I’m amazed – and relieved – that Mormonism didn’t play a more vocal role in the 2012 elections, and that Americans were spared a tedious theological debate about the merits of each Christian sect or a slog through the First Amendment. Arguing against Governor Mitt Romney’s candidacy based on his Mormonism strikes me as no different than arguing that a Catholic president would obey the commands of a pope in Rome.
There is a more insightful way to enlist what little non-Mormons know about Joseph Smith’s bizarre, yet very American, creation. Why does Romney flip-flop with such seeming disregard for how his putative voters perceive him?
Since it is so deeply ingrained in the Mormon culture to have a sense of truth that is private, unquestionable, and not subject to analysis, debate, or verification, Mormon authority figures, like Romney, become very accustomed to speaking from God’s point of view, and feeling entirely justified in keeping their motives or reasoning secret. Without any checks and balances, authority figures can easily become unmoored and drift from reality.
This helps illuminate Romney’s flip-flopping, etch-a-sketching political character. His is not the cynical, coldly pragmatic moral calculus that Nixon so masterfully practiced for political gain. Romney actually believes he has a patriarchal right to say whatever he wants. His idea of the nature of truth is not something which is discovered after hard fought inquiry and testing, but instead is declared by a person with authority, often for unexamined reasons, and sanctioned by divine validation. This is much more dangerous than Nixon. Nixon knew he was lying.
It also illuminates Romney’s secrecy – about his tax returns, about details of his public policy, or any justifications behind his statements. Within Mormon culture, he is used to speaking to an audience who tell themselves, “ours is not to reason why.”
So when you see a smug smile on Romney’s face, it isn’t just the smile of a super rich guy marinating in his own ego. It’s the smile of someone who is always holding in the back of his mind a belief that he has a special, private truth, unknown to those outside his club, that makes him superior and unquestionable. Yet at the same time, he is ignorant of the dangerous fact that this “truth” is all too flexible. This would be a very bad characteristic of the leader of the free world.
Now it’s not the case that all Mormons are categorically disqualified from being president. It’s just that we should only consider someone with a bit more distance from the dogmatic traps of this young religion. Someone more like Huntsman, for example.
Worse than Nixon is damning enough for me!