Mitt Romney

Mitt Happens (Feel The Big Love Edition)

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The Wash Times reports that outgoing Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is officially throwing his hat in the presidential ring:

[American Enterprise Institute scholar John C. Fortier] said [the lack of a clearly conservative frontrunner] has left an opening for Mr. Romney, who early in his governorship seemed to stake out moderate positions but moved toward the conservative side later in his single term.

"There's a lot of mystery here because he's got a lot of ways he could go, but politically the place to go in the Republican field is to the right of McCain, to the more traditional part of the Republican Party," Mr. Fortier said.

Romney's run is setting off discussions about religion and politics. Romney is a Mormon, the religion not only at the center of HBO's popular polygamous dramedy Big Love but the very first Sherlock Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet, and, if memory serves, Zane Grey's Riders of the Purple Sage and John Ford's underappreciated pre-revisionist revisionist Western, Wagon Train (1950). Which is a way of saying that Mormonism has long been a real wild card in discussions of religion and politics, as many traditional Christians view the creed with skepticism and scorn, and many secularists see it as little short of a cult that's even more bizarre than good ol' fashioned religion that's been around for thousands of years rather than since 1829.

The New Republic has an ish out apparently attacking Romney for buying into Joseph Smith's dogma (I say apparently because I haven't read the story, which is not available online, but is the pretext for an online debate at TNR's website). In the first entry, Richard Lyman Bushman attacks the author of the TNR piece, Damon Linker, for fomenting historically unfounded hysteria about Mormons. He writes:

We can judge the actual dangers of the Mormon Church to national politics from the historical record. Have any of the church presidents tried to manage Smoot, Ezra Taft Benson, Harry Reid, or Gordon Smith? The record is innocuous to say the least. There is no evidence that the church has used its influence in Washington to set up a millennial kingdom where Mormons will govern the world or even to exercise much sway on lesser matters. It's a long way from actual history to the conclusion that "under a President Romney, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints would truly be in charge of the country–with its leadership having final say on matters of right and wrong."

But over at American Heritage's excellent and lively blog, Joshua Zeitz makes a strong case that Romney's statements about religious faith, if not Mormonism per se, need some real explicating precisely because Romney says religion is central to his political identity.

In a campaign swing last year, Mitt Romney said, "Most people in South Carolina want a person of faith as their leader. But they [South Carolina voters] don't care what brand of faith that is. . . . I believe Jesus Christ is my savior. I believe in God. I'm a person of faith and I believe that's the type of person Americans want."

There is considerable ambiguity in this statement. Does Mitt Romney mean to suggest that Americans want a person of "faith" to govern their affairs, or someone who accepts Christ as his or her personal savior? If he means the latter, then I beg to differ. If he means the former, then is it not fair to ask, faith in what?

I find Romney's statement quoted above fully in line with a significant shift in American culture over, say, the past 25 years or so. Back then, the divides between and among religious groups were much sharper–evangelical Christians would routinely refuse to endorse Catholicism, much less less-established faiths. Giving in to ecumenicalism was akin to giving in to one-world government. Nowadays, the divide is between secularists and religionists or believers. The specific faith is less important than the fact that you are "religious" (with the possible exception of being a Muslim in today's climate). It seems to me that's what Romney is signaling in the above quote, though it's a message that will likely cause some confusion coming from a Mormon rather than an adherent to a more mainstream creed.

Some bits from South Park's very accurate "All About Mormons" episode.

Reason's interview with South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker here.

Reason columnist Cathy Young poured some holy water on the religious-secularist divide here.

Bonus Mormon link here.

NEXT: Forget Transfats! Step Away from that Copy of Seventeen Magazine!

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  1. “…I believe Jesus Christ is my savior. I believe in God. I’m a person of faith and I believe that’s the type of person Americans want.”

    Translation: If you don’t believe as I do, you aren’t a “real” American.

  2. What’s interesting is the people that are most opposed to making hay of Romney’s religion are the one making the most noise about Ellison swearing on the Bible.

    So much for wanting a person of faith. The interesting contrast between this and the JFK campaign is that during JFK’s campaign, his faith wasn’t part of his appeal. For Romney, his religiousness is a big part of his appeal in his party. So he has to straddle a fine line between keeping his religion out of his faith while making sure to let people know how much it guides him.

