Father Theodore Hesburgh was born in 1917, the same year president Woodrow Wilson proclaimed America’s entrance into World War I—a crusade to make the world "safe for democracy."
A democracy based part on competitive elections. A democracy Hesburgh helped shape through 16 presidential appointments, closely watching politics in the U.S. and worldwide.
I sat down with Father Ted and we talked about early campaigning and the number of candidates vying for the White House.
“I can't think of anything positive because I think it's an enormous distraction,” Father Hesburgh says. “You have everybody and his uncle Harry running which is very unlikely for most of them.”
Asked if there are any candidates that stand out in his opinion, Father Ted replies that he's "not really serious about anyone.”
He says each of the candidates has value, but our system is not working.
“I think it gets worse before it gets better, because it's longer and there is much more money involved. And that means much more commitment on the part of the candidate to those who put up the money. I think the whole system is flawed.”
Father Hesburgh thinks we could learn something from our allies across the pond.
“In the British system the expenses are taken care of by the government and the candidate does the best he or she can and when they get elected they are not committed to anyone except to serve the government and people and that's a much better system.”
“I would feel much better if they would have a short campaign and not have to sell themselves to big benefactors who, after that, own their souls.”
Father Hesburgh admits he does not know exactly how such a change would come, but he says it starts with the people.
“I think you put a referendum before the American people. Say, would you rather have this kind of system or have one where we have a short campaign, paid for by the government and we elect people who have no commitments except to country.”
And what about the firestorm of controversy that arose surrounding candidate Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith?
“I think it has no place in a political campaign. Seems to me you elect people because of their character, because of their ideas, because of their competence. And that could happen in any religion, in any culture, in any nationality.”
Regardless of which candidate survives this horserace and ends up in the White House in 2009, Father Hesburgh says their job will be arduous.
“First of all, he is facing an absolutely divided world."
A world divided by religion, and misunderstanding.
Next Monday will continue Maureen’s "Conversations with Father Hesburgh." Father Ted will explain how he thinks the Muslim religion is a beautiful one, and should not be represented by "bomb throwers."