It’s difficult to escape the sense that something is still missing from press coverage of Romney’s Mormonism.
Witness the Sunday New York Times above-the-fold front page article “Romney’s Faith, Silent but Deep” by Jodi Kantor, a long story that presents the candidate’s Mormonism as rules-oriented, wholesome, and prayerful.
That same day the Washington Post investigated the potential impact of the 1857 Mountain Meadows Massacre—an attack by Mormons in southern Utah on a wagon-train from Arkansas—on the 2012 campaign.
This split between Mormons imagined as murderous bearded polygamists and clean-cut company men reflects a larger division in coverage of Mormonism this season between the sensational and the sanitized.
And it’s no wonder that political journalists and religion scholars alike are expressing hunger for something more.
Yesterday, in USA Today, religion scholar and author Steven Prothero lamented Romney’s own failure to engage the “Mormon moment,” blaming the quality of coverage on the general politicization of religion in the public sphere:
Not so long ago, Romney would have had to explain Mormon theology to voters in some detail. But now that religion has collapsed almost entirely into morality, all he has to do is assure us that its values are compatible with our own. I do not want liberals or evangelicals to use this election as an excuse to attack the Mormon faith… But I am chagrined to see our public square stripped of real religious conversation. Has the religious right pushed so hard to reinvest our politics with religion only to turn our religion into politics?
Prothero ends his essay with the expectation that he and others will continue to have questions about the Mormon faith this year and that “lots of people will doubtless step up to answer [those] questions.” Says Prothero, “One of them ought to be Mitt Romney.”
That’s doubtful. Whether by dint of his pragmatic personality or by official campaign strategy, Romney continues to studiously avoid open discussion of his religion, preferring instead to stress only the elements of his faith that align with campaign priorities. (Clayton Christensen, another Harvard-affiliated, business world-molded Mormon leader has emerged lately as a Romney media surrogate.)
Romney’s reticence can be understood as a feature of the late twentieth century LDS corporate culture that formed and rewarded him. Late twentieth century corporate LDS Church culture strongly emphasized disciplined messaging (also known as “correlation”) as well as individual obedience and cultural conservatism (call it “retrenchment”) in the service of institutional growth. It’s worth noting that correlated, retrenched corporate Mormonism (insiders sometimes call it the “MORG”) is not the only way to do Mormonism, but it is the way Mitt Romney has practiced Mormonism and it is the brand of Mormonism that found institutional ascendancy in the late twentieth century.
It’s worth noting too that late twentieth century corporate-institutional Mormonism openly discouraged and even stigmatized critical inquiry into Mormon experience. In 1981 a high-ranking Church leader admonished Mormon scholars that “some things that are true are not very useful.” Critical inquiry within a faith tradition lays the groundwork for critical dialogue about religion in the public sphere. Without a contemporary tradition of internal debate, Mormons like Romney may find ourselves less prepared to participate in a robust public give-and-take about our own faith.
There are, of course, some outstanding examples that countervail this general trend.
Peggy Fletcher Stack of the Salt Lake Tribune has been providing thoughtful and nuanced coverage of Mormonism for decades, while more recently McKay Coppins of BuzzFeed has emerged as an invaluable source on the faith angles of Romney’s candidacy. Matthew Bowman [who recently wrote about the emergence of the LDS corporate culture], Kathleen Flake, Kristine Haglund, and Ben West are among the LDS scholars whose expertise on questions of Mormon history and culture should be featured in the press.
But it seems that the problem the press faces now is knowing what constitutes an informed and critical question about Mormonism—how to inquire probingly about a religion that is so young, so unfamiliar, without appearing anti-religious or anti-Mormon. What are the questions to ask?
Perhaps it’s worth remembering that Mitt Romney represents one variety of Mormonism: a late twentieth century corporate institutional Mormonism focused on growth. Every corporate growth strategy has winners and losers, and there are losers in the institutional history of Mormonism too. Who lost? How were they treated? Where did they go? How do the winners of late twentieth century corporate institutional Mormonism (like Romney) relate to the losers?
If that sounds too much like a story about Bain Capital, let me translate these questions into religious terms. Conflict between individual conscience and institutional mandates is a timeless religion story—think Abraham, Augustine, the Reformation. How individuals process and manage such conflicts discloses important information about the nature of their faith, their methods of decision-making, and the quality of their moral deliberation. Is there any moment at which Mitt Romney found himself in conflict with his own church?
We know, for example, that Romney (like many other Mormons) celebrated the Church’s lifting of the 1978 ban on black ordination. How did he feel about the ban before that time? Did he experience a conflict between individual conscience and institutional policies? How did he understand the value and the costs of the Church’s segregation? How did he manage it? What did he learn about authority, fairness, and conflict from this important period in LDS history?
