First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC
Is Mitt Romney Serious?
When I heard that Mitt Romney was actually running for President, my first thought was, "Is he serious?"
Doesn't he know that there is zero chance of a Mormon ever being in the White House?
Everyone knows that Christian evangelicals hate Mormons so badly that if they had to choose between a bribe-taking, FBI-file-stealing, relentless-lie-telling, mud-slinging former first lady, and a Mormon ex-governor who doesn't lie, who's still married to his first wife, and who supports the entire Christian evangelical agenda, they'd still rather die than vote for a Mormon.
Being Mormon just makes Romney too easy a target. And because he's running, it gets all the rest of the Mormon Church smeared with the same mud they're slinging at Mitt.
It's started already. For instance, in the issue of The Week of 17 March 2007, we get a sneer and a hatchet job disguised as journalism.
While pretending to give an impartial look at Mormon beliefs and culture, they're really doing a smackdown, trying to kill Mitt Romney's candidacy with ridicule.
But, being journalists, they have to pretend they're just reporting the facts.
They try to leave the impression that the Mormon Church is racist, wacko, breeding like flies, and obscenely rich. "This tithing has helped the church amass an estimated $30 billion in wealth," says The Week. "Mormon holdings include the biggest beef ranch in the world and the largest producer of nuts in the U.S."
What they neglect to mention is that we have no paid clergy -- whatever money the Mormon Church "amasses" is spent on buildings, education, and charity. Besides, just who made that "estimate" of $30 billion? Based on what? The value of the real estate under our meetinghouses? As to those nuts and cattle, the profits from those companies are used exclusively to help the poor, both Mormon and non-Mormon.
Any mention that whenever disaster strikes anywhere in the world, the Mormon Church is one of the first ones there with food, water, and other assistance? No, I didn't think so.
The mainstream media have taken a look at Mitt Romney and, just like George W. Bush in 2000, he's the nightmare candidate for them -- the one they have to kill.
Why? Because he's exactly what they most fear: A conservative who can appeal to moderates. After all, this guy won an election for governor in Massachusetts. As a Republican.
He balanced an out-of-control budget -- without raising taxes.
His record on civil rights -- including for homosexuals -- is unimpeachable, except for opposing judges who redefine marriage without the slightest attempt at democratic process; and yet his stances on moral issues should make him completely acceptable to the religious right.
Unlike any of the leading Democratic candidates, he has actually governed something.
He also saved the scandal-ridden, heading-for-bankruptcy Salt Lake Olympics.
If he won, he'd be the richest man ever to win the Presidency -- his wealth is between 500 million and a billion bucks. But he earned it all himself -- by heading a company that assembled risk capital to buy failing companies and turn them around, saving countless jobs and making his investors rich, too.
Plus, he's good-looking, and all of his kids are married, church-going people who aren't likely to cause any scandals.
This is the worst nightmare the Left (which includes the mainstream media) can conceive of.
But ... they were able to demonize George W. Bush, the last moderate Republican they had to destroy, so that by the time he won the Presidency, he had been tarred with so many lies (dumb guy; drunk; drug-taker; National Guard-slacker; hates blacks; hates the poor; wacko religious theocrat) that it's a wonder he could even recognize himself in the mirror.
And if they could do that to the son of a former President, just think what they can do to a guy who's a ... a ... Mormon.
So I ask again: Is Mitt Romney serious? Doesn't he understand what the media will do to him? What they're already doing?
Then along comes conservative political analyst Hugh Hewitt, writing a book called A Mormon in the White House? 10 Things Every American Should Know about Mitt Romney, and he makes it almost seem possible.
Hugh Hewitt is not a Mormon. But he believes that in this political season, Mitt Romney may turn out to represent conservatives' best shot at winning the presidency.
Hewitt gives us a short but interesting look at Mitt Romney's life and accomplishments. His account of Romney's role as saver of dying companies -- including his belt-tightening rescue of the very company that gave him the method of business that he always used -- makes me wish Romney were running our local government. And our state government.
And the federal government. Because if anybody could figure out how to balance the budget, save Social Security, and win a war, all at the same time, he could do it.
He also tells a little bit of Romney's life as the son of former Michigan governor George Romney, who was briefly the front-runner for the Republican nomination back in 1968. What emerges is a far cry from the kind of rich-kid life that the Kennedys and Rockefellers had. George Romney started from zero, and while George had enough money to make sure Mitt got every educational opportunity, Mitt's fortune was his own accomplishment.
Mitt grew up in a real family, and he and his wife have made sure that their kids also grew up in a real family.
