A pretty reprehensible comment

Campaigns mess with people’s heads. Hence the inexcusable comments by Montana governor Brian Schweitzer regarding George Romney and polygamy.

Readers here know that I am a proud Obama supporter. I’m in no way a Mitt Romney fan. Still, I find the below comments by Montana governor Brian Schweitzer to be both idiotic and reprehensible:

…Schweitzer said Romney would have a “tall order to position Hispanics to vote for him,” and I replied that was mildly ironic since Mitt’s father was born in Mexico, giving the clan a nominal claim to being Hispanic. Schweitzer replied that it is “kinda ironic given that his family came from a polygamy commune in Mexico, but then he’d have to talk about his family coming from a polygamy commune in Mexico, given the gender discrepancy.” Women, he said, are “not great fans of polygamy, 86 percent were not great fans of polygamy. I am not alleging by any stretch that Romney is a polygamist and approves of [the] polygamy lifestyle, but his father was born into [a] polygamy commune in Mexico.”

The word “polygamy” appears seven times in that paragraph. That speaks for itself.

There is a lot of hostility directed against Mormonism in America. Attacking Mitt Romney by pandering to that hostility has no place in this campaign. Politics messes with your head. Otherwise good people might forget that it’s actually a good thing that an American from the minority Mormon faith is taken seriously as a presidential candidate.

Mitt Romney deserves to be judged by his specific actions, statements, and political views. It’s fair, for example, to ask about how he behaved towards other people when he was an important official in the Mormon church. It’s not fair to judge him based on voters’ vague impressions and stereotypes regarding Mormonism itself.

I happen to be unimpressed by the content of Romney’s character put on display in this race. That’s a very different matter.

Author: Harold Pollack

Harold Pollack is Helen Ross Professor of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. He has served on three expert committees of the National Academies of Science. His recent research appears in such journals as Addiction, Journal of the American Medical Association, and American Journal of Public Health. He writes regularly on HIV prevention, crime and drug policy, health reform, and disability policy for American Prospect, tnr.com, and other news outlets. His essay, "Lessons from an Emergency Room Nightmare" was selected for the collection The Best American Medical Writing, 2009. He recently participated, with zero critical acclaim, in the University of Chicago's annual Latke-Hamentaschen debate.

35 thoughts on “A pretty reprehensible comment”

  1. “it’s actually a good thing that an American from the minority Mormon faith is taken seriously as a presidential candidate”

    Why, precisely? Is there any content to this claim beyond tokenism and political correctness? Should we rejoice if a Scientologist were taken seriously? How about a follower of David Icke? Or perhaps we should celebrate if an adherent of Thuggee were to become the next GOP nominee? Should we just assume that any minority faith will do – and that we shouldn’t care what the tenets of that faith might be? Should it worry us that the Book of Mormon is full of obvious hokum cobbled together by a man who was extremely abusive towards women and flagrantly racist – not to mention grossly financially dishonest? Are these the sort of spiritual leaders we want our presidents to set their compass by? More to the point, although Schweitzer is pretty clumsy in what he says, the Mormon church only disavowed polygamy with deep reluctance – even though it was one of the most dubious revelations ever received even by Joseph Smith and happened to coincide with his lust for a much younger woman to the deep and public distress of his wife! Given that Romney is a Mormon bishop, why shouldn’t we ask about his religious beliefs and practices – did they really play no part in shaping his world-view?

    I might also point out that in 1856 a key plank in the Republican party’s platform referred to:

    “the twin relics of barbarism – polygamy and slavery”.

  2. You might be right about this being unfair, I need to think about it more.

    But, either way, I don’t see this having a big effect. Women know that polygamy’s not practiced anymore, and they know that many other kinds of anti-female activities *are* practiced in today’s GOP. So I don’t know how many women Republicans there could still be around to get shocked by this. You’d have to twist yourself into a pretty good pretzel, mentally, to get upset about that aspect of this campaign, but not the others. Actually I’d be interested to know how many women feel this way.

  3. Romney’s Mormonism is significant to his run for office, because of the philosophies embedded within the religion, particularly those pertaining to women and non-whites. Based on things Romney has said, it is clear that he has incorporated such Mormon philosophy into his worldview–particularly when it comes to women–and that he would base his actions on his religion-based philosophy in preference to precedent or even Constitutional protections.

    I don’t much care what religion people choose, until it modifies their behavior with respect to actions that impact other people (AKA: politics), and Romney seems particularly tone-deaf when it comes to issues faced by women, something that really matters for such a leadership position. I would have the same problem with Santorum, not because he is Catholic per se, but because he allows his religion to shape his dealings with people who are not like him.

