Thursday, June 16, 2005

Robert Novak reports on a visit that Mitt Romney made to Michigan to fundraise and sound out major political leaders in the state. His ambitions and aspirations were already clear when Romney echoed the Bruce Springsteen accomplishment of scoring covers of Time and Newsweek in the same week in 1974 by gracing the covers of the Weekly Standard and National Review in the same week. Both articles covered his political talents and advantages and then asked, as Novak does, whether the American people would elect a Mormon president.

I have had a vision of what would happen if Romney were the Republican candidate. No one would attack him explicitly on his religion. That would be too crass. Instead, the media would run human interest stories on the history of the Mormon church, warts and all. We'd read again about Joseph Smith getting the word from the Angel Moroni with the Book of Mormon on golden plates. We'd learn about the persecution suffered by the early Mormons and the assassination of Joseph Smith and how Brigham Young led the Mormons across the country to Utah. Vivid stories of the Mountain Meadow Massacre would appear on the History Channel. The history of Mormons and polygamy would be introduced in segments on the evening news as well as the fact that the Mormons allowed black ministers only in 1978 and women in 1984. Newsweek and Time would have cover stories looking at the tenets of the Mormon religion with special attention to baptism of dead ancestors, their lack of belief in the Trinity, their conviction that God has a physical body, and their condemnation of homosexuality. All this will be presented in the same self-satisfied anthropological tone that the MSM uses to talk about most religious people today. And then every time Romney goes on a Sunday talk show like Meet the Press, he'll get a series of questions asking him to defend the history of the Mormon Church and whether or not he believes in every controversial tenet of the religion. He'll get questions that no one would ever ask an Orthodox Jew like Joe Lieberman or a Catholic like John Kerry or a Protestant like Gore, Clinton, or Bush.

Then the media will have their own navel-gazing shows on CNN and Fox or in self-examining symposia on C-Span and ask if it's "really appropriate" for the media to be questioning a political candidate on his religious beliefs. They'll make disapproving noises, condemn themselves, but ultimately, they'll go on doing the same thing. Just like they tut-tut their coverage of the Michael Jackson trial, but just can't stop themselves from doing it night after night. Because, they'll say "you know, his religion really is a political issue." After all, if it weren't a political issue, the media wouldn't be talking about it, would they? The circularity of this argument will elude them.

Then they'll conduct polls and show that a certain percentage of the electorate is uncomfortable with the idea of a Mormon as president. This will necessitate another round of questions, articles, and media self-doubt. And another round of polls, of course. Pundits will pontificate on whether or not evangelicals would ever vote for a believing Mormon. Maureen Dowd and Frank Rich will tremble in fear about the new theocracy threatening their secularist utopia. And then there will be another round of polls and cover stories.

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton, the Democratic candidate, will say that she thinks it is totally inappropriate to question her opponent's religion and that her faith has always been very important to her and how it guides so much of what she believes because, miraculously, her faith is in perfect alignment with every political belief she has. Howard Dean will make a few remarks about Mormons being the religion of white men. The media will tut-tut and then have more articles explaining what Mormons believe. Then they'll take another round of polls and show that people have doubts about the thought of having a Mormon as president. The cycle of questions, polls, snide comments, long articles, and media self-flagellation will continue over and over again until it achieves its ultimate objective, the election of a Democrat over Romney, or until it fails and the days of the feared Mormon rule begins.

My vision of how a Romney candidacy would turn out is so very clear. Read me now and remember this prediction later when you're looking at the Newsweek cover that says "The Mormon Church: What Do They Believe?"

UPDATE: I've received a note indicating that it was the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that ordains women not the Church to which Mitt Romney belongs. Sorry for the confusion. So there would be even more questions that Romney would be asked about his opinion of women being ordained.