More Mitt Mormon Stuff

The Mitt/Mormon issue is buzzing all around me. A friend of mine forwarded a link to an article from David Frum at National Review which makes the case that Mitt’s speech is going to cause him a whole lot of problems. Jonah Goldberg, at NRO’s Corner, has received a host of emails from evangelicals who maintain that Mitt would do nothing objectionable as president, but the mere fact that he’s a Mormon is enough to disqualify him, because a Mormon president would, just by his very existence, make Mormonism acceptable to more people, and therefore inadvertently drag more deluded souls down to the bowels of hell.

Nice.

I have a few thoughts. The speech I wrote isn’t the speech Mitt needs to give at this point – and I do think he needs to give a speech, and that now is the time to do it – but the general principles I tried to follow still hold true. Mitt cannot get drawn into discussions of theology. Nor can he insist that he’s a Christian, and that all you evangelicals are just going to have to accept that. Even more importantly, he can’t call everyone bigots and shame them into voting for him.

For some reason, this whole thing reminds me of when I went to Jackson Hole to run a theatre and decided to do highbrow stuff like The Mystery of Edwin Drood instead of pandering to the Wild West yahoos with crap like Annie Get Your Gun. Turns out the yahoos refused to come see my high-minded crap, and when I broke down and did the Western stuff they wanted, I had a full house. I learned that audiences don’t want to be educated, or at the very least, they don’t want to be educated by the likes of me. Similarly, voters don’t take kindly to being scolded. And if Mitt’s going to say “Tsk! Tsk, you anti-Mormon Philistines!” and hope that his high-mindedness will yield evangelical votes, he’s going to find himself with a lot of time on his hands come February or so.

Frum makes the case that most Americans already know that Mormons are good citizens, and the challenges Romney faces are very different from the ones faced by a Catholic Kennedy in 1960. If he can’t defend doctrine – which he can’t – and he can’t resort to indignation – which I hope he won’t – then, Frum asks, what’s left?

The answer is Mitt Romney. He’s what’s left. He needs to get people to think of him as Mitt Romney, not just the Mormon guy running for president.

What do I mean by that?

Well, look at the generic polling. When pollsters ask “do you want a Democrat or a Republican to win the White House in 2008?” the numbers come back overwhelmingly in favor of the Dems. But when you start putting actual people into the mix, the numbers change considerably. How can that be? Because Hillary Clinton isn’t just a Democrat. She’s also Hillary Clinton, and her party affiliation just becomes one element of the whole poisoned brew that people have to swallow when they consider her as the next president.

So we’ve all heard the stats that people won’t vote for a Mormon. But did you know that even more people say they won’t vote for a man over 70? If McCain were to join the Church, he’d be in bigger trouble than he already is.

Mitt needs to make it personal. He needs to talk about how his faith has guided him, how he could no sooner walk away from it then cut off his own arm. One of Mitt’s biggest weaknesses as a candidate, apart from his religious affiliation, is his lack of authenticity, which comes from his unwillingness to open up about his faith for fear of causing political problems. He needs to go whole hog – say why he’s a Mormon, and why that makes him uniquely suited to champion the issues dear to the hearts of those who oppose him theologically. And then he needs to go further – blend all of his career and his accomplishments into a single, cohesive whole. He needs evangelicals to say, “I don’t like Mormonism, but I like Mitt.” If he can do that, he’s the next President of the United States.

Right now, most people see Mitt as The Mormon Guy, if they see him as anything at all. This speech runs the risk of reinforcing that perception rather than refuting it. But it’s also the only way to get people to see him as a person and not as a proselyting tool. It’s not just a chance to defend his faith – it’s a chance to define himself. Very few candidates get a chance to do that with the world watching. Mitt’s got it. Will he use it, or will he blow it by playing too cautious, too guarded, the way he’s been campaigning thus far?

It’s all about Mitt now. He’s taking a huge risk. And the only way to get great returns is to take huge risks.

Surging Huckabee, Floundering Mitt

I’m beginning to think that if Mitt weren’t a Mormon, I probably wouldn’t be as excited about him.

