The Exploitation of Romney’s Religion

Lynn Grossman, writing in the Huffington Post, makes an argument we’ve heard before from the secular left. “I simply don’t like anybody’s religion anywhere near politics, and the closer a candidate is to a religion’s orthodoxy, the more worried I become.” Ms. Grossman appears to be saying that the more religious a person is, the less trust worthy he or she is. Welcome to the new world, where religion as an accessory is acceptable in polite company, but where actual conviction is the height of bad taste. Regardless, in the case of Mitt Romney, there is simply no evidence that religious “orthodoxy” has mixed with his politics. I hope that helps Ms. Grossman sleep better at night. Of course, she holds it against Romney that he’s not only been a Mormon, but a church leader- meaning, in other words, that he’s not just a casual member of his faith (which we could accept!) but he appears to be impolitely . . . devout! (One wonders if Hillary’s Sunday School teaching gig will come in for similar treatment.)

Ms. Grossman takes her faulty logic a step further, arguing that as someone who has used his religion for political gain, Romney must answer for it in the public square. She rails against “candidates exploiting their belief in God by offering it up as a prime qualification for being president.” The post concludes with this paragraph:

Now, in order to get elected president, we see candidates clambering over each another in a mad race to claim Jesus as Number One on their Buddy Lists. As far as I’m concerned, anyone who does that deserves to have their beliefs questioned, parsed, rumored about, scrutinized and questioned again. That includes Mitt Romney. (. . .)

So here’s my challenge. Find me one statement, position, release, or other public act in which Mitt Romney has exploited his religion for political gain. It’s become quite popular to assume that he has done so, but I’ve never seen the evidence. In fact, I’m quite confident in saying that no such evidence can possibly be found. While candidates Obama, Clinton and Edwards appear in explicitly religious fora to talk about their deeply-held beliefs, and John McCain visits South Carolina and experiences a miraculous conversion to a religion that happens to be the dominant faith of South Carolina, Mitt Romney has never said a single word about his religion except when pressed to defend it.

The accusation is ludicrous, in fact, given that there’s nothing for Romney to exploit. It is widely agreed that Mormonism is a losing issue for Romney, which removes any incentive he might otherwise have to preach his doctrine from the stump. But regardless of his motives, the record is absolutely clear- Mitt Romney has never traded on his religion in this campaign. Every statement he’s made was from a defensive position. You’ll never see a Mitt Romney “Mormon in America” ad, I guarantee it.

Perhaps what Ms. Grossman means to say is not that Romney has exploited his religion, but that Mitt Romney is actually religious. Yes, he even held leadership positions in his church. If that fact alone, plus widespread media reports on his religiosity, is enough to constitute “exploitation” of his religion, well, you see how far-reaching Ms. Grossman’s objections really are. Could it be that to exploit one’s religion, all one has to do is go to church?

Let us agree to set aside the myth that Mitt Romney is willing to exploit his religion to gain a political advantage. He has never done it, and would be crazy to try, since it would never help him. Why this idea has become so widespread is a mystery, but one wonders if its purveyors aren’t the ones doing the exploiting.