The Economist ran a decent piece yesterday on Mitt Romney’s Ames Straw Poll victory. I was happy to see nary a mention of Romney’s religion, and some balanced back and forth about the Romney operation and the meaning of the win.
Well, almost nary a mention. In the context of this pure-horserace type article, with no interest in religion at all, I was surprised to come across the following paragraph. See if you can spot the subliminal cues:
But social conservatives remain suspicious of him for his late conversion to the cause of “life”, a label used to lump together opposition to abortion, stem-cell research and euthanasia. The two most prominent social conservatives in the field, Mr Huckabee and Sam Brownback, together polled more votes than Mr Romney did. There is also something off-putting about his campaign— something a bit cultish and a bit hokey. His supporters wore yellow “Team Mitt” T-shirts and waved large mittens (Mitt Mitts) in the air. His five sons were all too reminiscent of the Osmonds. Mr Romney’s speech included a bunch of tosh about the American flag that he has used many times before.
Hmmmm. What we have here is 1) a paragraph that starts out trying to explain why social conservatives struggle with Romney, 2) a mention of two conservative candidates that don’t seem to have the same vulnerability (wink wink), 3) a reporter that feels Romney’s operation is a bit “off-putting,” 4) the description of the campaign as “cultlike,” and 5) a comparison between the Romney boys and the Osmonds. Like I said before: Hmmmm.
If you didn’t piece the puzzle together, I’ll make it easy: there are a surprising number of Mormon cues hidden in that paragraph. A lot, actually. Why choose to describe Romney’s followers as cultlike, and his sons as Osmond-like? Don’t you think there were plenty of other ways the author could have described these things? And don’t all leading campaigns have exactly the same factors at play- the conformist followers with their matching paraphrenalia and united vision? Yet somehow, it’s Romney’s very typical campaign that gets the “cult” tag. It would be interesting to see someone reporting the same things about the Obama campaign, inserting comparisons of his supporters to a gospel choir and his family to the Jackson Five.
I don’t suspect anything evil at work here, and I respect the Economist. But it’s clear that whatever ground Romney gains by getting coverage that ignores his religion, it’s lost when code words are employed to raise all the same concerns about Mormonism. We don’t allow these random connections and sub-rosa implications when discussing race or gender. Can’t we rise above them when it comes to religion too? I’m asking the Economist to start today.