Mormons Feeling Stung By Their ‘Moment’

Suzanne Sataline, the Wall Street Journal’s crack religion reporter, filed a front page piece today in the Journal titled “Mormons Dismayed by Harsh Spotlight.” Although I spoke with Ms. Sataline several times over the writing of her piece (and am lightly quoted near the end), I was still surprised at the depth, breadth, and understanding of Mormonism it managed so gracefully. Mormons licking their wounds this morning as they contemplate the beating their religion took over the last year may find some small consolation in this sympathetic piece. (more…)

On Being a Mormon Candidate in America

Not yet twenty-four hours after Mitt Romney announced the end of his campaign, we’ve already seen several people telling him what he did wrong. Most of these post-mortems are limited by their failure to view the race as it was when Romney got in it. The consensus now seems to be that he sealed his fate by running to the right, acting the part of the red-meat conservative instead of the brainy technocrat with the ability to fix our country as if it were a slightly larger version of Dominoes Pizza. But a year ago, when Mitt Romney was receiving raves at the CPAC conference and being hailed as the perfect answer to the inevitability that enveloped Giuliani and McCain (depending on who you asked), that kind of advice would have sounded pathetically misguided.

What the commentators aren’t remembering were both the anonymity of Mitt Romney and the gaping hole on the right end of the GOP field. The man needed a niche to fill, and that niche was there for the taking. One more thoughtful moderate refusing to speak to the base would have flamed out instantly, and Romney was smart enough to know where he could fit in. But he wasn’t smart enough to anticipate the less visible, but far more serious threat to his candidacy- the rise of the “Authentic Christian Leader.”

Long before Mike Huckabee, there was plenty of talk about whether a Mormon could be elected president. Many doubted, and the polls seemed to back them up. But for the optimists (of whom Mitt Romney was one), there was abundant counter-evidence. Those same polls showed voter resistance to a “Mormon candidate” steadily decreasing from spring to summer to fall. Romney saw a corresponding bump in his numbers in Iowa and New Hampshire. For every big story in the mainstream press about nutty Mormon beliefs, there were three or four small-town papers running pieces on the very normal, upstanding Mormons in their own communities. The press became better informed about Romney’s faith, and slowly stopped mentioning it in every story about the “Mormon candidate.” Romney had a chance. (more…)

Mormonism Returns to the Campaign

The presidential campaign of Mitt Romney began under a cloud. When the former governor came on the scene, one question rose above all the others– “Can a Mormon win?” That question waxed and waned as a dominant theme through 2007, with the climax coming in December, as Romney addressed the question head on in his landmark speech on “Faith in America,” and as Mike Huckabee became a real competitor based partly on the contrast his Baptist credentials drew with Romney’s more suspect religion. But as the horserace moved into high gear, with primaries coming every week or so, the press collectively decided that the religion story had lost its luster, and moved on to issues of greater political relevance.

So it is oddly fitting that in the final stages of the campaign, Romney’s religion comes back to the fore, based on events far out of Romney’s control and far-removed from the world of politics. When Gordon B. Hinckley, the longstanding and well-beloved President of the LDS Church, passed away last week, Romney announced immediately that he would attend the funeral. This resulted in some head scratching in the media, as commentators wondered how to interpret Romney’s willingness to be overtly Mormon just two days before the largest primary event of his candidacy. Was his new candor regarding his loyalty to his faith evidence that he had conceded the race? Or was this some kind of new pander to play up his authenticity?

The AP’s Glen Johnson sees the new openness as a mere artifact of the low religious tension in the upcoming primary states, as opposed to that in past primary states like Iowa and South Carolina. USA Today has Jan Shipps, an oft-quoted academic with an expertise in Mormonism saying that “[Romney’s] in a bind. If he goes (to the funeral) people will say, ‘Oh, his religion is more important than his campaign.’ If he doesn’t go, people will say, ‘He doesn’t care about his religion, he cares about politics.'” The same story also quotes a University of Utah Political Science professor saying that Romney “could not not be there. Given the world of (Mormon) political insiders, this is an absolute must-attend.” In other words, attending President Hinckley’s funeral was a political necessity, in the eyes of some.

