My grandfather was a Norwegian, a steelworker, a union man, and a life-long Democrat. As such, he believed that Walter Mondale was the finest man ever to run for national political office. Of course, a lot of that had to do with Mondale’s strong support for unions, but a lot of it was Mondale’s Norwegian ancestry. Mondale’s grandparents were from Sogndal; they moved to Minnesota in the mid-nineteenth century. That was close enough for my grandfather; he loved the guy. He walked on clouds for most of the ’84 election; well, all except for the result part.
I thought about that last night, as Mitt Romney accepted the Republican party’s nomination for President. A Mormon: a major party nominee. I thought, of course, of Missouri and Governor Boggs, and Van Buren of ‘your cause is just‘ fame, and of the humiliations of the Smoot hearings. Of the colossal unconstitutional farce that the Smoot hearings even happened. I thought of Joseph Smith’s quixotic run for the Presidency back in 1844. He had no chance of being elected, of course, but a platform of internal improvements, compensated emancipation for slaves, and prison reform could well have headed off the Civil War, if implemented. I thought of the great Mo Udall, such a great mixture of ironic distance and passion, for the poor, for an end to Vietnam; still my favorite Mormon politician ever.
And I thought of Barack Obama, and what his victory meant to my African-American friends. The idea that he could win was inspiring in ways I can hardly imagine.
A Mormon, one vote away from the Presidency, and the validation that would mean. It’s an awesome thought.
We all have these words we use to describe ourselves, and we all feel close to people who describe themselves similarly. I am a father, I am a baseball fan, I am a playwright, I am an American, I am a liberal. When watching the Olympics, we find reasons to root for or against certain athletes, and of course, one major rooting interest is patriotic. As an American, I root for Americans. As a Norwegian-American, I also root for Norwegians. I am a Mormon, and a Mormon is now the Republican candidate for President.
But boy am I torn.
Because another word I use to describe myself is ‘liberal.’ And I go with liberal, not ‘progressive’ or ‘left-leaning moderate’ or whatever. Ever since the Fox News commentariat started treating ‘liberal’ as a dirty word, I’m got even less interested in backing down from it. In my ward, at Church, I’ve heard people use the word ‘liberal’ as an epithet; I call ’em on it, and it hardly ever happens anymore. I’m a liberal. I’m also really into politics, really into policy; being liberal is something worth defending, I think. I’m an L-word liberal, in other words, and the more I’m attacked for it, the more tenaciously (obnoxiously) I cling to it.
So Mitt Romney is the Republican nominee for President, and a self-described conservative. (This week: snap!). I think he’s a good guy–I still have very fond memories of the Salt Lake Olympic Games, and give him full credit for stepping in like he did. I think that’s a genuine accomplishment, something to be proud of.
But I don’t want him to win. I think the policy positions he has chosen are uniformly awful. I think he’ll make a terrible President, if elected, not because he’s a bad person, but because he believes in policies that have no chance whatever of working.
So I’m conflicted.
I have a Dad and a brother who love Romney like my Bestefar loved Mondale. And my Dad seemed genuinely puzzled the other day. I have a lot of misgivings about the Obama presidency–so why wouldn’t that make me a Romney supporter? What I did not explain carefully enough is that my difficulties with the President are precisely why I’ll never vote for Romney. It’s not that Obama is too liberal–he’s not liberal enough. I have reservations about Obamacare not because it’s a step towards socialized medicine–I have a problem with the fact that it’s NOT socialized medicine. That’s what I want: a single-payer system. Of course, it’s possible that Mitt Romney is not actually the die-hard tea party conservative he’s campaigning as. That’s frankly the only reason to not move to Canada if he wins (as my daughter threatens to do.) He might actually not be completely horrible. He might even be a slightly less inept President than George W. Bush. That’s a thin hope to cling to.
But he’s running against Barack Obama, a man who I also genuinely admire, and who holds policy positions that, though somewhat to the right of mine, are reasonable and thoughtful and likely to work, somewhat, at least.
I want to warn people against Romney, warn them against the perils our country faces if he wins. But I have to do it without warning them against a man I admire, a kind of man I also sort of am. The approach has to be: “Don’t vote against the Mormon! Do! Not! Uh, for policy reasons, mind. He’s actually a really good guy. But don’t vote for him! Oh, and I’m a Mormon too, as it happens. . . So. . . .”
What do you know about the Church and would you like to know more?”