There are some who would discredit Mitt Romney by first tying him to his faith and then making him answer for its unpopular history or doctrines. Others, like newly-minted celebrity Jan Mickelson, the radio host heard in the below video, have a more devious tactic in mind. They attack Romney by first agreeing with his faith and then accusing him of lacking sufficient character to adhere to his beliefs. It’s a bizarre sort of politico-religious jujitsu, but it’s not the first time it’s happened. To summarize the latest, Romney visited a radio program in Iowa hosted by Mickelson last Thursday. After a few minutes of the usual stuff, Mickelson launched into a full interrogation about Romney’s past stance on abortion and Mickelson’s own view that Romney should have been excommunicated from the LDS Church as a result. The two had a mostly civil exchange on the air, and then continued their sparring with increased intensity for quite a while off the air (all caught on video tape by the station). Anyway, if you are at all interested in questions surrounding the treatment of religious minorities in public life, this video is a must watch. Forgive it the slow start– the second and third acts are worth the wait.
Before the big issues, let’s deal with the facts. First, it is simply not true that the LDS Church excommunicates, disciplines, or sanctions any person who supports the legality of abortions. While Mickelson is correct that the Church strongly opposes abortions and condemns and sometimes disciplines those who participate, the Church has no public stance on how its members ought to come down in the question of whether abortion should be legal. A large majority of American Mormons are pro-life, but there are certainly many who are pro-choice, and plenty of the latter group enjoy good standing in the church.Second, for the first time in the campaign, Romney allows himself to display a familiarity with the Church and its culture that instantly marks him, for those knowledgeable about such things, as a true blue Mormon. In effect, while it may not be obvious to everyone, this video has the exact opposite effect of the one intended by Mickelson- it shows that Mitt Romney is staunchly committed to his faith and knows its tenets well. Further, there’s a sense that Romney’s as-yet-unseen feistiness was piqued not only in his own defense, but just the tiniest bit in the LDS Church’s defense as well. In short, despite the host’s attempt to make Romney appear as a fringe Mormon with no real devotion, Romney came off as a committed Mormon that’s sick and tired of attacks targeting both him and his Church.
This may be Romney’s best performance of the campaign. It shows a real person with emotional range, self-control, depth of logic, and a very human ability to engage someone else, even when it’s an attacker. The strength of this delivery makes one sad that there’s no actual forum for such performances, given the continuing staginess of the debates.
But whatever the effect for Romney’s candidacy, this video serves as the best example yet of the unfortunate disadvantage it poses to a national candidate to be a member of a minority religion. If you appear to hew too closely to your religious beliefs, there are those that will make you answer for everything undesirable about your Church. And if you should deviate ever so slightly from your religion’s core beliefs, you will be attacked as unprincipled and insincere. This is the line that Mitt Romney walks every day. Fortunately for him, he is as well-equipped as any politician could be to handle the onslaught and turn it to his advantage. When Mitt Romney says “I understand my faith better than you do,” it’s hard not to believe him. While people will continue to debate what Mormonism means to candidate Romney, it would be a good thing if they would at least take him at his word on that last point.