    Kennedy’s Catholicism was different, because Kennedy was able to separate his religion from his politics, but that is clearly no longer the standard. Therefore, I think it is profoundly dangerous to put into high office any of the current crop of religion-centered candidates, and this includes Romney (and far too many others). It seems everyone is an evangelical now, regardless of their specific religion; they all think their role in life is to gain power and then force the tenets of their chosen belief system down the throats of the rest of us. In this way, religion itself will probably be the ruination of this country, if not in this election cycle then in another.

    I do not agree that having a candidate with a minority view is laudable for its own sake, just as I voted for Obama for reasons other than his minority ethnicity. I don’t view Romney’s candidacy as being emblematic of society’s open-mindedness; I just want to get the best qualified and most fair-minded candidate into office, and in Romney’s case, his Mormonism (and his adherence to it in his politics) counts against him, not in his favor.

    1. It seems everyone is an evangelical now, regardless of their specific religion; they all think their role in life is to gain power and then force the tenets of their chosen belief system down the throats of the rest of us.

      That’s a rather perverse definition of evangelism. Unfortunately, it’s highly accurate in our current society. After decades of increasingly inter-mingling with politics, much of religion has lost it’s focus on personal faith in favor of collective power. It is an alliance of power that benefits neither religion nor politics and perverts both by diverting attention, resources, and efforts from each body’s very different purpose. Politics needs power to operate effectively, hence their interest in pandering to religious groups. Religion does not rely on the power of alliances of men, at least not theologically.

      1. “After decades of increasingly inter-mingling with politics…”

        Decades? How about centuries or millenia?

  4. “I don’t much care what religion people choose,”

    Huh, funny. I don’t care what religion people’s parents chose for them, (The way most people get their religion.) on the theory that you don’t have any choice in the matter. And not really a lot of say afterwards, beliefs you were seriously taught before you became rational are, to a great extent, incapable of being rationally evaluated. They’ve got root permissions, so to speak.

    I certainly care what religion people choose for themselves, as that tells you something about THEM, not their parents.

    I think Nick is right, thinking that having somebody in office from some different religion is a good, apart from the details of that religion, is absurd. Making a fetish of “diversity” is rotting people’s minds.

    1. I love that short paragraph about the “root permission” of early-childhood religion.

      Regarding the last sentence, I don’t see Harold’s original post saying it’s a good thing to have a Mormon President, per se. Rather, he says it’s a good thing we (as a country) are able to have a candidate from a minority religion, and to judge him on his actions, statements, etc., rather than on the impressions and stereotypes of his religion.

    2. Archie Bunker:

      Making a fetish of “diversity” is rotting people’s minds.

      Maude Findlay:

      Said the bus driver to the lady in the back of the bus.


    Oh, no! Someone on ‘the left’ made factually true statements that might hurt the right-wing’s political machinations!

    Cue “some-facts-are-more-equal-than-others” Harold Pollack to attack the ‘lefty’ that voiced such facts.

    FACT: Romney’s grandfather fled America to continue his polygamous lifestyle.

    FACT: The polygamy practiced by the Mormon Church was very much a “commune” and if Harold Pollack knew anything about Christ’s words he wouldn’t try to smear the ideal of community just to protect some right-winger from factually truthful statements.

    FACT: The Mormon Church’s patriarchal hierarchy is extremely authoritarian, explicitly advocates the subjugation of women to their husbands and fathers, and has spent millions of the Mormon Church’s billions to attack the freedom of individuals to make their own choices.

    FACT: Mormonism has been and is still one of the most repressive, regressive, and unenlightened religion outside of, well, Fundamentalist Mormonism and their abusive treatment of children as child-sister-wives.

    FACT: The Mormon Church’s use of millions of dollars to push for LAWS that repress individual’s freedom is an explicitly POLITICAL act and as an extremely POWERFUL and incredibly wealthy political organization is fair game and doesn’t get to push iron fisted repression while simultaneously hiding behind the veil of religion.

    Your comments suggesting otherwise are “idiotic and reprehensible”, Harold, and if you hadn’t just used the terms yourself and had instead just heard some lefty use those words against one of the right-wingers you are such a sycophant to, you’d call language like “idiotic and reprehensible” as ad hominem and vulgar.

    Typically sleazy and disturbingly uninformed “some-facts-are-more-equal-than-others” tripe from the right-wing enabling shills from “samefacts”.

    1. I suspect a few people would find it odd to discover that I am a sycophant to right-wingers….

    2. I think the main point of the post was to question whether it is fair to try to tar Romney by association with the actions of his grandparents. He wasn’t even alive then. I think that’s a fact too.

