When I am afraid, like that time I was the only passenger in a prop plane circling Logan in a thunderstorm, I tend to pray the ‘Hail Mary’ like my life depends on it. (“You can fly with me any time,’’ the pilot said when the airport reopened and we finally landed, because I hadn’t uttered a sound. You have the BVM to thank, pal.) Could be that Mitt Romney looks to his faith under duress, too. Which seems to be how he came to have his first “Mormon moment” on the campaign trail on Monday.
Many in the crowd of 500 responded by applauding the woman, and the candidate had this to say: “I happen to believe that the Constitution was not just brilliant, but probably inspired. I believe the same thing about the Declaration of Independence.”
Which was not exactly on point, and not at all a stand-up response.
Mark Silk, a professor of religion in public life at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, said it’s Mormon teaching that the U.S. Constitution is divinely inspired. And this is the first time Silk remembers hearing Romney reference an LDS teaching on the campaign trail.
Later, Romney told reporters he didn’t agree with the woman, but doesn’t always correct people with whom he differs.
Which is a particular shame in this case, since letting a crowd applaud the notion that the president of the United States might be guilty of a crime that is punishable by death is both dangerous and a missed opportunity to show he’s not as malleable as his critics say he is.
Maybe Romney was remembering that John McCain got booed when he did the right thing at a similar town hall in Minnesota in ‘08, correcting someone in the crowd who’d said Obama was “an Arab’’ and thus someone to fear. But McCain can look back on that moment with pride.
“I have to tell you, Senator Obama is a decent person and a person you don’t have to be scared of as president of the United States,” McCain said. And when the woman persisted, so did he:
“No, ma’am. He’s a decent family man ... I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues and that’s what this campaign’s all about.”
For now, the public must go on craving a moment like that with Romney — a moment that shows he isn’t so craven that his “default” response is to go along with whatever those in the room want to hear.
Under stress, he did blurt something about his faith. And he should keep in mind that it wasn’t the Mormon teaching that was the problem.
Melinda Henneberger is a Post political writer and anchors ‘She the People.’ Follow her on Twitter at @Melinda DC.