Friday, February 24, 2012

Fakes, Flakes, and Fundamentally Decent Men

Romney is out with a new ad designed to let us all know that he cares.  My word, really?  Did he think that we doubted that?  He's a Mormon, a member of the Church of Latter Day Saints, one of the most notoriously family-centered religious bodies in the U.S.  He has by all accounts been a good husband and father all his life—which is more, unfortunately, than one can say for the witty Newt.  Yes, Romney has a robotic image, and a "cold" reputation.  But that's doesn't mean Americans think he doesn't care.  We know he cares—he just doesn't care about what we care about.

Romney is a good man.  So, I believe, is Newt (now), and so I think Santorum and Paul have always been.  They all have their flaws, but none of them have the flaw of being heartless.  Yes, Romney is a good man.  He cares about his family.  He cares about his friends and their families, and his employees and their families.  He cares about getting elected.  He just doesn't care about policy.

Romney is not a philosopher, like Paul, or a professor, like Gingrich.  Ideas simply do not run his day, or govern his decisions.  He is a businessman, and his political decisions are governed by the same sort of pragmatic law that governs business decisions: "What works?"  Of course, being a fundamentally decent person, Romney's not going to support a law that is outrageously inhuman—if, for example, he were elected President, and a law relegalizing partial birth abortion came across his desk, I suspect he'd veto it.  And as a campaigner, there are certain things he won't do; e.g., hire assassins to take out his opponents.  But it's a matter of course to him that, as a politician who wants to succeed, he's got to attack his opponents where they're weakest—even if those attacks, when viewed against the larger backdrop of a candidate's full record, reveal themselves as distortions of the candidate's views.  And, mutatis mutandis, so with his own record: he's got to present his strongest decisions, and present them in the best possible light.  He's not going to talk about mistakes, or inconsistencies.

But that word "inconsistencies" is misleading.  Romney doesn't view his record as being inconsistent, because he doesn't see that there's anything to be consistent about.  That adjective is only applicable if one assumes that candidates have—or should have—a unified worldview that governs their political decisions.  Romney has no such view.  Politics is a game for him, like chess.  Trade a pawn here, catch a rook there.

Politics is a game for Gingrich, Paul, and Santorum as well.  But—and here is the difference between them and Romney—all three of the other men have more or less consistent political philosophy.  There are some pawns they won't trade.

I don't think it's a coincidence that two of the three of them are Catholics.

Catholics—and this applies to theologically vibrant Protestant sects as well—are used to thinking within a logical framework.  "Hm, Jesus says this ... the old Testament says that ... How do we reconcile the two?"  They take delight in trying to make their theology jive with science.  Catholics in particular have a history of using and encouraging the use of Reason—think of Thomas Aquinas and his use of Aristotle, of the various ancient and new natural law movements, of Anselm's "faith seeking understanding," of Pope Benedict's Regensburg address.  One of the joys of being a Catholic is that you don't have to check your intellect at the door; if anything, you are likely to use it more vigorously in living your faith than you are in any other aspect of your life.

Obviously, Catholics can have disparate political opinions.  Politics is a practical and prudential matter, so the application of the consistent and valid religious principles of Catholicism to political questions will vary.  But the Catholic the respect for and love of Reason tend to engender habits of intellectual consistency that are hard to shake off, and tends therefore to manifest itself in some rational, consistent political philosophy—as is the case with Santorum, Gingrich, and Paul.

Romney is a Mormon.  Does that explain, in part, his failure to embrace a systematic political philosophy?  Or does that failure have to do simply with Romney's habits as a businessman?  Is there some other explanation for it?  I don't know.  It would be no slur on Mormonism to suggest that it fails to encourage reasoned consistency.  There are other perfectly respectable religions that operate the same way—Islam, for example—and of course the secularists, with their addiction to telling religious people how to act, would prefer that all religion be either supra- or subrational in its practice and in its application to public life.  Just as a man can be a good man without having a consistent political philosophy, a religion can be a nice religion, without having a consistent philosophy.

Mormonism, whatever its intellectual rigor or lack thereof, seems like a fundamentally decent religion.  Romney seems like a fundamentally decent man.

Just don't ask me to believe in him.


  1. Agreed, and I would not despair if he were (as seems likely) to become the nominee.

    You had me with the "Catholic" line about Paul though. I'm not sure he would agree with using that term. ;)

  2. Heh. Well, he would at the least insist that it "will have no bearing on his policies as president"! Which, while it might be true in one sense, is clearly not (as I argue above) in another ...

    Please, please don't tell me Romney is IT. I'm still praying!