Looking over the titles of the articles on Real Clear Politics over the last few days, it has been stunning to see the attitude of the press corps to Mitt Romney and his current electoral difficulties. ‘Is Romney too weird to win?’, ‘Weirdo Mitt heads for defeat’ and ‘Strange Mitt just can’t connect’ were just some of the headlines that shouted out at me. What was the argument being advanced by the journalists? That Governor Mitt Romney is too ‘weird’ to win the Republican nomination for President. For weird, read Mormon.
My time in the United States has largely been dominated by a sense of wonder at the extent to which Americans are willing to take people as they come, be tolerant of differences in creed and colour, and I have been deeply moved by the warm welcome I have received as a stranger in this country. The one glaring exception to this sense of tolerance has been the treatment of Mitt Romney in particular, and Mormonism in general by American society and the press. Hatred and discrimination towards Mormons seems to be one of the key acceptable bigotries left in the States, and the way it is spread by the press is particularly unbecoming of the great journalists and newspapers of American society.
When one looks at the Republican field for President, one can only say that all is not well in the GOP. The candidates we have left are a serial adulterer who thinks colonies on the moon should be a priority for the Federal Government, a 70-something-year-old who wants to abolish most of the aforementioned Government, a former-Senator who lost his last re-election campaign and wants to start a war with China, and Governor Romney who despite being a pretty incredible flip-flop-er is at least coherent. Not one of the other Republican candidates has a hope of defeating Obama either in debates or in the court of public opinion. Paul is lunatic fringe, Gingrich is about as reliable as the French army, and Santorum’s obsession with sexual morality and aggressive nature should make him a candidate for an asylum not high office. Yet still the Republican base, and increasingly the press seem to be finding it impossible to settle on Romney as the nominee to face Obama in November.
In a country which was at least in part founded as a safe-haven for people of non-conformist religious persuasions, it is deeply disturbing to see Romney rejected for his faith. It seems unrealistic to ask Republicans to completely ignore the religion of their future nominee, but what aspect of Mormonism should be fair game? One can understand why a religious voter might want their candidate to reflect their religious values, but to demand theological agreement is clearly unreasonable and arguably bigoted. If Romney opposes gay marriage, gay adoption, and supports abstinence education in school, why is it relevant whether it is his church that told him that? It couldn’t matter less. The particular details of the theology that defines Mormonism are not values, they are theology, and as such have no place in your decision as to whether or not to vote for the candidate.
Time and time again we hear that Romney is ‘weird’, that he cannot connect with the base because of his religion. In 2008, John McCain’s mother actually said that ‘Of course people can’t vote for him [Romney], he’s a Mormon’, the only response from McCain was that his mother’s views were not those of his campaign. Imagine if she had said the same thing about Catholicism or Judaism? It is horrifying.
The reality is that Mitt Romney is a successful governor, a hugely successful and intelligent businessman and a personally charitable individual with huge personal discipline and integrity (witness his marriage, family, and religious commitment) and he is being rejected for being Mormon. This is coming from a member of the British Labour Party; Romney is not my taste in terms of politics, but to deny he is by a huge distance the most qualified opponent for Obama in the Republican field would be disingenuous.
Nor is the treatment by the press of Romney the only example I have come across of discrimination against Mormons since being here in the United States. Time and time again I have heard people use the word as an insult, and disparage the religion based on ignorance and bigotry. Take it from someone who comes from a society where Roman Catholics are discriminated against on a regular basis, it is deeply disturbing. To deny Romney the opportunity to carry the GOP banner in November would not only condemn the Republican ticket to certain defeat, but would also send a message loud and clear from Seattle, to D.C. and all the way back to Salt Lake City that Mormonism is not welcome in the public sphere in America.
For a denomination so based in service, so rich in tradition, so committed to clean living and full of successful adherents it would be a crime against the very values of American society. The values that I and the rest of the world admire so much.