Critics of Romney have worried that his Mormonism will affect him in his office as President of the United States. This concern has been raised from several different angles, and becomes an even bigger question as his tax records reveal his tithing contributions. To those who lack the context, donating 10% of your income to a church sounds like Scientology (to those who view us as foolish) or cronyism (to those who view us as shrewd). The question was raised before the call for Romney to reveal his tax records, though. What is behind it?
First of all, the idea that Romney would take orders from Salt Lake is interesting. This concern could be raised about any candidate of any faith. It’s partly behind the right-wing freak-out about Obama’s father being Muslim or him being raised in a Muslim country (“Will his loyalties be divided? Will he try to make us all Muslim?”). When it comes to the influence of Mormonism on Romney, I see 3 concerns about candidates’ religion:
- Undue Influence. This is the question about taking orders from Church HQ. To Mormons, it always begs the question, what exactly would Pres. Monson ask him to do? To most of us, it sounds like a ludicrous idea. Would they ask him to oppose gay marriage? Irrelevant: the GOP has already forced Romney’s reluctant hand on this one, and Obama is also on record as not supporting it. Would they ask him to support the right of churches to ministerial exception? Irrelevant: already done! Plus, it’s a judicial question, not executive. To outsiders, the question is really about who leads the president, a valid question for any candidate. This is why people look closely at a candidate’s wife, his or her donors, and how much influence his or her church and party have on him or her as an individual. The real question is “Is Romney his own man?” and if he’s not (I have doubts, frankly**) then “Whose man is he?” Personally, I feel confident enough in Romney’s pragmatic nature that he would not take undue influence from Salt Lake during his tenure as POTUS, nor would they be foolish enough to attempt to compromise him. He might go so far as to ask the Mormon Tabernacle Choir (or better choice – Gladys Knight) to sing at the inauguration. That’s not much influence, IMO.
- Values Alignment. This is primarily a concern of evangelicals and other social conservatives who want to vote for a candidate with the same values they have. They want to know: “Does this person feel the same way about traditional family values? Are they pro-life enough? Are they against contraception? Do they also see stem cell research as the travesty I do?” In the current GOP primary, since the evangelicals haven’t had a credible candidate of their own, they are looking around for someone who magically has the same exact values they do without having the same religion: a tall order. For those who see these social issues as core, they will not like a candidate who is not a social conservative. However, unless voters really expect the President to overturn Roe v. Wade, these issues seem a little irrelevant to that office.
- “POTUS Like Me.” Underlying this is the idea that the President needs to be relatable, a guy you can drink a beer with. Clearly, Mitt’s not that guy for a couple reasons: 1) he doesn’t drink, and 2) he is rich. For many, they want the President to be just a regular guy like they are. This is a mentality I don’t really comprehend. I’m not smart enough to run the country; if the candidate isn’t smarter than me, they aren’t getting my vote. I have never met anyone at a backyard barbecue that I thought should be President.
- Fundamental Flaw in Thinking. This is the 3rd concern about Romney’s Mormonism that is out there: “How could any rational person believe this stuff?” These critics fall into two categories: hypocrits (who haven’t taken a good look at the preposterousness of their own religion’s claims) and atheists (who are hardly objective about it). Those two groups are strange bedfellows indeed. This concern is usually expressed in the form of mockery. Unless we want to become an atheist nation or only elect atheists to office, this concern has nowhere to go.
- Legitimizing Mormonism. Underlying this one is a fear that by having a Mormon President in office, Mormonism will be legitimized and accepted. This is a threat to those religions that fear losing congregants (and their donations) to our aggressively proselyting church. Should they feel threatened? I believe this political criticism is the byproduct of an entitled group (evangelical Republicans) fearing the loss of their unwarranted entitlement (preferential treatment in the GOP).
Do you think these concerns are valid? What do you think Monson would ask Romney to do, president to president?
Or do you think it’s a moot point anyway after the South Carolina loss? What do you think will happen in Florida and beyond? (my predictions: Florida he wins, but it’s a squeaker; after that he’d be on a roll to the nomination.) Discuss.
**When I say I don’t think he’s his own man, I see him as someone who solves problems based on complex factors in the current situation rather than exclusively on ideologies. Pretty much, he would toss ideology out the window to achieve his aims. I call that pragmatism. Others call it being a flip flopper, panderer or worse. But others are running against him for the highest office in the land. And I’ve pandered once or twice myself.