A Mormon family. Which means that the kids went to church. They didn't smoke or drink. They did things together as a family. Took vacation trips packed into an ordinary station wagon. Each of their five sons served a mission for the Mormon Church -- two years as a volunteer, unpaid minister in a place far from home.
Mitt freely admits that when he was starting out in the consulting business, he traveled a lot, and the burden of child-rearing fell most heavily on his wife. But once he ran his own investment company, he was home a lot more, the way a Mormon father is supposed to be, if he possibly can.
Because, if you want to quote Mormon prophets, here's a quote that most Mormons try to live by: "No other success can compensate for failure in the home." We know from the scandal magazines how often rich families create totally messed-up kids. But it certainly seems that Mitt Romney's family is, by any measure, a success.
But then we come to the tough part. How can a Mormon possibly be elected?
There are several basic fears about any Mormon candidate:
1. Will Salt Lake City Tell Him What To Do As President?
As Hewitt points out, that one is a no-brainer. Even if they tried, it wouldn't work, because Presidents aren't kings. They have to get the cooperation of Congress and the whole bureaucracy. If anybody ever came to believe he was a puppet controlled by religious leaders in Utah, his authority would evaporate instantly.
Besides, Mitt Romney doesn't need the Mormon Church telling him how to do stuff. (As a Mormon, I kind of wish it would go the other way. I wish they'd turn the Salt Lake bureaucracy over to him for a couple of years to clear out the careerist paper-pushers who make it almost impossible for the Church to get anything done in a rational way.)
Let me go farther than that. I'm a Mormon public figure, of sorts, and I know a few others. And I'm aware of exactly how the Church hierarchy deals with public figures.
A writer like me is a constant target of meddling middle-level bureaucrats who seem to think that their job in life is to afflict me for anything I write that wouldn't be appropriate to put in a Sunday school lesson. But in all the years of low-level harassment, the actual Church authorities, in Salt Lake and locally, have always stood by my right to do my job as I see fit.
Government figures are more like sports figures in the way they get treated: Mid-level Mormons suck up to them mercilessly. But, once again, the higher-level authorities leave them alone to do their jobs.
Do you want proof? Look at the career of Reed Smoot. He was as reactionary a Republican Senator as you could hope to find back in the early 1900s -- a tariff-loving protectionist. He was also not just a Mormon, but a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the second-highest governing body in the Church.
At the time, the President of the Church, Heber J. Grant, was a Democrat. Other leading Church authorities were Democrats. Nobody told Smoot how to vote in Congress.
Or a more recent example: Ezra Taft Benson, who served as Secretary of Agriculture under President Eisenhower. Benson was also one of the Twelve, but if anybody thinks he paid the slightest attention to anything the other Church leaders said to him, you don't know anything.
Even today, when the Church seems to have adopted the Republican Party as their favorite stepchild, there have been prominent Mormons who are obviously not being told how to vote or govern. My proof: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is a Mormon and a Democrat, and some of the stuff he's done just makes Mormon Republicans insane.
Frankly, folks, I'd be a lot more worried about George Soros telling a Democratic President how to govern than the Mormon Church trying to control a Mitt Romney presidency.
But let's suppose that the Mormon Prophet did tell Mitt Romney what to do. What would their instructions be? What do Mormons want the United States to do?
Well, the most important political goal of the Mormon Church is for every nation on earth to have freedom of religion, so people can freely learn about, teach, and choose to join or leave any church.
And since Mormon missionaries don't go into war zones, the Church would also appreciate it if we could avoid war whenever possible.
Beyond that, the Mormon Church would like the tax exemption for religious buildings and enterprises to remain in place.
The Mormon Church believes that abortion should be far less available than it is, and that marriage, as recognized by government, should be exclusively between a man and a woman.
Think about that. If Mitt Romney is elected President, and he does what the Mormon Church tells him to do, we'll have peace and freedom around the world, religions will continue to have a tax exemption, marriage will continue to mean what it has always meant unless the people vote otherwise, and the federal government wouldn't be in the business of protecting a woman's right to kill unborn babies right up to the moment of birth.
There are millions of people who want that exact list of things! And they didn't even need the Mormon prophet to tell them so.
The Mormon Church doesn't tell its members whom to vote for, and doesn't tell elected officials how to do their jobs. Except that they should be honest. So I guess Bill Clinton would have had a problem. Good thing he wasn't Mormon.
2. Will Mitt Romney As President Make Mormonism Seem More Legitimate?
Well, yeah, probably. Though Mormonism is one of the fastest-growing religious denominations in the United States without Mitt's help.
Will that make a difference in the number of converts to Mormonism? Nowhere near as much difference as Donny Osmond made back in the 1970s, but sure, maybe a few more people will say to the Mormon missionaries, "Come on in, I voted for Mitt, I'll listen to you."
