Monday, August 2, 2010

My view of Mitt Romney

My view of Mitt Romney is not unique, but it is a bit unusual by virtue of my having been acquainted with Mitt for over 30 years and chatted with him on a few occasions.

On the positive side, he strikes me as charismatic, intelligent, and capable.  I was very impressed by his handling of the Salt Lake City Olympics.  He did well as governor of Massachusetts.  I liked him personally when I knew him back in the late 70s and early 80s.

On the negative side, I have a few concerns.  Though I'd like to think that he has sincerely held the various positions he's taken over the years, I find it suspicious that those positions have changed to make him politically attractive to those whose support he has needed in different situations. And listening to him speak during the 2008 primaries, I often found it difficult to sense genuine conviction in his words.  I worry about what seems to me a lack of integrity or at least genuineness.  I don't feel like I really know his heart.  I guess that's true of any other human being, but it seems even more so with Mitt Romney.  He's a mystery to me, and it's hard for me to get a sense of what he truly, deeply believes--as distinguished from what he feels he needs to say to garner support.

A second concern: I liked his generally moderate approach as Massachusetts governor.  In fact, on some issues, he was just a bit more liberal than I felt comfortable with.  During the 2007-2008 political season, by contrast, he seemed to shift so far to the right that I found many of his positions unpalatable--some of them out of harmony with my moral convictions.  And in addition to the positions themselves, his way of expressing himself sometimes seemed calculated to position him as the meanest, toughest SOB among the Republican candidates.  There was a lot of jockeying for that "honor" at the time.

Finally, I've been thrown by his odd comments on occasion about his faith.  I know he's walking a difficult line--being true to his LDS convictions but trying to appeal to voters who are suspicious of or downright hostile toward the LDS Church.  I believe he's genuinely religious.  But some of his comments have seemed odd for a believing Latter-day Saint--on one occasion, for instance, expressing uncertainty as to whether there had been any real revelation from heaven since Mount Sinai.  (This was to deflect, I think, the worry some have that his positions as US President, should he attain that office, would be dictated by LDS Church leaders.)

I guess I haven't been surprised at how many Latter-day Saints, including many of my friends, have become fans of Romney.  He's attractive (in many senses) and claims to represent "conservative values."  And there's not much of anybody else in the Republican field who seems to be much of a credible possibility as a 2012 presidential candidate.  Plus Mitt is Mormon! 

Of course, so is Harry Reid--and I'll offer as my view, despite the incredulity many may greet it with, that Reid represents LDS values more truly than Romney does (see , for instance).  And I find another LDS political figure, Jon Huntsman, to be much more appealing than Romney.  It would be great to have an LDS president (though it would at the same time expose the Church to a lot of hostility from all sorts of directions--including of course the Evangelical Right), but I think it would be a shame if the first LDS POTUS had views that, for me, are so far out of harmony with LDS values as I believe some of Romney's to be.

Speaking of "conservative values," I believe America has been built on a combination of liberal AND conservative values, as well as on values that transcend or bridge political differences.  (So much, of course, depends on your definition of the terms.)  And "conservative values" are emphatically NOT equivalent to Latter-day Saint values.  Some "conservative values" are--for instance, if you want to call self-discipline, self-reliance, integrity, and fidelity "conservative."  But what intelligent "liberal" would really reject those values?  And you could with equal justice call values like faith, hope, charity, compassion, generosity, tolerance, goodwill, respect, and fairness "liberal."  And on which side would you place knowledge, wisdom, patience, and humility?  For that matter, does any contemporary political approach leave much room for humility?

In any case, it seems to me to demean religious faith and eternal principles to try to align them exclusively with a political party or ideology.  For Latter-day Saints who know their history, it should be obvious that Joseph Smith was NOT a typical conservative in either the nineteenth- or twenty-first century sense.  (See for more thoughts on this.)

I myself don't feel comfortable aligning myself with any one spot on the political spectrum (as I explain here). I've been pleased recently to find a statement by Dallin H. Oaks that expresses a similar feeling: "Those who govern their thoughts and actions solely by the principles of liberalism or conservatism or intellectualism cannot be expected to agree with all of the teachings of the gospel of Jesus Christ. As for me, I find some wisdom in liberalism, some wisdom in conservatism, and much truth in intellectualism—but I find no salvation in any of them" (for the source, click here).

So where does that leave me with Mitt.  Not especially interested, unless he comes across a lot differently than he did in 2008.


