And as if in rebuttal to anyone who continued to see in the Romney candidacy a “Mormon problem,” he mentioned the First Amendment. Twice.
Earlier in the week, Romney’s best surrogates, his wife and his running mate Paul Ryan, also approached the religion question with a calculated nonchalance. “When Mitt and I met and fell in love, we were determined not to let anything stand in the way of our life together,” said Ann. “I was an Episcopalian. He was a Mormon. We were very young. Both still in college. There were many reasons to delay marriage, and you know? We just didn’t care.” (She didn’t mention her conversion or her LDS wedding at all.)
Ryan, a Catholic, argued that in any case, men of faith have much in common. “Mitt and I also go to different churches. But in any church, the best kind of preaching is done by example. And I’ve been watching that example. The man who will accept your nomination tomorrow is prayerful and faithful and honorable,” he said. “Not only a fine businessman, he’s a fine man, worthy of leading this optimistic and good-hearted country.”
In different ways, the speakers are all saying the same thing: It shouldn’t matter that the candidate is Mormon. (And of course it shouldn’t.) But their collective insouciance on the religion question shows just how much the party worries that it does.
But if this convention changed anything (and I think it did, though Romney’s performance was predictably smug and stilted), it achieved more than a deflection of the Mormon question. It presented Romney as something else entirely: a devoted disciple of a much more mainstream and sympathetic American faith – the religion of success. Over and over, in every speech, speakers spoke of Romney’s achievement in business as not just a personal virtue, and a sign of Romney’s inherent goodness, but as the highest dream shared by every patriot. The robotic pol was displaced, if momentarily, with everyone’s retrograde fantasy Dad, a trustworthy leader who would sacrifice of himself to do right by the people in his care.
Taken together, this week’s convention speeches could be read as a gospel of success. “I want America to succeed,” said Romney near the beginning of his speech, and then near the end, he drove the point home: “In America we celebrate success, we don’t apologize for success.” After explaining that her husband was motivated every day by “family, faith and love for his fellow man,” Ann, in what was perhaps the convention’s greatest moment, became her husband’s best evangelist: “No one will work harder,” she said. “No one will care more. And no one else will move heaven and earth to make this country a better place to live.” And then, her gospel almost finished, she made a promise: “This man will not fail.”
Now, as the race enters its final lap , the Republicans have forced Democrats to explain why material success, that integral component of the American dream, has in certain provinces of the left become recently regarded as a sin.
To read Lisa Miller’s previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/onfaith.
Related links from On Faith:
- A theological error in the GOP platform?
- Wolpe: Akin ‘legitimately’ up the creek
- Akin remark reminiscent of abstinence education
- Romney’s high-wire act on religion
- Chat transcript: Is God angry with the GOP?
- Political slogans are not enough
- Cardinal Dolan, Sister Campbell to prayer at Democratic