Pop quiz: What was Lyndon Johnson's religious affiliation? Don't know? Don't care? Neither did the voters in 1964 (in 1960, it mattered that he was Protestant, generically, just to balance out the ticket with John F. Kennedy). So what changed? That's the question posed by Peggy Noonan in this morning's Wall Street Journal.
Noonan laments the heightened attention to candidate religion in the 2008 presidential election. Noting the lack of attention to George Romney's Mormonism in 1968, compared to his son's religion in 2008, Noonan writes:
No one cared, really, that Richard Nixon was a Quaker. They may have been confused by it, but they weren't upset. His vice president, Spiro Agnew, was not Greek Orthodox but Episcopalian. Nobody much noticed. Nelson Rockefeller of New York was not an Episcopalian but a Baptist. Do you know what Lyndon Johnson's religion was? He was a member of the Disciples of Christ, but in what appeared to be the same way he was a member of the American Legion: You're in politics, you join things. Hubert Humphrey was born Lutheran, attended Methodist churches and was rumored to be a Congregationalist. This didn't quite reach the level of mystery because nobody cared.
Noonan pleads with the American populace to get over the religion question, whether it is asking Gov. Romney whether he really believes the Garden of Eden was in Jackson County, Missouri, or whether it is expecting Sen. Clinton to prove how her Methodist upbringing leads her to reform the managed care health system. She writes:
We should lighten up on demanding access to their hearts. It is impossible for us to know their hearts. It's barely possible to know your own. Faith is important, but it's also personal. When we force political figures to tell us their deepest thoughts on it, they'll be tempted to act, to pretend. Do politicians tend to give in to temptation? Most people do. Are politicians better than most people? Quick, a show of hands. I don't think so either.