If Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney were mulling a candidacy for leader of any other country in the world, his religion would be no big deal. But this is America, where not only the presidency, but religion itself, is a very big deal. In fact, mix the two together as American politicians are so prone to do and you’ve got a very big deal indeed.
Our current president mumbles something about talking to God, and gets teary in the eye about how Jesus helped him kick the sauce. Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and his wife, devout Catholics, are so pro-life that they slept a night at the hospital with their stillborn baby. Shortly after launching his 2000 presidential campaign, our own Sen. Orrin Hatch muttered something on a radio show about how the U.S. Constitution was “hanging by a thread.”
Ah, that beloved phrase “hanging by a thread.” It carries a long tradition among Mormons, but leaves the rest of us scratching our heads. And it will almost certainly re-surface once more now that Gov. Romney’s 2008 candidacy and, more importantly his PAC contributions, gain steam. Who didn’t sit up and take notice when Deseret Morning News reported last month that 45 percent of Romney’s expected campaign donations flew all the way from the Beehive State? And who didn’t shake their head knowingly when it was also reported that as many as 35 percent of registered American voters said they might not be able to stomach a Mormon president?
Upon sitting down to write this column, I was surprised about just how much I know about the man. On the plus side, I’ve heard many a Massachusetts Mormon girl describe his sons as “aesthetically pleasing,” everyone I’ve met who worked with him closely during the 2002 Winter Olympics had nothing but high praise for his managerial skills, and he’s already got hardcore conservatives riding his tail for mandating health insurance in the People’s Republic of Massachusetts. On the negative side, hardcore conservatives also have a point when they say that subsidizing health care with everyone’s insurance policy will do nothing to control health-care costs. Then there’s the fact that every Bostonian I’ve talked to has said in no uncertain terms that they’re tired of Romney’s veiled complaints about liberals when it was liberals who put him in the governor’s seat to begin with. But hey, if you’re Republican and running for president, you’ve got to earn your props early on. So it is that Romney also has a thing against gay rights, and only a fool wouldn’t stop to notice that Deseret Book CEO Sheri Dew, who once compared gay rights to the ascendancy of Adolf Hitler, has contributed at least $3,000 to Romney’s campaign. You’d think a nice man like Romney would be a little more concerned about the company he keeps.
But let’s move on to this “hanging by a thread” phrase. In the interest of saying what Mormons themselves had to say about these mythic words, I consulted an article by one George Cobabe, “The White Horse Prophecy,” listed on the Web by the Foundation for Apologetic Information & Research. Mr. Cobabe deals with this “prophecy” at length, even right down to the journal entry of an early Saint who saw Joseph Smith drink a tall glass of cool water before pronouncing it: “You will go to the Rocky Mountains and you will be a great and mighty people established there, which I will call the White Horse of peace and safety. â€¦ Your enemies will continue to follow you with persecutions and they will make obnoxious laws against you in Congress to destroy the White Horse, but you will have a friend or two to defend you and throw out the worst parts of the law so they will not hurt you so much.”
This really tried my patience, and not having been raised Mormon myself, Cobabe’s paper made me feel as if I was reading someone else’s mail. Thankfully, however, he was kind enough to provide a summary of Smith’s soothsaying: The White Horse is the people of Zion, residents of the Rocky Mountains will save the U.S. Constitution, the prophecy as a whole is accepted as prophecy but not as “Church canon,” and there’s nothing in it implying that Mormons want to take over government, only that our nation’s Constitution will endure through support “given by the Elders of the Church.”
I scratched my head some more, especially at the notion that the White Horse Prophecy could be accepted as prophecy per se, but not as church doctrine. If I believed in Smith’s prophecy at all, however, I would have stopped scratching my head and broken into a full-blown sweat. Romney, hailing from the East Coast and not Rocky Mountain Zion, doesn’t stand a chance. Instead, some Western states’ conservative hot-head will get the honor of saving our Constitution which, as Smith fervently believed, “was given by the inspiration of God.” Although you’d be hard-pressed to find James Madison, Alexander Hamilton or John Jay state the same in any of The Federalist Papers.
Does any of this speak to Romney’s candidacy? Only if you live in the Bible Belt, where a few unfortunate souls still believe Mormons have horns. American politics is so starkly divided you’d have to be an imbecile to even pay attention to any candidate’s religion. What matters is party affiliation and positions'period. Unlike Mormon temple rituals, nebulous ordinances, etc., Romney will no doubt make those plain for all to see, and certainly a lot more articulate and focused than our current leader has managed over almost six bungled years.
Romney knows full well no one with brains will dare play the religion card. Just imagine the egg on the face of any opponent who attempts decoding the White Horse Prophecy while Romney coolly, calmly changes the topic. Come to think of it, I nearly got some on mine.