Preacher’s Kid: Romney’s OTHER Mormon Problem

By: FireTag
February 4, 2012

How does knowing you’re supposed to grow up being part of the “aristocracy” affect a political candidate’s ability to connect with everyday people?

In elementary school in the 1950′s, we used to be given as “enrichment” a little news magazine called the Weekly Reader tailored toward stories on current events that would appeal to children. The only one of its stories I still remember concerned the son and daughter of England’s Queen Elizabeth, Prince Charles and Princess Anne — both of whom were nearly my age.

The article showed me that Charles played with toys just like me. But he was going to grow up to be King of England (though he’s still waiting). When I messed up, my mother would make sure I knew about it. When he messed up, his mother’s position would ensure that eventually the whole world knew about it.

Born aristocrats just can not do certain things, at least not publicly. The future job twists the boy into the form expected. In Charles’ case, as the Academy Award-winning The King’s Speech chronicles, the Windsor family dynamic earlier had twisted his own grandfather (and certainly shaped his mother Elizabeth) in ways that required almost heroic self-control simply to function under the job’s expectations.

So, now we come to Mitt Romney.  How did knowing he’s supposed to grow up being part of a religious aristocracy affect his ability to connect with everyday people? And make no mistake about it. Mitt Romney was born into a religious aristocracy. He has always known — even as a young boy — that anything less than stellar performance according to the standards that are applied to High Priests would be letting down his family and his priesthood responsibilities. How high do you have to climb in the church to avoid being seen as a failure? Bishop? Stake President?

And I think this was key; he knew he was a future “churchman” even before he knew he was a future politician. I suspect he testified that he was sure that Jesus was the Son of God, that the church was true, and that the priesthood was of God at about the age of accountability — and that would have been several years before his father George entered Michigan politics. George would have been just trying to turn around –interesting, that — American Motors.

And for those of you too young to know how hard that turn-around was, they used to make pop songs that joked about the “little Nash Rambler” having to share the roads with the big, high power GM cars. No wonder they elected George Romney governor of Michigan.

Of course, Catholicism has nothing comparable to this family molding process.  If you are a Catholic boy, your uncle might be a priest, but chances are that your father isn’t! So, having you become a priest is probably only a secret dream by your mother, if that, and not an expectation that’s been drilled into you as a measure of your life’s success.

So this is another thing that Americans may not understand about Mormon men, and that mainstream media commentators may mistake for Romney’s lack of “fire in the belly”, or his awkwardness as a politician. A Mormon man born in the church is being raised as a “preacher’s kid” in a denomination that doesn’t go in much for fire and brimstone sermons.

Billy Graham has been speaking at revivals for so long that most adults in America would probably recognize his speech patterns and mannerisms as the archetype of an Evangelical minister. He has been accepted as a legitimate adviser to Presidents of both parties for decades. Franklin Graham, his son and organizational successor, has been subjected to criticism over the last few years, on the other hand, when he’s made statements that did not match the expectation of the archetype. His statements are too overtly theological — usually stressing the necessity of accepting Christ as a personal savior to receive salvation — and insufficiently pastoral and inclusive to pass muster in the American public arena, despite any actual charitable works Graham has performed.

The American religious scene is too diverse to be fully covered with any reasonable number of examples, but my point is this: few American denominations mass produce their future religious leaders by drilling that expectation into them from the nursery.

Mormon boys who are raised with the expectation of eventual important callings to High Priest, on the other hand, are going to have mannerisms that will be strange to most Americans, even when observers don’t know enough about the religion to associate the mannerism with Mormonism.

A Mormon High Priest can care deeply about people, but a Mormon High Priest is not a pastor, and gets into trouble when he tries to sound like one. He is supposed to meet pastoral care needs through good management of established programs, like a technocrat. Even behind-the-scenes actions will follow administrative channels and protocols. A Mormon High Priest may be fully aware of theological and ethical issues, but will never use the language of a theologian, and so will not be accepted as one. And he must always be detached enough to stand ready as a “judge in Israel”, because judgement is part of the job description, too. How does that not come off as awkward and out of touch with normal people?

Discuss: how do you think the Mormon concept of priesthood for all worthy males affects the style of Mormon men who run for national office?

