Vincent Safuto’s Weblog

Notes and observations

Romney runs into the flip side of being in the party of religion

This past weekend, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney learned that being in the Republican Party means having to put on a thick skin.

Romney is a Mormon, and while there have been plenty of Mormon politicians in the past, no one’s risen as high as he has risen: to the status of front-runner in the GOP primary race in 2008, and co-front-runner with Texas Gov. Rick Perry in the 2012 primary race.

For many candidates, running for office and getting elected can seem like a sign from above that the guy upstairs likes you. There are the wins, close and runaway, that often convince people that they are the inevitable candidate for any office. Some folks never even complete a term of office because they are convinced that their ward/city/state house district/state senate district/U.S. House district/U.S. Senate district/nation needs them right now.

Our current president, Barack Obama, was a one-term senator who jumped to run for president because he thought the time was right. Others have done so and found varying levels of success. Generally, the public frowns upon candidates who seem to jump for every office that comes open; let’s face it, some people are better at running for office than actually serving.

On the surface, Romney has everything a Republican candidate for president needs to produce a pretty credible challenge to Obama. Romney’s a former businessman who has – as former businessmen like to say – made the “tough decisions.” Since the people who lost out economically due to Romney’s actions – workers — don’t count very much in our country, that matters little to the political elite. Our lives are just a sideshow the real game in this country, which is perpetuating the plutocracy.

He made those choices, the losers don’t matter and the winners write books about how they’re geniuses. That’s life in America today.

Romney’s good-looking, he has government experience and business experience and campaign experience. He only missed out on a shot at the top job last time because it was Sen. John McCain’s last shot at being president; maybe Romney could have been a credible vice presidential candidate last time out, but McCain went in a different direction.

Still, Romney’s religion was an issue in 2008, too, but a post on the Huffington Post points out that it didn’t get that far.

The issue of the president’s religious beliefs often didn’t come up in American politics, mainly because it’s nearly impossible for someone who isn’t from a Protestant denomination to get elected president. John F. Kennedy was the nation’s first Catholic president, that version of Christianity is far more common than Romney’s Mormonism.

It’s true that while all presidents have professed religious belief, there is the question of whether they really believed or were just going with the expectation that they were religious to gain votes. We are fortunate that our society is much more secular now than before, but the fact is that an open doubter of religion has little chance of election, and may even draw religious opponents eager to bring him or her down to humiliating defeat.

As we’ve seen with the current president, even the mere exposure to a disregarded religious belief system like Islam is enough to discredit the person in the eyes of the Christian believers. Obama’s efforts to get some religion painted on him are no different from those of other elected officials, but he’s a Democrat, so it’s assumed that he’s not being sincere about faith.

After all, the most openly religious president we’ve had is Jimmy Carter, and he was despised by many who viewed him as a fake Christian despite what appears to be an honest and sincere faith. But, as I said, that counts for little when you’re a Democrat.

Mormons have always had to deal with the fact that other Christian denominations view them as totally wrong and not even Christian. In the past, Catholics were labeled “non-Christian,” too.

I can remember back when I became a fundamentalist in the late 1970s when I was in the service, and how the leaders of the military ministry insisted that Catholics were all going to hell because they were “wrong” on every count. I was in the South, and this view was prevalent.

Even Pat Robertson had this view, but I saw the subtle change, and after he became more political he made references to “Catholic Christians,” an accommodation that took into account that he needed Catholic votes. Finding a conservative common cause on many social issues, many fundamentalists were eager to welcome Catholics into the fold, if only to use their numbers for votes on election day. Today, one can be a credible candidate for high office as a Catholic, and few Christian fundamentalists will hurl invective, as in the past, and accuse the candidate of being a Vatican tool.

Mormons did achieve political success, but mainly in the West and especially Utah, where Mormonism is practically the state religion and very few dissenters can attain enough votes to win an office. It’s probably a sign that Massachusetts is more practical than anything that a Mormon candidate like Romney would find acceptance in the state and win the governor’s office.

In fact, there’s an interesting article on the Huffington Post that points out that the question of whether Romney’s a Christian is still open to debate.

Had Romney run in a state like Texas or South Carolina, he would have run into the old biases. Christians have always been taught that Mormons are practicing incorrect doctrine, and that their beliefs are “weird.” As we saw recently, some people are willing to go further and declare the Latter-day Saints non-Christians and say that Romney is not fit to be president on the basis of his religion.

When you run in the party that sees religion as a big part of American life, being an outsider can be a disadvantage. By contrast, Perry makes much of his “old-time” religion and is drawing a lot of support, though his policy positions appeal to the very conservative leadership of the Republican Party.

Still, I think that GOP leaders look at Romney and see a man who would be a better candidate against Obama. Whether voters will feel that way will have to wait until the primaries begin in 2012.

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October 12, 2011 - Posted by | Living in the modern age, Politics | , , , , , , , ,

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