In the upcoming Presidential election, Mitt Romney faces a serious problem: there are three major issues that relate directly to him --- and he wants to discuss none of them. First is his record in the one elective office he has held, Governor of Massachusetts. He does not want to discuss that because his major achievement was --- ohmygosh - creating the template for the Affordable Care Act. Ooops! He likely also doesn't want to discuss it because by the end of his first term his popularity in the state had fallen so low that he decided not to seek re-election. (See also: Romney Economics: It didn’t work in Massachusetts, and it won’t work now.)
Second is of course the matter of Bain Capital (1). Actually, as is becoming ever more apparent, Romney is bi-modal on this one. He likes to talk about his experience as a businessman as qualifying him to deal the economic problems facing the nation. But he doesn't want any details of what Bain actually did to be the subject of discussion. In fact, when the Obama Campaign does just that, Romney characterizes it as a "personal attack" (and some good old-fashioned DLC "Democrats" like Cory Booker, Ed Rendell, and Harold Ford, Jr. oh-so-delightfully have backed up the GOP on that). Nevertheless, the Obama people do want to make Bain the bane of Romney's existence --- and for good reason.
The major problems of US industry since the advent of Reaganism have to with "downsizing" (firing workers), "outsourcing" (otherwise known as exporting capital and jobs), and organized bankruptcy. And what did Bain do? It "downsized," "outsourced," and organized bankruptcies, all in such a way as to maximize its own profits. When the President actually points this out, the Romney campaign and its media echo-chambers go nuts. "He's attacking the basis of capitalism." Too bad he wasn't, but he wasn't. He was only pointing out what Bain in particular is in business to do: make as much money as it can for itself and its stakeholders, like (still) Governor Romney, following the business plan outlined above. Even The New York Times characterizes this kind of fact-based political advertising as “negative attacks” (1a).
But it is the third issue that Romney doesn't want discussed that is perhaps the most critical one in this election: that he is a Mormon. Is this a matter for legitimate concern? Well, for those of us concerned with the central political issue of the separation of church and state and the ever-expanding intrusion of religious doctrine into the law and politics, in a word: yes. According to Frank Rich (as far back as last January), late of the New York Times and now of New York Magazine, "[Romney's] great passion [his Mormonism] is something he is determined to keep secret" (2). It is well-known that many Right-wing Christians (usually referred to by the polite name "evangelicals" even though there are many evangelicals who are not right-wing) refer to Mormonism as a cult, and the evidence contained in the Book of Mormon (3) (see also ) to the contrary notwithstanding, "not Christian." But such complaints generally don't make it to the national stage.
Then came The New York Times article about Romney, Mormonism and his personal Mormonism (5). The information contained in it, drawn from friends, colleagues and fellow Mormon activists (and he is, or at least has been, a Mormon activist), raise some serious concerns. The claims of the Radical Religious Right to the contrary notwithstanding, the US Constitution clearly established the separation of church and State and one doesn't need to delve into the correspondence of the Constitution's chief author, James Madison, to determine that. It's right there in the plain language of the "no religious test for office" clause of Article Six and the "no establishment" clause of the First Amendment. Further, neither the word "God" nor the word "Christian" appear anywhere in the document.
In historical Mormonism, the church and state were fully integrated in the person of Brigham Young. Of course, it has not been, on paper at least, since 1890 when Utah made its deal to join the Union. But the important point now is, where does Romney stand on this question? To my knowledge, he has not answered it directly. But what he has said in the vicinity of the question must give pause for thought to those of us concerned with maintaining that separation. (Some would say, given, for example, the Hyde Amendment on abortion rights for the poor and its progeny, and the homosexual discrimination laws on the books in about 30 states and Federal statue as well, see DOMA, that we need to be concerned with re-establishing it). Consider the following.
1. Romney's Liberty University Commencement Address (6) contains such phrases as: "Marriage is the relationship between one man and one woman," a definition that is derived from religious texts (and of course one to which the Mormon Church did not adhere until 1890 [but that's another story]). And "But from the beginning, this nation trusted in God, not man." (Tell that one to Tom Paine, whose Reasonist pamphlet Common Sense sold in the hundreds of thousands of copies back then [!] and fueled the Revolution, Mitt.) And "there is no greater force for good in the nation than Christian conscience in action."
2. Ms. Kantor tells us (5) that "Every Presidential candidate highlights patriotism, but Mr. Romney's is backed by the Mormon (emphasis added) belief that the United States was chosen by God to play a special role in history, its Constitution divinely inspired" (which last would have come as a shock, I am sure, to the Deists who wrote it). According to a friend, quoted by name, "He is an unabashed, unapologetic believer the America is the Promised Land" (which must come as a shock to both Christian and Jewish Zionists).
3. Finally, again according to friends and colleagues quoted by name in Ms. Kantor's article, Romney prays frequently, feels that he has a direct connection to "God," and indeed engages in conversations with "God," asking for guidance in making decisions, even about matters of investment. Now, one would have no objection to Tevye talking with "God" in "Fiddler on the Roof." But for someone who would be President of the United States the questions do arise: what is the nature of these conversations; how often do they occur; what influence do "God's" answers have on his decision-making, does "God" accept the principle of the separation of church and state and if so, how does Romney find that his conversations with "God" are consistent with the principle.
Oh dear. From what we have heard, the Obama Campaign has decided not to put the "Mormon" issue on its political agenda. But it has now become apparent that with Mitt Romney, we have much more than a Mormon issue. We have a church/state separation, power of religion and which one, issue. These are issues that Romney himself has put on the agenda with is Liberty University speech. And that, my friends, should be on everyone's political agenda, including that of President Obama, should get onto the national political agenda somehow, before it's too late and our beloved country is on its way to becoming a theocracy.
1. ThinkProgress War Room, "Why Mitt Romney's Time at Bain Capital Matters."
The Progress Report (http://thinkprogress.org/progress-report/), May 23, 2012.
1a. Jeff Zeleny, “Obama Strikes Back with Negative Advertisement,” The New York Times, July 28, 2012.
2. Rich, Frank, "Who in God's Name is Mitt Romney?" New York Magazine, Jan. 29, 2012.
3. The Book of Mormon, Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints
4. Tarisco, V., "Former Mormon: What American Need to Know About Mormonism," Alternet.org, March 26, 2012.
5. Kantor, J., "Romney's Faith: Silent but Deep." The New York Times, May 19, 2012.
6. Mitt Romney Press, May 12, 2012
An earlier version of this column was published on BuzzFlash@Truthout on 05/24/2012.