A few years back, I put together a proposal for a book to be co-written that never got the green light with the working title "The Case Against Mitt Romney." In the final stretch of this election cycle, the conservative weekly Human Events has released my free short e-book Mitt Romney's Mormon-Christian Coalition. This project is more report than argument, but I wrote the book knowing full well it would be used to support Romney's bid to unseat President Barack Obama. That's fine by me.
Before readers accuse me of being a hopeless flip-flopper, I should explain a little bit about the book that never got written. It was to be modeled after David Freddoso's bestseller The Case Against Barack Obama. The thing I liked about that book is, it was really two useful books in one. It was the sober case against Obama as well as the case against the lunatic case against Obama -- put forward by birthers and other nutters. In my judgment, it was a well executed exercise in truth-telling. The author showed readers how Obama is nothing like the political deliverer that many of his supporters hoped for, and how he was far too conventional a Democrat pol for us to get all that worked up about his election.
Part of what I was supposed to do on that earlier project was to demolish the dumb case against Romney. Most of the ill-considered case had to do with ignorance of and prejudice toward members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints -- aka, Mormons. On the face of it, Romney had what he might characterize as a heck of a problem. Members of his church faced such a bi-partisan coalition of distrust that the White House might as well have hung out the sign "Mormons Need Not Apply."
According to pollsters, Mormons were reviled by both the evangelical right and the secular left. Evangelical Christians viewed Mormons as religious competitors and so would balk at a political alliance that put a Mormon in charge of the Republican Party. This, many conservative Christian critics warned, could lead to the Mormonizing of America. Liberals such as Bill Maher, Lawrence O'Donnell and Jacob Weisberg viewed Mitt Romney's religion as a particularly false, authoritarian religion. They argued those people who take it seriously should not be trusted with nuclear launch codes.
The experience of Mormons in American politics, and the Romneys' experience in particular, puts the lie to both of these visions, which is why voters are seriously giving Romney a second look. George and Mitt Romney both ran for and won the governorships of states that were not heavy with Mormons, presided over administrations not featherbeded with Latter-day saints, and proved willing to buck the leadership of their own church on issues ranging from civil rights to gay rights. Moreover, if Mitt Romney does win the White House, it's likely one of his fiercest opponents will be Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a man who is not only a Mormon but a convert to the faith.
Religious groups hoping a representative in the White House will boost the faith are frequently disappointed. George W. Bush exposed evangelicals to unprecedented partisan attacks. Barack Obama has downplayed his association with Trinity United Church of Christ, his historically black church in Chicago, after the whole Jeremiah Wright business. And as a Catholic, let me just say that many of us could have done just fine without Camelot, thank you.
In fact, for Latter-day Saints to benefit from a Romney presidency would be extraordinary. Romney would have to be a bold leader who fixes the country's problems without dividing us into warring camps. He would have to be an obviously good man and a great orator who makes America look better on the world stage. He'd have to preside over an administration that favors competence over cronyism, progress over precedent and faith over faction. It's a tall order but if Romney wins the White House and pulls all that off, many people would look at the religion that helped bring this leader to us with new eyes. They'd be right to do so.
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