Actual Thinking About How Faith Might Inform a Romney Presidency

I wanted to post a link to this insightful letter written in response to an article in the American Spectator about a new addition to Romney’s Faith and Values Steering Committee.

I highlight this letter not because I agree with its analysis- indeed, I think some of its political conclusions are rather strident.  Rather, this is one example of how commentators might actually think about the real ways in which Mormonism could influence a President Mitt Romney.  Of course, it’s admittedly unreliable to infer knowledge about how Romney would govern from the respect Mormons generally feel for the Constitution and the founding.  But at least this writer attempts to get past the polls and the cliches about the Mormon impediment in the horserace, to analyze the heart of important issues.

I will do my best to post links to good analysis of how Mormonism influences Mormon politicians as I see them.

The Myth of Mormon “Secrecy”

The New York Times had an interesting article on Saturday profiling Richard Bushman, a former Columbia Professor and author who has become a sort of de facto spokesman for Mormons in this moment of heightened interest in the religion. The following paragraph (in this otherwise fair and accurate piece) caught my eye:

[Bushman] believes Mormons can overcome prejudice only through vigorous dialogue with outsiders. For the nation’s nearly six million Mormons, a largely insulated community that is barred from discussing rituals outside of temple, it is not a natural posture.

The emphasis on Mormon “insulation” as well as the hint of secrecy strike at a common theme in outsiders’ discussions of Mormonism. In the past few months, no less than three reporters have asked me questions about supposed “Mormon secrecy,” one of them focusing on the fact that Mitt Romney’s non-Mormon in-laws were not allowed to attend the Romneys’ temple marriage ceremony. Other commenters have predicted that Mormon “secrecy” would be used against Mitt Romney. And the recent news that the Oregon Supreme Court may require the LDS Church to disclose its closely guarded financial reports to the public in connection with pending litigation keep the issue at the forefront.

Which leads to the question: is the LDS Church secretive?

Short answer: Not very. (more…)

The “Mormon Speech”

After an interesting discussion at EFM regarding the pros and cons of the speech on Mormonism now being contemplated by Romney, I sent an email inserting my two cents, which is now posted at EFM. In my email, I didn’t take a position on the speech one way or the other, but just wanted to lend support to one of the arguments raised by EFM’er Steve Muscatello- that coverage of Romney’s Mormonism in the media has seen a significant downturn in recent weeks. As I stated in my email, I think that’s true based on my close watching of the topic in the past months, but I don’t think it really answers the question at hand, which is whether Mitt Romney ought to proceed with his plans to give his speech.

Responding to my email, blogger Charles Mitchell argues that my conclusion on declining coverage on the Mormon issue do not go to the relevant issue. I agree with him. I don’t think my conclusion means that much in this debate. That’s because I think there are a number of spikes in coverage of Mormonism on the way in the coming months. If Mitt Romney continues to lead in the polls in early primary states, especially if he becomes a real threat in places like South Carolina and Florida, where opponents might think he’s vulnerable on the religion issue, I think it’s almost certain that we’ll see increased coverage of the question, driven by a few high-profile attacks by religious bigots and a few whisper campaigns from the candidates themselves. Thus, the mere fact that July was relatively peaceful on the faith-and-politics front means little when viewed in light of the future reporting we’re likely to see.

The likelihood of heightened scrutiny of Mormonism in coming months, combined with the inevitable huge wave of free advertising that would accompany a “Mormon Speech” (which I first pointed out here, but is more persuasively argued here) must make this speech a very hard thing for Romney to pass up. It’s funny that even though I started in this conversation by pointing out how the coverage of Romney’s Mormonism has declined sharply, I now see a huge spike in stories on the topic, driven solely by Romney’s statement that he might be considering the speech. That fact alone is proof of how much attention this speech would draw.

However, the downsides remain significant. Largest among them is the problem of making faith an issue, something that past experience indicates will convince all kinds of people that suddenly all aspects of Mormonism-doctrine, history, culture, are on the table for discussion, debate, and ridicule in evaluating Romney’s candidacy.

Romney is clearly aware of that risk as he considers giving this speech. But I think he’s likely to go forward regardless, probably locating a middle ground that protects him from those who hope he’ll open the door to discussion of all things Mormon for the rest of the campaign. The best course would be to bill the speech as his landmark address explaining his Mormonism to the country. This gives him the guarantee of huge coverage, and will make millions of ears perk up nationwide. Then he should give a speech that actually details very little about Mormonism itself, but rather explains his own values, tells a few folksy stories about how those values were influenced by his faith, and then discusses his political distance from the Church and focuses once again on his core values. Because the nation hopes he’ll delve into the history of polygamy or Mormon theology, this speech might be a bit of a disappointment to many. But sticking to a message regarding core values (as informed by faith) would be a powerful reminder that while Romney takes his faith seriously, he remains unwilling to answer for specific tenets of his faith in the public arena.

If Romney can walk this line, I think the speech could be quite helpful for him, by attracting enormous media attention and by convincing many on the religious right that he shares their values. In other words, it’s not the speech itself that raises real risks of inserting the religion issue into every other aspect of the campaign- it’s what the speech actually says. If Romney (one of the best communicators in the race) can walk the tightrope with his speech, it could easily give him a big boost.

