This is a guest post by Michael Tracey. He is a journalist in Brooklyn, New York.
You may have heard that Mitt Romney “won” the first presidential debate last week. This unmitigated truth was proclaimed far and wide by journalists, pundits, PR strategists, and the rest of the characters who comprise America’s Chattering Class. Romney came off as forceful, bold, and “presidential,” they informed us, while Obama was disengaged and weak. A mere twenty minutes into the debate, expert opinion-shapers declared Romney the clear victor. Obama smirked one too many times, they charged, while Romney maintained his bearings and firm posture. Obama had only one “good line” — when he noted that his rival’s policy proposals tend to be nothing more than vague pablum — while Romney managed to land several effective “zingers”: GameChanger! A whole new ballgame! “Romney Rebound!”
You’ll notice that this species of analysis has absolutely no relation to the substance of either candidates’ claims, i.e., whose arguments were better constructed, who used facts instead of lies, whose vision for the presidency might best help average Americans navigate an endlessly sluggish economy, and so forth. Of course not.
Romney, for instance, may have talked up the virtues of the Massachusetts healthcare law he spearheaded as governor — you know, the same healthcare law which served as the basis for “ObamaCare,” and which Romney relentlessly avoided talking about during the GOP primary season — but who cares? These debates are about style. They are about who has the best talking points. It doesn’t matter that Romney has totally abandoned the rhetoric that colored the previous two years of his anti-Obama message, or that he is now heralding “aspects” of Obama’s healthcare reform package, which the right-wing has argued ad nauseum will bring about horrifying “death panels” — if not outright tyranny. But, meh!
With this being the predominant mode of debate analysis, then, it’s no great surprise that the following line by Romney went virtually unnoticed:
“We are all children of the same God.”
Coming from a former Mormon Bishop, how is this an intelligible statement? Is it the view of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, in which Romney — again! — served as a Bishop (the highest-ranking Mormon prelate in Boston) that all people, regardless of religious affiliation, are equal before God? Per my understanding, Mormons obtain varying levels of “heavenly power” by partaking in different “endowment” rituals which bring them ever-closer to God. Consequentially, this separates some of “God’s children” from others. (There are currently questions about whether Romney can still enter holy Temples, given that his non-Mormon security detail are not permitted to enter.)
But, as usual, Romney elides all these facts about his professed faith, and instead casts himself as a generic practitioner of “Judeo-Christian” beliefs. This is pernicious for a number of reasons. By positing some mushy, universalist outlook, Romney infantilizes the profound question of how mutually-exclusive religions interface in a pluralistic society; Mormonism is not the same thing as Islam, for example. But because his campaign has relied on incoherent platitudes with respect to addressing almost every issue, it’s no surprise that this strategy should extend to matters of religion.
However, more sincere believers ought to challenge Romney’s obfuscations.