Mitt's Character, and Presidential Virtue

While voting is currently rather academic for me since I haven’t naturalized yet, I’ve been following U.S. politics with a certain amount of bemused interest since I first came here almost ten years ago. To an Aussie, American politics are strange, indeed.

Leaving aside my astonishment at levels of institutionalized corruption that leave me stunned, and at an equally shocking disregard of constitutional protections if the target is sufficiently despised, I find the U.S. insistence that the president be a paragon of virtue distinctly odd. Australian culture is heavily affected by being the offspring of a collection of political prisoners and petty criminals -- the base assumption is that anyone going into politics is either already corrupt or highly corruptible. Add this to an Australian distrust of anything professed loudly, and you end up with people who are pretty good at figuring someone out based on what they say or don’t say and how they behave.

So despite my initial cynicism towards all the Republican candidates, I find myself warming towards Mr. Romney the more I see of him. Mostly this is because what he’s done is generally more admirable than what he says.

To start with, there’s the matter of his faith. To Australians, Mormonism is one of those funny not-quite-a-cult things that Americans produce in ridiculous numbers. Before anyone gets up in arms -- Australians hold this same opinion of most of the Baptist churches, practically all the mega-churches, 100% of televangelism, and a good chunk of the traditionally “black” churches. For most Aussies, if it doesn’t fall into the buckets of Catholic, Anglican (aka Episcopalian), or Uniting (formed by a merger of Methodist and Presbyterian), it doesn’t really count as Christian.

Anyone who gets up and talks about how their faith says they should do this or that is an automatic target for ridicule in Australia, because it’s invariably either a holier-than-thou thing or a way to browbeat everyone else into doing what they want. The Aussie view leans much more towards “the actions make the person.”

And Mr. Romney simply doesn’t talk about his faith. He just gets on and does things. As far as I can tell -- not being Mormon and not knowing much about the faith -- he simply does his best to follow the principles espoused without making a fuss about it. It’s just … something he does.

The same applies to how he handles his wife’s multiple sclerosis. He doesn’t claim any special privileges because his wife is suffering from an incurable chronic illness -- he just does what needs to be done. He doesn’t call out the insensitivity of those who mock his wife over the riding therapy (which, incidentally, is a fully recognized and normal treatment for multiple sclerosis, and which the Romneys fund for other people who don’t have their resources. Contemptible, no?). He doesn’t claim to be a better, more empathetic person because he has a loved one with MS.