The Real Romney

Michael Kranish and Scott Helman  (Harper: 2012)

After reading The Real Romney, by reporters Michael Kranish and Scott Helman, I committed myself to  reading the new David Maraniss biography, Barack Obama: The Story. (I also got this book from my public library right after I returned the Romney book.) David Maraniss’s moving treatment of Bill Clinton, First in His Class, remains my favorite biography of the former president. It was both fair and a deeply insightful study of the life, character and formation of President William Jefferson Clinton. David Maraniss is a superb writer! I will write about this book in blogs that will published next week.

One of my more pressing personal concerns, in trying to understand Mitt Romney, was answered by this biography, yet not to my complete satisfaction. I admit to remaining doubts about the impact of Mormon beliefs in a leader. Let me explain. My question, in particular, is about the Mormon doctrine of eschatology, or “end times” theology. The question goes like this: “Would a Mormon president be inclined to lead this nation into international decision-making that would in any way reflect the teaching of the Book of Mormon regarding the central role of America in the future?” (I know of no other religion that has such an over-developed eschatological vision of America and our nation’s primary role in the world.) I feel fairly certain that Mitt Romney would not consult Mormon leaders or teachers in making day-to-day presidential decisions, at least based upon his history in making decisions in the past or how he has formed his own views in the present. But what does all of this mean for a man who actually believes Mormon doctrine about America’s part in God’s future plan? I realize the same question plagues every leader who is influenced by certain varieties of “American” dispensational theology as well but no other religion speaks quite so explicitly about the new Jerusalem and its place in the future of America as Mormonism. The Book of Mormon is problematic at this specific point thus the question of how a president would be influenced by it is important but I think unanswerable, or so it seems to me. Romney has been vetted about various Mormon questions and how Mormonism would impact his leadership. There is no explicit reason to question his answers. But Kranish and Helman do very little to answer this type of question. Honestly, they do not even seem to know that much about specific Mormon doctrines, which is one weakness of their otherwise excellent book.

What we know is that the real Mitt Romney is a tough-minded strategist and a political realist. He strikes me personally as the kind of leader who knows how to make tough decisions under intense pressure. He also strikes me as an emotionally healthy person who can handle stress and will seek to do what is right. He has dealt very well with powerful people around him, people who speak into his decision making. He is a model American citizen, at least in terms of his personal and private life. He is also a true patriot who loves his country and seems to have a life-long desire to give back to his nation in public service precisely because he believes, as did his dad did before him, that he owes public service to his nation. (Cynics seem to always doubt that a politician can have such patriotic motives but if it is not possible then we might as well encourage no capable people to ever seek office.) Romney certainly has nothing to gain financially by becoming the next president. He would be taking a huge pay cut to enter the White House!

Please understand that these comments are not an endorsement of the candidacy of Mitt Romney. I do not endorse candidates publicly since my ministerial purpose is the mission of the church, not the election of a particular candidate. (And keep in mind what I wrote at the beginning of Part 1 of this 4-part series.) I do believe that we should form political views that reflect our values and beliefs as best we understand them in terms of their public implications for a good society. I also believe that we should cast a vote unless we have a good reason not to do so. (I do not believe that there is a clear and compelling Christian reason that requires us to vote. As citizens it is our right and opportunity to engage in this decision making process and I hope you will vote.) I will not, however, reveal who I will vote for in this election. In fact, when I write about President Obama, next week, some readers will likely find my comments far too sympathetic. I actually hope this will be the case since I am not trying to slander or shred either one of these two men but rather to understand them as men who must lead out nation if elected.

My central purpose in reviewing these two biographies in particular is to offer what I believe to be a fair and balanced critique of both candidates, without debating their respective ideological views and campaign slogans. In this spirit I will review David Maraniss’s wonderful biography, Barack Obama: The Story. I must tell you, even now, that this is a gem of a book. It gave me more insight into the 44th president than anything that I have previously read. The intriguing part of Maraniss’s work is that he gives the Obama story up until his twenty-seventh year, just when he left Chicago to enter Harvard Law School. In a very real sense this makes his book all the more interesting because he does not discuss the political history of Barack Obama but rather the family story and emotional/spiritual history of the young man who would become president.

The Real Romney provided me with some extremely useful glimpses and insights into the personal life story of Mitt Romney but this book did not afford me a profound grasp of the social and emotional awareness of Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney is clearly talented, very able and would likely make an excellent president. However, the system by which we choose our presidents seems deeply flawed at this moment even though I am inclined to believe that in the end we generally get capable leaders who try to serve the nation. Many will disagree with that last sentence but the history of this country is far more important than the personal life story of a particular president. The real truth is that most of us live day-in and day-out without being profoundly impacted by who is elected president. For a nation that rejected dynasties and royalty in the 18th century this seems to be too easily forgotten in the modern era where we place so much emphasis on an election.