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In the span of just a few days, Mitt Romney's Mormon faith has moved to the front burner of the 2008 presidential election.  In New Hampshire, mysterious opposition push polls branded Mormonism a cult, a smear Romney declared "un-American."  That development came after the candidate suggested he would likely renege on an earlier promise to offer a Kennedyesque explanation of the role his religion would play in a potential presidency.  While there are, of course, many legitimate reasons to not to vote for Mitt Romney, his religious faith should not be one of them.  Sadly, to the degree that his Mormon beliefs are now a campaign issue, Mitt Romney himself is largely responsible for it.

Romney's self-made trap began with his 2006 declaration that religious faith is a prerequisite for being President of the United States.  "People in this country,' Romney told Fox News, "want a person of faith to lead them as their president."  But on his own religiosity, Romney has insisted, Americans must take him at his word.

Unfortunately for the self-proclaimed heir to  Ronald Reagan, Americans have followed the Gipper's mantra of "trust but verify" when it comes to Romney's religion.  In August, WHO radio host Jan Mickelson took him up on it, and questioned Romney about his Mormon faith. An agitated Romney complained he was not "running as a Mormon" and that Mickelson was "trying to tell me I'm not a faithful Mormon."

Despite his protestations now as during his 1994 Senate run against Ted Kennedy ("I'm not running for cardinal"), Romney brought this kind of investigation upon himself.  In a February 2007 interview in South Carolina, Romney acknowledged Americans' natural curiosity about his faith.  In May, Romney gave a graduation address at Pat Robertson's Regent University, despite the latter's past description of Mormonism as a "cult." And in July, Romney signaled he would likely follow in the footsteps of John F. Kennedy and deliver a major speech describing his Mormon faith and how it would inform his presidency:

"I have thought about that. I haven't made a final decision, but it's probably more likely than not. It's probably too early for something like that. At some point it's more likely than not, but we'll see how things develop."

As it turns out, not so much.  Using his campaign team as a human shield, Romney last week apparently decided that discretion is the better part of valor, at least for now:

"The political advisors tell me no, no, no, it's not a good idea. Draws too much attention to that issue alone. But I sorta like the idea anyway, and will probably do it at some point."

Making matters worse, having raised religiosity as a requirement for the occupant of the Oval Office, Romney has since been careful to blur the distinctions between his Mormonism and mainline Protestant faiths (often to the dismay of his own co-religionists).  As Josh Patashnik wrote in the New Republic, Romney has repeatedly downplayed fundamental Mormon doctrines including the Baptism of the Dead and the past and future visits of Jesus Christ to America:

During an interview earlier this year with George Stephanopoulos, the presidential candidate disputed the suggestion that Christ would someday return to the United States rather than the Middle East. Mormons, he said, believe "that the Messiah will come to Jerusalem...It's the same as the other Christian tradition."

This was both technically correct and completely misleading: The church's position is that, while Christ will indeed appear at the Mount of Olives, he will also build a new Jerusalem in Jackson County, Missouri, which will serve as the seat of his 1,000-year reign on Earth.  Romney had conveniently neglected to mention this part of his church's doctrine.

Needless to say, his fellow Mormons were none too pleased. "Brother Romney is playing a little bit of a political game with his answer," one church official told Lee Benson of the Deseret Morning News--in a column noting that Romney's comment had "caused more than a few members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints...to scratch their heads as if to say, 'What the flip?'"

Given his aggressive courtship of evangelical leaders, some of the details of Romney's Mormon faith could pose real political obstacles for his 2008 presidential bid.  Evangelical voters not only dominate the Republican primaries, they also constitute the competition when it comes to proselytizing for new followers.  (While polls show that about one quarter of Americans would not vote – or are less likely to vote - for a Mormon, that figure reaches 36% among evangelicals.)  While his outreach to Pat Robertson was ultimately unsuccessful, Romney was able to secure the backing of conservative movement founding father Paul Weyrich and Robert Taylor, the dean of Bob Jones University in South Carolina. Despite the 2000 assertion by Bob Jones III that Catholicism and Mormonism are "cults which call themselves Christian," Taylor proclaimed:

"The fact that I'm seen as a Religious Right person would hopefully get others to step out for him."

To get more of the likes of Taylor to step out for him, Mitt Romney will have to walk a tightrope.  He must speak of the central importance of faith without elaborating on his own.  Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, encouraged Romney to follow in John F. Kennedy's footsteps and address the issue head on:

"Nobody else can close that deal, so I encouraged him to give a Kennedy-style, Greater Houston Ministerial Association-style speech, in his own words."

