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Is Romney Our Best Choice?

The evidence suggests otherwise — but for the wrong reason.

by
Clayton E. Cramer

Bio

July 17, 2011 - 12:00 am

There’s a long list of reasons why Mitt Romney might not be our best choice to go up against Obama, and some of them are really good reasons. One reason is Romney’s part in creating the Massachusetts health system that Democrats claim (perhaps rightly) was the blueprint for ObamaCare. Another is that as governor of a very liberal state, Romney signed into law all sorts of bills that are going to be used by Democrats to persuade many middle of the road and even conservative voters that there really is not that much difference. On some issues, Governor Romney was arguably to the left of Obama.

There is one reason why Romney is going to be a poor choice to take on Obama that I just hate: the Democrats are going to play the religion card (at least, once Romney has the nomination), and they are going to play it hard. As you are doubtless aware, Romney is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (the Mormons). There is a lot of very strong disapproval of Mormonism in the United States. A recent Gallup Poll found that 27% of Democrats would not vote for a Mormon, nor would 18% of Republicans, and 19% of independents.

Now, if you are one of those people that does not understand why there is such strong sentiment on this, let me say that Mormon beliefs are more than a bit out of the mainstream of Christianity. Baptists and Lutherans have doctrinal differences; Protestants and Catholics have doctrinal differences; Protestants and Eastern Orthodox have doctrinal differences. This is beyond doctrinal differences.

Should being Mormon disqualify someone from being president of the United States? I don’t think it should — the particulars of the Mormon creed are not relevant to the operation of the federal government. Some conservative evangelical Christians even argue that if Governor Romney had taken his marching orders from the Mormon Church, he would at least be a real conservative worthy of serious consideration. Nonetheless, there are a lot of Americans who are seriously freaked out by Mormon belief — and you will notice from those Gallup Poll results, Democrats are substantially more ready to discriminate based on religion than the rest of the population.

We need every vote to defeat Obama in 2012: conservative Democrats, moderate Republicans, evangelical Christians, libertarians. I can guarantee you that once Romney has the Republican nomination, Obama’s people will play the Mormon card. They may be subtle about it, and make documentaries and television programs about the “weird” Mormon beliefs. They may focus on polygamist breakaway sects, such as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and hope that many Americans will not realize that the FLDS is not part of the same church as Romney. They might be really clever, and spend a bit of money “helping” the various Christian organizations that expose Mormon theology get the word out, hoping that it will enhance the negative perceptions of the Mormons that are already present in the United States.

You may think I am being a bit too suspicious of what Obama’s campaign is prepared to do. Surely, the Democrats would not encourage direct religious bigotry! (Excuse me while I laugh.) I have a strong memory of 1980. I was going through my petulant Libertarian phase — still upset at Richard Nixon’s abandonment of free market policies — and I could not in good conscience vote for Republicans. It was a few days before the general election. CBS Evening News ran a story about Ron Reagan, Jr., showing his premiere with the Joffrey Ballet Company. It was not a few seconds — it was several minutes long, on a 30 minute evening newscast.

What do you think: was CBS showing everyone how wonderful it was that the Republican candidate was such a good father that his son was going to be a ballet dancer? Was the Joffrey Ballet getting a new dancer really important to justify several minutes of news coverage? Or was CBS, in a subtle sort of way, delivering the message to Middle America that Reagan’s son was probably swishy?

Those of you under 40 may have trouble believing this, but in 1980, homosexuality was still regarded with considerable horror in most of America. Even where I lived in Southern California, liberals I knew would make insulting and vulgar jokes about homosexuals. CBS News back then, like today, was a wholly owned subsidiary of the Democratic Party, and I am sure that Carter’s people played some behind-the-scenes role in making sure that Reagan’s son twirling across the stage received this disproportionate coverage.

There are limits to how directly Obama’s people will be able to attack the beliefs of any of the evangelical Christians in the race, because evangelical Christians are still a sizeable fraction of the American electorate. They may attack Bachmann or Palin for inconsistency in not being meek little wives, but they can’t directly attack them for being Christians. Count on it: all the long knives will come out from the Democrats to attack Mormonism if that is required to win the election for Obama.

I say this with considerable regret, because while I am not happy with the prospect of another moderate Republican being our nominee, I do recognize that Romney brings a number of strengths to the race that would otherwise make him a very strong candidate. Knowing what the Democrats will do to play the religion card, however, makes me quite sure that Romney is going to be a loser in the general election — and for the wrong reason.

Clayton E. Cramer teaches history at the College of Western Idaho. His most recent book is My Brother Ron: A Personal and Social History of the Deinstitutionalization of the Mentally Ill (2012). He is raising capital for a feature film about the Oberlin Rescue of 1858.
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