Yet others found a suspicious evasiveness in the candidate’s funeral plans. Salon Magazine’s Mike Madden is put off by the campaign’s privacy about Romney’s plans while in Salt Lake, as if one might expect him to set up a press conference with the funeral cortege passing slowly by in the background. In fact, you could almost smell a hint of suspicion in the Salon article that the LDS Church was itself complicit in helping Romney escape attention, by avoiding any religious ritual that could highlight the Mormon-ness of the affair. On the contrary, while it was conducted at an enormous scale to accommodate the huge masses interested in the event, the funeral was a very typical Mormon funeral in terms of content. The sincere speeches and sedate hymns, while anything but rewarding to a reporter looking for a thrill on Temple Square, were familiar displays of Mormon-ness, a lifestyle that is maligned for its strange eccentricity at the same time that the critics gripe about how boring the whole scene can be.

But in the midst of all this coverage, there’s a different story, about a 97-year old man who died this week, a man held by some 13 million people as a prophet and great spiritual leader.  His funeral was attended by 21,000 people that cared very little for the political implications of the day, but wanted only to pay their respects to a leader who had lived a thoroughly exemplary life.  Yet few in the press corps were willing to consider that Mitt Romney may have been driven by the same motive as the rest of those attendees.  It is no coincidence that the most insightful and probing story in the mainstream press about the funeral (kudos to Newsweek) both ignored Mitt Romney, and was written by a Mormon.

Ultimately, no motive or calculation should be imputed to Romney for spending crucial campaigning minutes in devotion and contemplation besides a simple desire to be himself and life the life of the Mormon he is. This is most easily proven by how impossible it would be for his advisors to calculate the effect of such a move, for which there is not even a hint of a script, even if they had tried. This weekend, Mitt Romney, the man, went to the funeral of another man, whom he knew a little, and whom he revered as a prophet. The media clearly lacked a script as well, and that’s as it should be. It is difficult to find public meaning in moments this private. And true to his core, which is so famously thought not to exist at all, Mitt Romney navigated the unscripted moment with grace and humility, failing to score points or protect himself from the barbs of his critics. Whatever else the world may want him to be, Romney is neither a hollow shell nor a secret cultist. He is a man of faith that sometimes needs a moment to live out that faith. Even two days before Super-Tuesday.

Romney Never “Acknowledged that Mormonism is Not a Christian Faith”

In an article about the positions of Focus on the Family regarding each Republican candidate, Time magazine quoted evangelical leader Tom Minnery as saying that “Mitt Romney has acknowledged that Mormonism is not a Christian faith.” Minnery means this in a good way, as in “Now we can consider supporting Romney because he admits he’s no follower of Christ.” Funny how evangelicals, many of whom have ranted for some time now about insisting on electing a Christian president, think it’s a positive for Romney to have admitted he’s not Christian. But any time you let your religion mix too closely with your politics, the offspring is going to look a little weird.

But for many who have followed the Romney-religion discussion closely, hearing Minnery talk about Romney’s ‘acknowledgement’ came as quite a surprise. Romney has walked a fine line on his religion, but it’s been rare to see him make any big mistakes on this issue. Admitting that his faith is not a Christian one would be a very big mistake– it would anger a lot of Mormons, which would likely result in countless stories that he has distanced himself from his faith, and play into more ‘flip-flopper’ charges.

Fortunately for everyone involved (except for Minnery, I suppose), it’s just not true. In a followup article, Time tracks down Minnery’s basis for believing that Romney concedes that he’s no Christian. Minnery said there was a passage in Romney’s ‘Faith in America’ speech that gave him the impression that Romney admitted he wasn’t a Christian. Here’s the passage:

There is one fundamental question about which I often am asked. What do I believe about Jesus Christ? I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of mankind. My church’s beliefs about Christ may not all be the same as those of other faiths. Each religion has its own unique doctrines and history.