But it comes down to this: Mormon missionaries teach our doctrines. If people come to believe them, and manage to give up tobacco and alcohol and coffee and tea and illegal drugs, and are willing to pay a full tithe and keep all the other commandments, then they join the Mormon Church.
Mitt Romney isn't going to be giving out coupons -- "5% tithing and two smokes a day if you vote for Mitt." Mormonism is a demanding faith. Most people have to change their lives in order to live as Latter-day Saints, and some people make great sacrifices.
Whatever difference having a Mormon as President of the United States might make, I can't see anybody actually becoming a Mormon because of it.
And what happens when the mainstream media crucify him the way they've crucified President Bush? Won't that also work to hurt the Mormon missionary effort? "If that clown in the White House is a Mormon, I don't want anything to do with you!" And the door slams in the missionary's face.
Or in foreign countries -- having a Mormon be President of the U.S. might make it harder for Mormon missionaries to find people willing to talk to them.
In the real world, though, it really won't make any difference to Mormon missionary work.
What American Mormons want is what every other American wants: The best person available as President of the United States. If that "best person" happens to be a Mormon, we'd like him not to be disqualified because of his religion.
3. Mormons Aren't Christians, Are They? Aren't They a Cult?
Let me save everybody a lot of time. If by "Christian" you mean "believes in the version of God and Christ taught in the Nicene Creed," then absolutely not. Right from the start, the founding prophet of the Mormon Church, Joseph Smith, rejected that view of God as a fantasy.
Of course, by our definition of "Christian theology," we're the only Christians. That's why we send out missionaries to preach to Baptists and Methodists right along with the heathens.
And let's remember that Catholics have historically had a pretty low opinion of the doctrines of Lutherans and Quakers and Presbyterians -- and vice versa.
But in America, we all agree to get along. In fact, it says it right there in Article 6 of the Constitution: "No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."
We've had plenty of Presidents who weren't Christians, most prominently Thomas Jefferson. But most of them hadn't served as missionaries for their atheistic or deistic beliefs, either.
So let's pretend that it matters. Theologically, Mormons are way outside the mainstream of Christianity.
But how do Mormons actually live?
Despite the efforts of our opponents to paint us as a "cult," we don't live in communes in Guyana. We hold regular jobs. Most Mormon kids go to regular schools.
We wear regular clothes. (OK, maybe a little more modest than most, but that's a good thing, isn't it?)
We don't smoke or drink or do drugs -- but that makes us safer drivers and more reliable employees and better company in small closed rooms, doesn't it?
Let's forget about doctrinal religion and look at practical religion. Mormons are people who take their worship of God seriously. We really try to live by the commandments of God, as we understand them -- and they're not a bad list of commandments.
In fact, they sound kind of like what most American Christians would aspire to. Get married, be faithful to your spouse, have babies and raise them right. Don't let your life be taken over by drugs or alcohol. Hold down a job and support a family. Go to Church. Contribute to charity. Help your neighbor when he needs a hand. Be honest in your business dealings.
If you think we're not Christians, fine. But we make decent neighbors and co-workers, most of the time. And since we all agree there should be no religious test to be President, then what difference can our doctrines possibly make?
In fact, when you come right down to it, can you think of any significant point on which Mormons would disagree with an ordinary conservative Christian's view of what a President ought to do?
We may have different opinions about the nature of God, but we still pray to the God of the New Testament and recognize Jesus Christ as the Savior of the world, and try to obey his commandments, like any other practical Christians.
We Mormons treat President Bush's religious faith with respect and regard him as a Christian even though we think his theology is wrong; I think Methodists and Baptists and Catholics are mature and generous enough to treat a Mormon President the same way.
3a. What About Polygamy?
If you're one of the unfortunate people who read Under the Banner of Heaven, you might have the impression that Mormons still practice or condone polygamy.
The opposite is true. The Mormon Church repudiated the practice of polygamy in 1890, and right now the surest, fastest way to get kicked out of the Mormon Church is to advocate polygamy. We are the most anti-polygamous religion in the world right now.
So yes, it's in our history -- I have a lot of polygamists in my ancestry. My grandmother was born into a family that practiced polygamy -- but she was born in the 1880s.
Mitt Romney has exactly one wife and he seems on track to stay married to her for his whole life. Nobody's going to catch him having affairs or flings because he doesn't do that.
So, 117 years later, let's give the polygamy thing a rest, OK?
4. Only Dumb and Crazy People Believe Those Doctrines!
Ah. Here's where we come to the ugly part.
