CNN delves into Romney’s Mormon life, and does a pretty good job
CNN yesterday decided to report in some depth on Mitt Romney’s extensive service as a lay leader in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I think Jessica Ravitz’ piece, ” The Shaping of A Candidate: A Look at Mitt Romney’s Faith History,” is quite fair. It’s also fascinating on at least two levels.
First is the understandable curiosity underlying Ravitz’ story. What does it really mean to be a Mormon – and beyond that, what does it mean to be a Mormon lay leader at a high level? Mitt Romney has been a Mormon bishop and a stake president, positions of the highest honor and responsibility in our faith. Ravitz does a pretty good job of laying out the basic of what those jobs entail.
If Romney were Catholic and had been a lay leader in that church, or had been a Presbyterian Elder, we would not see much curiosity about what that means. That’s because Catholicism and Presbyterianism are well-known faiths in America. I don’t know what a Catholic lay leader does, or even what lay positions exist inside that church. But Catholics and Catholicism are old hat. Americans are not unfamiliar with them, even though we don’t know many details about them.
But Romney’s a Mormon, and his church has existed for only 181 years. It’s growing rapidly but neither the faith nor its practitioners are familiar to many Americans. And that’s where the peril lies for a Mormon presidential candidate. He doesn’t want to become a spokesman for his church and its many distinctive beliefs.
Imagine that Catholicism were only 181 years old and a Catholic candidate were asked to explain transubstantiation, or immaculate conception, and that the latter concepts were relatively new and widely unknown. Wouldn’t the candidate’s opponents and the news media have a field day with those teachings?
That’s why, when Jessica Ravitz approached the Romney campaign about her story, she got this response:
“What makes no sense to me is how you continue to push forward in writing about Gov. Romney’s faith journey when we’ve made it clear in every way possible that this is not a story we want to participate in,” campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul wrote in an email.
Second, the reality is that CNN’s story foreshadows many others like it if Romney continues to be the front-runner.
Romney, like the other prospective candidates for president, will remain under the microscope in the months ahead.
His past will be combed, his policies scrutinized, his record examined.
How much his Mormon faith plays into his political journey remains to be seen. But whether he likes it, whether his campaign can control it, the fact that he may be on track to become the first Mormon president in U.S. history will garner attention.
It’s a reality that Romney friends like McBride acknowledge, even if it disappoints them.
“The issues of his church are not the issues of this country. Those are personal issues,” he said. “I hate to see further articles [about his faith], but, on the other hand, what do you do?”
Both the story’s video and text are available here.
Where we think this is going
A friend reminded us of this piece byJay Nordlinger, who sounds a warning that I think we’ll be hearing and reading many times in the coming months:
Barry Goldwater once hollered, “Grow up, conservatives!” I sometimes feel the same way. We who are conservative aren’t meant to be 100-percenters. That’s more a Bolshevik trait: “What, you favor a lower grain quota? Up against the wall!” Politics is not for the pure, and ideologues are a nuisance. The American electorate is bigger than National Review Online (unfortunately).
I hope that Republican primary voters will not throw away our chances next year. And I believe that, if Romney is the nominee, virtually everyone right of center will rally ’round.
Before he became our standard-bearer, John McCain was pretty much the media’s favorite Republican. He was Mr. Amnesty, Mr. Global Warming, Mr. Anti-Religious Right, Mr. Reach Across the Aisle. The second he was nominated, he became Attila the Hun to them. He was the obstacle to Obama, the One.
The second Romney is nominated — if he is nominated — he too will be Attila the Hun. And the anti-Mormon stuff will be absolutely ferocious. It will come from the Left and it could come from some quarters of the Right, too. Buckle your chin strap. (Emphasis added.)
We think Nordlinger’s right. We aren’t naive enough to think the coverage will all be fair, but at the end of the process — regardless of who wins — if there are enough balanced pieces like the one Ravitz did for CNN, maybe the country will come out ahead, and little more grown up.