  3. Will Mitt-ler resurrect the brown shirts, I mean the Danites, aka The Avenging Angels?

  4. From On Libert by JS Mill, Chapter 4, for what it’s worth:

    I cannot refrain from adding to these examples of the little account commonly made of human liberty, the language of downright persecution which breaks out from the press of this country, whenever it feels called on to notice the remarkable phenomenon of Mormonism. Much might be said on the unexpected and instructive fact, that an alleged new revelation, and a religion, founded on it, the product of palpable imposture, not even supported by the prestige of extraordinary qualities in its founder, is believed by hundreds of thousands, and has been made the foundation of a society, in the age of newspapers, railways, and the electric telegraph. What here concerns us is, that this religion, like other and better religions, has its martyrs; that its prophet and founder was, for his teaching, put to death by a mob; that others of its adherents lost their lives by the same lawless violence; that they were forcibly expelled, in a body, from the country in which they first grew up; while, now that they have been chased into a solitary recess in the midst of a desert, many in this country openly declare that it would be right (only that it is not convenient) to send an expedition against them, and compel them by force to conform to the opinions of other people. The article of the Mormonite doctrine which is the chief provocative to the antipathy which thus breaks through the ordinary restraints of religious tolerance, is its sanction of polygamy; which, though permitted to Mahomedans, and Hindoos, and Chinese, seems to excite unquenchable animosity when practised by persons who speak English, and profess to be a kind of Christians. No one has a deeper disapprobation than I have of this Mormon institution; both for other reasons, and because, far from being in any way countenanced by the principle of liberty, it is a direct infraction of that principle, being a mere riveting of the chains of one half of the community, and an emancipation of the other from reciprocity of obligation towards them. Still, it must be remembered that this relation is as much voluntary on the part of the women concerned in it, and who may be deemed the sufferers by it, as is the case with any other form of the marriage institution; and however surprising this fact may appear, it has its explanation in the common ideas and customs of the world, which teaching women to think marriage the one thing needful, make it intelligible that many a woman should prefer being one of several wives, to not being a wife at all. Other countries are not asked to recognize such unions, or release any portion of their inhabitants from their own laws on the score of Mormonite opinions. But when the dissentients have conceded to the hostile sentiments of others, far more than could justly be demanded; when they have left the countries to which their doctrines were unacceptable, and established themselves in a remote corner of the earth, which they have been the first to render habitable to human beings; it is difficult to see on what principles but those of tyranny they can be prevented from living there under what laws they please, provided they commit no aggression on other nations, and allow perfect freedom of departure to those who are dissatisfied with their ways. A recent writer, in some respects of considerable merit, proposes (to use his own words,) not a crusade, but a civilizade, against this polygamous community, to put an end to what seems to him a retrograde step in civilization. It also appears so to me, but I am not aware that any community has a right to force another to be civilized. So long as the sufferers by the bad law do not invoke assistance from other communities, I cannot admit that persons entirely unconnected with them ought to step in and require that a condition of things with which all who are directly interested appear to be satisfied, should be put an end to because it is a scandal to persons some thousands of miles distant, who have no part or concern in it. Let them send missionaries, if they please, to preach against it; and let them, by any fair means, (of which silencing the teachers is not one,) oppose the progress of similar doctrines among their own people. If civilization has got the better of barbarism when barbarism had the world to itself, it is too much to profess to be afraid lest barbarism, after having been fairly got under, should revive and conquer civilization. A civilization that can thus succumb to its vanquished enemy must first have become so degenerate, that neither its appointed priests and teachers, nor anybody else, has the capacity, or will take the trouble, to stand up for it. If this be so, the sooner such a civilization receives notice to quit, the better. It can only go on from bad to worse, until destroyed and regenerated (like the Western Empire) by energetic barbarians. [1] The case of the Bombay Parsees is a curious instance in point. When this industrious and enterprising tribe, the descendants of the Persian fire-worshippers, flying from their native country before the Caliphs, arrived in Western India, they were admitted to toleration by the Hindoo sovereigns, on condition of not eating beef. When those regions afterwards fell under the dominion of Mahomedan conquerors, the Parsees obtained from them a continuance of indulgence, on condition of refraining from pork. What was at first obedience to authority became a second nature, and the Parsees to this day abstain both from beef and pork. Though not required by their religion, the double abstinence has had time to grow into a custom of their tribe; and custom, in the East, is a religion.

  5. I can just imagine Mit’s campaign song now.

    Vote Mit Rom-ney is two-thousand-and-eight,
    Dumb, Dumb, Dumb, Dumb, Dumb…

  6. Aside from that massacre on the Oregon trail a hundred and some years ago, the first Battle Star Galactica and every book ever written by Olson Scott Card exempting Enders Game…I think the Mormons get a bad wrap.

