Today I’ll defend Mitt Romney. For real.
He’s clearly mapping a third presidential bid – call it Mitt 3.0 – and this time he plans to feature his authentic self. This time, unlike the first two times, he doesn’t intend to downplay his Mormon faith. This time, he intends to own it.
Good for him. And if some Americans are squeamish about voting for a Mormon, Mitt should invoke Article VI of the U.S. Constitution, which says that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust.”
His re-brand pre-campaign is quite conspicuous. Mitt intimates, obviously with his blessing, have been planting seeds in the mainstream media. Kirk Jowers, a family friend, says that if and when Mitt runs again, “(it) will be very liberating for him to talk about his faith.” Richard Marriott, a Mormon friend and hotel heir, says that Mitt’s religion compels him to run: “Our church tells us clearly that when we are in the service of our fellow man, we are in the service of our God.” Mitt’s eldest son, Tagg, says that his dad wants to talk about “the values of love and service that (the faith) has taught him.”
This is new. Mitt 1.0 and Mitt 2.0 tried to muzzle his Mormonism. Ten years ago, while planning his first presidential bid, he told a TV interviewer, “I’m never going to get into a discussion about my personal beliefs.” It was a tactical decision, because he and his strategists had checked the polls. In fact, Gallup had been consistent since the ’60s: when Americans were asked whether they’d vote for a Mormon presidential candidate, 17 percent said no. (In 2007, during Mitt’s first bid, the No share spiked at 24 percent.)
That bigotry was unfair then, and it’s unfair now. Mitt has many flaws as a candidate – do we need to list them? – but his faith shouldn’t be counted as baggage.
Granted, a lot of people are weirded out by Mormons, thanks to plays like Angels in America and books like Under the Banner of Heaven. Evangelical Christians, in particular, dismiss Mormonism as a cult. The religion decrees that in 1827, in New York state, a guy named Joseph Smith dug up a book of golden plates, long buried in a hillside, with the help of an angel named Moroni; that these plates, written in Egyptian hieroglyphics, spelled out the precepts of the true Christian faith; that Smith translated these hieroglyphics by wearing decoder glasses and burying his head in a hat; that Jesus visited North America after the resurrection; that the Garden of Eden was really in Missouri….hence the discomfort, among many Americans, with electing someone who believes this stuff.
But hang on a sec. I don’t intend to go all Bill Maher on you, but I have to ask:
Don’t all religions look somewhat weird to outsiders? Aren’t they all rooted in stories and legends?
If we’re worried about whether Mitt rationally thinks that the Garden of Eden was in Missouri, then perhaps we should demand to know whether a Catholic candidate rationally thinks that the wafer he eats on Sunday is the actual body and blood of Jesus. And we should demand to know whether a Jewish candidate rationally thinks that Moses parted the Red Sea. But we don’t, because most Americans, rational in their professional lives, accept religious doctrines as metaphor.
And there’s no evidence that Mitt governed Massachusetts as a Mormon elder, that he crafted Romneycare by channelling Joseph Smith or the angel Moroni.
There was a time, according to Gallup, when most Americans were loathe to support a Jewish presidential candidate simply because he was Jewish; as late as 1937, a mere 46 percent said they’d vote for a Jew. But in 2000, by popular vote, Americans were fine with putting Joe Lieberman a heartbeat away from the presidency, confident that he’d govern in a secular fashion.
Where’s the evidence that Mitt would be any different? Give him a policy test, not a religious test.