Last night I was able to watch the newly released documentary on Netflix, “Mitt.” For anyone that cared about the campaign and even remotely cared about the individuals involved it is a gut wrenching experience. I told a friend just after I watched it that my Twitter review should be “It tore my heart out and left it beating on the table in front of me.” These were amazingly decent people, without an ounce of cynicism. To watch their stoicism in the face of all the assaults, grounded in their faith, was inspiring, It also made me hurt for the nation.
Others have noted that it was Romney’s very discomfort with the process that resulted in his loss. Note how both of these criticisms cling to a narrative that Romney was somehow “false” during the campaign. There is, of course, some standard film criticism of the documentary. I would make one brief note – It quickly passes over the primary of 2012, feeling I am sure it was repetitive of the well covered primary of 2008. The 2012 primary was grueling and ugly. I really would like to have known more about the family discussions surrounding the many failed “not Romney’s.”
Which brings me to what I really want to say about the film. In a sense it is book-ended by comments on Romney’s Mormon faith. I am not talking about the much discussed scenes of the family praying together. These were incredibly powerful, but they were a bit voyeuristic. Romney said on Hugh Hewitt last night that he is not ashamed of his faith or his prayer life, but he has also said he wishes the scenes were not in the film. I honestly think it would have been enough to show the family briefly at prayer, but exclude the content and depth of the prayer. Somethings are best left between the family and God.
No, the bookend’s I am discussing come during the 2008 primary when Romney says quite tellingly, “I’m the flippin’ Mormon…” when discussing the narrative that surrounded him and at the end of the film, after the loss to Obama, when he says to at campaign HQ, “You know, we kind of stole the primary…Our party is southern, Evangelical and populist and I’m northern, Mormon and rich.”
In the discussion of “flippin’ Mormon,” Romney says “I can’t change the Mormon part, but I can change the flip-flop.” I wish he could have changed the “flip-flop,” but I thought when he said it that I wished I’d been there - The two are deeply linked. I would never ask Gov, Romney to consider changing his Mormon faith, but the argument that he needed to make was that there is nothing about his Mormon faith that makes him untrustworthy. His faith sort of sat there at the bottom of everything, a hidden bigotry, giving people a reason to latch onto any narrative that called into question the veracity and genuineness of this most truthful and genuine candidate.
I doubt that Joel Belz has enough readers to have formed the nucleus of this anti-Mormon sentiment, but he is the only one on the right to give voice to it:
It’s not a trivial matter that Mormonism, as a cultic movement, has a bad reputation when it comes to getting its own story straight. Check out the public record, if you will, including fairly recent interviews with Mormon officials in venues like Larry King Live, 60 Minutes, and Newsweek. Do these officials hold to the fantastical 1827 golden tablets of Mormon founder Joseph Smith—or not? Well, they seem to say: We believe it when we want to, and we don’t when it’s less convenient. Where Mormonism isn’t shrouded in deliberate secrecy, it is covered with confusion.
So when folks tell me they’re satisfied that Mitt Romney won’t try to drag his Mormonism into his politics, and that he would never ever impose his theology on the American people, I have to worry whether that’s exactly what he’s already done. When, in a relatively short space of time, he seems to be on both sides of the same issue—and when such a deviously confusing approach seems to be consistent with his faith rather than counter to it—that sets off alarm bells for me.
Only a few weeks ago, I sat a dozen feet from Romney as he compellingly spelled out his convictions and credentials. He was winsome and persuasive. On the surface, he said almost everything I want to hear my candidate say. On the issues that matter (except for choice in education), he was as convincing as any politician I’ve heard in recent years.
More than anything, I want a president who tells the truth. And I worry deeply when people are overly ready to believe a man whose religious upbringing, of all things, suggests that the truth is a negotiable commodity.
Belz makes a theological argument that Romney is essentially a liar – because of his faith. Note how easily this blends with the left leaning narrative which hates his faith simply because it opposes the entire left-leaning social agenda. The left simply believes that anyone that “straight” must be lying; otherwise, much of their worldview comes crashing in around them.
The Romney’s never seem to acknowledge this problem directly. Romney failed to see that “Mormon” made “flippin’” stick and it made “northern and rich” insurmountable. This, in the end, is what makes Mitt Romney such a compelling and endearing figure. He simply refused to believe the worst of the American people.
That’s what makes his loss in 2012 so much more than just another political loss. That’s what makes some fear that the nation has turned a fundamental corner. That’s what drives many to their knees in prayer on a regular basis — the fact that we may no longer be able to rely on the right and best in the American people.
This film is extraordinarily compelling and extraordinarily hard to watch. My personal acquaintance with many of the players on the screen makes me celebrate with them they fact that they still have each other. The emotional factor that makes this film so hard to watch is what is says in the larger context. The nation rejected deep and real decency when it rejected Mitt Romney as its president.