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In evaluating a presidential candidate, the most crucial question to consider is why this person wants to be president. In the case of Mitt Romney, one cannot answer this question without understanding his religion and the role it plays in his life.

Recently a diarist suggested we leave Romney’s religion out of our discussion. I somewhat agree with the sentiment—as the diarist correctly points out, there is no religious test for president in this country. However, Romney has repeatedly asked the voters to consider his faith, most notably in his well-publicized Texas speech, the last time he ran for president. In Romney’s own words, “There are some who may feel that religion is not a matter to be seriously considered in the context of the weighty threats that face us. If so, they are at odds with the nation's founders, for they, when our nation faced its greatest peril, sought the blessings of the Creator.” Putting aside the vagueness of this statement (which founders, what crisis, and what kind of “blessings”?), it’s clearly an invitation—an insistence even—that we examine his religion.

Romney’s speech in Texas was supposed to be a nod to the famous speech Kennedy made about his Catholicism in 1960. But Kennedy’s speech was meant to assure people his religion would not be a factor in his presidency. As Kennedy said in his speech:

“Contrary to common newspaper usage, I am not the Catholic candidate for president. I am the Democratic Party’s candidate for president, who happens also to be a Catholic. I do not speak for my church on public matters, and the church does not speak for me.”

Contrast that with what Romney said in 2007:

“Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom. Freedom opens the windows of the soul so that man can discover his most profound beliefs and commune with God. Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone.”

Get that? Freedom requires religion. No religion, no freedom. According to Romney.

In his speech, Romney went on to mimic some of the language from Kennedy’s speech, assuring us that as president, his oath would be to the republic and not his religion, but that was something of a straw man, as no one was suggesting Romney would be “taking orders from Salt Lake City” (whereas many feared Kennedy would be “taking orders from Rome.”) Rather, the concern with Romney was that his religion was perceived by many as being more than a little weird. He never directly addressed that in his speech, although he certainly made great efforts to cast himself as thoroughly mainstream.

The most common conception, or misconception is that Mormons practice polygamy. Of course, they abandoned this practice long ago, and many who practiced it did so with reluctance, in the interest of increasing their numbers. But the practice of polygamy in itself misses the point. The underlying philosophy behind this practice remains ingrained in Mormonism, and is crucially relevant to understanding Romney and what drives him.

Mormonism is ultimately a religion about patriarchy. Central to the belief of Mormons is the idea of the man being in charge, and not just being in charge of one or two people, but being in charge of as many people as possible.

And indeed, Romney kept a traditional Mormon home, in which he was “the decider,” the head of household, the earner, and his wife did the cooking, the cleaning, the chores, and took care of the children (of which she produced as many as reasonably possible, also a part of her religiously mandated duty). Was this Ann Romney’s choice? Well, it was her choice to belong to a religion in which she had no choice. So I guess the answer is sort of, yes.

Mormon patriarchy goes quite a bit further, mind you, from the type we see in the Catholic church. It is far more aggressive in its implementation; ingrained in its culture. There is a kind of manifest destiny about it, and for Americans especially. Mormon’s believe the United States constitution is a religious document, divinely inspired. When Romney said that “God created America,” he didn’t mean, along with the rest of the world. He meant that God created America as a kind of special holy land, distinct from all other nations. That’s the Mormon belief. As a male, you were meant to be in charge, and as an American male, to be in charge of the world, essentially.

As for his professional life, I suspect he was a fairly decent manager in many ways. That’s not to say I’d want to work for him, because I know he’d fire me if a spreadsheet told him to. And I doubt he’d feel the slightest tinge of regret. But my understanding of him is that he’s organized, dedicated, and runs a tight ship. He did his job for the winter Olympics, and he got health care passed in my home state of Massachusetts. And that shouldn’t be discounted. He has some managerial skills.

I may get some hell for saying this, but if I were president, I would consider tapping Romney’s shoulder to head FEMA. He might be good in that role. He’s a problem solver, numbers cruncher. He’s generally on the ball. As you may have noticed, he’s not very political or partisan (only now is he desperately trying to seem so). You may argue that he’s not very compassionate—as I eluded to earlier, he has no problem firing people. But he does, as a matter of his faith, give to charity, and volunteer, and it wouldn’t be fair to paint him as totally heartless. As it happens, during hurricane Katrina, he was extremely critical of FEMA’s mismanagement, and arranged to house thousands of refugees on military bases on Cape Cod (only a couple hundred ended up coming).

But if you were to give Romney a position such as Secretary of Defense, you can bet he would get out his protractor and slide ruler and get to work solving the problem of how many people he could kill as efficiently as possible. Which is what happened when Kennedy hired a confrere of Mitt Romney’s father to be Secretary of Defense—another managerial guy from Detroit, the head of Ford Motors. A guy named Robert McNamara.