  7. Damn it, Akira beat me to it!

  8. Any believing Milton-Friedman-true libertarian can smell a heresy in a New York minute, and Mormonism is about as herital from True Christianity point of view as notion that taxes have ever been even a teeeny-weeny bit justifiable is from True Libertarianism point of view. But since the Libertarian party has never done shit in elections (Socialists-1, Libertanians-0), we have to form alliances. Mit’s as good as anybody else when it comes to alliances to defeat TAX-LOVING, SOCIALIST-MEDICINE-PLOTTING, JUST-PLAIN-NO-DAMN-GOOD HILARY. And that’s libertarian politics in a nutshell.

  9. I subscribe to the New Republic. Yeah, I know. I’m like battered wife. Every fall, I’m all “Beat it, New Republic. I’m tired of you smacking me around.”

    And TNR is all like, “Oh baby, I’m sorry. I’ll never call you a terrorist-enabler again. Think of the good times.”

    And I’m all, “Oh, New Republic, I can’t stay mad at you.”

    And two months later, Martin Peretz is calling me an anti-semite for noticing that Israel lost that war against Hezbollah.

  10. True Christianity point of view

    So long as us libertarians have “true” christian nomenclature Nazi’s like Ted here to inform us on who makes the grade of being a Christian and who doesn’t we will do just as terribly as we have been doing.

    Jesus H Fucking Christ on a Popsicle stick where did that load of crap come from Ted?

  11. Anyway, the meat of the TNR piece is that Mormonism is headed by a leader who is considered to a prophet, who receives revelation directly from God; and that Mormon doctrine esteems the revelations of prophets above all other sources of knowledge, including the Bible, the Mormon Scriptures, and any pre-existing set of morals.

    If the Pope came out into St. Peter’s square and said Jesus tole him we had to kill all the Lithuanians, Catholics would compare that message to the Gospels, to Church teaching, and to their own consciences, and dismiss it as a false prophecy. Mormons, according to the article, could not do this if the Mormon Prophet was to do the same thing, and still be good members of the LDS Church.

    So, allegedly, a Mormon president would be a greater threat than a Catholic president, because a Mormon would be much more bound to obey the Prophet’s revelation than would a Catholic.

  12. joe:

    Don’t do it! TNR will only break your heart in the end. Oh sure, he’ll show up with flowers and apologies, but soon or later, TNR is going to screw around on you!

  13. joe, I’m no expert on catholic doctrine, but isn’t the Pope supposed to be able to make statements ‘ex cathedra’ that are infallible. If so, how is that different than the mormon prophet?

  14. then is it not fair to ask, faith in what?

    Adam Smith

  15. Faith in Hayek, Mill, Friedman, Bastiat, Cooldige, Williams…

    …a man with faith in those people is a man that has my vote.

  16. (A) joe, that is without a doubt the funniest thing I have ever read in the H&R comments.

    (B) Anyone who thinks Romney’s religion is an obstacle to winning election to higher office has missed the fact that there are now only two Christian sacraments: opposing abortion and hating gays. Believing that the Native Americans are actually a lost tribe of Israel and that Jesus came over to the Americas and hung out for awhile before ascending to Heaven is not an obstacle.

  17. Jack beat me to it…joe that was the funniest post I’ve read in weeks.

  18. Oh, about Romney. He has a chance to win. Once this Iraq thing is over, the attention will shift to health care. Obama and Hillary will battle over calling health care a “right,” the sheep will then demand health care, and Romney has a decent plan that can beat them. Newt is decent on health care, but he has already been too demonized to be a factor.

  19. Any politician who comes up with what looks like a sensible national health care plan will find himself/herself running on a groundswell. Middle class, lower class, all worried about rising health insurance costs (as well as the proclivities towards cherry picking and just plain reneging on promises of the present providers). Add to this the yowling from the US auto companies about the costs.

    If libertarians don’t want to see a national health care plan, you’d better find some other way to fix the present broken system pretty damn quick.

  20. grumps, I agree. One way or another we are going to get universal health care. The sheep demand it. We need to figure out how to do it without killing it. The plan Romney’
    attempted in Mass. can work. It may even be better than what we have. I wouldn’t count him out. We can always reverse ridiculous gay marriage bans later, but government controlled health care will be irreversible.

  21. The plan Romney attempted in Mass. can work. It may even be better than what we have.

    How is that plan working out in MA??

    Isn’t that the plan where individual Health Insurance is mandatory and employers can pay a $500 tax (to help subsidize the cost of individual insurance) to avoid providing it for employees?

