The Creepily Normal Mormon

February 08, 2012

Multiple Pages
The Creepily Normal Mormon

In his new book Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010, master social scientist Charles Murray flavors his portrait of the widening gap between the classes with some human interest by referring to the bottom 30% of American whites as “Fishtown” (after the gritty Philadelphia neighborhood) and the upper 20% as “Belmont” (after the leafy Boston suburb).

Perhaps coincidentally, Belmont, MA has been home for the last four decades to GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney and his lovely wife Ann, ever since Mitt was at Harvard earning his JD and MBA degrees.

Indeed, this patrician paterfamilias is almost a cartoon embodiment of Murray’s observation that in the 21st century, Belmonters such as Romney are doing quite well for themselves. And not just financially, Murray notes, but also morally. They live conservatively, like respectable Eisenhower-era Americans with stable marriages and strong families. Yet they are increasingly out of touch with the rest of America.

“Even his Daddy Issues are wholesome.”

Romney has never been able to generate much voter enthusiasm other than among his fellow Mormons and the wealthy. Many Americans believe that Romney assumes he’s better than them. Yet judging from the new biography of the candidate, The Real Romney by reporters Michael Kranish and Scott Helman of the liberal Boston Globe, Romney is better than us. He’s a straight-arrow model citizen, one of Jefferson’s natural aristocrats.

Maybe there are Romney scandals buried so deep that all the oppo researchers haven’t found them yet, but this book’s most shocking revelation is that Romney, despite his 42-Long handsomeness, is a terrible athlete.

Notoriously, Romney’s great-grandfather was a polygamist with five wives and 30 children. (Then again, Barack Obama’s father was a bigamist.) When the Mormon elite converted to monogamy in 1890, they shifted from quantity to quality in wives. Romney’s father George, the car-company CEO and liberal Republican governor of Michigan, always boasted that his greatest feat of salesmanship was convincing his high-school sweetheart from Utah, movie starlet Lenore LaFount, to turn down a $50,000 MGM contract and marry him. They were together for 64 years.

Their son has been blessed by nurture as well as nature. Criticism makes people behave better, and few groups were more derided than 19th-century Mormons. In their 20th-century efforts to not seem weird anymore, Mormons permanently fixated on pre-1960s American values that encouraged both halves of the bell curve to live middle-class lifestyles. But modern Americans often find Mormon normality creepy.

Romney’s life has been one of diligence, sense, temperance, and good works. The Real Romney recounts numerous acts of personal charity such as Mitt and his five sons taking a Saturday to move furniture for a Mormon single mother.

One reason for widespread resentment of Romney is that his rewards for living virtuously have been so absurdly lavish. He’s the anti-Job, the righteous man who gets all the breaks. We’ve all heard about his quarter of a billion bucks, but consider this: As he approaches his 65th birthday next month, Romney has both his looks and 16 grandchildren. Each year Mitt sends out a Christmas card with a picture of his vast and good-looking extended family, which routinely drives liberals into paroxysms of rage.

Unfortunately, Romney’s virtues are more relevant to fostering a healthy American citizenry than with him being an effective president.

What does Romney want to do as president? He may have a secret agenda: to be the Mormon JFK, the president whose election normalizes his co-religionists as regular Americans.

Mostly, though, he just wants to be president. Other than his father getting no higher in Washington than being Nixon’s HUD secretary, his life has been fine: America has been very, very good to Mitt Romney. The Real Romney doesn’t reveal any particular motivations for his candidacies other than the usual in recent chief executives: self-fulfillment, self-confidence, a vague urge to serve, and Daddy Issues.

Even his Daddy Issues are wholesome. Mitt was his likable dad’s darling boy. A loose cannon, the elder Romney scuttled his presidential aspirations in 1967 by not only turning against the Vietnam War, but by saying on TV that he had previously supported the war only because the generals and diplomats “brainwashed” him when he toured Vietnam in 1965.

From this, Romney 2.0 learned to always be scripted. This is especially necessary because Mitt’s a Mormon. George Romney’s political ambitions weren’t hurt by his Mormonism because a half-century ago most Americans subscribed to mores much like those of today’s Mormons.

But now, the son’s Mormonism is widely seen as subversive to the reigning pieties.

Thus, Robo-Romney.


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