- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 26, 2000

Like it or not (and He probably doesn't), God is a major player in this presidential campaign. It's only fitting that the pols have finally got someone to intercede for them.

On Nov. 5, two days before our election, Pope John Paul II will proclaim Sir Thomas More the patron saint of politicians. Does this pope have a sense of humor, or what?

That means Sir Thomas is the middleman between heaven and earth, whom the pope celebrates as a "role model" and "intercessor" for men and women who follow political careers.

This is something for the politicians to live up to. What a standard for measurement. Thomas More lost his head for heavens' sake, not for an office. He was a man of principle, a martyr, a saint. He wore a hair shirt under his luxurious garments that drew blood on his skin. (No earth tones for him.)

The pope's pronouncement is of interest mostly to Catholics, and three of the four candidates this year are Protestants and the fourth is a Jew. A little irony there. But the heroes of Pope John Paul have a way of making the rest of us pay attention.

John Gummer, a former Tory minister in Britain who is Catholic, expressed the general global reaction to the proclamation of the new patron saint of politicians: "I can't think of any section of the community that needs one more." The Guardian of London was somewhat more pointed, finding it encouraging that politicians today might be inspired to die for their principles. The Guardian's editors are no doubt not holding their collective breath.

For those raised on "A Man for All Seasons," the popular play and movie depicting how Sir Thomas More lost his head listening to his conscience and refusing to accept Henry VIII as his supreme religious leader, he's more saintly than secular. But Sir Thomas was an astute politician who, in believing that a political state should have a moral base, also understood the risks to anyone who enters politics with only the winds of idealism at his back.

In his best-selling book, "Utopia," written in Latin in 1516, he set forth several provocative ideas for an ideal society. My personal favorite is that he wanted to get rid of all the lawyers. Laws, Sir Thomas believed, should be simple, understandable and immediately accessible to every citizen, so that no lawyer, for the prosecution or the defense, could bend them out of shape and change their original meaning. The legal profession as he saw it was determined "to disguise matters." (Does anyone know a Washington lawyer who would do that?) Of course, in his Utopia, all magistrates and politicians were as honest as he was, and would never take a bribe. The England of his day was not actually Utopia.

Sir Thomas himself was far from perfect. He was extraordinarily pious, but showed no tolerance for heretics when he served the king. Nevertheless, he warned others against religious zealousness for political purposes. Al Gore and Joe Lieberman, who equate their environmental doctrines with holy scripture, should take note.

In fact, it may turn out that the costliest mistake by Al and Joe is the way they have attempted to portray God as a partisan Democrat. Joe even places the first environmentalist in the Garden of Eden, defending the Democratic approach to clean air and global warming. "It is said that God put Adam and Eve there to work the garden but also to guard it," he said in a speech in Bluegill Park, Wis.. In this formulation pollution is the work of Satan; who do you think is Satan's helper?

"If you believe in God, I think it's hard not to be an environmentalist because, you see, the environment is the work of God. For Al Gore and me, this begins, if you will, as a matter of faith. [But] given a chance to stand with people, families, or side with the polluters, Governor Bush has too often chosen to side with the polluters."

Al has inflated his campaign with an even broader messianic appeal. He asked black ministers "to do the work of the Lord here on earth" which, as it was interpreted by Rev. Ronald Williams of Portland, Ore., required a prayer to God to "strengthen [Al Gore] against those who would attempt to weaken him." This is the rhetoric of a religious war.

Perhaps Sir Thomas More, as the patron saint of politicians, can best be appreciated for his wit and sense of humor. His last words, as he ascended the scaffold to the guillotine, were better than anything we'll see on Leno or Letterman: "See me safe up: for my coming down, I can shift for myself."

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