    I don’t see how that plan doesn’t screw middle and lower-middle income people by forcing them to take on a monthly insurance payment.

    Maybe someone smarter than me can tell me if my description is off and how this benefits the people of MA? (And I don’t mean in some aggregate sense like “everyone having insurance is a benefit and keeps costs down” or something)

    And how exactly does mandating people to get insurance jibe with libertarian philosophy?? With auto insurance at least, its mandatory because of the direct harm you might cause to others.

  22. I assume the argument for mandated health insurance is that if you don’t have it, you’ll still be going to hospitals when the situation gets so bad you have to, end up in emergency care and be incredibly much more expensive–and it will still end up being paid for by the taxpayer.

    Actually, I’m in favor of a national health service, but that’s simply because the private sector has managed to screw up so badly I honestly can’t see how the gov’t will do any worse. For those of you who believe that “the free market will provide everything”, please explain the present mess in health insurance, hmmm? Please explain why the free market hasn’t fixed the scandal with cherry-picking, reneging on contracts, dropped coverage and all the other nastiness we’ve been seeing?

  23. The free market can’t always defeat the forces of the government. Current government policy has screwed up health care.

    My grandma gets a hangnail and Medicare gives her a free MRI. My father gets a gold-plated health care package tax-free.

    I can see how national health care would have the ability to be more efficient than the current situation. But the problem, of course, is that more government control probably means that there will be more inefficiency since the federal government’s goal is to enrich certain constituencies.

  24. Joe, that was the funniest thing you’ve ever said. I still think you’re Chris.

  25. I can see how national health care would have the ability to be more efficient than the current situation.

    Hellz yeah. Putting politicians and lawyers in charge of something always makes the cost go down.

  26. joe, I’m no expert on catholic doctrine, but isn’t the Pope supposed to be able to make statements ‘ex cathedra’ that are infallible. If so, how is that different than the mormon prophet?

    The Pope is only infallible in matters of doctrine. If the Pope says there’s no Limbo, you have to listen to him as there is no Limbo. If the Pope says to break a serious commandment, say to go commit adultery with some chick and then kill her husband while coveting his house and stealing the fillings from his teeth,* well, not so much. Although, to provide a fair characterization, almost every single Mormon out there would hear what the Prophet said, dismiss him as having crossed the line beyond which eccentricities become a serious case of fuckwittedness, and start to discuss how to work him out the door. Meanwhile, nobody goes out and does it because in Mormonism you only wind up in permanent Hell for breaking a serious commandment like killing a bunch of guys and then not feeling bad for it.

    *that’s what those in the God biz call “hitting for the cycle.”

  27. Belief in imaginary beings is childish.
    Americans demand this irrationality in their leaders.
    What a country.

  28. Akira,

    You don’t know what TNR is really like, when we’re alone together. TNR is just super-sensitive. Besides, I’m so stupid and clumsy…

    Toker,

    Shem has a really good answer.

  29. Meanwhile, nobody goes out and does it because in Mormonism you only wind up in permanent Hell for breaking a serious commandment like killing a bunch of guys and then not feeling bad for it.

    That may mean that Brigham Young is in hell, right, given that he may have ordered the Mountain Meadows massacre:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mountain_Meadows_Massacre

  30. Joe,

    TNR needs you. He’s a mess, you’re the best thing that’s ever happened to him.

  31. I dunno, the more people do the whole “HA HA MORMONS ARE POLYGAMISTS!!!” thing, which is false, the more Romney starts looking good compared to his detractors.

  32. 123-One never knows.

  33. That may mean that Brigham Young is in hell, right, given that he may have ordered the Mountain Meadows massacre:

    Given that the federal investigation at the time failed to find any evidence of involvment, and that said investigation was being run by persons unfriendly to Young, and that it was so biased that one investigator complained that there was more of an effort to implicate Young than to uncover the facts, I’m not terribly worried about Pres. Young’s current temperature.

  34. For those of you who believe that “the free market will provide everything”, please explain the present mess in health insurance, hmmm?

    The US health care system by no means a free market. It’s somehow managed to combine the worst aspects of both capitalism and socialism with none of the benefits. It shouldn’t be a surprise that government policies were instrumental in achieving this, going back to the wage controls in WW2 that led employers to provide health insurance instead of higher salaries.

  35. Ah, the one drop rule. Look, everyone, I found an instance of government intervention! Therefore, we can say that the sub-optimal outcomes are all the fault of the government!

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