See the part where he says Mormons aren’t Christians? Well, I didn’t actually include that part. Neither did Romney. The above is the full statement regarding Romney’s belief in Jesus Christ. And it was deemed sufficient by Focus on the Family to conclude that Romney concedes Mormons aren’t Christians.

To most people that seems like a horrible misinterpretation, even a willful one. And I agree, but there is some extra nuance that makes it even more interesting. That is, this little controversy plays up the strange, convoluted logic of evangelicals who claim to know what exactly it means to be a Christian. For most people, seeing a person declare faith in Jesus Christ as the “Savior of mankind” is more than enough basis to call that person a Christian. Not so with modern evangelicals, for whom ‘Christian’ has become more a signifier of denominational purity than adoration of Christ. In their attempts to exclude Mormons from the club, evangelicals have had to do all kinds of gymnastics to tell us what “Christian” really means, and have ended up throwing Christ right out of the analysis. Reliance solely on the Bible, but also adherence to certain extra-biblical creeds, and emphasis on this New Testament passage (but not this one!) and historical unity with other Christian churches (except for all the disunity all the Christian churches have had with one another) are all more important than a declaration of Christ as savior.

Rather than engage in the nonsensical philosophizing one must do to make sense of this, the Romney campaign has kept their response very simple, in the process taking a much firmer stance on the “Christian” issue than they ever have before. Here’s Time quoting a Romney spokesman:

Now some people define ‘Christianity’ differently,” Fehrnstrom continued. “Some people believe that ‘Christianity’ is a group of evangelical churches. Others believe that ‘Christianity’ is any church that follows the teaching of Jesus Christ, and that is what the LDS church believes.” I asked Fehrnstrom if that was also what Romney believed. He said yes.

It’s hard to believe we’ve come to a point where a “Christian” leader sees a candidate claim Christ as personal savior and then (1) concludes from the statement that the candidate is not a Christian and then (2) announces that conclusion as a reason to support the candidate. Strange times we’re living in. Anyone else think politics would be better off without all this religion stuff? It’s worth considering.

P.S. David Brody posts on this story, and draws a spot-on conclusion: that the Mormon issue has now completely expired.  I heartily agree. 

Brian Williams Lies to Get Mormonism Into the Debate

NOTE: This post has been retracted.  See here

Article VI Blog has the scoop on the numbers behind the “Mormon President” question in last night’s debate. For those who didn’t watch, Williams told Romney he had a Wall Street Journal Poll, in which “44 percent of respondents say a Mormon president would have a difficult time uniting the country.” It was an odd question given the recent calm in the campaign regarding Romney’s religion. But hey- if that’s what the voters are saying, it must be relevant, right?

Would it surprise you to find out that that is very much NOT what the voters are saying? Indeed, the word Mormon doesn’t appear anywhere in the poll at all. Nor does the concept of Mormonism, or even religion in general. This is a straight poll with some very basic questions about who the respondent supports for president, etc. The final question reads as follows:

One of the goals people have mentioned as important for the next president to have is the ability to unite all Americans around goals and objectives for the country and to reduce the partisan fighting in Congress. I would like to list various presidential candidates. Please tell me whether you feel this person would be very successful, fairly successful, not too successful, or not at all successful in uniting the nation.

See anything in there about Mormonism or religion? Me neither. Responding to the poll, 22 percent thought Romney would not be too successful, and 22 percent also said he would not be at all successful. The total is 44%, giving Williams his cited number. But the number is for those who think Romney would be less than successful uniting the country, not those who think it’s because of his Mormonism. NBC must have just assumed, either sincerely or because it makes for a fun debate question, that this problem relates to Romney’s Mormonism. Problem is, there’s no support for such a crass conclusion. Anyone think there couldn’t be a thousand other reasons for that response? Especially given that many other candidates received very similar results (Giuliani came in at 46%, Huckabee at 43%)?

