New York Times writer visits Elon, uncovers America’s leaders’ “daddy issues”

Photo credit Stephanie Butzer

Maureen Dowd talks to Elon University about America’s leaders’ fathers. Photo credit Stephanie Butzer

By Stephanie Butzer

Billions around the world watched the news on Tuesday as America chose the next president. America saw two great leaders, but did not see a very important factor ablaze on the backburner: their relationships with their fathers.

Maureen Dowd, a New York Times columnist, came to Elon University to speak as the Pulitzer Prize winner for Elon’s 12th Bard Pulitzer Prize Lecture Series. She explained major political figures’ “daddy issues.”

“I admit it, I have ‘daddy issues,’” Dowd began. “Not my own, he was fine. But every four years someone else’s daddy looms over our national consciousness.”

Dowd described the elections’ paternal theme: Americans were looking for a good father that could protect the home from any and all invaders, whether they be Nazis, Al Qaeda or a devastating hurricane.

In the seven presidential campaigns Dowd has covered, she is surprised by how much time she has spent writing about fathers, whether they were powerful or poor, alcoholics or workaholics, and abandoning or hovering. She closely examined Obama and Romney’s fathers and their role in their son’s lives.

Dowd introduced Romney’s father, George Romney, as a four-term governor of Michigan and a failed candidate of the presidency against Richard Nixon in 1968.

Dowd painted a simple image for the audience: Romney placing a piece of paper with the word “dad” on the podium before every presidential debate.

“Ann Romney said her husband did that as a way of saying, ‘Dad, I love and respect who you are, what you taught me, what kind of a person you are and I’m going to honor that,’” Dowd said.

Romney loved to get his father’s advice when it came to unseating Ted Kennedy in the 1994 Massachusetts Senate race. Romney senior was blunt and tough, while his son was more malleable and tentative, Dowd said. One was driven by passion and the latter hid his passions.

While running for governor in 1966, George Romney climbed a chain-link fence to get into a United Auto Workers picnic. His son’s advisors said they wished Mitt Romney had more “climb-the-fence” moments.

Lastly, Dowd said Obama did not attack Romney’s moderate father’s opinion of his positions.

“Obama mentioned it last night in his acceptance speech last night, mentioning for a moment about George Romney, which was gracious but I wonder if Mitt felt a twinge,” Dowd said.

She said it is hard to believe how unsettled Obama’s childhood was compared to his accomplishment as the first president of African American descendent.

Obama’s father went to Kenya when he was toddler and Obama only met him once after that. His mother raised him for some time before she handed him over to his grandparents in Hawaii.

“As Obama biographer David Maraiss said, ‘Every step along the way there was some aspect, key aspect of him, where he was alone,’” Dowd said. “’His early life is an constant stream of people leaving him or being left. His mother, his father, his grandparents – constantly moving. His whole life is a really a classic search for home.’”

Bruce Springsteen, a longtime supporter of Obama, said that Obama’s presidency is one way to show his father – who had no interest of knowing him – “I told you so.”

Obama’s scattered upbringing allowed him to be self-sufficient in the present day. Dowd described, with a touch of sympathy, how Obama is criticized for not thanking donors or those who work for him because he fiercely believes he made it on his own.

Both candidates for the 2012 Presidential Elections struggled to make it to the top. Once they hit the podiums, their dads may have been a distant, heavy thought or on a small note of paper. Whatever it may be, fathers helped these men become who they are today.


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