Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Is Romney a True Believer, or a "jack" (not Jack Kennedy) Mormon?

"A confluence of political realities has created a genuine opening for a Romney third act,"

the New York Times surmised on Sept. 30, 2014. Given all the buzz he is generating, due to his party's disarray, 
it's not surprising that he is building a big, sumptuous home base in Salt Lake City and rounding up a new inner circle.

"Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy."
   (5/29/12) In the 1988 vice presidential debate, Democratic Senator Lloyd Bentsen famously savaged Republican Senator Dan Quayle, who had just compared himself to former President John F. Kennedy. In a tone of unmitigated disgust, Bentsen said: "Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy."
    I am inspired to make a similar remark:
    Mitt: I've studied Mormons. I'm surrounded by Mormons. Mormons are friends of mine. Mr. Romney, you're no Mormon. 

     If my intuition is wrong, and Romney really is a True Believer, that should concern voters, as I will explain. If he is faking his faith, or if he is what's known as a "jack Mormon," that's a problem as well. 
He refuses to share his most overarching principles and imperatives.
    Romney is sleek, unctuous, shifty-eyed, heartless, wooden and jittery. Mormons are not. 
    He appears to be fundamentally uncomfortable with himself -- giggling anxiously and walking in that tight, mincing way -- torn asunder by the dichotomies between who he is and who he needs to appear to be. Mormons are extremely comfortable with who they are, sometimes to a fault. 
    Romney is not the slightest bit interested in other people, with the exception of his small, tight circle of family and close friends. Mormons are highly sociable, always glad for an opportunity to "visit with you." 
Because you're not likable.
     (Romney's rigid, often disdainful, stand-offishness is chillingly documented in the 2012 book "The Real Romney." His closest colleagues, former church brethren and political allies, told the authors that they were mere "cogs" to Romney, who used them to help make himself a star. He keeps people at a distance, they said. He rebuffs gestures of warmth with a clenched jaw and averted eyes. He stonily evades casual conversation.)

    Romney ruthlessly and callously seeks boundless riches and privilege in the here and now. Most Mormons are content to wait patiently for the splendors of Eternal Life, in a Celestial Kingdom that confers royal status upon them. 
Only those who have been baptized into the Mormon faith are welcomed. Thank you, Jesus.
     Romney has chosen to become (or try, anyway) part of the American "elite." Other Mormons, even the richest ones, are much more likely to live reasonably modest lives, out of the spotlight, and to express humility about their "blessings" in life. The Mormon hierarchy is based on service and fealty, not net worth. Mormons as a whole aren't interested in class or ostentatious displays of wealth. Romney is. He gloats.
    Romney is evasive about his faith (like Jon Huntsman Jr., who said it's "hard to define" if he is a member of the Church). 

    Mormons are proud of their faith. They believe it is "the one true church," and they're grateful to be a part of it. They will gladly discuss it, and urge you to have an "open heart" about its precepts. They will try to convert you if you convey even the slightest vulnerability or receptiveness. Sometimes, you have to be rude to put a stop to it.
Romney and Huntsman: United in their smirky evasiveness about religion.
    When he's after your vote, Romney tries pathetically hard to project a down-home, real-folks persona. Mormons don't have to fake it. They are real folks -- ordinary folks -- with Middle American tastes and habits (junk food, SUVs, sports, crafts).  
    Ironically, Romney is much more like a Kennedy (and less like a Mormon) than Dan Quayle was. He has the blue-blood aura, the impeccable attire, the sense of entitlement, and the cool, privileged lifestyle -- complete with horses and his own Hyannis Ports (one on each coast, plus a condo in Massachusetts). The word "pedigree" comes to mind, even though his is a nouveau pedigree. Three of his five sons went to Harvard, and one of them is named "Tagg." That is not a Mormon name! It's a name for a guy in an Abercrombie & Fitch commercial, who wears chic, sexy underpants -- not those so-called "garments" required by the LDS religion.
     Versus this:
Garments provide protective moral armor to Latter-day Saints.
   One could say the same thing about "Mittens," Romney's nickname. That's a "Great Gatsby" name, not a Latter-day Saints name. It's an afternoon-tennis and sloe-gin-fizz name. Romney's given name, Willard, is Mormon, but it sounded so Mormony, he dumped it at the earliest possible moment. When you think of him as Mittens, he's more likable. 
     Romney may resemble the Kennedys in some superficial respects, but he has none of the clan's redeeming qualities: their warmth and charisma, their genuine commitment to public service and their compassion for those who suffer from racial and economic inequality. 
    The Kennedys didn't contrive a "regular guy" appeal by putting on jeans and throwing back a Budweiser. They were products of privilege, and they didn't pretend otherwise. Romney, on the other hand, has been badly damaged by his effort to project a "guy next door" image. It's a lie, and it shows. (Even George W. Bush really did like to clear brush on his Texas ranch. It wasn't just a photo op.)