Unless NBC has some other explanation for how Williams drew that conclusion, this is really poor form, and they deserve to be kicked around for it. To have your flagship anchorman inserting blatant editorial conclusions into polling data in order to call a candidate out on his religion is just way beyond the line. Funny thing is, no one in the main stream press has picked this up yet. Hopefully NBC doesn’t make it through the weekend without some egg on its face.

Mormonism as “Counterknowledge”

Writing in a blog on the U.K.’s Telegraph website, author Damian Thompson makes some thoroughly unsupported and misguided claims about Mormonism. In what appears to be simply a plug for a book that he wrote focusing on the reliance on myth and fake history, which he dubs “counterknowledge,” Thompson argues that Mormonism rests on “pseudo-historical fantasy,” and calls out Romney for believing in the origins of the Book of Mormon.

Of course, in order to dismiss Mormon claims as fantastical, but not offend every other religious believer, you have to come up with a creative way to distinguish the miraculous claims of the former from those of the latter. Given that Christians, Jews, and other major religions make claims just as extraordinary and just as unverifiable as any Mormon does, this can be tricky. Thompson decides to draw his line between the Book of Mormon and the Bible by saying that “nothing in it actually happened. Nothing.”

We’ll get to why he’s wrong in a moment. But first consider the logic here- the Book of Mormon should be dismissed because it posits an entire history we cannot verify. Whereas, the Bible at least has the courtesy to present its fantastical stories and impossible miracles in an area for which we have some historical record. And yet isn’t it interesting that so much set forth in the Bible cannot be verified? Did you know, for example, that scholars can only locate approximately 36 of the 475 place-names mentioned in the Bible? (See Givens, By the Hand of Mormon, p. 148). Isn’t that sort of strange for a book that is widely assumed to be easily proven with the use of history? And how about the fact that no one can find any evidence of a census that would have forced Joseph to go to Bethlehem in the year of Christ’s birth? (You’ll have to look that one up.) If you think these little voids in the historical record are unique, you don’t know your Bible. (more…)

What You Might Have Missed

Several items I was too busy to blog about last week:

Mitt is most likely to be thought of as a flip-flopper by those with anti-Mormon sentiments.  A new study out of Vanderbilt University attempts to understand why the flip-flopper tag has stuck to Romney, but not to many other candidates with records just as curvy.  The study concludes that “of those who accuse Romney of flip-flopping, many admit it is Romney’s Mormonism and not his flip-flopping that is the real issue.”  If Romney does eventually go down to defeat, some will question whether his religion played a significant role.  However, most will likely say that it was his flip-flopping record that sealed his demise.  If this study is correct, that may mean it was his religion after all.

Published before the Nevada caucuses, this piece in the Guardian asserted that “Romney Looks to Fellow Mormons in Nevada.”  Feel free to search the story for any support of that headline.  It’s clear that Mormons did strongly support Governor Romney in Nevada.  What is not clear at all is that Romney made some special play for Mormon support, as this headline suggests.  Despite rampant discussion of the intensity of Mormon support for Romney in that state, the most salient truth on the topic is that Romney had nothing to do with it.  There’s a big difference between certain groups flocking to a candidate unbidden and of their own will (Romney’s Mormon support in Nevada) and a particular identity base being constantly coddled and spoken to in code and otherwise courted until they dutifully support a candidate (Huckabee’s evangelical support in Iowa).  Whatever else may be said about the Nevada Mormon vote, Romney came by it honestly.