    3. The FACT I don’t see mentioned here is that polygamy was practiced in the community in which Romney grew up. I’m not big on blaming people for the sins of their grandparents. (Holding them accountable for their possession of ill-gotten gains of robber barons or plantation owners is another story.) If that’s not a FACT, then I’m not terribly interested in the argument. There’s a lot wrong with the Mormon Church, but it’s mostly things also wrong with the Southern Baptists and the Catholic hierarchy. I’m willing to lump them together for criticism, but singling one out seems wrong.

      By the way, I’m well to the left. Some days I’m a social democrat, other days I’m a democratic socialist. Whether I’m LBJ-style, MLK-style, or FDR-style depends on the day of the week. They’re all deficient on feminist issues. If that makes me a sycophant to right-wingers–but it doesn’t.

  6. I don’t disagree with the Obama campaign response to BS on this — read the link — but really mentioning why it was that the Romney family was in Mexico seems to me to be kind of obvious in a context where Romney (or his followers) is suggesting that he is Hispanic. The Romneys do not have a ‘nominal claim’ to being Hispanic in any sense that we actually use that word.

    BS is an exuberant fellow, and something of a showman — you folks remember his 2008 convention speech (just before Sec. Clinton), or his vetoing wacky Tea Party bills last year with a branding iron — but I don’t think he wrong on the facts here: in the very unlikely event Romney or his surrogates wants to try to make something of Romney’s ‘Mexican heritage’ they are going to be playing into some details from an ugly past.

  7. I think this post makes an important point about not using a candidate’s family history or upbringing against them, as dos Pollack’s post condemning John McCain for suggesting that Obama might want to eat his son’s dog. Oh, wait. That post doesn’t exist.

    We’ve pretty much gotten used to the notion that republican politicians will say reprehensible and idiotic things at the slightest opportunity, but Schweitzer’s attempt to push back at the notion that Romney is a Real American compared to that son-of-a-furriner in the white house has the capacity to dismay people.

    1. Paul, I have written many, many columns lambasting Republicans for implying–slyly or overtly–that Candidate then President is less than a full American.
      (E.g. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/harold-pollack/full-blooded-un-american_b_102797.html)
      One of the patterns I found most offenses was this: Too few real conservatives/Republicans didn’t stand up to say the obvious right things. They left it to liberals like me.

      I remain really proud that the 2008 Obama campaign not only won, but on the whole won with admirable class in a positive campaign. We didn’t disfigure the campaign by trafficking in weird stuff about the Palin family, for example. It was easy to be pretty classy because we were ahead. This will be a tough campaign. But I very much hope we adopt the same approach.

      1. The mirror image of this is how so many of us well to Bill Clinton’s left who were utterly disgusted at how he led the Democratic Party as President nonetheless felt obligated to defend him against Kenneth Starr and impeachment. It was one of the less pleasant periods of my life when I felt obligated to speak up for the man who destroyed the welfare system, pushed through NAFTA, and signed the repeal of Glass-Steagall*. I did it, but I sure didn’t like it.

        *And who deeply disappointed my mother, who’d been so proud to have an Arkansawyer in the White House. A small issue in the larger scheme of things, but a big deal to me.

  8. Folks,

    the problem with the accusations is not that they may or may not be justified. The problem is that they do absolutely nothing to elevate political discourse.

    As long as Mitt Romney (or really, anybody else) doesn’t make his personal beliefs part of the platform he is running on, attacking him through his affiliations and private life will do nothing but reduce the signal/noise ratio of the election. Moreover, a strategy aiming at exposing his beliefs is very likely targeted at a type of voter who is primarily swayed by such matters (most people who don’t have any love lost for religiously-motivated sexism aren’t likely to vote Republican regardless), which is what makes it also reprehensible, as Harold notes.

    It is also tactically stupid; by attacking Mitt Romney on those grounds, you convey the impression that you don’t have good arguments that allow you to engage him on more substantive issues (or to nail him on his equivocation).

    Most importantly, I dislike this approach to electioneering for one more reason. That reason is that people aren’t saints. Pretty much any adult, politican or not, has done some stupid things in their life. By holding presidential candidates to the standards of philosopher kings and saints, we don’t actually elect any philosopher kings or saints to the White House. We instead elect politicians who are more capable at concealing their flaws. We create an institutional bias for mediocrity, for people who have never taken the risk to be wrong, never tried to swim against the current. For people such as Mitt Romney, in fact.

    1. Ditto!!! I feel the same way about people with “perfect” resumes. Like a couple of the Supremes, who I could tell were going to be trouble just from their bios. I’d much rather have an ex-drunk, for example. Someone who’s had occasion to do some introspection and maybe develop some real maturity. It is like college applicants who have 4.5 GPAs because they never took the really hard classes (which some of them did, of course).

