Political dynasties are as American as apple pie. Since the Civil War, witness the marks made — or still being made (for better or worse) — by the Tafts of Ohio, the Stevensons of Illinois, the Roosevelts of New York, the Bayhs of Indiana, the Bushes of Connecticut and Texas, the Clintons of Arkansas and New York, and the Kennedys of Massachusetts, New York, and Rhode Island.
Now comes Mitt Romney, son of George, who as governor of Michigan in 1968 unsuccessfully sought to become the first Mormon elected president. Son Mitt hopes to succeed where dad George failed. And Mitt, the governor of Massachusetts, is not going to let anything stand in his way. On the surface he is as smooth and as gentlemanly as his dad. But in his heart Mitt is a sharpie, as cold as he is ambitious. Like George Bush II, who saw his dad outflanked on the right by Reagan, and on the left by Clinton, Mitt Romney is not going let the failings of his paternity mess with his success. His will to power, whatever the price, is straight out of Nietzsche. And his desire to do his dad one better, whatever the cost, feels like pure Freud.
Armchair analysis aside, Mitt Romney’s dedication to his own success is undebatable. With the help of Christy Mihos (a politically delicious irony), he strong-armed Republican acting governor Jane Swift aside to stake his claim to Beacon Hill. He shamelessly fudged his Utah residency to get on the Massachusetts ballot. He cavalierly abandoned Massachusetts’s voters after two years in order to launch his White House run, and he held on to his office to use it as a convenient bully pulpit. From that perch he morphed from a centrist to a right-winger, flip-flopping on choice and suggesting — with a straight face — that the sort of stem-cell research conducted at Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School should be criminalized. Mitt Romney: what an hombre.
In his latest exercise in duplicity, Romney secretly lobbied an influential member of the Mormon church’s innermost ruling council to leverage resources in the service of his White House campaign. The scandal of this is that Romney has long sought to wrap himself in the mantle of Roman Catholic John Kennedy, who in his 1960 presidential run stressed that he would not be an ideological slave to the pope. On the eve of that election American Protestants — especially the evangelicals and fundamentalists whom Romney now courts so assiduously — still feared Rome’s potential influence on the American Caesar. (What a difference 50 or so years can make.)
Today, however, all that has changed. Secular voters fear the powerful influence of the religious right. And many conservative Christians still look with suspicion on the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints, as the Mormons are properly known.
An argument can be made that Romney is getting a bum wrap: that the Mormons aren’t just Romney’s faith community; they are also his ethno-cultural community. Just as evangelical Jimmy Carter cultivated his fellow believers, so should Romney be able to reach out in an organized way to his fellow Mormons. In fact, the parallel is closer to ethnic groups than to Christians of any stripe. For Romney not to court Mormons would be akin to an Italian candidate not courting fellow Italians.