing to begin.
In 1974, as Justice Department investigations of Watergate increasingly threatened his Presidency, his behavior grew increasingly erratic.
He drank heavily, took pills by the handful, and, on at least one occasion, was seen talking to pictures of Presidents that adorned the walls of the White House.
In the final weeks of his administration, as impeachment for his Watergate abuses seemed increasingly certain, Nixon inspired fears of a military coup in his Secretary of Defense.
James Schlesinger warned all military commands to ignore any direct orders from the White House–or any other source–without the counter-signature of the SecDef himself.
On his last night in the White House–August 8, 1974–Nixon summoned Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to the Oval Office.
Half-rambling, half-crying, Nixon asked Kissinger to kneel with him on the White House rug and pray for God’s forgiveness. Kissinger, though Jewish, had never shown any interest in religion. Neverheless, he reluctantly did so.
Later that night, Nixon called Kissinger and pleaded with him to never tell anyone “that I cried, and I was not strong.” Kissinger promised to keep his secret–and then promptly leaked it.
Nixon, however, was not the only President whose irrationality played havoc with history.
In June, 2001, George W. Bush met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Slovenia. Bush judged others–even world leaders–through the lens of his own fundamentalist Christian theology.
And Putin was quick to take advantage of it.
George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin
BUSH: Let me say something about what caught my attention, Mr. President, was that your mother gave you a cross which you had blessed in Israel, the Holy Land.
PUTIN: It’s true.
BUSH: That amazes me, that here you were a Communist, KGB operative, and yet you were willing to wear a cross. That speaks volumes to me, Mr. President. May I call you Vladimir?
Falling back on his KGB training, Putin seized on this apparent point of commonality to build a bond. He told Bush that his dacha had once burned to the ground, and the only item that had been saved was that cross.
BUSH: Well, that’s the story of the cross as far as I’m concerned. Things are meant to be.
Afterward, Bush and Putin gave an outdoor news conference.
“Is this a man that Americans can trust?” Associated Press correspondent Ron Fournier asked Bush.
“Yes,” said Bush. “I was able to get a sense of his soul, a man deeply committed to his country and the best interests of his country. I wouldn’t have invited him to my ranch if I didn’t trust him.”
In early 2003, Bush telephoned French President Jaques Chirac, hoping to enlist his support–and troops–for his long-planned invasion of Iraq.
Failing to convince Chirac that overthrowing Saddam Hussein was politically advantageous, Bush took a different tack.
BUSH: Jaques, you and I share a common faith. You’re Roman Catholic, I’m Methodist, but we’re both Christians committed to the teachings of the Bible. We share one common Lord.
Gog and Magog are at work in the Middle East. Biblical prophecies are being fulfilled.
This confrontation is willed by God, who wants to use this conflict to erase His people’s enemies before a new age begins.
When the call ended, Chirac asked his advisors: “Gog and Magog–do any of you know what he’s talking about?”
When no one did, Chirac ordered: Find out.
The answer came from Thomas Roemer, a professor of theology at the University of Lausanne.
Romer explained that the Old Testament book of Ezekiel contains two chapters (38 and 39) in which God rages against Gog and Magog, sinister and mysterious forces menacing Israel.
Jehovah vows to slaughter them ruthlessly. In the New Testament book of Revelation (20:8) Gog and Magog are depicted as gathering nations for battle: “And fire came down from God out of Heaven, and devoured them.”
Chirac decided to oppose joining the upcoming invasion of Iraq. France, he said, would not fight a war based on an American Presient’s interpretation of the Bible.
Bush’s war cost the lives of 4,486 Americans–and an estimated 655,000 Iraqis.
Bush, however, was not the first President to invoke Gog and Magog.
Ronald Reagan predicted that this Biblical confrontation would pit the United States against the Soviet Union–which had abandoned God at the time of the Russian Revolution.
Evangelical Christians twice elected Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush to the Presidency.
In light of this, voters should think carefully before choosing candidates who accept superstitious beliefs over rational inquiry.