McNamara and Romney have a lot in common. Aside from their connections to Detroit and the auto industry, they both attended Harvard Business, and became successful as managerial number crunchers. McNamara, of course, went on to be the architect for the Vietnam war.

Like McNamara, Romney says that he “loves diving into the data.” There is a lot of data in war. Munition stockpiles, troop numbers, assault time-lines, casualties... I’m sure he would enjoy sifting through all that information. Fun!

You can parse through all the beliefs and commandments of Mormonism, but that won’t give you a real understanding of Mormon culture, any more than examining the Torah would give you an understanding of Jewish culture. In practice, Romney’s religion is not so much about what to do, but how to do it. Whatever you’re doing, be a strong man, be a leader, whether it be helping people or hurting them, no matter. This is the religion of rugged individualism, adopted by American frontiersmen.

Romney’s religious calling is to be in charge.

And this is where I can’t help but wryly smile at Romney’s current predicament. The thing about managerial types is they’re not accustomed to having to explain themselves to their piddling underlings. They don’t have to be likable. They just have to take care of the bottom line. But now Romney has to go out there and grovel—and the people he’s groveling to just happen to be total lunatics. It’s an amusingly painful spectacle.

Strictly managerial types may make profitable businessmen, and may even make accomplished governors (I’m not weighing in on Romney’s overall performance as governor in this diary). But when choosing a president, for better or worse, voters consider managerial skills as an afterthought. What matters more is whether or not you connect with people in a meaningful and personal way—whether or not you have a story and vision that resonates. If you manage to run a decent campaign, voters will take that as enough evidence your managerial skills are sufficient. This may be a tad foolish—it may be that voters should really consider more carefully a candidate’s managerial skills. But without a compelling vision, those skills are meaningless. A president without dreams is a corpse-in-chief.

It’s possible that if the economy tanks again, people may look at Romney and say, “Well, he seems competent, can’t do much worse, right?” That strategy depends on circumstances being exactly right for Romney. Not a good campaign strategy. If he hopes to compete against Obama—the master storyteller, the man with the vision—he’s going to need a vision of his own. And Romney’s primary vision is of himself as the leader.

He is a problem solver, and there’s one big problem he’s working on. How to get elected. And watching Romney try to solve this problem is really turning off the voters. In a strange sort of way, Romney's religion is a problem for him, but not because the voters are prejudiced. It's because it has established in him a frame of reference that can only get him so far.

The more I understand Romney, the more I doubt his chances in November. He simply does not seem capable of communicating with people on a visceral level, and I don’t see how a candidate like that can win.

But what if he somehow pulls it off? As for the role Mormonism might play in a Romney presidency, the story isn’t how it guides him, it’s how it doesn’t guide him. His religion will not inspire him to use government as a means of ensuring fairness—necessarily. It will not inspire him to use government as a means of maintaining a safety net—necessarily. The only thing it will really tell him to do is be in charge. Be a strong male, and make sure everyone around him knows their place.

Markos likes to say that Romney has no moral compass. I don’t entirely agree—he does have a moral compass, sort of. And like any compass, if he moves west, the needle moves east. If he moves east, the needle moves west. Romney’s compass points to the Whitehouse. The Whitehouse is Romney’s magnetic north. The problem is, once he arrives, the needle will just spin around in circles up there. And then what?

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Comment Preferences

  •  So there was my premise (13+ / 0-)

    Am I being too glib? And should a candidate's religion truly be off limits?

    "Preventive war is a crime not easily committed by a country that retains any traces of democracy." -George Orwell

    by Zackpunk on Mon Feb 27, 2012 at 01:39:57 PM PST

  •  You can't understand Romney... (0+ / 0-)
    ...without understanding Mormonism.  
    You mean...they're a bunch of flip-flopping, pandering mannequins?  Oh, that's just him.  Right.  That's what I thought.  No need to muddy this up with his faith...he's bad enough based on those qualities alone.

    "Americans are 'on our knees in front of China for credit,' DeMint told the mostly conservative attendees feasting on fried rice and fortune cookies at Tony Chang's restaurant in the Chinatown section of D.C."

    by littlenomad on Mon Feb 27, 2012 at 02:25:45 PM PST

  •  Manifest Destiny (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    OldDragon, ShoshannaD, cany, Aunt Pat

    Mormonism is also a religous version of manifest destiny. Its belief in itself as the "restored gospel" and america as the "new jerusalem' and utah as "zion".

    the belief is at its core an evangelical twist of an american protestant view of Judiasm. They are the chosen people, and they are to make others like them.

    There is not a value for diversity or individuality. It is about building a like minded group of similar people who conform to the same cultural religious standards.

  •  So you're basically saying? (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dvalkure, cany, Aunt Pat

    That Mormonism creates efficient, drone-like worker bees, but not hive leaders?

