Romney's religion

>> Monday, April 09, 2012

Mitt Romney, as you may have heard, is a Mormon. Because Romney will be the first Mormon major presidential nominee in American history, and because Mormonism is still exotic and strange to many Americans, his religion will be an issue. So the people who would like Mitt Romney to be the next president have to work to make certain arguments about Mormonism seem illegitimate. This process has already begun, basically, but by the end of it, everyone who has ever made a "magic underwear" joke will be declared an intolerant liberal bigot.
-Alex Pareene,
"The coming war on Mormon jokes",
Salon, April 9th, 2012.


The normally reliable Alex Pareene has a mess of a column up on Salon today, something like a rebuttal in search of an issue. I mean, it's likely that Mitt Romney's religion is one of the things that's causing him problems down here in the Southern primaries, though that hypothesis perhaps runs into trouble when confronted with the way a lot of the evangelicals down here feel about Catholics like Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich (counter-rebuttal: Santorum knows how to talk the evangelical talk and Gingrich is a country boy).

But in terms of the general: Republicans should hope that Romney's religion is the issue the Democrats jump on (hint: they won't). Because if they raise lots and lots of ugly questions about Romney's religious beliefs, that will leave them fewer opportunities to use Romney's own words against him (hint: they will).

The fact that Romney can't help sounding like a clueless, entitled, super-rich white guy who is out of touch with 99% of the human race is not news and I don't know that I want to belabor the point. You can find a gallery of quotes here and here, for example, if you really want to, although I think those two sites are actually missing some of Romney's most precious gaffes. And the really bad thing about Romney's gaffes (and his wife's, and his campaign staffers) are that, yes, some of the things he says are taken out of context, but then the context turns out to be even worse. E.g. no, the comment about how much he likes firing people wasn't a gleeful Scroogish bit, yes it was a comment about consumer choice and the privilege of taking your business elsewhere--but in the context of health insurance, which is what Romney was talking about at the time, most people are stuck with whatever healthcare their employer provides, and the people who can feasibly afford to shop around are typically people in Mitt Romney's economic stratosphere. Or the Romney spokesperson's infamous "Etch-A-Sketch" line: no, he wasn't saying Romney's a waffler, it just sounded that way (reinforcing an existing image), but acknowledging that it's a rule of contemporary politics that politicians speak out of one side of their mouth during primaries and the other during the general election (the actual intent and context of the line) isn't any better--in fact, it's exactly that kind of thing that has liberals and conservatives alike disgruntled with the embarrassing spectacle of modern American politics; i.e. it isn't something you're supposed to acknowledge unless you're trying to promise everyone that it isn't what you're doing; Romney's campaign isn't waffling, it's just steel-eyed cynical and opportunistic (some improvement).

Yeah, talking about Romney's religion would probably benefit the Romney campaign in the long run, which is why I have a hard time believing anyone in the Democratic Party is going to be that dumb. (Having said that, Democrats have a rare talent for reaching waaaaaay past Defeat to snatch Armageddon from Victory's gullet.)

No, if they're smart, they won't talk about Romney's God--they'll talk about his dog.




9 comments:

Nathan Monday, April 9, 2012 at 8:33:00 PM EDT  

That whole idea that Romney's been taken out of context and that it's worse when you put it into context has been tickling at the back of my brain for a while, but I couldn't get the idea to solidify. Thanks for articulating that and putting me out of my (mild) misery.

Leanright,  Tuesday, April 10, 2012 at 12:46:00 PM EDT  

For the Democrats to criticize Mormonism would be foolish, especially since their Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid is also a Mormon.

Criticizing his wealth is complete hypocisy as well. Where were the Democrats when John Kerry was running? Not exactly a destitute a broke man, or John Edwards for that matter. In fact the 6 wealthiest senators are all Democrats.

Hope both parties can focus on the issues, and keep religion or financial success out of the debate.

Nathan Tuesday, April 10, 2012 at 2:37:00 PM EDT  

Leanright,

It's not that he's financially successful. It's that he's utterly clueless about how most people live. When he says things like he barely makes any money from speaking engagements, only $300,000 or so per year, that's pretty fucking disconnected.

Forget about what that says about the man -- consider how tone-deaf of a candidate that makes him.

And yes, I hope they leave the whole Mormon thing out of it. Speaking personally, I find all forms of Christianity, plus Buddhism, Islam, B'hai and a slew of other beliefs to be equally filled with "Wooo". I've spent my entire adult life voting for people in spite of their religion. (P.S. I think non-orthodox versions of Judaism a bit less delusional, but that's mostly because I have a deep seated prejudice favoring gefilte fish and Matzo Ball Soup.)

Eric Tuesday, April 10, 2012 at 2:52:00 PM EDT  

Matzo Ball Soup does fall into the "yes" column on the "Is There Maybe Possibly A God?" decision chart, it's true.