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19 Responses to Preacher’s Kid: Romney’s OTHER Mormon Problem

  1. Ray on February 4, 2012 at 1:20 PM

    Wonderful post, Fire Tag.

    I have had this basic thought regarding a different aspect of criticism about Romney not connecting to the “average American” – but you’ve expanded on my thought and given a really good overview of the core issue, imo. Centrally, Mormons really are different / peculiar – and that peculiarity for Mormon men can be very distinct and off-putting in the political arena. People generally can handle the wealthy running for public office – but they have a hard time with the wealthy who also are weird.

    We all know the stereoptype of wanting to vote for someone with whom you can share a beer – and the obvious problem that is for Mormon politicians, but the issue that struck me was when I read that Romney comes across as disingenuous because of his language and speech patterns. It’s more than just sounding “non-preacher-like”; it includes the actual words and phrases he uses that sound so “1950s” to people – especially the younger generations. “Gee”, “darn”, “heck” and all those other colloquialisms that are used by Mormons to avoid sounding coarse, vulgar or obscene also set apart a Mormon born to privilege and aristocasy. Gingrich, Santorum and others also are careful about the exact words they use (usually), but they aren’t bound especially by the substitute swear words that inhibit Romney’s ability to “connect with the average person” – that make him SOUND different. They don’t make him sound elitist as much as just plain weird – which feeds the other Mormon weirdness stereotypes.

    This is true especially for those who believe Mormons are “fake” in some way, since it reinforces that belief and makes them think the speech differences are an example of an underlying “fakeness”.

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  2. Childe Jake on February 4, 2012 at 1:40 PM

    I’m a bit surprised you didn’t mention the quotation from Mitt’s wife. I heard a recording of it on radio news coverage. She asked Mitt point-blank: “Can you save America?” He did not shy away from the messianic flavoring in the question, a flavoring John McCain’s campaign roasted Barack Obama with via “The One” ad in 2008. Instead he answered his wife by saying, “Yes.”

    So according to his wife, Mitt believes he can “save America.” Now, I don’t think there is anything obscenely megalomaniacal about Mitt’s believing he can save America. But I do suppose that Mitt, like lots of devout American Mormon men, sees his priesthood and political convictions as interwoven. If he doesn’t, I would question if he believes in the Book of Mormon. I am thinking of 2 Nephi Chapter 1 and in particular verse 6. I believe it’s fair to ask if this verse, believed by a Mormon President, might on some level play at least subjectively into his political agenda, and not just on issues like immigration.

    I think of my dad, who is also a High Priest. High Priests like my dad display a genuine love for their priesthood callings. They also seem to show a desire, even an enjoyment, for holding and exercising executive authority. Men like this seem to go at their position with a sense of enthusiasm and deep responsibility. They aren’t perfect. But in general they tend to work hard and mean well. And while Mitt and I are on opposite sides of many issues, secular and sacred, I’d be willing to grant that his priesthood experience has helped him cultivate at least some of the human touch harsh critics accuse him of wholly lacking. I also had that sense of John Huntsman, though he is out of the race.

    Having shaken Mitt’s hand and been in the room with him once in Michigan, it wasn’t much different than meeting any given on-the-go, proactive Stake President…which is to say it was a positive encounter with a man who exudes an awareness that he is wearing a mantle.

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  3. FireTag on February 4, 2012 at 3:02 PM

    Childe Jake:

    I haven’t heard the ad, and I would think that any messianic overtones would depend on whether the emphasis in the question was on the word “you” or on the word “save”.

    Me, I’m the kind of guy who expects to be up to my ears in angry Mayans if the Gadiantons or kingmen don’t get me first. :D But I have noticed that even conservative true-believing Mormons tend to deal with the apocalyptic implications of their scriptures by postponing their fulfillment indefinitely into the future.

    So Romney may only be saying that America can still be saved and avoid the worst consequences of its fiscal mistakes. In that he is not fundamentally different from a Baptist of the religious right or a Jim Wallis of Sojourners calling the nation to repentance. They just disagree on what the important sins are, and what would constitute repentance accordingly.

