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Sunday, March 6, 2005

Why can't Romney be a Mormon moderate like his dad?

It's too bad that George Romney, the Republican governor of Michigan who ran as a moderate against the conservative Barry Goldwater for the GOP nomination in 1968, didn't leave more of his political ideology to his ambitious son, current Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. The Boston Globe compares father and son in a profile that also highlights the Mormon political and financial network that supported both politicians:

The similarities between the career paths of the late George Romney, who died in 1995, and his youngest son are uncanny. Both ran for governor as mid-50s men advertising their credentials as financial whizzes specializing in rescuing lost causes. Both enjoyed the moral support and hefty donor network of the Mormon Church. Both even benefited from fund-raisers held at the homes of the Marriott family, close family friends.

In fact, the Washington, D.C.-based Marriotts and the Michigan-based Romneys were so intimate that Mitt, whose actual first name is Willard, was named after the hotelier. The families vacationed together and the Romney children called the Marriotts "Uncle Bill and Aunt Ally."

Romney notes that the elder Marriotts' sons—hotel chief executive J.W. Marriott Jr. and his brother Richard, also a hotel executive—are "like cousins." Just as Romney helped fund the Mormon temple overlooking Route 2 in Belmont, Mass., the Marriotts provided ample financial backing for the white-spired tabernacle that looms above the beltway north of Washington D.C.

Unfortunately, unlike his father's campaign against the right wing of the Republican Party in the sixties, Mitt seems to see his future on the right. He tells the Globe that his father "was looking for a way to try to reduce the influence of the John Birch Society on the party and to strengthen the party's commitment to civil rights" — ambitions very much worth celebrating in a party that has become obsessed with Goldwater's ideological "extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice." But Mitt Romney's chief strategist says, "He's much more conservative than his dad." And everything he has said out on the road seems to prove it.

It's a pity for multiple reasons. Mitt Romney apparently doesn't see a way to represent New England's more moderate Republicanism at the national level. Abandoning the State House surely won't help the cause of Massachusetts Republicans or the prospects of a genuinely two-party state, since he'd be the third Republican governor in a row to bail out to pursue national politics. How much longer will voters fall for GOP claims of being committed to reforming state politics? His turn to the right won't help him here and won't help other Massachusetts Republicans, either.

More tragically, though, he seems to see Mormon political prospects over on the increasingly antiliberal Evangelical end of American religious politics rather than in his father's more moderate Mormonism, which saw some virtues in lower-case liberalism. (Here's where I speak as someone who became a Democrat as a Mormon in Utah, inspired by Mormon Democrats like Scott Matheson, Wayne Owens, Bill Orton, and Karen Shepherd. Although I later left Mormonism, other members of my family remain active members of the LDS Church who have also become Democrats or, as one sister calls herself, a "liberal Republican" who voted for Kerry.) I regret the way Mormons are finding common political cause with right-wing Christians because it seems to represent a continuing narrowing of Mormonism's own political culture. I know it's pointless to hope for it given the climate in the Republican Party, but I had hoped that Romney would bring Mormonism to the national stage in its more moderate political form than what resonates with Utah's fairly rabid Republicanism. What a bleak thought that hostility to gay marriage might finally build a perverse ecumenical bridge between Mormons and Evangelical Protestants.

("Father's Path Not Lost on Romney," Nina J. Easton, Boston Globe 3.6.05)

Copyright © 2005 by Philocrites | Posted 6 March 2005 at 9:41 PM

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March 8, 2005 12:47 PM | Permalink for this comment

For a Mormon argument about the intra-conservative conflict between Mormons and right-wing Protestants, see "Mormon for President? It Would Take a Miracle":

The simple fact is that unless we Mormons decide to drop all of the claims and doctrines that account for the divide between us and our Judeo-Christian cousins, which ain't gonna happen, we will always be considered by our politically conservative religious co-voters as being stuck in the "enemy" column, except when our vote is needed, which, more often than not, we're happy to give.

John Fowles, meanwhile, thinks anti-Mormon prejudice is so pervasive that if Sen. Reid of Nevada (a Mormon Democrat) were nominated to run against Gov. Romney (Mormon Republican), Evangelicals would throw the election to a third party just to nix both their chances.

All this just goes to show that liberal "anti-Mormonism" (as found in Massachusetts) is actually much more tolerant to Mormons than conservative anti-Mormonism (as in the South): We in Massachusetts actually elected Mitt Romney. The problem Mormons face in liberal states isn't hostility but incomprehension and political disagreement; in conservative states, however, they face religious bigotry.

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