How Romney’s Mormonism explains his moral and intellectual emptiness
day I posted my theory
that Romney’s Mormonism explains the paradox that a morally upright, highly intelligent man ran a morality-free, mindless campaign in which he declined to denounce the false things his opponent was saying and the terrible things his opponent was doing. Laura Wood has posted
the comment at her site, and it has set off a discussion there, with several comments by me. In fact, all of my writing so far today (it’s now 1:40 p.m.) has been at The Thinking Housewife
, not at VFR.
- end of initial entry -
Dave T. writes:
I find your reasoning to be somewhat contradictory. To wit, if Romney follows “healthy and solid Mormon maxims on how to live a good life” then at the same time how can he also be “a man devoid of principles?” Those two statement don’t go together very well.
A larger problem I have with your thesis is that a great many people (dare I say, most) believe in patently absurd nonsense on a regular basis, even academics who are highly credentialed in the hard sciences, and yet I think it’s unfair to say that all these people have switched off their rational faculties so that are devoid of principles. For example, the socialist myth of human equality is widely believed by a great many ostensibly rational people, yet it is patently absurd to anyone whose thinking is not already wedded to it, like so many tenets of Mormonism. Or, speaking as a very devout evangelical Christian, the fact that so many of my brothers and sisters in the faith take as straight history various stories in the Hebrew Bible that are obviously legendary, if not mythical.
On the contrary, I think the ideological emptiness of Romney and his party can be more profitably understood by the fact that the leftist drivers of our culture are increasingly ruling out all other non-leftist principles as being morally unacceptable. And to the extent a majority of the American voting population thinks that non-leftist principles are morally unacceptable it becomes that much more difficult for non-leftist politicians to competitively present themselves (from an electoral standpoint) with any kind of non-leftist ideological substance. Hence, the increasingly vacuous nature of Republican politicians.
Here’s the latest comment I just sent to Laura Wood. Tell me if it answers your objections.
Your commenter Paul writes:
“It is contradictory to propose that someone has exemplary character yet is devoid of principles. An exemplary character means a person has a lot of good morals. Morals require principles.”
I disagree. Many liberals personally have good character (for example, being faithful to their spouses) while being devoid of normative and traditional moral principles. This seeming contradiction is built into the very nature of liberal relativism, a position which is summed up in the statement: “I have moral values; I just don’t believe in imposing my moral beliefs on others.”
Meaning that there are no objective moral values that are true and right in themselves. The person behaves decently, but only because behaving decently is his personal preference. He has no ability to think about and to judge human behavior and political behavior in general, because he rejects the very idea of objective moral truth.
Romney also rejects, or at least is insensible to, objective moral truth. That’s why he never reacted to the many outrageous things Obama and the left did, e.g., the contraceptive mandate, Obama’s campaign of smears against him, John Roberts’s re-writing of the Constitution to give Congress unlimited power over individuals. These types of things never came within Romney’s ken, because the only “truth” he recognizes is pragmatic and operational truth, such as what measures will increase jobs, such as what gestures he needed to make to persuade women that he was not “anti-woman.”
Dave T. replies:
Yes, I think it does answer my objection.
However, the alternative explanation I gave for the emptiness of Romney as a public politician still might be of some use.
Of course, Republicans as such are empty men. The emptiness seems to be built into their nature as Republicans. I have said so a thousand times. You give a good explanation for that generic emptiness, and there are others we could discuss as well. However, Romney (as universally recognized) is exceptionally empty and lacking in principles. And I think his exceptional emptiness is explained by his Mormonism.
Matthew Hess writes:
It seems to me that Romney is sending an entirely different—and entirely appropriate—message by posing for photographs in the kitchen with his wife, at the amusement park with his grandchildren, etc.
First, while Romney was not elected President, he still has an important symbolic role as the opposition candidate. By releasing those photographs, he is signaling that he accepts the fact that he lost the election. In doing so, he is reaffirming the legitimacy of our democratic process. Romney is also signaling that, going forward, he will not be holding press conferences and second-guessing and sniping at the Obama administration at every turn. This is entirely appropriate behavior, and Romney should be saluted for it. He is doing his duty. [LA replies: I couldn’t disagree more. His duty—phah! He’s simply carrying forward the same emptiness and lack of seriousness he displayed during the campaign. Are you suggesting that there is some urgent political need for a losing presidential nominee to be photographed at an amusement park or the equivalent in order to demonstrate that he accepts the result of the election? As though, if he did not pose in such frivolous pictures, the country might rise in rebellion against the winner? Have other previous losing candidates done the like? Your excuse-making for his silly photographs suggests that you supported his empty candidacy and have learned nothing from it.]
