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Archive for April 11th, 2007

Romney raises funds and questions

Posted by metaphorical on 11 April 2007

Mitt Romney’s religion may be even more puzzling to the average American than we think, and it may be even more frightening than we know.

That’s not exactly the message Kenneth Woodward was trying to convey in an op-ed piece in Monday’s NY Times, but it’s one of the big take-aways. Mitt Romney may also be prone to exaggerate, to such an extent that he wanders near the prevarication border. My guess is that also wasn’t supposed to be one of Woodward’s main messages.

The blurb on Woodward describes him as “a contributing editor at Newsweek” who “is writing a book about American religion since 1950.” As such, his piece, “The Presidency’s Mormon Moment,” describes some “popular reservations” and confusions on the part of the public about Mormonism. It compares Romney’s run to JFK’s 1960 presidential run, in which his Catholicism was raised as a campaign issue. Woodward’s message is “relax:”

none of these popular reservations about the Mormon Church are reasons to vote for or against Mitt Romney. History was bound to have its Mormon moment in presidential politics, just as it had its Catholic moment when Kennedy ran. Now that the moment has arrived, much depends on Mr. Romney.

What depends on Romney, Woodward believes, is the educating the public and dispelling false stereotypes and notions about Mormonism. “57 percent of respondents to a recent CBS poll said they know little or nothing about Mormon beliefs and practices. Mr. Romney needs to be their teacher, whether he likes that role or not.”

Among the reasons Americans distrust the Mormon church is Mormon clannishness. Because every worthy Mormon male is expected to be a lay priest in voluntary service to the church, the demands on his time often leave little opportunity to cultivate close friendships with non-Mormon neighbors. A good Mormon is a busy Mormon. Those — like Mr. Romney — who serve as bishops (pastors of congregations) often find it difficult to schedule evenings at home with their own families.

“Families?” Plural? Oh, wait, that’s another false notion.

That some voters still confuse the Latter-day Saints with fundamentalist Mormon sects that continue to practice polygamy and child marriage is another reason the candidate should take the time to set the record straight.

Yet if conventional Christians think there’s something unconventional about Mormonism, they may not be far off the mark, despite the attempts of Mormons to minimize—the phrase “paper over” comes to mind—the differences.

Any journalist who has covered the church knows that Mormons speak one way among themselves, another among outsiders. This is not duplicity but a consequence of the very different meanings Mormon doctrine attaches to words it shares with historic Christianity.

For example, Mormons speak of God, but they refer to a being who was once a man of “flesh and bone,” like us. They speak of salvation, but to them that means admittance to a “celestial kingdom” where a worthy couple can eventually become “gods” themselves. The Heavenly Father of whom they speak is married to a Heavenly Mother. And when they emphasize the importance of the family, they may be referring to their belief that marriage in a Mormon temple binds families together for all eternity.

And not just Mormons in general, but Romney in particular.

Thus, when Mr. Romney told South Carolina Republicans a few months ago that Jesus was his “personal savior,” he used Southern Baptist language to affirm a relationship to Christ that is quite different in Mormon belief. (For Southern Baptists, “personal savior” implies a specific born-again experience that is not required or expected of Mormons.) This is not a winning strategy for Mr. Romney, whose handlers should be aware that Christian fundamentalists and evangelicals know Mormon doctrine better than most other Americans do — if only because they study Mormonism in order to rebut its claims.

Romney’s inclination to minimize —somehow the phrase “paper over” comes to mind again—differences between himself and the voters he’s pursuing, came up again just the other day. The Times headline does such a good job of stating the problem you almost don’t have to read the article: “Is Romney a Hunter? Depends on What Hunt Is.” (Even better would have been, “That All Depends on What the Definition of Hunt Is.”)

Here’s what Romney says:

When asked on Tuesday about his stance on guns, Mr. Romney, as he has more than once, portrayed himself as a sportsman, a “hunter pretty much all my life,” who strongly supported a right to bear arms.

He even trotted out some remembrances, recalling that in hunting with his cousins as a teenager, he struggled to kill rabbits with a single-shot .22-caliber rifle. When they lent him a semiautomatic, it got a lot easier, he said, drawing laughs from an appreciative crowd in Keene, N.H. The last time he went hunting, he said, was last year, when he shot quail in Georgia and “knocked down quite a few birds.”

“So I’ve been pretty much hunting all my life,” he said again.

And here are the facts:

But on Wednesday, The Associated Press reported that Mr. Romney had in fact been hunting only twice: once during that summer when he was 15 and spending time at a relative’s ranch in Idaho, and again on the occasion last year, a quail shoot at a fenced-in game preserve in Georgia with major donors to the Republican Governors Association.

Romney’s got a serious problem with the truth, in other words. And maybe he’s just stupid—hasn’t he noticed that the American public has lost its patience withpresidents who pathologically lie about matters great and small?

How hard is it to say, “You know, I’ve only hunted a couple of times in my life, but I enjoyed it immensely. And the way I read the Bill of Rights, immense enjoyment of it is a cherished right, protected by the Constitution itself, just like the freedoms of speech and religion.”

But if Romney doesn’t seem to greatly value the truth, he also just doesn’t seem to get the message of voter fatigue from the current administration. The Times reported just today that

Mitt Romney made his most extensive remarks on military and foreign policy on Tuesday, saying that if elected president he would push to add at least 100,000 troops to the armed forces and significantly increase military spending.

Mr. Romney restated his support for President Bush’s troop buildup in Iraq, saying the alternative would bring chaos to the region and “present grave risks to America.”

Mr. Romney devoted the bulk of his proposals to beyond the Iraq war. This year, Mr. Bush requested a military budget for 2008 of $481.4 billion, excluding money for military operations, an 11 percent increase over last year. If approved, it would elevate military spending to levels unseen since at least the 1980s, when adjusted for inflation.

Mr. Romney said an additional $30 billion to $40 billion a year over the next few years was needed to “modernize our military, address gaps in our troop levels, ease the strain on our National Guard and Reserves and support our wounded soldiers.”

If it seems that the Times is taking Romney’s candidacy very seriously, that’s because it is, and not without good reason. As it reported in yet another story, this one from last Friday, “Mr. Romney had brought in more than $20 million, vaulting ahead of his better-known rivals for the Republican nomination, Senator John McCain of Arizona and Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former New York mayor.”

At the start of the first quarter of this year, for example, Mr. Romney lent his campaign $2.35 million to pay for an elaborate demonstration of just how fast he could raise money from others. He rented the Boston convention center, furnished it with more than 400 laptop computers, loaded each with custom software and had more than 400 telephone lines installed.

He invited 400 wealthy supporters, including dozens of chief executives he knew through business connections, to a reception at an adjacent hotel. The next day each sat down before a personal-contact list loaded into an assigned laptop, with dozens of technical support staff and campaign finance advisers standing by to assist. Reporters watched from the sidelines for hours as Mr. Romney’s supporters raised $6.5 million.

The Times doesn’t make a separate point of it, but it’s interesting that Romney did only a little more than money-launder $2.35 million, turning it into dollars that came from a source other than his own personal wealth, which is considerable. After all, while $6.5 million is a lot more than $2.35 million, a fundraising overhead of 36% is neither healthy nor scalable. As is appropriate for such a religous candidate, though, it was more than a little awe-inspiring, in both the sense of great fear and reverence.

“It was a great show,” said Ron Kaufman, a White House political director under the first President Bush.

Mr. Kaufman said he walked out thinking, “That was the most impressive thing I have ever seen.”

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