Mitt Considers Speech, LDS Church Re-affirms Neutrality

Two interesting and loosely-connected items today:

First, many media outlets published portions of an AP story yesterday which quoted Mitt Romney saying that he is considering making a speech specifically dealing with issues surrounding his religion. Many have chimed in with opinions on whether this speech is a good idea, and what points it ought to make. I think the idea has its pros and cons, but the publicity it would generate for Mitt by itself must make it hard to pass up. I would be interested to know what Romney hopes to accomplish with the speech, because my sense is that no such speech could do very much good without causing more problems. But if anyone can do it, it’s Romney, the gifted communicator with the ability to sound brilliant and perfectly down-to-earth at the same time.

On another note, the LDS Church released a statement yesterday re-emphasizing its neutrality and asserting its own interests in the media coverage of the Romney campaign. (more…)

Finding Truth in the “Would Not Vote for a Mormon” Polls

Democratic political consultant Mark Mellman has a very good piece up today at The Hill on the baffling and illegitimate opposition among voters to Mitt Romney due to his religion. I liked his closing paragraphs:

In July of 1958, 24 percent of respondents told Gallup they would not vote for a Catholic for president, almost identical to Gallup’s reading on Mormons today. Two years later, John F. Kennedy became the first Catholic to assume the oath of office. Within eight months, the number refusing to vote for a Catholic was cut almost in half.

Sometimes, by confronting prejudice, we can overcome it. (more…)

Scandal: Mormons Think Their Church is True!

Another in an ongoing series of RomneyExperience rebuttals, responding to attacks that were made at the beginning of the ’08 campaign. Other in this series may be viewed here.

Democratic political strategist Garry South wrote an article for Politico.com this past April under the title “Ask Romney About Mormonism’s Intolerance.” The column made the central claim that Mormons believe their Church to be true, and all other Christian churches to be false. Indeed, alleges South, while every other Christian church accepts baptisms performed by other denominations, Mormons do not accept any baptism not performed by a person ordained to the Mormon Priesthood. Mr. South argues at the close that Mitt Romney ought to be questioned about the intolerance of his faith, since South’s former employer, Joe Lieberman, was subjected to some inane questions too.

Are you still waiting for me to explain what the “Intolerance” in the title refers to? Well, we’ve covered it. (more…)

Pioneer Day

It’s a holiday in Utah today.  Utahns celebrate the entry of the Mormon pioneers into the Salt Lake Valley each July 24th.  Parades, picnics, parties- not a lot of time for blogging.  Regular-scheduled programming continues after the day’s festivities.  Have a great Pioneer Day, everyone!

The Reverend Bill Keller: God’s Gift to Debunkers

When you spend your time watching for inaccurate information in order to debunk it, you sometimes dream about the “big one.” You know, that story that will come out with an untruth in every sentence, full from start to finish with lies, hysteria, and bad grammar. And though you sometimes lose hope, it’s often just at that point that someone like Bill Keller comes along and fulfills all your wildest fantasies.

That’s right, Bill Keller, of “A vote for Romney is a vote for Satan” fame, is at it again. This time, he’s got a press release out complaining that the Mormon Church gets closer to world domination every time someone looks at Mitt Romney without shielding their eyes and genuflecting. No, I don’t believe the guy needs more attention, so normally I’d pass on commenting, but I can’t help it on this one. After a few battles with some legitimately smart and credible people these past weeks, I’m ready for some low-hanging fruit. We’re talking low-hanging, like potatoes.

Where to begin? (more…)

NRO: Does Mitt’s Mormonism Matter?

See updates below.

It’s been a long time since we’ve seen an argument on how to treat Mitt Romney’s faith over the course of the campaign that deserved to be treated seriously. So the Joshua Trevino column published yesterday at National Republic Online is a welcome bit of sanity. But despite his intelligent discussion, Trevino reaches some questionable conclusions. He suggests that in dealing with religion and politics, there are only three options- treat everything as being fair game, or act as if nothing is, or, just “obfuscate” until the topic goes away. (He accuses Romney of the latter). Further, Trevino argues that Romney must explain his religion to the masses because people are legitimately curious about it, Mormonism being not quite as famous as the better established sister denominations. I think these arguments, measured though they may be, lead us down a dangerous path and should be rejected. For those who suggest that Romney’s religion ought to be a completely open topic, I have three questions: why? to what extent? and at what cost? (more…)

Clarifying “LDS” Criticisms of Romney

A story popped up at WorldNetDaily on Friday reporting that the “Mormon Church-owned Deseret Morning News” published an editorial critical of Mitt Romney. It was followed by the Brody Files, under the headline “Romney Gets Slapped by Mormon Newspaper.” While these pieces use their language carefully, they leave the strong impression that Mitt Romney is being directly castigated by his own church– something akin to the recent remarks of the Pope threatening ex-communication for Catholic politicians (such as Rudy Giuliani) that support abortion rights. It would certainly make for a big story for the LDS church to speak out in condemnation of Mitt Romney, but no such thing has actually happened. Indeed, the Morning News editorial did not speak for the LDS Church, and was actually not very critical of Mitt Romney. (more…)