Ron Rosenbaum (who coincidentally works for Slate.com, Campaign 2008’s official purveyor of anti-Romney bile) posts on his blog with the following “Question for Mitt Romney:”  “Did You Take a Stand Against the LDS Practice of Baptizing Holocaust Victims — and Adolf Hitler?”  It’s the kind of gotcha piece that has become a classic these days- find some sketchy thing that was going on long ago and then find a way to tie a candidate tenuously to that practice by triangulation.  Usually there’s no evidence at all to link the candidate with the controversial issue (anyone know if Romney participated in baptisms for Holocaust survivors? Didn’t think so), so the scandal-monger just steps back and asks “But did you take a stand against it????”  As if everyone in the world is required to “take stands” against every wrong going on in the world around them.  Ron Rosenbaum, did you take a stand against self-serious photographs being posted on blogs?

Of course, the scandal has a bit more heft is there actually is a “wrong” to take a stand against.  But the LDS practice of baptizing the dead has always been tossed around as a possible controversy without ever really breaking through to the level of real scandal, to the great disappointment of many critics.  One of the reasons people have a hard time getting behind this one is evident in Rosenbaum’s statement of the problem- that the LDS had the practice in the past (now ended) of performing proxy baptisms for holocaust victims AND other notables such as Adolf Hitler (meaning that the LDS performed such works for all dead people, and among them were some holocaust victims, as well as WWII era Nazi dictators).  Thus, in the first instance, Rosenbaum suggests that Mormons are attempting to sully the religion of the Jewish victims, but also somehow honoring Hitler via the same treatment.  Which is it- do baptisms for the dead rob the dead of their dignity, or unduly dignify dead villains, or both?  The suppositions on which all such arguments depend are so abstract and hypothetical that it hardly makes for any kind of engaging scandal.  But to take a step further into abstraction to tie Mitt Romney to the whole thing, via his failure to “take a stand” pushes the scandal-making tradition from respectable parlor game to wacky conspiracy theory.  Not really befitting a real journalist, even if he is just writing on his blog.

Finally, from the “Mormons Speaking Out” file, Leonidas Ralph Mecham, a Mormon and former chief administrator of the U.S. Courts, has written a letter to G.E. C.E.O. Jeffrey Immelt expressing displeasure with Lawrence O’Donnell’s anti-Mormon screed, which aired on NBC’s McLaughlin Group.  The letter is not exactly a model of restraint, and sometimes goes way too far in its rhetoric, but it gives yet another example of Mormons speaking persuasively against the widespread public mistreatment of their faith.  To view the letter, click on this link:Mecham Letter

Romney- the Real Christian Leader

Dave Sundwall of A Soft Answer alerted me last week to a very informative article in the Salt Lake Tribune about Mitt Romney’s religious ministry. As has been well documented, Romney served for several years as a leader in the Boston area Mormon Church, first as a Bishop, or leader of his local congregation, and then as a Stake President, or the higher-level leader of a collection of congregations.  But while these titles have appeared in many biographical profiles of the candidate, their meaning may have flown silently over the heads of most readers, who likely do not understand the depth of commitment and discipleship these roles require of anyone who takes them on.

Earlier this year, Richard John Neuhaus wrote that while he does not consider Mormonism to be a Christian faith, he is open to the possibility that many Mormons could be Christians. This likely means that setting aside strictly theological questions, those who lead lives fully of charity and Christlike compassion may be thought of as Christians in a broad sense. The picture of Mitt Romney painted in the Salt Lake Tribune portrays someone who fully deserves that distinction. Here are a few pertinent excerpts:

Regardless, Mormon women in Boston still talk about an extraordinary 1993 meeting Romney called to address the women of the stake.

More than 250 members poured into the Belmont chapel. One by one they called out their issues while he stood at the front with three pads labeled: policies we can’t change, practices we can change, and things we can consider.

Nearly 100 proposals were made that day, including having female leaders give talks in various wards as the men on the high council do; letting women speak last in church; turning the chapels into day-care centers during the week; letting women stand in the circle while blessing newborn babies; recognizing the accomplishment of young women as the church does of Boy Scout advancements; and putting changing tables in the men’s rooms.