This is the rugged interior landscape of faith—scholars call it “interiority.” Regular people call it “soul.” I know that Mormonism has soul, and I’m quite certain Mitt Romney does too. But if Romney really is just a by-the-book decision maker who always finds himself in perfect harmony with the priorities of large corporations—religious or financial—voters should probably know that as well.
Perhaps this is the place for serious journalists to dig in.
By: Joanna Brooks, Religion Dispatches, May 22, 2012
Last week, former President George W. Bush expressed his support for Mitt Romney’s candidacy, delivering a four-word endorsement — “I’m for Mitt Romney” — as elevator doors were closing. Romney wasn’t eager to publicize the support, and generally prefers not to even say Bush’s name out loud in public.
Bush’s scandal-plagued vice president, however, is fine.
Just months after a heart transplant, former vice president Dick Cheney continues to stay active politically and will host a fundraiser in July for Mitt Romney.
Cheney and wife Lynne will welcome the likely Republican nominee to their home in Jackson Hole, Wyo., on July 12.
“Jackson Hole is a beautiful summer destination and this will be a memorable event,” said an e-mail from the Romney team to invitees, reports The Wall Street Journal. “We hope that you and your friends will be able to join us.”
Remember, no matter how far Romney has been willing to go to distance himself from the last Republican president, the former Massachusetts governor has had no qualms in praising the scandalous former VP. In September, Romney went so far as to call Dick Cheney “the kind of person I’d like to have” as his White House partner.
He wasn’t kidding. After all the corruption, lies, secrets, and torture, Romney looks at Cheney as a model vice president. Bush is merely described as President Obama’s “predecessor,” but Cheney is Romney’s good buddy.
And in the larger context, Romney continues to position himself as offering a third term of Bush/Cheney, hiring Bush/Cheney staffers, backing Bush/Cheney policies, and now benefiting from Bush/Cheney money.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 22, 2012
There’s a piece at Buzzfeed that groups the above troika–Cory, Artur, and Harold, respectively–into the “Joshua generation” and notes that they were “born too late to participate in the Civil Rights movement, and late enough to benefit from it with blue chip educations and direct paths to power. They were free of the urban machines that had defined black politics in America, and ready for a different and more hopeful sort of politics of race.”
The real lesson about these guys is that they have all reflected the media’s wish for and infatuation with a “different” kind of black man. They all have Ivy League credentials as undergraduates or graduates. They first hit the scene–and timing, as they say, is everything–had grown sick and tired of old-line pols like David Dinkins who came up through the black clubhouses and so forth. So this narrative was created: These are the new African American leaders who aren’t hung up on the old racial mau-mau stuff, etc.
There is some truth to this. Inside each of them, and others like them who are lesser-known, there probably exists some internal reflex against being too predictable, being too like the generation that preceded them. That of course can be admirable, but it can be carried to extremes.
Davis is really the most extreme case. He voted against Obama’s health-care bill, apparently lost in some delusion that the people of Alabama might actually elect him their governor. He lost. Not the general election. The primary. By just a little bit. Like, 62 to 38 percent. He could have become a birther and performed a song-and-dance tribute to George Wallace, and maybe he’d have brought it to single-digits. And remember, that’s among Democrats. This seems to have left Davis feeling pretty bitter about Democrats. But does he think he’d have somehow done better among Republicans?
Ford kind of almost won a Senate seat, but he was race-baited at the end (“Harold, call me!” said a cute blone in a last-minute ad, as she winked at the camera). He just seems these days like he’s interested in making a lot of money, and good for him, but he’s not actually a spokesman for anything anymore, except that he’s useful to the right in situations like the current one, and he seems happy to oblige.
Booker, as I wrote yesterday, is likely preparing for his own Senate run, when he’ll be going to private-equity people for donations. He used his appearance on Rachel Maddow last night to mount a pretty full retreat, so he may yet be able to show his face at the convention.
These are different men, but I suspect they have in common that they bought into their early press, and they know what it is that gets them press: deviating from the expected black-liberal party line. And so that’s what they do. And, of course, they may all just be jealous of Obama, who won the big derby before they did.
By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, May 22
“It’s Not An Attack On Capitalism When Done By Republicans”: Mitt Romney’s GOP Primary Opponents On Bain Capital
Romney has placed his record at Bain at the center of his campaign. In April for example, Romney said, “You might have heard that I was successful in business. And that rumor is true…And after 25 years, I know how to lead us out of this stagnant Obama economy and into a job-creating recovery!” (Multiple independent fact checkershave concluded that Romney’s claims on job creation at Bain are simply false.)