    Who loaned Romney this "real person" costume (although I've read they're designer jeans)?
                                         Daniel Acker for The New York Times
      Romney is no Jack Kennedy, but he certainly doesn't appear to be a Mormon, either. He tries to say and be whatever is required by the "role" he is currently playing, and all that juggling has taken its toll.  His star turn as a Mormon presidential candidate is perhaps his biggest flop. 
    His inauthenticity, his insincerity, his inconsistency and his deliberate inscrutability have rendered him entirely unappealing. If Obama hadn't screwed up so badly, there would be no contest.
He pooped out without even putting up a fight.
   There is a clear consensus in the media that the increasing number of Americans who are willing to vote for a Mormon constitutes progress and a laudable evolution away from prejudice. 

    Most of the country's tolerant and enlightened (ie, ironically, liberal) reporters and political commentators have admirably avoided the issue -- as if it were as irrelevant to Romney's  presidential race as his ethnicity or sexual orientation. 
    I am someone who doesn't make fun of political correctness; I applaud it. But when it is used -- in this case inadvertently -- to constrain an important, substantive debate, it can be perilous.
    From my perspective, as someone who has been steeped in the very unusual Mormon cosmology for most of my life, it's not irrelevant at all to Romney's candidacy. Mormonism -- unlike JFK's Catholicism -- has a unique (and vainglorious, confiscatory, sword-wielding, angels singing) view of itself in American history, as any well-informed church member will accede.
The atonement of Christ "redeems us from the Fall," Mormons believe.
      Does Mitt Romney have a bona fide "testimony" regarding the tenets of the LDS religion? Does he really believe in the Church?
    The most intense anti-Romney writing on the Internet is by Mormons and ex-Mormons, who know enough about the Church's "sacred blueprint" to be extremely concerned (ie; scared and revolted) by the prospect of a Mormon presidency. 

    Innumerable declarations are made in Mormon doctrinal writings and transcribed speeches -- from founding Prophet Joseph Smith to the present -- that say it is the Church's ultimate destiny to save the U.S. Constitution and the country, and "usher in a theocracy." 
    This vision of national dominance is widely known as "The Mormon Plan for America" or "The White Horse Prophecy." Global dominion is the long-rage plan. Is Mitt Romney the immediate-range plan?

A valiant Mormon hero will gallop to the rescue, like a
white horse, when "the Constitution hangs by a silk thread."
     The Mormon vision is that their New American Theocracy will lay the groundwork for the "Second Coming of Christ" and create the Kingdom of God in the U.S., which Mormons regard as "The Promised Land."
    Joseph Smith himself ran for the American presidency to fulfill this prophecy, vowing to "set in order the House of God." He was murdered before his campaign got very far. 
    Mormons have been waiting ever since for "the One Mighty and Strong" to swoop in and strip America of its evil ways and to create the cheerful, dutiful "beehive" of activity that Smith envisioned.
Has God propelled Romney and Mormonism to the forefront of human history?
     Romney's mother, Lenore, is said to have regarded little Willard Mitt as a "miracle baby" from the day he was born, and Mitt has gotten the Star Treatment ever since. 
    Romney's former Brigham Young University fraternity brother, ex-Mormon Michael Moody, has written that Romney was regarded as "the One Mighty and Strong," even when he was still in college. Moody, fully expecting a Romney presidency in the near future, ran for governor of Nevada in the 1980s "to help Mitt expand our Kingdom."
    It is in this context that I think Romney's religion is relevant. Does he believe it or not?  This is not a bigoted question, although I respect people's reluctance to raise it.  
    Many of Romney's current and former friends and business associates say he has been preparing for this moment his entire life. Does he agree with those who say that he is, in fact, "the One Mighty and Strong"?
Uh oh!
    I'm not paranoid enough to believe that Romney could actually turn America into a theocracy, ruled by the Mormon Church, but if that is his "heart's desire," as his brethren put it, I think he should say so. Even if his goal is merely to help lay the groundwork for the Church's triumphant Reich of the future, he should disclose it.