But when John F. Kennedy said, "I do not speak for my church on public matters -- and the church does not speak for me," he had not made religious faith a sine qua non of his campaign.  He famously met with Baptist leaders to explain that his Catholic faith, one shared by tens of millions of Americans, would not govern his decisions as President.  But after declaring religious faith a prerequisite for office, Mitt Romney refuses to discuss his own, one which remains a mystery to most Americans.

A Kennedy biographer said of JFK's 1960 address to the Southern Baptists, "he knocked religion out of the campaign as an intellectually respectable issue."  By making religion a centerpiece of his campaign, Mitt Romney simply doesn't have that option.  And for that, he has no one to blame but himself.

** Crossposted at Perrspectives **

Originally posted to Jon Perr on Mon Nov 19, 2007 at 02:20 PM PST.

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Comment Preferences

    •  very interesting diary (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      blueyedace2, jlms qkw

      thanks

      Does anyone know if Jeb Bush really is involved in his campaign???

      Politics is like driving...if you want to go backwards, choose R. If you want to move forward, choose D.

      by fireflynw on Mon Nov 19, 2007 at 02:26:52 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Interesting (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      jakebob, jlms qkw

      One suspects it is the old "Have your cake and eat it too" problem.

      I have LDS in-laws and Fundamentalist Xtian in-laws. Having been tormented by both, I tend to think there isn't much to choose between them, but boy, would they disagree. It may be that they are all trying to convert the same heathens but they do not have anything positive to say about the other sect.

      It would be amusing if they were't all so annoying.

    •  questions for those of 'faith?' (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      WI Deadhead, willb48

      Do you think your belief is the only true one?

      What can't you do and stay in good standing with your faith?  

      What must you do?

      Do you believe something can be revealed to you personally?

      Would you make policy on your revelation?

      Do you belief the world is coming to and end?

      Do you think those who are interested in preserving earth and viable life are naive, because it's in the hands of god?

      Do you trust those of your own faith more than those who don't agree with you on matters of faith?

  •  Art. VI, Clause 3 of the U.S. Constitution... (6+ / 0-)

    Something Republicans (or, at least, those who've highjacked the GOP)   just.   don't.   get.  :

    The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

    BenGoshi
    ___________________________________________________

    The distinction that goes with mere office runs far ahead of the distinction that goes with actual achievement. H.L. Mencken

    by BenGoshi on Mon Nov 19, 2007 at 02:28:26 PM PST

    •  Irrelevant to voter-level determinations (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      jakebob

      In this context, Romney means that American voters "want" or "require" a "person of faith" in the same way that they "want" or "require" their leaders to not enjoy eating the flesh of babies.  Romney does not say (or even imply) that as a matter of law our leaders are required to be a "person of faith."

      Personally, I find militant anti-rationalism to be a disqualifying factor for a leader, as I believe it is quite likely to lead to poor decision-making.  But that's my individual, voter-level decision--I would not think of invoking the power of the state to forbid Mormons from occuping offices.

      "Well, I'm sure I'd feel much worse if I weren't under such heavy sedation..."--David St. Hubbins

      by Old Left Good Left on Mon Nov 19, 2007 at 04:15:23 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  More Background on Romney's Quote (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        BenGoshi

        The context of Romney's full quote makes it clear that he believes that the American people require that office-holders be "people of faith" and that he agrees with that assessment.

        From Fox News with Chris Wallace (2/27/06):

        WALLACE: I want to ask you about another area of possible controversy and it involves something very personal, your religion. You are a Mormon. As you well know, a number of evangelicals say that could be a problem for you in Republican primaries because they say Mormonism is a cult. Your response.

        ROMNEY: Well, I think people in this country want a person of faith to lead them as their governor, as their senator, as their president. I don't think most people care what brand of faith they have. And I don't believe that that's been an issue for me in my race for governor.

        It wasn't an issue, I believe, serious, for John Kennedy when he ran for president. People said oh, gosh, Ronald Reagan, he's been an actor who's been divorced, you can't elect him. Those things, I think, get swept away as people get to know the individual, understand their character, their vision, their values, and I think that's true regardless of a person's faith if they are a faithful person.

      •  No, actually, it's not. (0+ / 0-)

        I understand your point, but you miss mine.  

        I "get" that what voters prefer personality-wise or conviction-wise is not the same as a "religious Test".  The point you're apparently not getting, and that the Right Wing Republicanoids don't, or won't, get is that it is rooted into the DNA of our Constitution that being religious (or not, for that matter) is not a qualification for public office.  That Constitutional mandate  - prohibiting "official" tests -  should  and ought to spill-over into the public consciousness as a desire (and well-founded and righteous one, in my book)  of The Framers that we not set up or tolerate a Theocracy -- whether "officially" or by the force of mass hysteria.