Better writers than I have plumbed the depths of CNN’s perfidy in their plant-ridden YouTube debate, which I thought was a disgrace from beginning to end. And I was also deeply disappointed in the performance of all the candidates. Huckabee had far and away the best showing of the night, which doesn’t say a lot about the prickly Giuliani, the plastic Romney, the Manchurian McCain, and the somnambulant, drooling Thompson. (They’re the only candidates that matter. Paul is a novelty; Tancredo and Hunter are wastes of space.) It’s also somewhat irksome that Huckabee seems to be riding the crest of a whispering anti-Mormon campaign, which is disappointing but hardly surprising.

Mitt, however, isn’t doing himself any favors.

The defining moment came when CNN found a Unabomber wannabe who brandished a Bible and, with a zombified glare, demanded that all the candidates swear eternal fealty to “every word” in the Good Book. Even Huckabee, the self-proclaimed “Christian candidate,” was wise enough to point out that the Bible contains allegorical passages, citing Christ’s injunction to “pluck out thine eye if it offend thee” as something we ought not take literally. Giuliani did the same, albeit less artfully.

But all Mitt could say was “I believe the Bible to be the Word of God.”

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ALfm5dA4mFw&rel=1]

A nice, safe answer, yes? Yes. And it didn’t hold up to scrutiny. Do you believe every word in the Bible? I believe the Bible to be the word of God. But what does that mean? It means I believe the Bible to be the word of God. Every word? Well, I believe the Bible is the Word of God and I try to live by its teachings. Great, Mitt. You also try to dodge difficult questions with stock answers.

The best answer to that question comes from Brigham Young, who would have responded to Mr. Unabomber thusly:

I have heard ministers of the gospel declare that they believed every word in the Bible was the word of God. I have said to them “You believe more than I do.” I believe the words of God are there; I believe the words of the Devil are there; I believe that the words of men and the words of angels are there; and that is not all – I believe that the words of a dumb brute are there. I recollect one of the prophets riding, and prophesying against Israel, and the animal he rode rebuked his madness. (See Discourses of Brigham Young, edited by John A. Widtsoe, pp. 192-193)

That wouldn’t have gone over so well, though. Neither would a recitation of the LDS Church’s eighth Article of Faith, which includes the line “We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly.” But a discussion of the allegorical concept that was co-opted by Giuliani and Huckabee would have gone a long way toward making Romney look less mechanical and evasive.

Word has come down that Romney will soon be giving “The Speech,” wherein he addresses his Mormon faith directly and tries to assuage the fears of a wary electorate. It’s a risky thing to do, but Huckabee’s surge, fueled largely by antipathy to Mitt’s faith, leaves Romney with no choice. He hasn’t contacted me to tell me if he’s going to use my speech, but he’s welcome to it at this point. I’m not sure if it would do him much good.

If Mitt loses Iowa, he’s in serious, serious trouble.

Jingle Bells, Batman Smells…

Several uncredited elementary school ditties have been with us for generations. Who can forget “My Eyes Have Seen the Glory of the Burning of the School” or “Great Green Gobs of Greasy Grimy Gopher Guts?”

But perhaps my personal favorite is this Christmas classic about the Caped Crusader who cuts the cheese:

Jingle Bells, Batman smells
Robin laid an egg
The Batmobile lost its wheel
And the Joker got away

That’s not the way I learned it, though. For some reason, the way my brother taught it to me swapped out “And the Joker got away” with “And the Commissioner broke his leg.” Not sure what the good Commissioner was doing when he incurred his injury – rock climbing, perhaps? – but “leg” does rhyme with “egg,” whereas “away” does not. I’ve always been partial to the broken leg version, despite the fact that it has too many syllables to scan properly, given the established “Jingle Bells” meter.

Besides, Robert Goulet recorded it with the traditional lyrics, so the argument was over before it had even begun.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=La6gijbrdeI&rel=1]

As far as I’m concerned, it’s a dead issue, over and done. But then my son Cornelius came home with a new, even stranger version, which is making the rounds in the schoolyards of today.

Jingle Bells, Batman smells
Robin laid a gun
Shot a tree and made it pee
In 1981

Now, I must admit this fits the meter perfectly, and the rhyme scheme is flawless. Why Robin would “lay a gun” escapes me for the moment, but it has a vaguely postmodern feel to it, as does the idea of urinating trees from the early Eighties.

Could we be looking at a new Christmas classic? Or is it just sad that Robert Goulet never got a chance to record “Greasy Grimy Gopher Guts” in his lifetime?