I’m lucky enough to be an alternate delegate to the Republican National Convention and will post from here in Tampa as often as I can. To the right is a shot I took of Scott Romney casting Michigan’s votes for his brother Mitt, in a sweet and emotional moment.
Service and Sacrifice vs. Doctrinal Beliefs
Now back to some substance. We’re not used to seeing balanced pieces in The New Republic, at least not on the religion issue, but in How Romney’s Mormon Problem Became His Greatest Asset, Nate Cohn makes a pretty good point. Now that Romney is past the primary, his life experiences in Mormonism can help his team present him to voters “in a relatable manner” — in other words, to make him likable, someone who the voters feel understands them, and not just the distant, very wealthy man that the Obama campaign desperately wants to define.
Referring to recent news media reports about Romney’s 13 consecutive years, between the ages of 34 and 47, as a Bishop and Stake President in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the “Church”), Cohn concludes:
[I]f the Romney campaign can execute this properly, Romney might have his first “good guy” moment, since a church leadership role probably involved helping ‘ordinary’ Americans overcome personal hardship. For instance, recent reports have noted that Romney helped the sick and poor. And it’s also important to remember that polls consistently find that most Americans want a president with strong religious beliefs, so Romney’s religious involvement is probably an asset independently from whether it makes him appear compassionate.
In his own awkward way Cohn makes a point we’ve made here before: although specific doctrinal beliefs aren’t relevant to a candidate’s fitness to serve, the way he has lived his life is. As the Deseret News piece we linked to earlier lays out, serving as a bishop and stake president in the Church is a big deal. Doing so requires considerable personal sacrifice and brings no monetary compensation. Bishops get the calls at 2:00 a.m. when someone’s son has been arrested, or when someone’s loved one has died or suffered a terrible accident; they try to save troubled marriages, find work for the unemployed, and arrange food deliveries to the hungry in their congregations. Stake presidents supervise the work of many bishops.
It is important and proper that people know that Romney did all those things for thirteen years. It tells them something important about him as a candidate. What he thinks about grace and works, on the other hand, does not.
Mrs. Romney’s Speech
The full text and video of Ann’s speech is here. It was received by the overwhelming majority of viewers the same way Brit Hume did:
The speech alluded to, but did not specifically mention Gov. Romney’s service as a bishop and stake president. For people who know what it means to serve in those callings the speech surely meant a little more — it did for me.
Ross Douthat saw Ann’s speech a little differently, calling it “The Case for Noblesse Oblige:”
One useful way to think about Mormon culture is to envision an outpost of old-fashioned Yankees dropped down in the Mountain West. The early Mormons were Anglo-Saxon northeasterners who wended their way west, WASPs who dropped the Protestantism and added polygamy but otherwise kept many of the habits of their New York and New England forebears: A communitarian spirit and a flinty work ethic, and an attitude toward their own success that mixed self-effacement and noblesse oblige.
Useful? Really? When a candidate’s wife is trying to tell the nation about her husband’s heart, we have to go to condescending academic dissection of her perceived religious beliefs? Maybe Douthat missed this part of the speech:
I read somewhere that Mitt and I have a “storybook marriage.” Well, in the storybooks I read, there were never long, long, rainy winter afternoons in a house with five boys screaming at once. And those storybooks never seemed to have chapters called MS or breast cancer.
A storybook marriage? No, not at all. What Mitt Romney and I have is a real marriage.
Does that sound WASP-y to you? It doesn’t to me. It sounds like an experienced wife and mother — one who herself has served for years in her church, caring for other families — speaking from the heart.
In the end, it doesn’t matter what pundits like Ross Douthat — who is always quite fair to Mitt Romney on the religion issue — think. It matters what the voters think. And it seems to me that American women who are wondering “what makes Mitt tick” will care a lot more about what comes from Ann Romney’s heart than about what comes from political analysts’ minds.