        BenGoshi
        ____________________________________________________

        The distinction that goes with mere office runs far ahead of the distinction that goes with actual achievement. H.L. Mencken

        by BenGoshi on Mon Nov 19, 2007 at 04:25:15 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Interesting thesis (0+ / 0-)

          Normatively, you make a very good point, and we might well benefit from having constitutional values universalized.  However, that is not generally the case.  For example, the constitution provides for free speech and due process rights, but these are generally only applicable in the case of state action or vis-a-vis a state actor, and not against, say, one's parents or employer.

          The Constitution prohibited a very common and explicit practice (i.e., Congregationalists only requirements).  I doubt that the intent of the Religious Test clause was to take consideration of religious practice entirely out of voter's consideration.

          "Well, I'm sure I'd feel much worse if I weren't under such heavy sedation..."--David St. Hubbins

          by Old Left Good Left on Mon Nov 19, 2007 at 04:45:44 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  if faith is all that is needed (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Sanuk

    "want a person of faith to lead them as their president."  But on his own religiosity, Romney has insisted, Americans

    Then an atheist could be President.

    Although I am afraid of heights, I still dream of soaring free.

    by Pan Zareta on Mon Nov 19, 2007 at 02:42:39 PM PST

  •  Individuals who have abandoned/left - ran away (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Marie

     from the Mormon church feel that they have left a cult.

     My father's side is Mormon --heavy duty going back to the beginning of this religious sect.

     My grandfather fled the church -- ironically he married a nice Mormon girl. But granddad wanted nothing to do with the Mormons or their rigid belief -- and I know that he would never support nor vote for a Mormon for President. Grandfather was a democrat -- so he wouldn't have voted for Romney on that basis either.

      Seems to me that a whole lot of the GOP candidates are saying whatever it takes to get the votes to win -- and then they'll do whatever they please. (Just like bushie did.)

     Romney has made an issue of being Mormon -- and it probably high time that Americans learn more about the beliefs and doctrines of Mormons.

  •  I also think we need a person of faith in the WH (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ExStr8, mommyof3, crose

    The first candidate to openly acknowledge the Flying Spaghetti Monster as our lord and creator gets my vote - Ramen!

  •  do you know any fundamentalists (0+ / 0-)

    the fundamentalists see Mormonism as a cult, trying to masquerade as  Christian, they fear mormonism as akin to satan.  It's the way they've always seen it, they're the same with Jehovah's Witnesses, and I'm sure quite a few others, some see Catholics as heretics.   Were a Mormon to be a democrat, highly unlikely, he or she would have a better chance.  That's why you can write off Romney as a viable Republican candidate.  Were he the candidate, they'd stay home, rather than risk the wrath of God.  I'm surprised he put so much money into it.  He's not in touch with that community.  Does anyone else know a fundamentalist Christian who would vote for any Mormon?  It's a best a very long shot.  

  •  a promise? (0+ / 0-)

    "I have thought about that. I haven't made a final decision, but it's probably more likely than not. It's probably too early for something like that. At some point it's more likely than not, but we'll see how things develop."

    That development came after the candidate suggested he would likely renege on an earlier promise to offer a Kennedyesque explanation of the role his religion would play in a potential presidency.  

    He goes from Maybe i will to Maybe i won't and that's reneging on a promise?

    I don't think so.

    Even a blind nut find a squirrel sometimes

    by buzzsaw on Mon Nov 19, 2007 at 03:37:08 PM PST

    •  Back-Tracking on Major Address (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      skohayes

      The point here is that the Romney camp set an expectation through multiple media outlets early in 2007 that their candidate candidate would deliver a major address on the role of his religion and political office.

      As the NY Times reported in February:

      Mr. Romney said he was giving strong consideration to a public address about his faith and political views, modeled after the one John F. Kennedy gave in 1960 in the face of a wave of concern about his being a Roman Catholic.

      Mr. Romney’s aides said he had closely studied Kennedy’s speech in trying to measure how to navigate the task of becoming the nation’s first Mormon president, and he has consulted other Mormon elected leaders, including Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah, about how to proceed.

      With Romney now poised to win in Iowa and NH, his campaign ("the political advisers") is making it clear that no sch risky address will come until after the primaries, if at all.

      So, you're overstating my overstatement.