Second, the photographs Romney has released signal to his supporters that there are more important things in life than politics. In particular, family is more important. Romney is a good and decent man who has ordered his entire life around his family. Romney’s family is far more important to him than the Presidency. [LA replies: This is ridiculous. Romney’s family life is irrelevant here. The public has no particular reason to care about his family life. His public importance was as a presidential nominee. He just threw away an election he could have won, and by throwing it away he delivered the country into the hell of Obamacare and the permanent destruction of constitutional limits on the power of government. And you think that Romney’s showing himself at an amusement park with his grandchildren is more important than that?] He is not a man with a vast and yearning hole in his soul like Bill Clinton, a man who needs public approval and spotlight to fill an emotional void. To him, the loss of the election is a relatively minor setback. He’ll get over it soon and enjoy life to the fullest. [Who cares whether Romney enjoys life to the fullest? What is Romney’s private life to you, or you to Romney’s private life, that you should kvell over it?] Many, if not most, of Romney’s supporters have similar values. By releasing these carefully-selected photographs, Romney is telling us to take heart and remember what is really important. [LA replies: According to you, what is really important is surrendering happily to a leftist revolution.] In other words, he is acting as our leader. He can’t hold press conferences or campaign events any more, he lost the election and has a duty to withdraw from public life. So he is leading in the only appropriate way available to him, by releasing these carefully-chosen photographs. Again, Romney should be saluted for this. [LA replies: This is pathetic. George W. Bush also had nothing to say after he left the presidency. Why? Because, like Romney, he is an empty, intellectually dead, meaningless Republican. And that’s what you call leadership.]
I do not deny that the last election was almost certainly a sea change in our politics, and that a majority of voters no longer share many of our traditional values. I personally didn’t realize how bad things had gotten until we lost the election, and then I realized that the situation was worse than I thought. These are very dark times. If we want to maintain our way of life, we may have to go the Orthodox Jewish or Amish route and create separate communities for ourselves in our own country, or found a country of our own. But Romney is doing an exemplary job and I do not understand why anyone is criticizing his post-election behavior.
For the second or third time, I was not primarily criticizing his post-election behavior, but commenting on what those photographs of his post-election behavior say about why he lost the election.
I thank Mr. Hess for his comment. Never in the history of VFR have I received a comment that so epitomized Republican loserdom.
Matthew Hess to LA:
Thank you once again for your blog. I have learned a great deal from it.
LA to Matthew Hess:
Thank you. But be warned, my reply to you is very tough, as you might have expected given my views.
Matthew H. replies:
It sure was! That’s OK, though, I knowingly put my head into the lion’s jaws! And Mr. Auster, I salute you for engaging in a spirited debate. LOL! Thanks again for your magnificent blog.
Matthew Hess writes:
If you want to debate this further, here is a reply to your response: [LA replies: I don’t want to debate this further. My responses to your below expansions on your comments would be the same. But since I hit you hard, and you were a good sport about it, and you want to reply, go ahead.]
“Are you suggesting that there is some urgent political need for a losing presidential nominee to be photographed at an amusement park or the equivalent in order to demonstrate that he accepts the result of the election? As though, if he did not pose in such frivolous pictures, the country might rise in rebellion against the winner? Have other previous losing candidates done the like?”
I do think that it is important for him to signal that he has returned to private life and will stay out of the public square. I suppose Romney could have done this by releasing a picture that shows him sitting in the library, clothed in a sweater and corduroys and reading a book. Some might consider this more “dignified,” since our liberal culture belittles spending time with one’s family. I do not see it that way at all, because I do not see anything undignified in spending time with one’s family. It is every bit as honorable as sitting in the library reading a book. But I do think that as the loser, Romney has a duty to show that he has accepted the results of the election and has returned to public life.
I don’t think that there was a danger of anyone rising in rebellion against Obama if Romney failed to release a photograph like this, for the simple reason that most voters do not realize how serious the situation is and how badly things are going. If Romney were to announce that he was setting up a secessionist movement, no one would support him. If present trends continue, in five or 10 years people might support a movement like that, but today they won’t.
However, I do think that every political candidate—especially candidates for national office—is mindful of the fact that there are marginal, crazy people out there who might just shoot someone if they get sufficiently upset. Occupy Wall Street has produced quite a few of these people, and while I think that our side has far better mental health than the liberals do, you’ve got to assume that there are at least a couple of right wing crazies out there who might cause trouble if Romney takes an overly adversarial tone. Leaders at the national level have to be mindful of things like that, and Romney is behaving responsibly here.