On Monday, President Obama took Romney at his word and noted that the former Massachusetts governor’s record at Bain Capital is “not a distraction” but “what this campaign is going to be about.” Romney’s Republican primary opponents agreed, and in the last six months offered criticism of his tenure at Bain that make Obama’s remarks sound tame by comparison.
Here are the top 10 comments about Bain from Romney’s Republican rivals:
1. “The idea that you’ve got private equity companies that come in and take companies apart so they can make profits and have people lose their jobs, that’s not what the Republican Party’s about.” — Rick Perry [New York Times, 1/12/12]
2. “The Bain model is to go in at a very low price, borrow an immense amount of money, pay Bain an immense amount of money and leave. I’ll let you decide if that’s really good capitalism. I think that’s exploitation.” — Newt Gingrich [New York Times, 1/17/12]
3. “Instead of trying to work with them to try to find a way to keep the jobs and to get them back on their feet, it’s all about how much money can we make, how quick can we make it, and then get out of town and find the next carcass to feed upon” — Rick Perry [National Journal, 1/10/12]
4. “We find it pretty hard to justify rich people figuring out clever legal ways to loot a company, leaving behind 1,700 families without a job.” — Newt Gingrich [Globe and Mail, 1/9/12]
5. “Now, I have no doubt Mitt Romney was worried about pink slips — whether he was going to have enough of them to hand out because his company, Bain Capital, of all the jobs that they killed” — Rick Perry [New York Times, 1/9/12]
6) “He claims he created 100,000 jobs. The Washington Post, two days ago, reported in their fact check column that he gets three Pinocchios. Now, a Pinocchio is what you get from The Post if you’re not telling the truth.” — Newt Gingrich [1/13/12, NBC News]
7. “There is something inherently wrong when getting rich off failure and sticking it to someone else is how you do your business, and I happen to think that’s indefensible” — Rick Perry [National Journal, 1/10/12]
8. “If Governor Romney would like to give back all the money he’s earned from bankrupting companies and laying off employees over his years, then I would be glad to then listen to him” — Newt Gingrich [Mediaite, 12/14/11]
9. “If you’re a victim of Bain Capital’s downsizing, it’s the ultimate insult for Mitt Romney to come to South Carolina and tell you he feels your pain, because he caused it.” — Rick Perry [New York Times, 1/8/12]
10. “They’re vultures that sitting out there on the tree limb waiting for the company to get sick and then they swoop in, they eat the carcass. They leave with that and they leave the skeleton” — Rick Perry [National Journal, 1/10/12]
Just last night, Newt Gingrich defended his attacks, saying “I think there are things you can legitimately look at in Bain Capital. I think there are things you can legitimately look at in anybody’s record, including Mitt Romney’s record.”
By: Judd Legum, Think Progress, May 22, 2012
Obama supporters are seething and the RNC is dancing with delight in the aftermath of Newark Mayor Cory Booker’s nonsensical comparison of ads exposing Mitt Romney’s real record on job creation with racially tinged attacks on Barack Obama’s former pastor.
The RNC thinks that it caught the Dems with their pants down, inadvertently admitting that Romney’s work at Bain Capital should be off limits. But the indisputable fact is that Romney’s experience at Bain is completely fair game — Romney himself made that choice when he decided to present it as his chief qualification for the presidency. In fact, it’s beyond fair game: if this election is truly about jobs and the economy, then Bain is one of the only games in town.
Romney, attempting to shed his record as Massachusetts governor as fast as he can, has chosen to run almost exclusively on his record as a “job creator” at Bain. Pay no attention to the governor behind the curtain, whose state ranked 47th of 50 states in job creation during his term! In the process, he’s mixed up some of his “job creation” numbers and cherry-picked the facts he’s chosen to tell the American people. Romney keeps telling us his side of the Bain story. But are we to completely ignore the very real stories of factories shut down and American jobs lost? Let’s hear all sides of the story. Isn’t that what elections are all about?
And let’s also have an honest conversation about whether or not Romney’s success in making money for investors through his position at Bain qualifies him to be president. Venture capital and private equity have a role to play in our economy. But making money for investors doesn’t mean that you know how to make the economy work for all Americans. As President Obama pointed out yesterday, the goal of a private equity firm is to create wealth, not jobs — most often, to make as much money as possible for a few investors. The goal of a president needs to be an economy that works for everybody. That’s a critical difference.
Both candidates agree that this election is about the fundamental direction that our country will take for the next four years. We should embrace this. How about this simple concept: Let’s have that full debate about all aspects of the relevant experience of both candidates and let the voters decide.
By: Michael B. Keegan, The Huffington Post, May 22, 2012