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  4. Bob on February 4, 2012 at 3:35 PM

    I think Romney does have a sound of “aristocracy”about him. I think Mormons have a sound of “aristocracy” in them. But I am not sure Romney sounds the way he does because his is a Mormon.
    A question that seems (to me) that goes unasked: Why was Romney picked to “fix” the Utah Olympics and by who? Any Mormon connection?

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  5. Trev on February 4, 2012 at 4:17 PM

    Wow, this is really fascinating. I have never thought of this aspect of the lay priesthood causing Mormon men to grow up as “churchmen” and how it contributes to Mormon “weirdness,” but it really rings true to me.

    Oddly, to me, Mitt’s Mormonness is somewhat reassuring. I like what he did for Massachusetts, but I don’t like a lot of the things he’s been saying throughout the primary elections. I am hoping he is just pandering to people further right and will come back to the center for the general election. To me, because he is Mormon (and it’s obvious by the way he carries himself, as described in this post), I am much more willing to give him the benefit of the doubt on this point than I would be were he not (identifiably) Mormon. I guess I’m conditioned to respond positively to this “high priest” type because in my experience they do indeed try to do the best they can and do pretty good jobs in general.

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  6. mh on February 4, 2012 at 6:07 PM

    I think this combination of mormons not connecting with the average joe is related most to evangelicals in the republican party. the same dynamic doesn’t exist in the democratic party. nobody complains about harry reid’s religion, or being out of touch.

    bill russell of graceland university gave this exact thesis at sunstone last august. democrat morris udall didn’t have the religion problem, or being out of touch when he ran against jimmy carter in 1976.

    I view the problem not so much on mitt’s mormonism, or high priest, but more on personality and evangelicals bigotry against mormons. if mitt were a democrat, I don’t think religion would be a problem. it’s certainly not a problem for harry reid.

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  7. FireTag on February 4, 2012 at 9:08 PM


    Reid, Hatch, Huntsman, and Romney all sound pretty much the same. They are “out of touch” only when someone wants to emphasize their out-of-touchness as a political strategy.

    Conservatives always paint Reid as imperial and aloof. He gives them much fodder to work with. Liberals have every reason NOT to call attention to that aspect of his character and to provide him cover against attacks from “extremists”.

    In this election cycle, we have both the Obama campaign and the evangelical right with agendas to tear down Romney, so the long knives will be out between now and November.

    Liberal Mormons are going to be used as props or flak catchers as needed to support the campaign narrative, just the way Hillary supporters were in 2008. Chicago-style politics is ruthless.

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  8. Course Correction on February 5, 2012 at 9:25 AM

    The Mitt even sounds like a Stake President rallying the faithful agsint Satan’s wiles when he attacks Obama.

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  9. [...] a sound-byte gaffe for it to become news, but it turns out that the uber-rich can’t always relate to the commoners — and people are starting to make a connection between being in the top 1% and [...]

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  10. LovelyLauren on February 5, 2012 at 4:56 PM

    I think that even without the “artistocratic” expectations places on Mormon men in certain families, the church’s natural culture exacerbates those tendencies. “A chosen people, a choice generation, be the stripling warriors, etc. ” In addition to all of this rhetoric, a lot of young Mormons idealize their peculiarities to compensate for not fitting in in other ways.

    Great post.

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  11. hawkgrrrl on February 5, 2012 at 6:47 PM

    I agree with LovelyLauren. I’m not sure how much is being wealthy, how much is having a prominent dad, and how much is just plain being Mormon. All Mormons tend to be technocratic and business-like. We are all a bit formal and aristocratic. Or so I think. Even the women.

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  12. Stan Beale on February 5, 2012 at 9:45 PM

    The late Governor Ann Richards once spoke of George W. Bush, “Poor Geoge. He can’t help it – he was born with a silver foot in his mouth.” That easily could be adapted to “Poor Mitt” Much of his problem is that his speech reflects the money and privelege that he and his family has. Just list his verbal gaffes:

    1. He got a little money from speaking (367,000 dollars).
    2. He tries to bet Governor Perry 10,000 dollars.
    3. He likes to fire people
    4. He is unemployed (income of 20,000,000 plus).
    5. Corporations are people.
    6. He was middle class

    George H.W. Bush had a similar problem, but it was mitigated by several factors. He volunteered for World War II like other Americans. He did things such as coach his sons in Little League that “normal” people did. He had a staff that tried to give him a “Joe Sixpack” image (he liked pork rinds and they trained him not to say things like “splash of coffee” instead of cup of coffee).

