January 31, 2008
Mitt’s the one
Full disclosure: I'm a Mormon. Who's biracial. And loves women.
Needless to say, it's been an interesting campaign season for me thus far. While sifting through the promises and platforms proffered by the leading candidates from both major parties, I've had to identify the most important attributes that I feel a president should have. Mitt Romney embodies competence, integrity, and intelligence. His many accomplishments are a source of pride to me as an American, a Michigander, a Mormon, and a person trying to make it in life. Following four successful years in the governor's mansion in Boston, he now wishes to apply his considerable intelligence and ability to the presidency, which is in sore need of both. Voters of all faiths would be foolish to refuse his offer.
Why am I a fervent supporter of Mitt Romney? For goodness sake, look at the man's life. Unlike many voters interviewed on TV, I don't want to elect someone who's like me; I want someone to lead the free world who is a better person than I am. If Mitt were an Evangelical, the Republican Party would think we were witnessing the Second Coming. He exhibited wisdom and good judgment even in high school as he courted Ann, a girl who would turn out to be a wonderful wife and mother of five sons. Not a whiff of scandal or impropriety has ever been attached to Mitt, Ann, their five sons or daughters-in-law. How many American families can say that? Mitt and Ann don't need to talk about family values: they live them.
After his first year at Stanford, Mitt chose to spend the next 30 months seeking converts for his church in largely secular France. This at a time (the late 60s) not exactly known for youthful obedience and respect for established institutions. As a former missionary in Italy, I can attest that knocking on doors and trying to explain your faith to indifferent Europeans build your character in a remarkable way. Though this fact is rarely mentioned, Mitt's mission gave him another valuable asset: unlike the other candidates of either party, he speaks a foreign language fluently.
Mitt went on to graduate with highest honors from BYU, Harvard Business School, and Harvard Law School. He spent the next two decades creating wealth and jobs in the hypercompetitive venture capital and management consulting worlds, where ability, not pedigree, opens doors. Today the venture capital firm he founded, Bain Capital, has more than 2,000 employees. Given the current state of the worldwide economy, it would be a godsend to have a successful international financier in office. No other candidate has a track record of job and wealth creation that merits mention in the same sentence as Romney's. Indeed, Mitt's business acumen was valued so highly that he was chosen to spend three years on an international stage rescuing the debt- and scandal-ridden Salt Lake Olympics. In true Romney fashion, he did this while simultaneously running (successfully) for governor of Massachusetts in 2002.
Do I support Mitt because I believe he is a "full-spectrum" conservative, as portrayed on his website? Puh-lease. Pace the "issues" page on the site, I doubt very much that his sleep has ever been disturbed by thoughts of punishing sanctuary cities, warding off threats to American culture, or confronting "tyrants" in Latin America. Mitt's record of public service shows that he is a moderate, pragmatic Republican in the mold of his father, former Michigan Governor George Romney. As a moderate Republican myself, I think that he could have avoided the "flip-flopping" charges entirely by simply running as Mitt from the beginning. People like authenticity, and it is painful to watch him contort his record in order to court conservative Evangelical voters, who have largely rebuffed his advances.
Which brings me to the religion question, where Mitt has often stumbled. He would be toasted (with Martinelli's) in every Mormon home if instead of pandering to Southern Baptists and Evangelicals, he simply stood up and told them what all Latter-day Saints feel: while we respect your beliefs, we couldn't care less what you think of ours. Really, we couldn't. I honestly do not know one Mormon who cares whether Evangelicals think that we are Christians (we are). However, like Jews, we do react when persecution and slander are directed against us. I was one of many Latter-day Saints who cheered during Mitt's landmark speech on religion last month when he declared his personal belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, but I cringed when he qualified his bold statement by adding "My church's beliefs about Christ may not all be the same as those of other faiths." Thanks to the sacrifices of early Mormons, including Mitt's LDS ancestors, we as a church have earned the right to define ourselves, not dilute or qualify our beliefs so that others will find them palatable.
Mitt's attention-getting speech at last year's Herzliya Conference highlighted his love and support for Israel. He was raised in Bloomfield Hills, a Detroit suburb with a large Jewish population, and belongs to a church that has an incomparable record of continuous support for Israel and the Jewish people over the last two centuries. The first two Jewish governors in the U.S. were elected in Idaho and Utah (1914 and 1916, respectively), the two states with the highest percentage of Mormons. Salt Lake City had a Jewish mayor by 1932, 42 years before New York City. This year Mormons will celebrate not only the 60th independence anniversary of Israel, a country their church has supported since its creation, but also the 40th anniversary of BYU's study abroad program in Israel.
While Romney's success in the private and public sectors is undeniable, he clearly struggles sometimes as a politician. I have come to realize over the last year that a great president may not be a great candidate or even a great politician. Do I need a president to feel my pain, play the sax on TV, or deliver Kennedyesque speeches? All other things being equal, I suppose anyone would prefer a president who radiates empathy, entertains, and is a great orator. However, given the great challenges facing this country, competence and superior decision-making ability have to trump purely political skills. After all, presidents do not spend their days campaigning, debating, and making political speeches. In the last two elections, Americans chose a man with whom they would like to have a drink. This time, I am praying that we choose a candidate who is often faulted for being "too perfect."