      1. Well, the last ex-drunk (or perhaps dry drunk) we had as president was a bit short on introspection and maturity.

  9. It’s hard to be noble when the other side, including McCain and Palin, are heating up the Twitterverse and airwaves with “Obama eats dog” references.

    1. I don’t know, but personally I’m not particularly tempted to partake in political illiteracy, no matter who else does it. That has less to do with being noble towards “the other side” (leaving aside that I’m not a Democrat) and more with a desire to preserve my sanity.

  10. On the other hand, as a young adult Willard Mitt Romney had a leadership position in a Church that mandated its followers believe certain controversial things quite firmly. These include a position on abortion, of course, and also some rather vile (and now apparently discarded) contentions about racial inferiority. I would find it perfectly legitimate to ask Willard about how he felt being required to propagate this poison as the son of a significant civil rights leader in his party. Sadly, he could probably pretty easily turn it into a heartwarming story of redemption about how happy he was when his Church officially dropped those tenets.

    Another, more fun question would be about the tax status of the LDS Church, which interferes directly in politics (say, in a certain California referendum) not only rhetorically but even using money in a way that I don’t think other faiths active in social and political issues really don’t – the Catholic Church is meddling in a very cynical fashion to denounce Democrats while giving a pass to Republicans who fail the Church’s teachings as badly but in different areas, but it doesn’t tend to spend tax-deductible donations on ads to do so.

    1. I would find it perfectly legitimate to ask Willard about how he felt being required to propagate this poison as the son of a significant civil rights leader in his party.

      Since George Romney was both a Church leader and civil rights one, either the church didn’t enforce its mandate too strictly or they didn’t know what George was up to.

      So no…the question is not legitimate. Its a dogwhistle.

  11. IMHO, there is a myriad of reasons not to vote for Mitt Romney, but the past practice of polygamy in Mexico, prior to Mitt Romney’s birth, is not one of them. The Latter Day Saints’ exclusion of black persons from the priesthood, which continued well into Mitt Romney’s adulthood, is more troubling.

    Mitt Romney was 31 years old when the LDS Church dropped the ban on blacks in the priesthood. Not only did Romney remain as an adult in a church as exclusionary as the Ku Klux Klan, he sought and accepted a leadership role therein.

    (The predictable rejoinder will be Senator Robert Byrd, despite Byrd’s repudiation of the Klan. When has Governor Romney ever criticized his church’s historical bigotry, let alone repudiated the church?)

    1. (The predictable rejoinder will be Senator Robert Byrd, despite Byrd’s repudiation of the Klan. When has Governor Romney ever criticized his church’s historical bigotry, let alone repudiated the church?)

      This question is predictably ill-informed.

      Byrd first repudiated the Klan in the 1950’s. But what did the non-Klan Byrd then proceed to become? A Segregationist Senator who fought Civil Rights legislation in a manner so vile that he managed to distinguish himself from his fellow segregationists.

      So the proper question is: when did Byrd publicly repudiate segregation and his role in maintaining the regime.

      Answer: 2005

      1. Again, when has Governor Romney ever criticized his church’s historical bigotry, let alone repudiated the church?

        Avoiding the question doesn’t feed the bulldog.

        1. Again, when has Governor Romney ever criticized his church’s historical bigotry, let alone repudiated the church?

          One wonders why you didn’t require Byrd to repudiate his church.

          Consider what Byrd puked out when took to the Senate Stage in 1964:

          After informing us that black brains weight less than white ones, that; “Men and races of men differ in appearance, ways, physical power, mental capacity, creativity, and vision”, he concluded that the Bible mandates segregation…quoting Leviticus.

          Yet there is not such requirement that Byrd renounce his church, or the bible for that matter. He only has to renounce the Klan…leaving the above vomit still on the Senate floor when he would become Majority Leader of that very chamber.

          Yet you want a member of a minority religion to renounce his church, while the actual segregationist gets to only renounce his terrorist group. Hell, he wasn’t even required to renounce segregation before climbing his party ladder all the way up into the presidential line of succession.

          You’re not concerned about Mormon racism. You just want to remind the electorate that Romney’s a Mormon.

          1. Senator Robert Byrd and Governor Mitt Romney each voluntarily associated with, and even took leadership positions in, a racist organization. One renounced; the other did not (although the latter’s organization did flip flop and attribute the change to inconsistent divine revelations).

            No wonder Manju would rather talk about one than the other.

            IOKIYAR uber alles!

  12. “Mitt Romney deserves to be judged by his specific actions, statements, and political views.”

    But he never did, said, or believed any of them.

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