Friday, December 07, 2007

Romney wants it both ways.

I almost feel sorry for Mitt Romney. As governor of Massachusetts he was relatively decent but when he decided to seek the Republican nomination for the presidency he started to pander to the extremist fundamentalists that have infested the GOP. That first required him to engage in some major flip-flops.

He switched positions and adopted a more authoritarian view in order to placate the Christianists within his own party. The problem Mitt has is that he’s a Mormon. And fundamentalist Christians absolutely reject Mormonism. They think Mormons are Satanic and evil. Fundamentalists hardly tolerate Catholics so Mormons are completely unacceptable.

Mitt is thus in a difficult position. His party demands religious demonstrations on the part of the candidates. Yet Romney’s religion is considered immoral and heretical. Romney is in a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t situation. Romney is thus forced to be religious without being Mormon.

This dilemma existed before. When fundamentalists were populating the Democratic Party, as they did in the past, the same thing happened. Alfred Smith was the governor of New York and a relatively decent candidate. He was an opponent of the newest theocratic exercise of the day, Prohibition. But Smith was a Catholic.

When he sought the Democratic nomination for the presidency the born-again brigade had fits. The idea of a Catholic in the White House sent the fundamentalist into visions of the impeding Armageddon that would result from having a Papist in the highest office of the land. They were convinced their children would be dragged off to a convent or monastery and indoctrinated with the secret Satanic teachings of the Jesuits.

Smith did win the Democratic nomination but lost the election in a landslide to Hoover. Rural fundamentalist outposts deserted Smith and his party. It was a forewarning of what would happen with the fundamentalists a few years later. The wholesale flight from the Democrats only took place in the 60s when those “damn liberals” desegregated the schools. The fundamentalists immediately left not just the Democratic Party but the public school system as well for lily-white Christian schools.

I’m not sure Romney can pull it off. I still give him the odds for being the GOP candidate but if Giuliani can figure out how to push the religion issues without giving away his equally despised Catholicism he might be able to take the nomination from Romney.

Romney has gone on the offensive and publicly spoken about religion while trying to avoid the M word (Mormon). He told one audience: “The attempts to attack me on the basis of my faith are un-American.” Of course those attacks are coming from other faiths nor is Mr. Romney and the GOP particularly adverse to attacking faith per se -- it all depends on the faith. The strongly religious usually lead the charge in attacking faith provided the faith under assault is not their own.

In addition Mr. Romney is cutting his own throat. He argued in his recent religion speech that “A person should not be elected because of his faith nor should be be rejected because of his faith...” Yet Romney did precisely that himself when he said: “Freedom requires religion just a religion requires freedom. Freedom and religion endure together, or perish together.”

If freedom requires religion, a view I think absurd, then doesn’t that imply that the non-religious are themselves a threat to freedom? He is saying, on one hand, that a particular faith must not be the criteria for office, while on the other hand, he is implying that faith is absolutely necessary. Of course there isn’t a single candidate running for president who doesn’t try to eat his cake and have it too. They love taking positions that embrace contradictory positions.

If freedom and religion go hand in hand then the Islamic world ought to be the freest place on earth. It is the one part of the globe where religion absolutely dominates most of life but the results are oppressive and destructive. The most religious section of the United States not only resisted any attempts to abolish slavery but embraced open, publicly-sanctioned oppression of black people for more than a century after they lost on the slave issue. It was the region of the country that had the least social freedom and was economically depressed as well.

The history of the Western world indicates Mr. Romney is wrong. As religious beliefs declined, and a secular humanist view arose, the amount of freedom expanded. Freedom did not decline as religion did. And today one of the freest nations on earth, both economically and socially, is New Zealand. It easily surpasses the United States in freedom on both counts yet is populated with secularists and has only a tiny percentage of citizens that attend church.

There is no indication that Mr. Romney’s thesis is correct. He needs to be bolder than he is and he shouldn’t throw bones like this one to the religious right. They will only use such messages to undermine him. But Romney is most likely irredeemable. He has gone so far over to the Dark Side to satisfy the theocrats that I suspect he can’t be salvaged. Of course compared to Huckabee he’s a saint (no pun intended.)