      •  i think not (0+ / 0-)

        and you did it again

        set an expectation through multiple media outlets early in 2007 that their candidate candidate would deliver

        Mr. Romney said he was giving strong consideration to a public address about his faith and political views, modeled after the one John F. Kennedy gave in 1960 in the face of a wave of concern about his being a Roman Catholic.

        His actual statement is a 'might' not a 'would'. Clearly no decision had been made since he was still giving consideration.

        Even a blind nut find a squirrel sometimes

        by buzzsaw on Mon Nov 19, 2007 at 05:30:59 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  not quite (0+ / 0-)

    Romney's self-made trap began with his 2006 declaration that religious faith is a prerequisite for being President of the United States.  "People in this country,' Romney told Fox News, "want a person of faith to lead them as their president."  But on his own religiosity, Romney has insisted, Americans must take him at his word.

    The distinction between 'want' and 'require' seems to have eluded you.

    Even a blind nut find a squirrel sometimes

    by buzzsaw on Mon Nov 19, 2007 at 03:41:02 PM PST

    •  The Context of Romney's Quote... (0+ / 0-)

      ...makes it clear that he believes that the American people require that office-holders be "people of faith" and that he agrees with that assessment.

      From Fox News with Chris Wallace (2/27/06):

      WALLACE: I want to ask you about another area of possible controversy and it involves something very personal, your religion. You are a Mormon. As you well know, a number of evangelicals say that could be a problem for you in Republican primaries because they say Mormonism is a cult. Your response.

      ROMNEY: Well, I think people in this country want a person of faith to lead them as their governor, as their senator, as their president. I don't think most people care what brand of faith they have. And I don't believe that that's been an issue for me in my race for governor.

      It wasn't an issue, I believe, serious, for John Kennedy when he ran for president. People said oh, gosh, Ronald Reagan, he's been an actor who's been divorced, you can't elect him. Those things, I think, get swept away as people get to know the individual, understand their character, their vision, their values, and I think that's true regardless of a person's faith if they are a faithful person.

      •  why do you have this need to (0+ / 0-)

        keep changing his words?

        His quote makes it clear that he thinks the american people 'want' a person of faith. Why change what he actually said to 'require' when he didn't say that?

        One can want without requiring. I want my kids to meet me at the door when i get home from work, but i do not require it.

        different words, different meanings.

        Even a blind nut find a squirrel sometimes

        by buzzsaw on Mon Nov 19, 2007 at 05:35:44 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Have no (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ExStr8

    use for religion. But always find it interesting that those who profess, are quick to attack those who have a variation on their theme.

    We'll see how it plays out. But, it certainly appears as if Nitt has broght all of the scutiny upon himself.

    Common Sense is not Common

    by RustyBrown on Mon Nov 19, 2007 at 04:19:23 PM PST

  •  Baptism for the dead (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ExStr8
    I found his answer about baptism for the dead very interesting.  "I have done that, but I don't do it anymore".  

    I got the distinct impression he was trying to play the "I was young and foolish" card without saying that.  It sounded to me like he was being honest ("I did that") but implied he would not do it again if given a chance.  That is silly because generally adults don't do baptisms for the dead.  That is a youth activity.

    I myself was baptized maybe 100+ times by proxy for a list of dead people.  I can almost guarantee his sons all did it, his grandsons and granddaughters (does he have any?) are doing it now or will do it shortly.  It is a KEY tenet of the faith.  For him to deny or diminish it is political opportunism of the worst sort.

    Somebody should ask him when he last got married for dead people.  That is something that adults of the Mormon faith do on a regular basis.  They take names of deceased relatives (or random strangers) and perform marriage ceremonies "for time and all eternity" whether the people expressed any interest during life or not.  Even against express wishes of surviving family members, they will perform these ceremonies.

    If he denies doing these currently, he is either lying or he stopped doing them just for the campaign.  When devout Mormons go to the temple, THIS is what they are usually doing.

    I will not participate in a theological discussion on the merits, but I am interested to hear him answer some of these questions.  You said America requires someone of faith, then let's have that discussion.  How generic or how specific must that faith be?  And where do you fit into the idea any given voter has of religion?

    www.dailykos.com is America's Blog of Record

    by WI Deadhead on Mon Nov 19, 2007 at 04:58:45 PM PST

  •  While many of the articles of (0+ / 0-)

    faith in the LDS community are inconsistent with Christianity and some sort of wacky (what religion doesn't have some wackiness), that wouldn't be my primary objection to a Mormon in the WH.  Unlike main stream religions including garden variety Catholicism,    individual Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses proselytize.  It's part of what it means to be a member of the church.  

    What FDR giveth; GWB taketh away.

    by Marie on Mon Nov 19, 2007 at 05:43:24 PM PST

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