Many women left with a new appreciation of Romney’s openness.

He was “so brave,” says Robin Baker, who has worked on Exponent II.

Sievers, who worked with Romney to set up the meeting, was ecstatic.

“I was really surprised,” she says. “He implemented every single suggestion that I would have.”

***

Not long after Grant Bennett fell off a ladder while trying to dislodge a hornet’s nest outside his second-story bedroom, Romney came to offer sympathy and show Bennett a smarter way to deal with the festering insects – from inside.

Before Doug Anderson had even finished getting family out of his burning house, Romney showed up with a brigade of neighbors to salvage beloved belongings from the remains.

Several Mormons affectionately describe him as a man who can’t remember names and can’t tell a joke, but did preach inspiring sermons.

“We loved hearing him speak,” recalls Bennett’s wife, Colleen. “He was so smooth yet so connecting.”

(By the way, for those worried that Romney would be too beholden to Mormon dogma or policy to govern independently, that meeting regarding the concerns of women should go a long way toward settling the concern. That Romney even held the meeting shows a departure from how many other Mormons leaders would have dealt with these issues; that he was so open to wide-ranging, and sometimes heterodox proposals shows that he was far from a blind follower even as a church officer. He could hardly be expected to be less independent as the nation’s president).

While these anecdotes don’t give the full view of what it means to be a Mormon bishop or stake president, they do indicate that Romney’s service must have required a real depth of spirituality and humanity, attributes he is not often assumed to possess. In order to give a better sense of what those positions required, I asked my older brother, a Mormon Bishop in the Bible Belt to describe his duties. I believe that Romney’s job description as bishop would have been very similar to the following:

As a Mormon Bishop, I am the leader of the local congregation. That means I am ultimately answerable for the physical, emotional and especially spiritual welfare of the members. This involves a great deal of time spent counseling those with serious issues such as marital problems, addictions, or emotional problems. I also spend time working with those who are seeking a deeper and more meaningful relationship with God.

Because we have no paid, full-time clergy, leadership at every local level is composed of volunteers. As Bishop, I oversee their efforts and coordinate with other congregational leaders, those who work with the children, the youth, as well as the men’s and women’s ministries. I am also responsible for the administrative matters–overseeing budgets, collecting and depositing offerings, the maintenance and use of the building and so forth. The church operates a large welfare program that assists struggling members with their needs, and that is also administered by the Bishop. Occasionally, I am given special assignments as well, for example, I am the designated contact person for transients passing through the Metropolitan area and am responsible to assess their needs and provide them with such help as may be prudent and useful.

Among Mormons, it is well-known that to be called as a Bishop means the end of one’s free time, and calls for huge sacrifices from one’s family. Bishops give great amounts of time to very complex and emotional problems with no pay and very limited training. If you find it impossible to picture Mitt Romney selflessly giving such personal, Christian service, then maybe you need to reevaluate what you think you know about Mitt Romney.

(More) Mormons Speak Out

Last week I noted that several Mormons had written convincing pieces in various publications in defense of their faith. Two more have recently added their voices to that group:

Writing in the San Francisco Chronicle, Nathan Oman, a Law Professor at William & Mary, explains that Mitt Romney’s candidacy means something very important for all Mormons:

As a Latter-day Saint, I care deeply about whether a Mormon can be elected president. This is not because, as the anti-Mormon fringe suggests, my co-religionists and I want to impose a theocracy on the nation, but because so long as a Mormon cannot be elected president because he is Mormon. Rather, I care because so long as a Mormon cannot be elected president because he is Mormon, I am a second-class citizen in our culture, a member of a tribe disqualified from full political participation.