    Those who know and support Romney claim that he prays at pretty much every opportunity, seeking the Lord's guidance, and he believes that he is carrying out God's will in his personal, professional and political lives.  
Does he ever decide for himself?
     At Bain Capital, he gathered all the guys (a Mormon posse) together for a prayer, whenever a hostile takeover or any other important move was under consideration. 
    If Romney decided to descend upon some poor company and fire a bunch of people, shouldn't Heavenly Father have suggested that Mitt launch a new business that would give them each another job, so they wouldn't have to go to Big Government and ask for unemployment benefits? 
    Did God tell him to fire those people, leaving them angry, heartbroken and desperate? Is God mean, or is Romney hard of hearing? 

    Clayton M. Christensen, a business professor at Harvard and a Romney friend from church, told the New York Times, "He just needs to know what God wants him to do and how he can get it done."
He's mighty, he's strong, and he's awaiting His instructions.
     Church leaders claim to have known from the beginning what God wants them to do. It would not be impolite to ask Romney: What does God (in your opinion) want you to do with, to and for America? How and why does your plan differ from the "Mormon Plan for America"?  
    To the question, "Is Romney really, truly a Mormon?" one would have to say he appears to be, in some superficial ways that may or may not reflect what he actually believes.
    He has taught Sunday School classes and done the sensitive (or is it totally arrogant?) work of assessing the "worthiness" of those who seek Temple recommends, which are essential for personal salvation. 

    When he sees fit, he excommunicates people from the Church, banishing them from the Kingdom of God, with the same brusque finality as he fired people in his secular incarnation.   

    In a January 2012 Vanity Fair article, writers Scott Helnan and Michael Kanish quote a woman who said Romney, who was her LDS bishop at the time, came to her apartment and threatened to excommunicate her in 1983 if she didn't give up her unborn baby for adoption. She was a single mother, struggling financially. It was a very intimidating situation, she said.
    Being excommunicated is not like being denied Communion, she added. "You will not be saved. You will never see the face of God." 

    Romney's uncle, the late Marion Romney, was president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. He stated at the Church's 1966 General Conference that, based upon the Prophet's clear imperatives, the forthcoming Mormon theocracy will implement what is known as the United Order, which will essentially comprise a form of socialism in America that will eliminate poverty and inequality. All of our wealth will be put into a general storehouse, he declared, from which each of us will take according to our legitimate needs.
     I am an old Leftie, so I embrace this concept wholeheartedly, but I don't think Mitt would go for it.  If God tried to instruct him to get it going, I think he'd burst into song (Kid Rock's "Good to Be Me" would work), and pretend he didn't hear it.
Kid Rock's "Good to be Me" might drown out God's order to share the wealth.
     The United Order is a central LDS aspiration, emphasized by Joseph Smith and partially implemented by Brigham Young in the Utah Territory in 1874. A return to the principles of the United Order is still widely regarded among Latter-day Saints as an essential step in preparing for Christ's return, according to the Utah Historical Society. 

    If Romney believes in the tenets of his religion, why has he ruthlessly amassed a huge fortune and used it almost entirely to finance an extremely self-indulgent lifestyle? Is that what God told him to do? Does Romney understand the concept of cognitive dissonance? If he believes in the Church, how does he rationalize his robber-baron tactics and accoutrements? 
Mr. Moneybags humbly seeks your vote.
     In Mr. Romney’s world, money is “how you keep score,” a former classmate told the Times. Does Romney's God approve of this form of score-keeping?
   What exactly is his morality? How does he make congruent his religion with his quarter-billion-dollar fortune, his $18 million in personal real estate, and profits from investments in companies that, among other things, deal with Iranian businesses, comply with Chinese censorship and aid in stem cell research? 
The Romney boys grew up in this beautiful  Belmont, MA, compound.
They summered at this charming New Hampshire mansion.
They wintered at this seven-bedroom Park City, UT, chalet.
    Pictured below is the controversial La Jolla, California, beachfront home, which the Romneys plan to raze and quadruple in size. There will be elevators for their cars. The basement will have more square footage than the White House living quarters.
There will be a lap pool for those who don't like the ocean.
     UPDATE, SEPT. 30, 2014: Romney and his wife, Ann, decided “on a lark” to make their permanent home in Holladay, Utah, after selling their town house in Belmont, Mass., according to a New York Times report. They may consider putting their La Jolla home up for sale as well, the newspaper reported. Plans for remodeling that California home — including a car elevator — became political fodder in his presidential bid. Since his 2012 loss, Romney has been building a home, with 5,900 square feet of living space, in Holladay adjacent to son Josh Romney. It’s the second home for the Romneys, who also bought a mansion in Deer Valley for $8.9 million last year.

