Friday, June 08, 2007

What makes Mitt Romney tick

For the first time since 1960, a major presidential candidate's religious affiliation is a subject of serious public debate; and this time around, the debate is of special interest to me, partly because I am a good deal older than I was in 1960, but mainly because the religion in question is one I wholeheartedly share with the candidate. The candidate, of course, is Mitt Romney, who like myself is an active, practicing Mormon. (Apart from our political views, which are very compatible, that might be the only thing I have in common with Mr. Romney, as I am utterly unqualified to be President of the United States. I might add parenthetically that the fact that I will never be President is a great blessing for our country, although I am seriously concerned that the country at large might not appreciate this particular blessing nearly as much as it should. But I digress.)

I happen to like Mitt Romney, and would feel entirely comfortable with having him in the White House, although that is not because of the obvious religious affinity; after all, Harry Reid, who as a politician and Senator does not particularly impress me, is likewise a practicing Latter-day Saint, and probably a pretty good one at that. But given the widespread misconceptions about Mormons and the controversy we inevitably seem to generate, plus the troubling polls which indicate that over a third of potential voters would not vote for a Mormon, period, I think it highly unlikely that Mr. Romney could be elected. But he does seem to represent his church well, and I hope that when his campaign is over -- whatever the result -- the faith's overall image will be improved by it.

In connection with the foregoing, I found this in yesterday's edition of Meridian Magazine, which is second only to Flickr as my favorite website. It is the transcript of a question-and-answer session between Richard Bushman, a respected historian who happens to be a practicing Latter-day Saint, and an impressive cross-section of the media. It's probably as good a summary of the historical relationship between Mormons and politics as one is likely to find anywhere. (Note: I was unable to link directly to the transcript, but the Meridian article does contain a link to it.)


Blogger Bruce Young said...

Garry, I feel much the same as you do about the general phenomenon of having someone like Mitt Romney run for President--with a few exceptions. I know Mitt/Mr. Romney/Brother Romney personally, but not by any means intimately. He was a counselor in the Boston Stake Presidency when I lived in Cambridge, Mass., and I had at least one discussion with him (aka temple recommend interview). I've said hello to him a couple of times since and also chatted with a couple of his sons about 10 years ago. BUT I doubt he would remember me. So it's mainly a one-sided personal acquaintance, I'm afraid.

I've always liked him. I remember some details from our chat(s) and from talks he gave as a church leader. I was cheering for him when he ran against Teddy Kennedy; I admire how he ran the Olympics; I was happy he was elected governor of Massachusetts. However, I've liked him less politically since he's been running for President.

His general tone and position on the issues have shifted sharply to the right, sometimes in silly ways (such as joining the NRA), sometimes in ways that have disturbed me, such as some hard-line statements on immigration and his trying (it seems to me) to come across as toughest and most mean-spirited in saying things about "our enemies" in the debates. Those are some of the ways I believe he's confirming exactly the WRONG stereotypes about Mormons, and I think that damages the Church by its effect on the perceptions and attitudes of both members and non-members. I think of what President Kimball said 31 years ago: "We are a warlike people, easily distracted from our assignment of preparing for the coming of the Lord. . . . When threatened, we become antienemy instead of pro-kingdom of God," etc., etc. (try this link for the full text).

To understand my views on war and peace, you'd do well to read an essay I've written on the subject. I won't try to summarize it here. Immigration--especially illegal immigration--is a thorny topic, but I can (pretty much) guarantee that, if Romeny were living in Utah and involved in Church leadership, he'd take a much different tone than he currently is on the topic. When you're dealing with real people on a weekly basis, it's hard use a harsh, antagonistic tone in talking about issues that affect them so poignantly. Not only that--many Church leaders, at least here in Utah, including Elder Ballard and Romney's friend Fraser Bullock--have spoken about what is happening with Hispanics in the U.S. not just sympathetically but with the view that prophetically significant things are happening and that the Church's response needs to be inclusive, helpful, and non-judgmental (leaving the practical solution to the practical problems to the political sphere). I've talked with Chris and Joe Cannon (two of Utah's premiere Republicans), and precisely because of the gospel influence on their thinking, their views on illegal immigration are starkly different from the current standard conservative view in the U.S. Chris Cannon's most difficult political battles have been with people much further to the right, people who hold up placards saying things like "Mexicans are not Lamanites."

On the other hand, I'm grateful for Romney's shift to a more pro-life position. His position on abortion in the past was the one thing I felt a bit uncomfortable with.

Well, now you know more about me politically than you probably wanted to. But there it is--still looking for the ideal LDS candidate for President.

11:19 AM  
Blogger Garry Wilmore said...

Thank you for that thoughful and informative comment. I have no real argument against what you say here, except this: Romney does have his imperfections, as well as his strengths, but I would much rather see him in the White House than Hillary. And while the Republican candidates, as a group, don't impress me all that much, I still like Romney. Perhaps the fact that he is "one of us" has more to do with it than I would like to admit, but I think I would like him even if I were not LDS.

As for illegal immigration, I have decidedly mixed feelings as to what should be done about it, although I recognize the humanitarian aspect of the issue and would never endorse the views expressed by some right-wing extremists, such as the ones you mention here. For obvious reasons, this is an especially touchy subject here in Arizona.

12:19 PM  
Blogger Bruce Young said...

It sounds as if we're not too far apart in our views. I do still like Mitt despite serious difficulties with some of his positions. There are five or six presidential candidates (maybe more), both Democrat and Republican, I'd rather have as president than Hillary. And illegal immigration is a difficult problem. I don't know exactly how it will be or should be resolved. But the mean-spiritedness of some people on the subject strikes me as precisely the opposite of the spirit of the gospel.

1:00 PM  

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