This is what that article about Mormon beliefs in The Week was really about -- making Mitt Romney seem like an idiot for believing in Mormon doctrine.
In his book, Hugh Hewitt recounts some really offensive, outrageous attempts by opponents of Mitt Romney to try to force him, in press conferences, to answer questions about Mormon belief.
"Do you, personally, really believe in [insert wacko-sounding doctrine here]?"
Sometimes the people asking that question will be evangelical Christians out to "expose" how false and ridiculous Mormon doctrines are.
But when the press picks it up, it'll be anti-religious people using a man's religious faith as a reason to ridicule him so he can't be elected President.
Do you think Mormons are the only people who can be treated that way?
If you're a Catholic, would you appreciate some reporter asking a Catholic presidential candidate, "Do you really believe that when you take the communion wafer, it literally turns into human flesh in your mouth? Isn't that cannibalism?"
If you're a Baptist, would you think it was legitimate for a heckler at a press conference to ask a Baptist presidential candidate, "So you think that when Jesus comes again, you're going to just rise right up into the air, no airplane, no jet pack, you'll just fly? Or aren't you a good enough Baptist to be in the Rapture?"
Everybody's religious beliefs sound crazy when you talk about them scornfully.
And that's the thing that religious Americans ought to remember. The secular, mostly atheistic power elite in our country already has control of the universities and the mainstream media. You can't send your kids to a nonreligious college without knowing that some professor is going to treat their faith with scorn and try to convert them to atheism.
Anybody with religious faith is on the same side in that little war. And if they can keep Mitt Romney from being President by making fun of his religious faith, they can keep candidates from your religion from the presidency in exactly the same way.
If you let the ridicule of Mormon beliefs be a reason not to vote for Mitt Romney, then you're saying that religious people who believe in God as the foundation of their morality are no longer eligible for the Presidency.
By the way, it's just as easy to make fun of some of the insane, self-contradictory beliefs of politically correct atheists; but if you tried it, the mainstream media would treat atheists as victims of religious persecution.
It's a sword that will only be allowed to cut one way -- once you unsheathe it, all religious people will bleed.
Article 6 is a protection for all religious people, and for non-religious people, too. A person's religious beliefs are not a subject for discussion.
Is Mitt Romney the Best Candidate?
I have no idea. I don't know enough about the other candidates -- or about Mitt Romney, for that matter. Just as I hope no one will reject him because he's a Mormon, I am not going to support him just because he's a Mormon.
I'm a Democrat. I would be really grateful if my party would nominate somebody who doesn't make my skin crawl just thinking of them in the White House (i.e., someone who isn't Hillary Clinton). I'm still looking long and hard at Barack Obama.
If there were a chance that Joe Lieberman could get the Democratic nomination, he'd be my candidate this year no matter whom the Republicans nominated.
On the Republican side, I'm looking long and hard at Giuliani. McCain, on the other hand, is so volatile, so unreliable, so self-serving that despite his noble war record and his ironclad stance on the need to win the War on Terror, I would have a hard time choosing him over anybody but Hillary.
In short, I'm still making up my mind.
Hugh Hewitt takes the same position. He remembers too well how candidates can self-destruct, or how strong candidates can come out of nowhere.
He also knows how effective the anti-Mormon thing can be. Ted Kennedy ran an anti-Mormon campaign against Mitt Romney when Romney opposed him for the Senate a decade ago. And it worked ... that time.
So Hewitt isn't saying Mitt Romney should be the Republican nominee. What he is saying is that Republicans would be six kinds of stupid if they ruled him out solely because of his religious faith.
Let me ask you Republicans who would consider yourselves moral conservatives: Would you really let a person's religious beliefs absolutely disqualify him from the Presidency?
And if you're leaning that way, think about this: If it was a choice between a moral conservative and decent person like Mitt Romney, who happens to be a Mormon, and Hillary Clinton, would you really sit out the election rather than cast your vote for a Mormon?
Read Hugh Hewitt's book -- he does a great job of treating Mitt Romney's candidacy fairly and objectively. Since he's not a Mormon, he doesn't have any agenda for or against my church. He just wants a good conservative to win the 2008 election, and he thinks Mitt Romney should be given a fair shot to persuade voters that he's the President for our time.
And you might also check out a website called "Article VI Blog." Run by two guys, one a Mormon, one an evangelical, the site deals head-on with issues concerning Mitt Romney's candidacy. You can find it at: http://www.article6blog.com/
Meanwhile, I have only one bit of advice for Mitt Romney -- advice I would have given George W. Bush (and any other moral conservative), if he'd only bothered to ask me.
Don't go on the Letterman show. It's enemy territory. It just gives Letterman footage to use against you for the rest of your life.
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