Leanright,  Wednesday, April 11, 2012 at 12:03:00 AM EDT  

He's clueless? I'm sure that's how you have it. We'll see. The crap in the White House now is pretty fucking clueless on his own account.

Eric Wednesday, April 11, 2012 at 11:09:00 AM EDT  

Well, Dave, let's play with that: is Romney "clueless"? I suppose that depends on how you define the word: sure, the guy is a successful businessman with a reasonably successful public service career including the governorship of Massachusetts and his Olympic Committee work. Which implies a certain level of "clueyness". On the other hand, the guy seems incapable of showing up to one of the public events where he's auditioning to be the Republican candidate for President Of The United States without saying something that suggests he's incredibly out of touch with the majority of Americans at a time when there's a great deal of resentment towards the economic elites being expressed from not just the left, but also (for a change) much of the right. Is that "cluelessness"? Or is it more aptly described as a lack of tact, a lack of self and social awareness, and/or a surprising level of diplomatic/political incompetence that leaves one wondering how his undeniable previous political successes came about?

Social grace isn't a prerequisite for national leadership, of course. Nixon was scarcely a charmer, but he certainly wasn't "clueless". Then again, Nixon had an ability to choose the right words when his back was against the wall (best example, of course: the "Checkers" speech) and was utterly Machiavellian in his cunning and unscrupulousness (best example: the 1950 Senate race in California against Helen Douglas). One can certainly appear to be out of touch with most Americans and get elected at least once (example: George H.W. Bush).

And yet there's something hard-to-define and nonetheless off-putting about Romney's obvious ineptitude as a candidate. This is reflected to some degree in Romney's struggles in primaries that he's been preparing for since at least 2008, and in which he apparently went into the season with enough superdelegates lined up to very nearly be the presumptive nominee in fact and not just the eyes of pundits and party wise men.

I mean, okay, what if we take it from another approach: did Romney have to say some of the things he's said, or could a more thoughtful and attuned candidate have said much the same thing in a less WTF? way? Asked about NASCAR, a lot of candidates would say they followed it (possibly lying), would have named a popular driver (perhaps briefed before the photo op), or maybe even just admitted not having the time. Romney says he knows a lot of owners? Why say that when the rap against you is you're the second coming of Thurston Howell III? Or the bit about firing people: he could have made the same point he clearly wanted to make by saying something like, "I believe in a free-market system that maximizes consumer choice," and it wouldn't have sounded nearly as douchey and would have possibly evaded the fact health insurance is a poorly-regulated oligopoly in which most consumers have little or no choice. (Y'know, alternately, he could have tried running on his own record, except he's scared of his own party, and that doesn't help his appearances any, either.) Or the comment about his wife's cars--I mean, why do you even need to volunteer that? It's like he's the Terminator with a computer database display of possible responses scrolling up his built-in HUD, only with a broken selection algorithm that causes him to pick the absolute worst reply on the list.

Clueless? I dunno. Is that the word?

Eric Wednesday, April 11, 2012 at 11:18:00 AM EDT  

P.S.

You'll note I attempt to provide examples of Romney's problems. As opposed to a generic, across-the-board statement.

But let's mention something more important that I almost didn't dignify with a response, Dave: the person occupying the White House is the President Of The United States. Elected by a majority of electors after winning popular votes in a number of states (and winning the aggregate popular vote nationwide). He is not "the crap", he is your President. Much as Mr. George W. Bush was "President Bush" and "the President" and was my President, notwithstanding the fact I voted against him twice.

Now, I am not a stickler for respect for its own sake. I have probably referred to past Presidents in less-than-respectful language, though I don't think I called any of them "the crap". I may have done so on this blog, I'm afraid. A beautiful thing in our system of governance is that the President is a commoner just like the rest of us are. But having said that, I'd thank you to be a little more judicious in your respect or disrespect of the President. He may be just another citizen like you and I, but he's also, in a very real way, first amongst equals. If my own language ever went astray in referring to Mr. Bush when he was President, it was in spite of an effort on my part to remember his place, not because I didn't care.

Ultimately, ill-manners reflect poorly on the bearer and upon those who raised him or her. You might consider that any time prior to hitting the "publish" button on a comment, Dave.

Eric Wednesday, April 11, 2012 at 11:22:00 AM EDT  

P.P.S.

I refer to Mr. Bush as I would refer to Mr. Clinton, Mr. G.H.W. Bush, or Mr. Carter after some consideration of a reasonably good analysis of titles Emily Yoffe published at Slate last month. I think I've referred to ex-Presidents as "President" in the past, an error I may thoughtlessly repeat in the future, though in 2013 or 2017 President Obama should become "Mr. Obama" in proper address.

Just in case you thought there was any disrespect in "omitting" George Bush's title now that he is a former President.

Leanright,  Wednesday, April 11, 2012 at 12:05:00 PM EDT  

Total disrespect on my part. I apologize for calling him anything other than "President Obama".

I get fired up sometimes ;)

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