Mitt Romney: The Sodium Pentothal Question

This Monday morning, Research on Religion has put up its hour-long interview with your diarist about the new free e-book (seriously, no dollars and zero cents right here folks), America’s shifting political-religious landscape and why a certain someone might have to publicly eat his hat if the GOP overperforms in Pennsylvania.

There may be one explosive aspect of this interview near the end, where I bust out what friends and colleagues have started referring to as “Mitt Romney: The Sodium Pentothal Question.” The question is this: Does Mitt Romney harbor some dislike for Catholic clergy, or at least their drinking?

This is not a political question. As I say in the interview, if I could get it out of him, I don’t think I’d actually do anything with it for a good long while. I’d just like to know.

I’m curious because he was given what many would consider good cause to dislike Catholic priests. If someone could go through what he went through without holding at least a mild grudge, he’d be a saint.

Flash back to France, 1968, while Romney is doing his foreign mission. Romney is driving a vehicle with five other Mormons, including the mission president and the president’s wife up front. Around a sharp corner comes a car in the wrong lane and — bam! — hits the Mormons head on.

The crash breaks a few of Romney’s bones and puts him in a coma. It badly damages the mission president and it kills his wife “Sister” Leola Anderson — who had been a sort of surrogate mother for the 170-plus young Mormon missionaries very far from home.

Now, a curious fact about this accident is the car that struck them was piloted by a Catholic priest who some of the Mormons on the scene believed to be drunk. (This detail was edited out of my Washington Times review of a Romney book.)

Romney doesn’t have firsthand observations of this because he was knocked unconscious, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t believe it, or that it hasn’t had an effect. When he awoke from his coma, Romney found himself with a dead president’s wife, a broken and largely absent president and a whole mission full of young distraught missionaries that he had to console and turn around.

A few days after I recorded this interview last week, Romney took part in the Al Smith Dinner roast. A number of Romney’s very funny jokes to the assembled Catholic eminences had to do with sobriety. Sample: “Usually when I get invited to gatherings like this, it’s just to be designated driver.”

I know, I know. Sometimes a joke is just a joke. And if the car crash in ’68 had never happened, we likely would never have gotten Mitt Romney, Turnaround Artist. Romney, with Saint Paul, might reason that the Good Lord had mysteriously worked evil toward good, yet again, and let it go at that.

Still, my guess is, the crash left a different kind of mark. If I could ever ask Romney an off-the-record question, that’d be the one.

  • DougH

    You could be right, but you don’t need to look to Romney’s accident for that kind of humor. My family is multi-generational Mormon, and when my father was in the Air Force, when he and my mother attended the various get-togethers for officers and their spouses they had to carry around open cans of soda to not only avoid drinking alcohol but make it clear that was what they were doing. I would imagine that Romney has had similar experiences as a businessman.

  • Mike Petrik

    Interesting speculation. But not one jot of evidence to support it. In fact, Romney’s humor at the Smith dinner is evidence to the contrary.

  • Jeremy Lott

    Evidence may be the wrong word here, but I would argue the fact that Romney kept coming back to the sobriety jokes again and again at the Al Smith dinner says something different.

  • cken

    Interesting how we always judge others by how we would feel or react, or our own moral code. I don’t perceive Romney as being that small of a person, but then I forgave the black guy who shot me five times, and certainly don’t hold the whole race in loathsome contempt for the actions of one person. Enough said.

  • K. Ann

    Romney’s comment on designated drivers may have had something to do with Mormons not drinking alcohol period. I’m sure many of the attendees there that evening were drinking alcohol. It didn’t sound as if was going after Catholics. If he was referring to the ’68 incident, then it was a very tame reference. I certainly would have been much more blunt when discussing the drunk driver who hit and killed my grandfather. I certainly don’t hate all men because of the regretful actions of one.

  • Maureen

    Jeremy, you must not hang out with many D.C. Mormons. All of Romney’s jokes are standard fare among dc Mormons and there non-Mormon friends -at least that was my experience when I lived there in the 1990s and counted Mormons among my friends.

  • A2zplus1

    I thought Govenor Romney was brilliantly humorous in his delivery. The comment about being a designated driver was classic self deprication reflecting his Mormon background in the presence of mostly Catholics. I took it at face value and laughed heartily. Unlike his opponent, in my opinion, the Govenor’s demeanor doesn’t reflect an underlying bitterness in his character.

  • Greg

    I also understand that that priest is now a bishop.

  • TeaPot562

    If we can’t forgive someone who does us wrong, even inadvertently, we place ourselves in difficulty when WE need forgiveness. (See the Our Father teaching.)

  • adele young

    Are you an Obama-man? I cannot fathom otherwise why you would go this
    extreme in your thinking. I can only recall one sobriety joke by Romney
    (the one you quote)at the Al Smith Dinner which occured over 40 years
    later. To carry a grudge/resentment for that long does not seem in
    keeping with the public personna of Romney. In fact, it sounds as if
    you are not even certain this priest was drunk, admitting that it was
    edited out of the book review. ( did you ever ask why?) Why spread
    this uncertainty when you really seem to fall short of the facts? Did
    you ever hear of calumny?

  • Matt

    It would have been impossible for Romney to live in Boston all those years if he hated drunk Catholics…just sayin. :)


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