    He knows the country and the world are filled with people who are suffering. So how does this man, who is constantly praying, explain his life of luxury?

     In the 1980's, a Depeche Mode song theorized, quite persuasively (as if we needed persuading), that "God's got a sick sense of humor." Maybe Mitt's taking Him too seriously, or not seriously enough. Mitt does laugh, but it's usually at moments when he really ought to be squirming. He squirms when everyone else is laughing. A loving Heavenly Father would help him to be more comfortable with himself.
    Romney's lifestyle isn't the only aspect of his life that raises questions about his values, his priorities and his electability.
    His religion is comprised of so many secret, far-fetched beliefs, unsavory ceremonies and rather spooky rituals that he probably wouldn't have a chance of being elected if the public were fully informed. 
Writings by ex-Mormons are disturbing and poignant.
    Former New York Times columnist Frank Rich wrote in his January 29 New York Magazine article, "Who in God's Name Is Mitt Romney?" that, "His greatest passion is something he's determined to keep secret." All faithful Mormons have vowed to keep secret the details of their  beliefs and practices, and their Eternal Lives depend on it, he adds.   
     (A friend of mine who served a mission for the Church admitted that he would not have made even one convert during his two years in Japan if he had discussed the more "exotic" aspects of the religion with his "prospects." He added that some lay Mormons aren't privy to all the details, either. But Romney is a High Priest.) 

    As a faithful believer, Romney would have spent innumerable hours in the foreboding Mormon temple, where secret rituals are performed to entice the faithful with unimaginable rewards for good Earthly behavior, and couples are sealed "for Time and Eternity."
The baptismal font in the Washington State temple.
    Romney presumably believes that he will be with his wife and sons in the Celestial Kingdom, where he will become a God with his own universe to populate. His wife, Ann, will become a "Queen and Priestess," along with several other wives who will be assigned to her husband, if Church doctrine proves to be true.
   When Ann Romney was converted to Mormonism, was this disclosed to her? Do she and Mitt agree on this Eternal polygamous arrangement, or do they think they're so special that they can get an exemption? 
Where do they get the other ladies? Have they ever visited Earth?

    Romney has participated in the highly secretive and bizarre endowment ceremony pictured below. After being stripped naked and washed and anointed by a Temple employee, he was attired in one of these interesting ensembles and subjected to a lengthy induction. This was an eight-hour ordeal at the time he would have experienced it, but I'm told it has been scaled down to 90 minutes by popular demand, and it's now a melodramatic movie instead of a melodramatic re-enactment.
The endowment ceremony is one of the "cultish" aspects of the Church.
     During the endowment ceremony, Romney was given a secret name and a secret password, and was taught a variety of secret handshakes. He was ordered to swear an oath never to reveal these secrets. 

    Then, according to retired lawyer and professor (and ex-Mormon and Fulbright scholar) Richard Packham, "We had to mime various ways of taking life to represent the penalty to us if we were to reveal the secret signs and tokens: slitting one's own throat, ripping open one's chest, disemboweling oneself....this was part of the most sacred ritual in Mormonism: pantomiming your own bloody death."
The secret sign of the Melchizedek priesthood represents crucifixion.
     Packham quotes Deborah Laake, who -- in her book "Secret Ceremonies" (1993) -- expresses profound dismay after having attended her endowment ceremony: 
    "The actions that were going to guarantee my entrance at the gates (of heaven) would have nothing to do with love or charity or the other teachings of Christ that I'd been raised to believe God valued. In fact, I hadn't heard a single one of those words spoken today, the most primary day of religious instruction in my entire life. No, I was going to burst into heaven on the basis of mumbo-jumbo. ... The mysteries of life were fraternity rituals. ... Did all the white-suited glorifiers in the room unquestioningly accept a ritual of nutty gestures from the pseudo-occult as a sacrament? Those were the first moments when I viewed Mormonism with suspicion."
Mormon heaven is in a three-tiered configuration.
        Blogger John Lacey, in Arizona, states that the ceremony features dialogue between the ceremony’s conductors and biblical figures like Lucifer, Adam, Eve, Michael and others. "This gives it a nice surreal quality," he says sarcastically. Lacey objects to the numerous pledges of secrecy. 

