I sincerely have a lot of sympathy for people whose job it is to wake up every day and try to come up with a new, fresh angle on the same story they’ve been covering for over a year. Because it is literally impossible for all of those new, fresh takes to be substantive and weighty (or to be actually fresh or new), commentators are often driven to gimmickry. One such gimmick I’ve seen crop up lately is to condemn Mitt Romney – and you’re going to want to sit down for this – BY USING THE VERY TEACHINGS OF THE RELIGION IN WHICH HE CLAIMS TO BE BELIEVE.
To my knowledge the first to do this was Martin Bashir, who argued that Mitt Romney tells lies, Mormonism teaches that liars go to hell, and therefore Mitt Romney is going to hell ACCORDING TO THE VERY MORMONISM IN WHICH MITT ROMNEY CLAIMS TO BELIEVE. Today Maureen Dowd used the same trick, attacking Romney for destroying documents when, IN POINT OF FACT SUCH BEHAVIOR IS “antithetical to Mormonism, since the Mormon Church loves to save documents, keeping 35 billion images of genealogical information and records on church history in the Granite Mountain Records Vault near Salt Lake City.”
It seems clear to me that Dowd has mortally wounded Romney’s candidacy with this charge, and I won’t be surprised if in the next few days we see Romney give up his bid for the presidency AND get excommunicated for being such a terrible Mormon. If President Obama has any sense he’ll be rehearsing the following interchange for the first debate:
Obama: Isn’t it true, sir, that your Church stockpiles mounds of genealogical and historical documents in a mountain vault?
Romney: Yes, it is true.
Obama: Then why, Governor Romney, do you not also keep all of your personal and public documents in a mountain vault? HOW DARE YOU claim to subscribe to the precepts of a Church whose exhaustive mountain-based record-keeping policies vary so greatly from your own?
(President Obama drops mic, exits debate hall. Governor Romney buries head in hands and begins to weep.)
Amazingly, Bashir and Dowd aren’t even the worst examples of frivolous use of this gimmick; that comes to us from Lisa Miller in The Washington Post.
Miller begins by quoting a scripture from the Book of Mormon that states, “Wo unto the rich. Their hearts are upon their treasures,” and then informs us that Mormonism “decries the hoarding of riches.” How does Romney square this particular circle? Well, according to Miller “one possible explanation” – a possible explanation which from that point forward is treated as the only possible explanation – is that “Romney is a bean counter . . . whose search for the right answer blinds him to the nuances of the big picture.”
Miller goes on to assert – without the benefit of any facts or evidence – that Romney is a “literal-minded person” who takes refuge in Church manuals regarding wealth in order to avoid struggling “with his conscience over the consequences of his great wealth.” Miller then spends a few paragraphs citing several random, unconnected quotes from Church leaders to demonstrate that she spent 15 minutes using the search function at LDS.org, and then, without having made an argument to support such a conclusion, concludes that “Romney, it seems, has missed the spirit of his faith – or, as evidenced by his offshore stash, is selectively interpreting it.”
I’m not even sure where to start. Miller’s piece somehow manages to make nearly every single mistake people make when they write or talk about Mormonism. She obviously did very little research on a topic that she clearly does not understand, and then tries to reduce that thorny, complex topic down to a simple equation of, “Mormonism thinks money is bad, Romney has money, Romney is a bad Mormon.” It’s equally clear she spent very little time researching Romney’s finances and is content to make offhand reference to his offshore accounts and wealth without getting into the specifics of how he spends his money, how much money he donates to charity, etc.
I’m not opposed to people trying to figure out how Romney’s Mormonism has influenced who he is and what kind of President he’ll be. It would just be nice if in doing so they tried to understand Mormonism rather than Googling “Mormon scripture document storage wealth” and then dash off a few hundred words neatly tying up a topic that millions of people – including Mitt Romney – wrestle with and pray about. I’ve been Mormon all my life and I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about and researching the topic of what Mormonism tells us about how we should handle wealth and I still don’t fully understand the topic.
It’s also worth noting just how impossible a position both the Church and Romney are in. According to Businessweek, the Mormon Church is allergic to anything resembling transparency and no single person has a comprehensive picture of what’s going on throughout the organization, but according to Dowd transparency and centralized record-keeping are central to Mormonism. And as for Romney, he’s either a mindless devotee of a cult or he’s a cafeteria Mormon who disregards the central tenets of his faith. Given just how often and much the goal posts get moved on the question of just how Mormon Mitt Romney ought to be, it seems understandable that he would elect to keep his thoughts on the matter to himself.