    I can't say I'd disagree much with that assessment, or the view that Mormonism is stifling in its paternalism. But this line:

    "...his oath would be to the republic and not his religion, but that was something of a straw man, as no one was suggesting Romney would be 'taking orders from Salt Lake City' (whereas many feared Kennedy would be 'taking orders from Rome.')"

    Actually I'd say there's far more reason to fear the influence of the Mormon Prophet and Council of Apostles on a Mormon president than the Catholic prelates. Faithful Mormons are pressured HEAVILY to tithe, to meet with ward leaders, to routinely make public declarations of their faith that Joseph Smith was a prophet AND that the current Mormon leader is the only true prophet of God, to remain worthy of the Temple, etc.

    The extent and effectiveness of Mormon interference in the lives of active Mormon churchgoers compared to that of the average Catholic is pretty stark.

  •  When I was a kid going to church in Utah, we were (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cany, Aunt Pat, luckylizard

    taught that the the LDS religion (Mormons) is destined to save American democracy and freedom, anr to do so by ruling this nation "from the mointain tops". Beyond that things were a little fuzzy.

    There can be no protection locally if we're content to ignore the fact that there are no controls globally.

    by oldpotsmuggler on Mon Feb 27, 2012 at 03:18:55 PM PST

  •  she had a choice, that statement is not true (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    i happen to be a mormon. a democratic mormon. i find that statement, "Well, it was her choice to belong to a religion in which she had no choice. So I guess the answer is sort of, yes, to be quite untrue.

    ann had a choice, we all do. mormon women are no different than other women when it comes to how many children they feel they can handle. i have 2 one girl and one boy. i stopped.

    not all mormon's have large families, just like not all catholics have large families. men in the lds church do not just  procreate to keep their wives barefoot and pregnant. the final decision belongs to her.

    some women are just made of hardier stuff. they can raise large families and still look like they stepped off the front cover of vogue magazine. i'm not one of them, and many mormon women are not. a

    and lets not forget ann is married to a wealthy man. i doubt she did any housework, and she could employ nannies if she wanted to and a cleaning service to maintain her home.

    so please do not say she had a choice, we all do. i stopped at 2. that was MY CHOICE!!

    •  The statement about choice... (0+ / 0-)

      ...was not referring to the parenthetical. That's why it's a parenthetical.

      "Preventive war is a crime not easily committed by a country that retains any traces of democracy." -George Orwell

      by Zackpunk on Mon Feb 27, 2012 at 04:04:04 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  The premise of the diary seems wrong (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Aunt Pat

    In evaluating a presidential candidate, the most crucial question to consider is whether this person ought to be president, NOT why they want to be president.  If Mitt were a Scientologist and his reason for being president involved Tom Cruise clearing his body thetans in the name of Xinu, I really would not care.  The fact that Mitt wants to impose destructive policies on our country is a good reason not to vote for him.  The fact that Mitt spews ever-changing amorphous bullshit is a good reason not to vote for him.  Mitt simply doesn't solve problems in a way that would be compatible with running our nation.  And there's more to being President than just solving problems.


    •  Well, I couldn't disagree more (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      To say the most crucial question to consider is whether the person ought to be president -- that's a bit of a redundancy. If you were not considering whether the person ought to be president, you would not be considering the person at all. So the word "ought" is already implied in the word consider. The important question is how to go about considering. And the candidate's reasons for wanting to be president are of course the most important factors.

      I don't even believe that you really mean what you say -- that if Romney's desire to be president had something to do with some weird schizophrenic fantasy involving Tom Cruise and Xinu, that wouldn't concern you. Really?!

      "Preventive war is a crime not easily committed by a country that retains any traces of democracy." -George Orwell

      by Zackpunk on Mon Feb 27, 2012 at 05:08:36 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  It depends on your criteria (0+ / 0-)

        Folks evaluate presidential candidates on a number of criteria -- who has the nicest hair, who can string two sentences together, who has the craziest eyes, who's most easily bought or sold, etc.  The most important evaluation to make of a candidate about is whether they should be president, the thing brings them to public attention.  In that context, why they want to be president doesn't strike me as nearly as important as what they're going to do as president.  There may be some sort of important relationship between the two, or there may not.  What they think doesn't make an impact on me.  What they DO does.  

        Religion?  Bah.  If I had a nickel for every time some candidate for public office said they were "called by God" in some form or fashion, I'd have a lot of change in my pocket.  I'd be more concerned if their goal was to implement theocracy.  The Republican candidates we have are about as transparent as they get in terms of what they'd like to do.  I don't need to play psychologist or tea leaf reader.  For most of them, I just need a big checkbook.  

  •  I agree completely with you. nm (0+ / 0-)

    202-224-3121 to Congress in D.C. USE it! You can tell how big a person is by what it takes to discourage them. "We're not perfect, but they're nuts."--Barney Frank 01/02/2012

    by cany on Mon Feb 27, 2012 at 05:48:04 PM PST

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