I want to wish George Washington, the father of our country, a belated happy Father’s Day. Washington had his faults. He, like five of our first seven presidents, was a slave owner. But he had several redeeming qualities that are sadly lacking in this year's GOP presidential candidates. A couple of months ago, Herman Cain, one of the Republican candidates and darling of the Tea Party, said he would not be comfortable with Muslims in his cabinet. One of the great things about our first president was his religious tolerance. Early in the big guy’s presidency, a Jewish congregation in Newport, R.I., sent the first president a letter. The congregation indicated the Founders' focus on Christianity made them wonder if they had a place in the new republic. Washington wrote back that he didn’t care whether people were Jewish or Muslim or how they worshipped as long as they worshipped God.
During the 2008 presidential campaign, Mike Huckabee, one of the GOP candidates for president, said that Mitt Romney didn’t have a soul. And since Huckabee is an ordained minister, he should know. Huckabee meant that Romney had no guiding principals and sold his soul to run for president because of his blind ambition and thirst for political power. Huckabee was right, because Romney ran away from all the liberal beliefs he espoused to succeed in Massachusetts politics. When Romney ran for the U.S. Senate, he said that he would be more pro gay rights than his Democratic opponent. And that was really something, because his opponent was Ted Kennedy. Once Romney decided to run for president, he jettisoned all his liberal principles in an effort to court the conservatives who run the Republican Party.
One of Washington's many virtues was that he, unlike Romney, was not obsessed with political power. He could walk away from power, as he did twice after the Revolution. In 1783, he could have easily used his popularity and his control of the army to become a monarch or even a dictator. Instead, he said farewell to his troops and went back to his farm in Mount Vernon, Va. After years of service, the commander of our Revolutionary army was quite content to be a gentleman farmer, but he answered the call of his country and became our first president in 1789. [Vote now: Does Romney’s “I’m also unemployed” joke mean he’s out of touch?]
Washington wanted to retire to the farm at the end of his first term. His protégé, Alexander Hamilton, wrote a retirement message for the president, and Washington submitted it to his cabinet. Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson were bitter political rivals, but they joined forces to convince Washington to serve a second term for the good of the nation. At the end of his second term, Washington told his cabinet that he was leaving and said that he would not change his mind. So in 1797, the president went back to Mount Vernon and lived quietly there until his death. [Read Washington Book Club: The Founding Fathers, Religion, and God.]
Conservatives always talk about how much they value the contributions of our Founding Fathers, but that’s rhetoric and not reality. Herman Cain and Mitt Romney could learn a thing or two about religious tolerance and public service from the man whose shoes they wish to fill.