Thursday, January 11, 2007

Stereotypes - Kyle's response

In thinking about the question of whether Romney will be subject to religious bigotry from secular voters during the general election, as previously posted, the basic answer is yes. The reason is mostly political. The tactics used to gain the presidency, or any other powerful office, are increasingly dirty. Thus, almost any advantage that can be taken IS taken. If Romney were part of some other disfavored group, that group would be used to tarnish Romney. This tactic was notably used recently in the confirmation hearings for Samuel Alito for appointment to the Supreme Court. Alito had had a loose connection (at best) to a group that at one point had radical views. Yet, large portions of the hearings were devoted to how his connection to that group defined Alito. Romney’s affiliation with Mormonism is no different, although Romney openly acknowledges his on going affiliation. His opposition, whether from the right or left, will attempt to brand him as illegitimate to further their political goals. This should be no surprise.

What is more surprising is the shallow nature of the attacks. For this I generally blame the media (hear me out on this). The current media situation is not an intellectually rigorous environment. They have accepted stereotypes and clichés and continue to report them as though they had come up with them on their own. They have accepted that they only need to ask the surface questions and find people to represent a preconceived version of both sides, in some sort of sound bite fashion. That is why despite over 100 years of repudiation, the first, and generally only, question that is asked about Mormonism is about polygamy. Linker’s article has additional depth, but as Richard Lyman Bushman, points out, several of the issues he raises are also a century old.

Thus, I guess to answer the posed question, Romney should expect the on-going stereotypes: initiated by opponents for political gain and perpetuated by an intellectually lazy media.


Blogger Marc said...

I agree with your general points, but would qualify the example of Alito.

1- I agree that Romney will likely be subject to religious bigotry by secularists on both sides of the political aisle.

2- I agree that the media can be very lazy in its reporting, often favoring catchy headlines at expense of nuance and substantive treatment (one could argue that this is partly due to the American public's ever-shortening attention span.

3- Politics is never going to be about nuance, especially during a presidential election. I can't think of two more guilty stereo-typers than Messrs. Bush and Kerry in 2004.

If your point in referencing Alito's hearing is simply to point out that political opponents will often go out of their way to distort and stereotype for their own benefit, I agree. It's disappointing, but branding your opponent, whether or not the allegations are true or not, is a lot of what politics is about now. I guess I'd massage the example of Alito's confirmation hearing a little to make sure that people don't draw the wrong sort of parallels though. I agree that Ted Kennedy was grossly unfair in his treatment of Alito on the issue of Alito's alleged membership in Concerned Alumni of Princeton, but I'd hardly characterize that group along with the LDS Church and as similarly disfavored groups. Nor do I think the attacks on Alito have much to do with secularism. If there had been more substance to Alito's alleged membership in that group, say if he had served as an officer in it rather than simply listing it once on his resume twenty years ago, I think it would have been relevant to the hearings.

1:38 PM  
Blogger Kyle Hampton said...

Certainly the example of Alito is not an exact match to Romney's situation. My use of it was to reference a well known example of branding instead of dealing with substance.

3:04 PM  

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