Boy, Elder Sorensen, I really ate the cheese in Dearborn.” It was my old missionary companion, Willard “Mitt” Romney on the phone, referring to his disastrous gaffe—“You sit down with your attorneys and [they] tell you what you have to do”—in the latest Republican presidential debate.
Mitt and I confer all the time about how he’s doing in the race to become the next president of the United States (whenever we talk, we call each other by our missionary names, though people unfamiliar with Mormondom think we both share the same first name—Elder—and, to this day, I have acquaintances who think my first name is Elder).
“I really, really ate the cheese,” Mitt said once again, his endearingly robotic voice sounding both distraught and rueful. (From our days in Paris, France, Mitt and I picked up a number of useful French idioms, and one of Mitt’s favorites is “manger le fromage,” loosely translated as “Eating the cheese,” employed when you have royally screwed up.)
“Don’t be too hard on yourself, Elder Romney,” I said, trying to cheer him up, though, in my heart of hearts, I fear my former missionary companion may indeed have eaten a huge and fatal piece of cheese.
I knew Mitt was feeling really stressed out at the time of the debate, and when he is stressed, he often blurts out things that people take the wrong way, like the time during the Olympics when he told the parking volunteer to go f—k himself. And, once after a dismal day of knocking on doors on the Left Bank, Elder Romney threw a glass of perfectly good pinot noir—earthy, with just a hint of champignon—into the face of an obnoxious Frenchman who said Joseph Smith was “un petit charlatan.”
There were other flashes of Mitt’s prickly side during the Dearborn debate, like the seemingly pointless wrangling with Rudy Giuliani about the line-item veto. Mitt is very fond of the line-item veto and utilized it with great mastery during our mission. Anytime some persnickety Parisian would raise a skeptical eyebrow about some preposterous line in The Book of Mormon, like the one in 2 Nephi about Alma’s iPod, Elder Romney would simply employ the line-item veto and—poof!—the line in question would vanish from the page.
All of Mitt’s prickliness can be attributed, in my opinion, to the grief he’s been taking recently for his Mormonality. Just when it seems like the Mormon question has made a quiet exit, suddenly it comes bursting on to the stage like a salivating, sign-wielding protester at General Conference.
The latest stuff on Mitt the Mormon appeared in Newsweek just before the Dearborn debate, and I know for a fact that it really got under Mitt’s skin. I got a call on my cell from Mitt when I was out walking my dog. He was so upset, my dog could hear him screaming on the phone and put her tail between her legs and looked for shelter under a bush.
“They’re freaking persecuting me!” wailed Mitt. “Why don’t these media jerks give me a freaking break! They don’t harp on Harry Reid being a Mormon, or Orrin Hatch or Manny Ramirez!” My heart went out to my old missionary companion, though I didn’t have the heart to tell him that Harry isn’t running for president and neither is Orrin, and when Orrin ran, no one took him seriously. As for Manny Ramirez, all that people care about is his hair and his home runs.
My friend Mitt, my old missionary companion Elder Romney, has sought the presidential grail for so long, and now, with it seemingly within his grasp, along comes the stiff-necked liberal media obsessed with his Mormonality. It doesn’t matter how often Mitt proclaims that he is an American first and a Mormon second, his Mormonality always reasserts itself, like a stubborn stain you can’t scrub out of the carpet.
When my former missionary companion set sail for the presidency, he did his darndest to leave his Mormonality in port, even going so far as putting his faith in a blind trust, as was widely reported at the time. But no one bought it, because Mitt is a Mormon through-and-through. As Brigham Young once said, “You can take the boy out of Mormon country, but you can’t take Mormon country out of the boy.”
D.P. Sorensen writes satire for City Weekly.