Sunday, February 18, 2007

Much Ado About Mormonism

The press coverage on Mitt Romney's Mormonism has rolled into the weekend. The Washington Post, in particular, ran a number of substantive articles that discussed Romney and his faith. Much of this press argues that Romney's faith should not be a campaign issue. In all, I found most of these articles to be fair and pretty positive. While I think the issue of Romney's faith is sure to come up repeatedly over the next year, from the tone of this coverage, I think the myopic focus might be easing up a bit. Here's a sampling:

This Week With George Stephanopoulos (ABC News): ABC aired a recent interview this morning with both Ann and Mitt Romney. It's worth a read. In it, Ann said she thought the press coverage of her husband's faith was "a little unfair" while Mitt said of his relationship to the LDS Church, "I'm not running for pastor-in-chief. I'm running for commander-in-chief. So the best place to go for my church's doctrines would be my church." The transcript of interview can be found here and the video here. Reaction to the interview can be found here.

Romney Jumps In (Washington Post): The Post editorial page discussed what it viewed as the strengths and weaknesses of Romney's candidacy. It ended by saying "One challenge that Mr. Romney faces is something that we hope dissipates as an issue over time: winning over voters uneasy about his Mormon faith. In a Gallup poll this week, a disturbing 24 percent said they would not vote for a "generally well-qualified person for president who happened to be Mormon." Mr. Romney's religion could be a particular sticking point with evangelical Christians who wield significant clout in GOP primaries. As with another Massachusetts politician who ran for the presidency more than four decades ago and persuaded voters not to hold his Catholicism against him, Mr. Romney should be judged on a basis other than his faith."

What Matters About Romney (Washington Post): Written by a Latter-day Saint on the Post's editorial staff, this article discusses why Romney's faith might be garnering the attention it has and says: "But regardless of how uncomfortable some of these characteristics make some feel, it is unproductive to focus on Romney's Mormonism. A candidate's faith, like that of an L.A. high school student or anyone else is ultimately a complex and personal phenomenon, even in the context of a highly centralized religious organization. My experience in Mormon congregations across the country has taught me that it is impossible to tell precisely how individual Mormons will apply their religious principles to their professional lives. And beyond encouraging hard work and honesty, the church itself is hardly definitive on the subject. Consider the divergent examples of other well-known Mormons -- those of Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), say."

What Is Mormonism? (Washington Post): Richard Ostling, the author the book Mormon America and a widely-read Time magazine article on the LDS Church, gives a brief run-down of Mormonism. The article is accurate, but some might object to its heavy focus on elements of the Church that Ostling thinks might be problematic for voters. In the end he says: "Will any of this matter to Romney during his presidential campaign? The Constitution demands that the government impose "no religious test" for holding public office. Yet voters make their own choices and public opinion polls show that when it comes to Mormons, many people do worry. When a recent USA Today-Gallup poll asked respondents whether they would vote for a qualified woman, Mormon or black candidate to be president, the results were striking. About 94 percent said they would vote for a black nominee, 88 percent said a woman and 72 percent said a Mormon. In the current field, that could spell trouble for Romney."

A Man With A Mission (Washington Post): This is a fascinating article that I highly recommend reading. It pieces together a collection of reminiscences about Romney from a former LDS missionary companion of Romney's in France, a couple of High School friends, several former business associates, the COO/CFO of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee, his former Lieutenant Governor, and a former political opponent. Most are glowing in their praise of Romney, while a couple criticize him somewhat on abortion.

Romney Candidacy Will Stir Up Anti-Mormon Feeling (Salt Lake Tribune): This is a pretty unique article by a Latter-day Saint who is not excited about Mitt Romney's run for president. He's not opposed to Romney, to the contrary likes him, but he fears the inevitable anti-Mormon attacks in the primaries. He says: "Romney could be a terrific president. Given the choice, I'd probably vote for him. But with the minuscule possibility of ever getting that choice, I question the cost. The thought of things sacred to Latter-Day Saints being discussed on "The Today Show" is not something I look forward to."

Romney's Religion Shouldn't Matter, But It Does (The Decatur Daily): This is a good article that argues strongly that Romney's faith should not be an issue, but concedes that it will be nonetheless: "Given the poll numbers, Romney has little choice but to give a public address about the relationship of faith and politics in his life. . . . There’s plenty to debate in Romney’s positions on public policy without getting distracted by the non-issue of where he goes to church. Unfortunately, prejudice against Mormons leaves Romney little choice."

Romney Responds to Religious Heckler in Florida (St. Petersburg Times): At a speech in Florida this weekend, Romney was heckled by a man who said: "You sir, you are a pretender. You do not know the Lord, you are a Mormon." Romney drew a standing ovation with his calm response "Let me offer just a thought. One of the great things about this great land is we have people of different faiths and different persuasion, but we need to have a person of faith to lead this country." Afterwards, Romney many of those in attendance "lavished praise" on Romney.

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