By any reasonable measure, Romney had a great Super Tuesday – He won the critical Ohio, he won 6 of 10 and he got an enormous delegate lead. And yet, to survey the press, he barely survived. David Brody says he is the Roger Maris of modern politics – that is to say he has an asterik. Some, if not much, of this is, of course, attributable to a left-leaning press wanted to make the winner look weak becasue it makes their guy look strong. But there as more at play.
Lowell gave you the Evangelical numbers much earlier today. Rachel Maddow and Reuters are wondering about The Question. I do think The Question is at play here,but I have a slightly different analysis of it than the typical theological bigotry. I want to call it “The Clinton Effect.”
Optically, when I think of the Clinton years I think of three things:
- “I feel your pain.” This was a very effective campaign statement, even if it has drawn much in the way of humor over the years. It expresses sympathy and makes the president seems just a bit more human – more like one of the guys.
- “Boxers or briefs?” By answering this question during his first campaign, Clinton forever lowered the office. Heck, forget the presidency, it is unbecoming for a leader of any sort to answer such questions.
- The Monica Lewinsky affair. Sure lots of presidents have had dalliances before, but few have done so so publicly and fewer still have lied so blatantly about it.
These things changed radically how people view the presidency. Now, to be fair, it’s not all Clinton’s fault, much of it is a general societal shift that Clinton reflected more than caused, but he represents the change nonetheless. With the optics, the presidency became less about leadership and more about relationship. What these optics represent is that people do not want a president that leads them somewhere, but a president that validates them – makes them “feel good about themselves.”
I think we can understand how “I feel your pain” does that. The B or B question makes him seem like just one of the guys. People can feel good about themselves becasue one of the guys does not challenge you, he just “hangs out” as it were. The Lewinsky affair demonstrates that the president is flawed, just like the rest of us – again, it’s validating, not leading.
Bush ran on “compassionate conservatism” and reluctantly as a reformed drinker. These are also validating, not leading. The circumstances of 9-11 forced Bush to move from this amiable stance to serious leadership. And when he did so he became one of the most reviled presidents of recent times.
Obama has actually advanced this to some extent. He implicitly tells us it is not our fault we are having a hard time making ends meet and that he will take care of us. We are not only validated, we are cared for.
This message is very much an evangelical message. The salvation message of Evangelicalism is one of “come as you are” and let Jesus make it all better. The gospel of Evangelicalism is largely the gospel of “God loves you just as you are and will take care of you.”
Mitt Romney by both who he is and his faith sends a very different message. Mitt Romney by the nature of his personal achievements challenges us not to be content with who we are, but to do much better. The Mormon faith is a “high demand” faith. Any Evangelical looking at the time and personal commitments that Romney has made in church service over the years is flabbergasted. My church is very low demand by comparison yet we have a constant problem getting volunteers. Romney’s commitment to his church would be intimidating to the average Evangelical. Some years ago I was actually chastised for asking too much of volunteers in my church when I was tasked with recruiting them.
I am beginning to think that this is Romney’s real Mormon problem. It’s not that his religion is so different, it is that the nature of his religion and how he has practiced it demands that Evangelicals take their faith and their committment to their religion far more seriously than they actually do.
Early today Jim Geraghty quoted Patrick Ruffini:
We have created this thing where there is money in speaking to the conservative subculture that conservatives can’t speak to the country. When you can make a decent living off Fox appearances and book contracts, you aren’t going to change when you run for President. There is strikingly little thought given to applying conservative principles to the median voter. That doesn’t mean compromise. Compromise is unnecessary because voters don’t care about ideology. Rather its selling yourself as one of them. Success lies in selling whatever ideology you have as moderate, sensible and normal. That is the essence of politics. Reagan was a conservative. You know what he also was? A salesman. [emphasis added]
Clinton was not bad doing the job as Democrat presidents go – not great, but not bad. But it is not his function in office that we have walked away with – it’s the things I looked at earlier.
Much has been said about Mitt Romney “running on biography.” It is great and inspiring biography, but there are not many of us left that want to be inspired anymore – most of us want to be validated. Evangelicalism is the most populous form of Christianity in the nation today because it is less inspiring and more validating.
This I think is the source of much of the resistance that we see to Romney, particularly amongst Evangelicals. Frankly, I think such reflects poorly on Evangelicals. If this nation is going to return to the kind of economic engine it should be, it’s not going to be because the president makes it alright – it is going to be because we – all of us- get busy making it so. It is going to be because we work hard and stretch and challenge ourselves. We will have to take risks and not simply be validated. We will have to once again be willing to fail in order to learn how to succeed.
Romney does not need to change who he is, but he does need to learn to inspire us to be more like him, in matters both of character and of hard work. We don’t have to believe like him, we just have to e committed as he was, to our work and to our faith.
Addendum the next morning: A couple of interesting sources are beginning to acknowledge that Mormonism may be the resistance issues for Romney – the New Yorker and Salon.
Something to consider – briefly. If Mormonism is the issue, either as I describe it here or in as a more straightforward bias, what does that say about the general? Religious motivations being what they are, I think that if it is the problem those that have it will be more likely to stay home in the general than those that simply have the standard sort of political issue with Romney. But as Salon analyzes most of those are in the south where there are other issues with Obama, equally distasteful. Is it a wash? Can these issues be decisive?
One thing seems certain to me – as Romney continues to solidify his lead he will have to make some efforts specifically to smooth over this particular rough patch.