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|By Aaron Johnston||August 11, 2005|
If you've had your political ears open and wax-free recently, you've likely heard the name of Mitt Romney, governor of the great state of Massachusetts.
Utahans know Romney as the president and CEO of the Salt Lake Olympic Organizing Committee, who not only lifted the 2002 Olympic games out of hang-your-head scandal, but also put on a crowd-pleasing show.
And if you haven't guessed it already, Romney himself is LDS and, though he has not officially said as much, has given plenty of winks and knowing nudges to suggest he will make a bid for the White House in 2008.
That's right, an aw-shucks, golly-gee-willickers Mormon boy is planning to run for President.
This won't be the first time, of course. Joseph Smith announced his candidacy for the presidency in February of 1844, only months before his death. Utah's Orrin Hatch made an unsuccessful bid in 2000. And even Romney's own father, George Romney, three-time governor of Michigan, ran for President in 1968.
None of them won obviously. And, truth be told, none of them were even close to becoming their party's official nominee.
A Mormon in the White House there simply has not been.
In fact, Protestant presidents have reigned supreme for quite some time now.
John F. Kennedy was the first and only Catholic President, and since then only Protestant feet have been propped up on the desk of the Oval Office. John Kerry, a Catholic, came mighty close to breaking this trend, but sadly, no cigar. (Or not so sadly depending on your political persuasions).
What's interesting, however, is how people's attitudes have changed. According to an article for Slate Magazine, Americans insist they would not hold a candidate's religious preference against him.
Well, that's not completely accurate. It depends on the religion in question. For example, in 1937, 47 percent of people polled said they wouldn't vote for a Jewish presidential candidate.
But in 1999, 92 percent said they would happily vote for a Jew, while only six percent said they wouldn't. The remaining two percent, I can only guess, had no idea what a president was.
Similarly, in 1958, 27 percent of those polled said they would not vote for a Catholic. But in 1999, only four percent said they wouldn't.
Sounds great, right?
Well, then there's Mormons. In 1967 - not all that long ago relatively - 17 percent of Americans said they wouldn't vote for a Mormon. But in 1999, the number hadn't changed. Nearly one in five Americans still stamp their feet at the idea of a Mormon president.
Gallup, who conducted the surveys, didn't even bother asking about a Muslim candidate.
And what about an atheist?
Forgetaboutit. Less than half of those polled said they would vote for an atheist.
But a gay president? Maybe. Fifty-nine percent they could vote for a gay candidate.
My conclusion: Mitt Romney has a rough road ahead of him. Seventeen percent is a big percent.
And if he runs for president, it's only going to get worse. Because politics is war, folks. These guys don't pull any punches. They will use his membership in the Church against him.
Well, his opponents won't do it directly. Bringing religion into the equation would only paint them as prejudiced bullies. So they'll have the media do their dirty work for them.
I can see the press conference now.
REPORTER: Governor Romney, it's no secret that you're a Mormon and that Mormons clearly follow the counsel of their supposed prophet. How then would you respond if your prophet told you God wanted you to invade North Korea?
REPORTER #2: Governor Romney, Mormon doctrine supports the idea of modern-day visitation of angels. Have you yourself ever seen an angel and, secondly, what would you say to one who told you to invade North Korea?
REPORTER #3: Governor Romney, while not a practice now, polygamy was once widely practiced by Mormons. If the practice were to return, would you support legislation protecting it as an expression of freedom of religion? And secondly, would you ever take a North Korean as a second wife?
Romney, I've read, is a gee-whiz smooth talker and can likely give excellent, rational answers to these questions. (He was first in his class at BYU and went on to earn both an MBA and a law degree from Harvard.)
But it doesn't matter. The damage will be done. The questions themselves will drive people away and build an offensive against him.
I hope I'm wrong. I hope the Church never becomes an issue.
But I'm not betting money on it. The U.S. presidency is arguably the most important post in the entire free world. People and their special interests will do anything to get it.
Even take a jab at Mormonism.
Consider Ted Kennedy, who opposed Romney in 1994 in a tight Senate race. Kennedy, who had held the post for decades and who was shocked to see himself slipping in the polls, attacked Romney indirectly by giving attention to the Church's long-standing policy on minorities and the priesthood, which wasn't changed until 1978.
The tactic backfired somewhat and Kennedy took some heat as a religious bigot, but again, the damage was already done. Many minorities lost faith in the handsome, squeaky-clean Mormon candidate.
Politics. It's an ugly business.
That said, I have to admit that I am somewhat enchanted at the idea of an LDS president. What would his ward calling be, I wonder? Scout master? Primary teacher? Counselor in the bishopric, meaning he reports to someone else on Sundays?
And what about tithing? Will he use official presidential envelopes with the official presidential seal? And what he pay, ten percent of his gross income? Or net?
And who will do his home-teaching while he's away at summits or visiting foreign dignitaries?
And what of the Secret Service? They'll obviously tail the President to all his Sunday meetings. Will they partake of the sacrament or simply pass the tray?
And speaking of the Secret Service, what will the President drive, a bullet-proof mini-van?
And if the White House gets an Ensign subscription, who will it be addressed to? Brother Mr. President? Sister First Lady?
And what about missionary work? Will the president do his duty and give Vladimir Putin a pass-along card?
Hmmm . . .
These are questions we must ask ourselves.
And as for Mitt Romney, in the end it's going to come down to two things: where he stands on the issues and his performance as governor.
As for the issues, he opposes gay marriage, stem cell research, and honors a "moratorium" on abortion in which he agrees not to attempt to change the state abortion law.
And as for a his successes as governor . . . well, the successes are few and far between, I'm sad to say. Romney has had little luck passing his proposals through the Democratic-controlled state legislature. In short, they're making his life very difficult.
Personally, I don't think Mitt Romney has much of a chance. Bigger names like John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, and Bill Frist are said to be testing the presidential waters. I don't think Romney can hold his own against these guys.
And according to an article in the Times Argus, Romney may be thinking the same. Expect a decision this fall.
And in the meantime, let's all sit back and consider what it would be like to have an active, upstanding Latter-day Saint in the White House.
Ah to dream.
Copyright © 2005 by Aaron Johnston
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