Romney's Religion Shapes the Man, Not the Message

Romney's Religion Shapes the Man, Not the Message

By Suzanne Fields - June 1, 2012

A tiny incident in the life of a candidate can sometimes tell us more about him than a dozen speeches or television commercials. When Mitt Romney paused to rub his wife's aching feet after a tough and tiring day of campaigning in Michigan last fall, we got just a glimmer, but a bright one, of insight into the man who would be president.

Romney, so we're told over and over, is a stuffed shirt who doesn't smoke or drink and lacks quotable spontaneity. He should loosen up. Well, it's time to talk about his warmer qualities.

Here was an off-camera intimacy, unmistakably spontaneous and touching, noted by a reporter in the days when the candidate was still the "unlikely standard-bearer" for the Republican Party. But for a mention in The Washington Post, it went mostly unnoticed. We're so jaded with graphic depictions of sex that we're often blind to the enduring simplicity of marital affection.

Now that Texas has rewarded Romney with the last of the delegates he needs for the Republican nomination -- primaries in six remaining states, including California next week, are rendered afterthoughts -- we can take the time to see the whole man behind the media stereotype.

The early punditry about how he could never be the nominee goes down the memory hole with the famous banner on the front page of the Chicago Tribune: "Dewey Defeats Truman." (The photograph of a gleeful Harry Truman holding up the front page even became a postage stamp.) Romney still has a long way to go for the ultimate prize in November, but he's far beyond where his father, his inspiration to get into politics, got 40 years ago.

Four years ago, Barack Obama showed that the hard bigotry of race could be overcome; many Americans took a special pride in voting for a black man. Now we'll see whether a softer, more subtle bigotry can be overcome.

Bill Maher, the television "comedian" who gave a million dollars to the Obama super PAC, which the campaign says it won't give back no matter the nasty things he says about women, ridicules Romney's youthful Mormon missionary work in France as "trying to browbeat Frenchmen into joining his cult."

So far the jibes and jokes about the candidate's religious beliefs have been mostly restrained. The Broadway musical "The Book of Mormon" satirized Mormon evangelism, but Democrats who might like to take a hit or two haven't dared.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is a Mormon, and he has four other Mormon colleagues in the Senate, with 10 in the House of Representatives. When someone described these congressmen as a "Mormon mafia," the phrase was dismissed as a stale attempt at cleverness.

Romney is sensitive about his religion, as most believers are in a skeptical age, but the issue seems not nearly as hot as it was four years ago, when he gave a strong speech emphasizing the separation of church and state.

"I will take care to separate the affairs of government from any religion," he said, "but I will not separate us from the God who gave us liberty. Nor would I separate us from our religious heritage." He would be no more beholden to Mormon holy men than John F. Kennedy was to the pope.

In this campaign, we see a man whose faith has shaped his family values. With his wife Ann he raised five accomplished sons with a work ethic. There are significant doctrinal differences separating Mormons and evangelical Christians, but they aren't about governing the country. If religion plays a part in the campaign, it will be over concerns for religious liberty, not parochial doctrine or Romney's faith or the president's religious tutelage by the notorious Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

Many Jews and Protestants, and those with no religious faith, are as concerned as Roman Catholics about the Obamacare health mandate to compel Catholic institutions to provide contraception, which goes athwart Catholic belief and instruction.

We've become a nation ignorant of each other's religious beliefs (and indeed often our own religious heritage), and this makes arguments over infringement of religious freedom sometimes difficult to understand. As a Mormon, Romney can easily understand why Catholic bishops have gone to court to defend their religious beliefs and practices.

"It strikes me as odd," he said in his commencement address at Liberty University, "that the free exercise of religious faith is sometimes treated as a problem, something America is stuck with, instead of blessed with." It strikes many of the rest of us that way, too.

Copyright 2012, Creators Syndicate Inc.

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