     "I am suspicious of religion, especially overly secretive ones," he says. "If you had teachings that would benefit the world, you should be open about them. Cults and for-profit religions rely on secret ceremonies."
    Lacey points out (as many concerned former Mormons have) that the endowment ceremony's "Law of Consecration” is a pledge to “consecrate yourselves, your time, talents, and everything with which the Lord has blessed you, or with which he may bless you, to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, for the building up of the Kingdom of God on the earth and for the establishment of Zion.” 
President Brigham Young stressed consecration. Is Mitt OK with that?
     This is explicitly relevant to the Romney candidacy, he points out. It would require that a Romney presidency be dedicated  to the advancement of the Mormon Church.
    So it would not be uncouth to press Romney about this pledge, and how seriously he takes it. 

    Much has been made of whether the Mormon religion is a cult. I don't think that is the best way to frame the issue. It's obvious that the Church has numerous cult-like aspects, generally ascribed to the influence of Masonic rites on Joseph Smith.
    But what's important to know is whether Mitt Romney really does believe in all the hocus-pocus, and if so, how it would influence his loyalties, policies and priorities. I find it hard to imagine that he does believe it, but if he doesn't, he's a liar and a hypocrite.
The Solemn Assembly Hall makes up the entire top floor of the temple.
     If he does believe it, there are legitimate questions that he needs to be asked as a candidate for president of this country. Richard Packham, the former church member and Fulbright scholar, believes most journalists don't know enough about the macabre, behind-the-scenes aspect of the religion to ask the right questions. He provides a thoughtful list that any prospective voter might want to review:  http://voices.yahoo.com/questions-mitt-romney-his-mormon-faith-11239268.html?cat=34.

    We are forced to wonder whether Romney, purportedly a Mormon in good standing, really does spend his leisure time standing waist deep in sacramental fonts to perform proxy baptisms for the the living and dead. It's required. 
I much prefer to remain dry, especially "down there."
    It has also remained controversial as Church members continue to baptize dead movie stars and world leaders into the church in order to "save" (or claim) them. Most outrageous is the persistent baptism of Holocaust victims into the Mormon faith, which the Church insists time and again that it has ordered be stopped. Poor Anne Frank just got yanked back out of the Celestial Kingdom for about the tenth time. Hitler and his entire entourage have been baptized into the faith. Beheaded journalist Daniel Pearl, a Jew, was baptized. We have a right to be puzzled, at the very least.
Why won't they leave Anne Frank alone?
    Are we to believe that Mitt Romney drags himself away from political campaigns or hostile corporate takeovers (or horseback riding and barbeques) to  perform proxy endowment ceremonies, "which dramatize the Mormon interpretation of the creation and history of the world, emphasizing the Creation, the Fall of Adam, the expulsion from the Garden, and God's sending to humanity the message of salvation by means of his messengers," according to scholar and ex-Mormon Richard Packham. 

The Celestial Room "symbolizes life as eternal families with our Heavenly Father and His Son."
    Can you imagine Mitt Romney going through this lengthy, melodramatic recitation over and over again, year after year, to sustain his "worthiness"? 
    Maybe he hires proxies to do his proxy work for him. 
    He is also obliged to perform proxy eternal sealings for husbands and wives, and for and parents and children. 

    Temple work -- and it surely does seem to be work -- is not something I can envision a rich, ruthless, egomaniac performing. Maybe I'm just lacking in imagination.
    People who argue that Romney's putative faith is no different than Kennedy's "loyalty" to the pope haven't done enough research. The bonds, the vows, the sacred and secret stakes -- which have been established through rituals that blend exaltation and terror -- are quite different, more personal and more immediate.  
    I believe they deserve public scrutiny.

UPDATE: July 15, 2014 New York Times, "The End of the Mormon Moment":  "The crackdown on Kate Kelly marks the end of the “Mormon Moment” — not just the frenzy of interest that rose (and largely faded) with Mitt Romney’s campaigns for the presidency, but a distinct period of dialogue around and within the Mormon community...The true legacy of the Mormon Moment might just be that the church was given the chance that many religious institutions desperately need to stay relevant in the 21st century: the opportunity to open itself to criticism and inquiry. The church has chosen not to. And it has killed its own moment by doing so." (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/15/opinion/the-end-of-the-mormon-moment.html

In "Puttin' on the Mitts," I look back at 50 years living among the Mormons.