***

To be a full citizen means that one is eligible for full participation in public life. It doesn’t mean, of course, that one will actually hold any particular office. But it does mean that one will be judged as an individual rather than as a member of a foreign tribe. By raising the possibility that Mormonism de facto disqualifies one for the presidency, the furor over Romney’s religion has thrown the full citizenship of all Latter-day Saints into question. Ultimately, history suggests that the question can only be laid to rest by a Mormon being elected president. This fact does not provide a reason for electing Romney, but it does mean that, whether they like it or not, the stakes in this election are very high for Latter-day Saints. It is also a cautionary tale for members of any other marginal American tribe seeking the privilege of being judged as an individual.

Oman’s is a thoughtful piece and worth reading in whole.

The second piece, and equally impressive, is by Carrie Sheffield writing in the American Spectator. Sheffield, who is also LDS, takes up the increasingly frequent speculation among American evangelicals that a Mormon president would usher in a new era of Mormon respectability and result in widespread conversions through America and the world. (My response to this phony speculation may be found here).

Sheffield takes a much more empirical approach than has been on offer before. She attacks the hypothetical head-on, citing data from its best possible analog- the administration of Governor Romney in Massachusetts.

Consider: From 1997 to 2002, the six years prior to Romney’s governorship, LDS church membership in Massachusetts grew by a rate of nearly 40 percent. During the four years Romney was in office, membership growth slowed to a snail’s pace — a mere 1.7 percent, according to membership statistics kept by the church and published in the LDS Church Almanac. The national growth rate during that same period was about three times the Massachusetts number: 5.1 percent.

During the Romney years, the number of Mormon wards and branches, congregations that are created and dissolved based on geography and population, in the Bay State rose by one and fell by one, indicating that congregational growth was static. Nationwide, the number of congregations grew by 7.3 percent.

In response to the argument that a Mormon president would be more influential than a Mormon governor, Ms. Sheffield points to the Salt Lake City Olympics as a useful proxy. Noting that Mormons gained worldwide positive media exposure during the Olympics, Sheffield points out that no spike in growth resulted. In fact, there is no instance recorded anywhere where a prominent Mormon or boost in Mormon publicity ever led to an increase in conversions. Indeed, while it’s easy to conjure thoughts of a mass conversion provoked by mainstreaming Mormonism, it’s almost impossible to imagine an actual person who could be led down that road by such an irrelevant fact as the religion of the president.

Sheffield’s piece is also worth a full review.

Mona Charen: Mormon Church Produces “Excellent Americans”

I hate to write many posts that just link to other stories, without adding any substance myself.  But the rigors of the close of the billable year call me to other pursuits at the moment.  Nevertheless, you won’t regret reading this article by Mona Charen.  She sounds many notes we’ve heard before, but her framework is new.  Isn’t it true that every election year, we see people wondering why our crop of candidates is so pathetic, when there are so many successful, competent people in America?  Anyone saying that this year clearly hasn’t thought hard enough about Mitt Romney, who perfectly fits the bill:

The question as to whether someone’s religious convictions are a fit subject for public scrutiny is not as simple as it sounds. It’s too pat to say, “There should be no religious test for public office and there’s the end of it.” If a candidate were, say, a fundamentalist Mormon like Warren Jeffs, or a Scientologist, that would be an obstacle. But the mainstream Mormon Church has enough of a track record in producing excellent Americans that the particularities of its doctrine are by now a matter of purely scholarly interest.

* * *

When Mitt Romney took office as governor of Massachusetts, the state had a $1.2 billion deficit. Four years later it was in surplus. He boasts that fourth and eighth graders in Massachusetts achieved the highest scores in the nation in reading and math, though they were doing so before he became governor as well. But his program of assessment, merit pay for good teachers, English immersion and a focus on math and science may have helped keep them at the top.

It is difficult to find any significant weakness in Romney. He is refreshingly articulate, exceedingly well prepared and self-disciplined, clearly an excellent manager with both private and government experience, happily married with a large, supportive family, and well within the mainstream of conservatism on every major issue. His nomination would not divide the base.

He is just the sort of candidate people complain that they never get.

Read the whole thing.  And have a good weekend, everyone.