Adam Smith said...

I met President Reagan twice back in the 70s and then an additional time in the 80s, I have had lunch with Magic Johnson twice, sat next to Tiger Woods once at a Stanford Basketball game and have even had lunch with Bill Gates at a friend's house. The list of notables continues on and on and even includes "chatting" (as the post calls it) with Chelsea Clinton while at a Baskin Robins in Palo Alto back in 1998.. This does not mean that I "know" them, nor can I rationally claim to "have known" them since the first time I met them at the grocery store, drove past them on the Interstate, or even "chat" with them ('even' if it were at Church) regardless of the event/location. To make any such claim would mark me as either senile; completely out of touch with reality; in dire need of real friends (not just the kind that exist in the "'la la land' of the Internet); or homeschooled, consequently growing up in a completely altered reality induced by parents far too proud of the nominal achievements/attributes to see the devastatingly dysfunctional specimen that they had created.

This being said, the author's credibility took a nosedive off of planet earth within his opening sentence, which is only further illustrated by his lofty and conveniently unsupported claims. Specifically, every single point that was attempted, whether pro or con, is completely naked the evidence required to even pass a Fifth-Grade level research paper.

I will admit that the sheer defiance of all things that I consider 'common sense' within his rant conveniently cement the misled author as a complete hack, though I certainly do hope that the blinders have come off and he is no longer naive to how despicable Baraq Hussein Obama is and how undeniably detrimental to the history of the world he is (at least according to the history books that my grandchildren will read when they attend BYU in 30 years).

Bruce Young said...

Wow! I didn't mean to provoke this sort of immoderate heat.

It's true I am not an intimate friend of Mitt Romney's. I've had several personal, one-on-one conversations with him, stretching over a few years time. I've chatted with his sons. I've heard him speak many times, mainly in religious and academic settings, but I've followed his political career as well. That wouldn't give me credibility as the writer of a tell-all expose, but I think it does give me a degree of credibility--as I would grant Adam Smith in connection with Magic Johnson at least (assuming the lunches involved real, one-on-one conversation).

Yet my claim to have any insight into Mitt Romney on the basis of our interaction has made me, according to Smith, a "devastatingly dysfunctional specimen" or possibly only "senile" or "completely out of touch with reality." I believe those are called "ad hominem" attacks rather than responses to the content of any of my views.

For the sake of brevity, I didn't supply footnotes or other references, and so my "thoughts" do not rise to the level of a research paper or even a news article. I believe most of my points are uncontroversial: Mitt capably handled the Olympics (though some of my friends who are extremely antipathetic to Romney don't grant him even that); he has changed his views on some significant issues; he moved from a more moderate stance as governor of Massachusetts (and when he ran for a US Senate seat there) to a much more conservative stance during his run for president in 2007-8. Those who listened to the debates among Republican candidates during that campaign season will know the grounds for my view that he attempted to position himself as exceptionally tough and mean.

Romney's statement on revelation is probably less well known. It was made in December 2007 to a Boston TV reporter, Natalie Jacobson, who asked what he would do, as president, if God spoke to him or spoke to his Church's prophet.

Romney's response was to laugh and say: "Well, I don't recall God speaking to me. I, I don't recall God speaking to anyone since, uh, Moses and the [burning] bush, or perhaps some others, but, but I don't have that frequent of communication." (See might have to go to the paper's archives.)

Perhaps he was just being careless. Still, I think his response is telling.

In any case, these are just my thoughts--the way I see things, shared to give some who may have been one-sidedly pro- or anti-Romney another perspective.

Any who disagree with my views are welcome to express their own views or engage with what I've said--but preferably not attack me personally. I hope that Latter-day Saint readers in particular will be guided by our leaders' appeals for civility (as found, for instance, here).

And for evidence that I am not entirely senile or dysfunctional, I could supply some character witnesses--or you could look at some expressions of my faith or scholarship: for instance, this, this, or this.

Bruce Young said...

Questions for Adam: Do you happen to be Adam W. Smith? If so, we have at least one friend in common.

Would it be helpful if I revised the first sentence to suggest "acquaintance" rather than "knowledge"? I think you're right in implying that I could have written with more precision.

By the way, I hope you don't mind if I now start claiming I "know" you! Seriously, I think our brief acquaintance has given me a bit of insight--so if you decide to run for president, don't be surprised if I weigh in.