From two unexpected sources come two ringing defenses of Mormons and Mormonism.
First, Mother Jones runs a piece by Stephanie Mencimer focusing on the high organizational aptitude of Mormons and their leadership. Mencimer has been an eye witness to the Mormon ability to respond to disasters, and draws stark contrasts between her experience with the Mormon rapid response system and the record of government agencies like FEMA. She sees in this record an opportunity for Romney, who could certainly claim a bit of the Mormon preparation ethic as part of his own background as a means of boosting emergency response and disaster relief credentials.
The second defense comes from Alan Wolfe writing in the New Republic (subscription required). Wolfe’s article is quite long, but worth reading to the very finish. He details the great success enjoyed by a numerous Mormon entrepreneurs and executives, and examines in detail the source of that Mormon capitalist blessedness, delving into sociology, theology, and politics. This is a very accurate portrayal of Mormonism, which just happens to show a very positive side of the faith. Highly recommended. Take out the trial subscription and read the whole thing. Trust me.
Here are Wolfe’s concluding paragraphs:
Mitt Romney was my governor for four years. Since 1960, the Democratic Party has shown an unseemly tendency to nominate a disproportionate number of presidential candidates from Massachusetts, and, of the three so chosen, only John Kennedy managed to win. The losses sustained by Michael Dukakis and John Kerry left most Americans with one clear impression: Massachusetts simply is not like the rest of the United States.
Observing Mitt Romney’s problems in the 2008 presidential election, I have to conclude that this cliché is correct. For many of us in Massachusetts, the fact that Romney had been a successful entrepreneur was taken as a reason to vote for him. He was not, moreover, all that bad a governor, in part because he knew what he wanted–whether medical insurance for all or a new road to speed Cape Cod dwellers to their homes–and possessed the administrative talents to make it happen. When he ran for the Senate in 1994, his opponent, Ted Kennedy of all people, raised the red flag of Romney’s religion. But, since then, his Mormonism has been a non-factor. We all knew that he went to that huge temple out in Belmont, just as we knew that the rest of us were not welcome there; but it did not matter. It just seemed to make sense to us, practical people that we are, to vote for a guy with an impressive resumé.
Americans in the rest of the country evidently think differently. For Massachusetts residents, Romney’s business acumen was a plus and his religion inconsequential. Elsewhere, his religion seems to be a minus and his business experience irrelevant–or worse. It used to be the case that, if Massachusetts were more like the rest of the country, we would have elected more liberal Democrats to the presidency. But, because it is not, we are likely to be deprived of a competent conservative Republican. This does not disturb me deeply; I can think of no circumstances under which I would vote for Romney over any of the Democrats. But 2008 may well be remembered as the election in which the Republicans, the party of big business, shunned the biggest businessman in their party. For them, it is perfectly OK to succeed in business, but not, it would seem, if you are a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.