    Unfotunately, about the only near to normal aspect of Romney’s life that we know is him strapping his dog to the roof of the car to go on vacation. Not a real sympathetic moment.

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  13. FireTag on February 5, 2012 at 11:23 PM


    It is certainly true that having wealth affects one’s view of life — but I take the view in a lot of my posts that the important thing in whether one sees oneself as privileged is POWER, and POWER can come in “currency” of political power, economic power, or — I suppose after watching the Super Bowl halftime show tonight — even sexual power.

    Power is the ability to make happen things that you want to have happen. It may weigh like a burden of responsibility to others, or it may (more commonly, IMO) lead to a sense of entitlement to put yourself first.

    My contention in this post is that Romney understood he was a churchman BEFORE he understood he was rich. (Indeed his father’s wealth grew rapidly AFTER George made American Motors something other than a laughing stock.) And, therefore, I suggest that his aristocratic manner comes first from his Mormonism, and only secondarily from his business experience.

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  14. hawkgrrrl on February 6, 2012 at 1:06 AM

    Stan – this was a great article on other ways in which Romney is quite down to earth or at least no traditional silver spoon:

    And it’s from NYT of all places. Huntsman’s MO is similar. Both unbelievably wealthy, but also thrifty and taking pride in the little ways they cut corners. Huntsman was known to prefer backwater diners in China which brings “thrifty” to whole new levels.

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  15. Jeff Spector on February 6, 2012 at 6:53 AM

    i think a lot of the discussion of Romney’s wealth is really a reflection of how other people would act if they were in the same position. In other words, they really don’t know what he thinks about money and how he really uses it, but as they imagine themselves in the same position, they know what they would do. Warren Buffet is an amazingly rich man and does not appear to flaunt it either.

    I assume Stan is a Gingrich supporter.

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  16. Ray on February 6, 2012 at 7:52 AM

    and Newt Gingrich CAN relate to “common folk” why?

    He also is rich – relatively speaking, and he “earned” his money in ways that make Mitt look like a manual laborer, when it comes to effort.

    Maybe it’s because he’s a horny, serial adulterer, sexual opportunist? What does that say about American conservatives? They are willing to “forgive” him (when they didn’t get hurt personally by him) and overlook all the rat-infested, stinking garbage he carries around with him and his obvious contempt-based personality in order to avoid voting for someone who actually embodies the ideals they preach?!?!

    Yeah, I think Mitt’s “Mormon-ness” is a huge aspect of his inability to connect with the conservative Republican base – and that’s where his disconnect is. He smashes the competition in non-evangelical-dominated states – every single one of them, thus far. It’s not that he can’t connect with common people; it’s that he can’t connect with evangelicals – and the only real, substantive difference is the fact that he’s Mormon.

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  17. FireTag on February 6, 2012 at 2:22 PM


    I would have thought Stan was an Obama supporter; he knows a lot of anecdotes that are highlighted more in the NYT than on Fox News, so I don’t think he’s pro-Gingrich. :D

    (Feel free to correct me, Stan.)


    I wanted to get some statistical evidence for my suggestions that it’s not just evangelicals opposing Romney, so I traced this link down:

    In the link a Gallup survey from last year is quoted which shows that 18% of Republicans would not vote for a Mormon. However, 19% of Independents said the same thing. And 27% of Democrats agreed.

    Now, maybe the EXTRA Democratic opposition to Mormonism is from African American and Hispanic American evangelicals. But it could just as well be from secularists who reject committed religious people (including evangelicals) period.

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  18. SUNNofaB.C.Rich on February 6, 2012 at 11:19 PM

    I’m looking forward to Mitt running for Pres. I’ll vote for the guy and I can’t wait to accuse anyone who isn’t going to vote for him of being a bigot.

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  19. FireTag on February 7, 2012 at 3:09 PM



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