In this strange moment in which people still wonder what a Mormon president will do to the country, we have Mitt Romney’s political history, campaign conduct, and avowed policy to scrutinize. All of these things together tell us quite plainly that no matter who wins in November, we aren’t about to elect a Mormon president. We are about to elect another politician.
The anxiety that the Christian right and the liberal left and everyone in between has felt about the possibility that an immeasurable, religious weirdness will soon occupy the Oval Office in the form of Romney ought to be assuaged for good by the way that Romney reacted to the Supreme Court’s support of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
Romney’s rejection of the Supreme Court’s decision regarding Obamacare’s mandate was eminently predictable. Tucking the speech he had expected to give into his back pocket, Romney stood before Washington, D.C., microphones to declare his intent to repeal the Affordable Care Act and to appeal to voters to vote him into a position to do it. This reaction to the court’s decision was predictable particularly because of the political gains to be made by it. Moments after the speech, dreadsters of media programs and political public relations entities were characterizing Obamacare as the “largest tax hike ever” -- language sure to bond libertarians and independents to the right. Like a corporate-size magnet, Romney’s speech attracted $4.3 million during the following twenty-four hours.
Which is to say, Romney’s response to the Supreme Court was not a Mormon response. It was a political response.
Had Romney responded as a Mormon, rather than as a presidential candidate, he would have warmly embraced Obamacare as a sign that the country is finally, after a century and a half, catching the Mormon vision. Everyone in the United States has some sense of the mythic collectivism embedded in Mormon culture. Mormons, go the legends, can travel, willy-nilly, throughout the country and find their needs met everywhere. Mormons need only ask their local bishops to get money to pay mortgages and car loans, to buy food, to fill prescriptions, to remodel bathrooms, to cover gambling debts, and to get their bass guitars out of hock. Mormons keep giant warehouses of food out of which any Mormon can walk with armfuls of staples and luxuries, string-free.
The mechanism that makes such collective strength possible is the tax or mandate or what-have-you called tithes and offerings. Not only do Mormons kick 10 percent of their ongoing income towards Salt Lake City to ensure the fiscal health of the LDS church, they each drop $10, $20, $50 and more additional dollars a month into their local congregations to ensure that none of their own faces either insolvency or discomfort.
Mormons figured out the basic principles of Obamacare in the nineteenth century. Joseph Smith himself developed a collectivist system in which all were to have everything in common so that no one would be poor. The early Mormons weren’t very good at having everything in common, so Smith’s ideal didn’t stick very well. But the Mormon migration to the desert wonderland of Utah was as successful as it was because the fear that they would all die, otherwise, moved the early Mormons to pool their resources in a radical way. And what we might now deride as Big Brother social programs kept those early Mormons alive against the perpetual water crisis, monster crickets, harsh winters, and the sabre rattling of a paranoid federal government. Brigham Young even revived Smith’s collectivist ideal in some of the western settlements the Mormons established around the west.
Mormonism survived, and Mormons like Romney are here nowadays, partly as a consequence of the fundamentally Mormon drive to collect resources for everyone’s good.
But, Romney’s not that Mormon. The first thing that Romney is is Romney, confirmed conservative and political chameleon willing to become even more conservative on any serviceable issue. We can all breathe easy now that Romney has finally settled the role that Mormonism will play in his presidency. Like the Presbyterianism, Methodism, and Catholicism, etc., of most presidents, Romney’s Mormonism will be an innocuous Sunday excursion.
What Romney does and does not as president (should he get there) will surely be pushed more by politics than by his faith.
Those of us who are Mormons will yet have to await the moment in which a Mormon brings our immeasurable weirdness to the White House and drives the whole country toward a collectivist utopia.
David Mason is an associate professor at Rhodes College in Memphis. He is the author of “Theatre and Religion on Krishna’s Stage” and “My Mormonism: a primer for non-Mormons and Mormons, alike.”