“This is ridiculous. Romney’s family life is irrelevant here. The public has no particular reason to care about his family life. His public importance was as a presidential nominee. He just threw away an election he could have won, and by throwing it away he delivered the country into the hell of Obamacare and the permanent destruction of constitutional limits on the power of government. And you think that Romney’s showing himself at an amusement park with his grandchildren is more important than that?”
It’s not irrelevant. Like it or not, the Presidency is a powerful symbol that goes beyond the particular political issues of the day. Romney does not just represent low taxes. He is also the standard-bearer, however imperfect, of the traditional family, the pro-life movement, and most of the other values that social conservatives believe in. By releasing these photographs, Romney is telling his supporters to take heart because there are more important things than secular politics. This is important. He is reminding us of what we really stand for.
“Who cares whether Romney enjoys life to the fullest? What is Romney’s private life to you, or you to Romney’s private life, that you should kvell about it?”
I am not a member of the Romney fan club. I don’t know the man. If anything, he strikes me as an exemplary person who is also a somewhat judgmental cold fish. But I do think it is important to remind people that there is more than life to politics.
“This is pathetic. George W. Bush also had nothing to say after he left the presidency. Why? Because, like Romney, he is an empty, intellectually dead, meaningless Republican. And that’s what you call leadership.”
Well, there are two issues here. First, I am not at all sure that Romney could have won the election if only he’d “fought harder.” I think this election offered people a very clear choice between the conservative America and liberal America. To my horror, the people chose liberal America. I think they knew exactly what they were doing. The typical Obama voter wants a government check. Some of those voters, like the recent college graduates, are respectable, hard-working and terribly misguided people who think that a government check will help them get through hard times or are naïve idealists. The members of the underclass, OTOH, simply don’t want to work and are voting for bread and circuses. Another portion of Obama voters are motivated by envy and resentment of success. But I don’t think that the average voter was ignorant of the issues. Romney offered a clear alternative and it was rejected. I don’t think that Romney could have won the election by simply running different ads or making different speeches. Sure, Romney could have articulated a traditionalist conservative message. But it wouldn’t have mattered—the majority of voters would not have heard it or understood it, because they are too focused on that government check. The bottom line is that we lost.
The second issue, of what we need to do now is a separate issue. I don’t know the answer. I think Kristor is partly right. I have already opted out of the public school system and most of what passes for popular culture. I can withdraw some more, if necessary. I also think that we have to convince people of the merits of our traditionalist conservative views. We have to educate Obama voters and bring them over to our side. I don’t think that is an insurmountable task, but I do think it will take a long time. I am also not opposed to the idea of setting up traditionalist communities. But as a leader in the current political system, Romney is doing all he can.
Ed H. writes:
Mormonism gives itself away without knowing it. The prose in the Book of Mormon sounds exactly like what backswoods America [LA replies: or upstate New York America] in the early 19th century took for high sentiments. The arch-enemy of Mormonism when it showed up on the American scene was, of course, Mark Twain. He dismissed it as an outright con game. Twain had a keen sense of the rhythms of English and knew when they were being forcefully distorted to play on the gullibility of Americans, thirsting for culture and purpose.
The Book of Mormon is suppose to be a translation of 6th century BC texts. Now, does it sound like the Book of Isaiah, or like Huckleberry Finn’s Duke of Bilgewater?
Ah, you would not believe me; the world never believes—let it pass—‘tis no matter. The secret of my birth—”
“The secret of your birth! Do you mean to say—”
“Gentlemen,” says the young man, very solemn, “I will reveal it to you, for I feel I may have confidence in you. By rights I am a duke!”
Jim’s eyes bugged out when he heard that; and I reckon mine did, too. Then the baldhead says: “No! you can’t mean it?”
“Yes. My great-grandfather, eldest son of the Duke of Bridgewater, fled to this country about the end of the last century, to breathe the pure air of freedom; married here, and died, leaving a son, his own father dying about the same time. The second son of the late duke seized the titles and estates—the infant real duke was ignored. I am the lineal descendant of that infant—I am the rightful Duke of Bridgewater; and here am I, forlorn, torn from my high estate, hunted of men, despised by the cold world, ragged, worn, heart-broken, and degraded to the companionship of felons on a raft!”
“Degraded to the companionship of felons on a raft.” Precisely
That’s funny. I haven’t thought about Huckleberry Finn and the “Duke” in a long time.
Posted by Lawrence Auster at November 28, 2012 11:08 AM | Send