Mitt Romney’s Moron Problem

Give the appalling Mitt Romney a little credit. The Big Speech of ten days ago contained one striking image for which I hope someone on his payroll got a bonus: I have visited many of the magnificent cathedrals in Europe. … Read More

By / December 17, 2007

Give the appalling Mitt Romney a little credit. The Big Speech of ten days ago contained one striking image for which I hope someone on his payroll got a bonus:

I have visited many of the magnificent cathedrals in Europe. They are so inspired … so grand … so empty. Raised up over generations, long ago, so many of the cathedrals now stand as the postcard backdrop to societies just too busy or too 'enlightened' to venture inside and kneel in prayer.

He is, of course, right: church attendances in many European countries have declined to the extent that in Britain, for example, there are now more regular attendees at mosque every week than in our churches – fewer than 10% of the population are regular churchgoers and that is expected to halve in the next generation.

Romney chose to attribute this to the state establishment of religion(s) in European nations (but then, as the adherent of a minority faith, he would, wouldn't he?), but there are any number of equally plausible theories which might explain falling attendances, not least the rise of empiricism and the development – primarily, but not exclusively, in Western Europe – of the scientific method, which in turn allowed us to build an explanation of the world around us that did not rely on a God, gods or Flying Spaghetti Monster to make it tick.

Irrespective of the reasons for the different outlooks Europeans and Americans have towards religion in the 21st century, my problems with Mitt Romney have nothing to do with Mormonism and everything to do with moronism. Suspicions were first aroused back in May – which for a foreigner, I reckon, puts me in on the ground floor – when Mitt contributed this razor-sharp analysis of the jihadist menace facing the West:

"They want to bring down the West, particularly us. And they've come together as Shia and Sunni and Hezbollah and Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda, with that intent."

To say that this is an analysis which would shame a Fox news anchor is not just an easy shot, because Brit Hume doesn't have the nuclear codes. Either way, I began to wonder if there was anything between this guy's collar and his haircut. But I still didn't have much to go on, until a few weeks later from the Boston Globe came the infamous tale of the family dog Seamus, whose carrier Romney had attached to the roof of their Chevy station wagon for a 12-hour drive to Ontario, entirely oblivious to the possibility that bombing along the Interstate at 70 mph might terrify the mutt:

As the oldest son, Tagg Romney commandeered the way-back of the wagon, keeping his eyes fixed out the rear window, where he glimpsed the first sign of trouble. ''Dad!'' he yelled. ''Gross!'' A brown liquid was dripping down the back window, payback from an Irish setter who'd been riding on the roof in the wind for hours.

As the rest of the boys joined in the howls of disgust, Romney coolly pulled off the highway and into a service station. There, he borrowed a hose, washed down Seamus and the car, then hopped back onto the highway.

This, the Globe hilariously opined, was "a tiny preview of a trait he would grow famous for in business: emotion-free crisis management." To me he just came across as a wanker. Say what you like about Brit Hume, but to the best of my knowledge he's never driven 12 hours with a dog strapped to the roof of his fucking car. (Fortunately, dog lovers have a means of redress.)

But the more serious issues cannot be ignored. As many commentators pointed out, not least Jewcy's own Michael Weiss on these pages, Romney's supposed disavowal of a "religious test" for the Presidency was as disturbing as it was self-serving, because it was phrased carefully to be inclusive only of people of faith (such as, er, Mitt Romney and GOP primary voters) and made no mention whatever of those of us who profess none, or even whose faith does not inform their political decisionmaking. The crass crescendo of his speech – "freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom", which will be news to the people of Sweden and Saudi Arabia respectively – only served to underline the distance that separates modern American politics from its European analogues.

In Britain we have a slightly different kind of ‘religious test'. Tony Blair phrased it best in an interview aired some time after he stepped down last summer; "you talk about it in our system and, frankly, people do think you're a nutter". His Rove-esque media handler, Alistair Campbell, famously said to reporters that "we don't do God", because there was real terror within the Blair camp that any overt mention of religious faith, no matter how carefully spun, would alienate far more voters than it would impress.

When it comes to religion, British people really do play up to your stereotype; it's not really something we like to discuss in polite society – indeed, something slightly embarrassing. To the vast majority of Europeans – including those, like me, who count ourselves as being of the Right – a statement such as that of Mike Huckabee that "if anybody wants to believe that they are the descendants of a primate, they are certainly welcome to do it", would be grounds for instant dismissal as a serious contender for public office at just about any level.

No doubt Team Huckabee congratulated themselves afterwards on finding a formula that allowed them to sidestep a potentially tricky question but, as with the ridiculous Romney, I could only marvel at how close this dolt is to being the Republican nominee for the White House. (Hitchens gives him both barrels in Slate today, and as ever with the Dude it's an unqualified joy.) Indeed, Huckabee said later on in that same debate that "it's interesting that that question would even be asked of somebody running for president". Well, they wouldn't have to ask it if they didn't suspect that you'd have such an off-the-charts barking mad answer, would they, you twat?

I don't mean to come across as a militant atheist in the Dawkins-Hitchens mould, because by and large I am not. Powerful personal faith has a range of corollaries, many of them very positive – and there are times when I envy the certainty that religious belief can bring. Nor do I write this in a spirit of transatlantic mockery or superiority, because God knows – if you'll pardon the phrase – that when I look at the politicians in my own country I am filled with unutterable despair.

Is the British religious test – requiring of politicians that any religious belief be kept firmly private and in the background – healthier than the American position, particularly but by no means exclusively the preserve of the GOP, that candidates must wear their faith on every shirtsleeve in a frantic effort to assure the voters that they are people of moral solidity who can be trusted with the great seal of office? Yes, I think it is, but that's not to say that you're wrong if you disagree. And that, finally, is the point; I have no intention of forcing my moral code, such as it is, on you, but I naturally suspect all politicians of wanting to force their beliefs on me. And when those beliefs have the force of God's hand behind them, I start to get very nervous indeed, irrespective of the purity of His servants' motives.

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