Note: I wrote this almost a year ago but never did anything with it. Since I have become a blog-slacker, I thought I'd stick it on here now. Sorry if the politics grate too much on anyone!
Politically, I fall in a strange place: a public high school teacher, I support the notion that equal expectations in education are not feasible without equal funding; I watch the Bush administration’s foreign policy with increasing horror; I support stricter enforcement of gun laws and I decry Congress’ failure to come to an agreement on the immigration bill. My approach to these issues aligns me with moderate Democrats: Hillary Clinton is most likely the candidate who best aligns with my position. I am also religious, albeit faithful to a religion that I have recently realized is viewed with suspicion by many of my fellow Christians. As a practicing Mormon, I cannot support abortion rights, putting me at odds with virtually every Democrat. In this strange, unrepresented political landscape that I seem to occupy alone, choosing a candidate has never been easy. In some situations, the candidates themselves make the choice easier: in 2004, I voted for John Kerry, confidant that any compromise I was making for the case of abortion was preferable to whatever arrogant and single-minded course Bush would pursue. I feel proven right more than 3 years later.
All of which is why my gut reaction to Mitt Romney is so odd. Politically, we disagree in almost every respect. I am baffled by the way in which he explains his attacks on McCain’s immigration bill two years after being caught on record supporting it. Watching him defend Bush’s war policies in a recent debate made me shudder. Abortion, the major issue where I align with the GOP, is one of the key places where Romney’s record is not consistent with conservatives, giving him the ominous designation as a “flip-flopper.” In short, it would be hard to find a viable candidate whose political views differed more from mine.
So why do I find myself so disappointed to see Romney falling in the polls, losing his edge, being attacked and bashed and questioned as his impressive momentum leading to the primaries seems to gradually be chipped away by his opponents? I publicly avow that McCain is my Republican candidate of choice, and so he is, aligning much more neatly with my political beliefs, seeming more consistent and tried and less likely to shift course for fickle popularity. At the same time, I surprise myself by feeling dismayed when I see that McCain has gained an edge on Romney.
In spite of what many Romney supporters have claimed, I cannot help feeling that votes for or against Romney are a kind of national referendum on Mormonism. Growing up in a mid-sized California town with a visible Mormon population, I felt largely accepted. Besides the occasional attack (always from those who claimed to be Christian, sadly enough, and never from atheists or Jews), I felt like people understood the basics about my faith, and if they did not always respect it, were civil enough to treat us with dignity.
Recent polls showing that Americans are less likely to vote for any Mormon candidate, sound bites from evangelical Iowans claiming their concern in voting for Romney, a professed Christian, who might not believe in “our God” (whatever that means), and ignorant and dismissive comments by renowned religious leaders on national television have left me feeling like I have been duped into feeling accepted. Does this mean that the friends, co-workers, classmates who I thought had granted me their respect were laughing, deriding, or railing against my beliefs while openly treating me with respect? Am I less likely to get a promotion, win an award, be elected to a position of leadership in the teaching profession, because of my faith? If I have children, will other parents whisper behind their backs and eye our family with suspicion?
The lack of tolerance makes me initially want to vote for Romney out of defiance, as a way to neutralize the vote of at least one person who liked him best on policy but was afraid of “his God” or the Book of Mormon or Mormon theology on temples. But then I stop and consider: do I believe that a candidate’s religion should be relevant in the political sphere? I cannot help but feel that a subtle (or not so subtle, depending on how you look at Huckabee’s infamous “bookcase ad”) avowal of religious belief on the candidates’ part has become a new sort of obnoxious flag-waving, a safe way to win votes without actually having to do anything or develop any sort of policy. And perhaps precisely because the idea of measuring one’s religious devotion is so very laughable, it makes sense that this subject should be left out of the political arena. Mitt Romney has many admirable qualities and laudable accomplishments behind him. He is Mormon, which means it is most likely that his religious views align with mine more closely than any other candidate. But I will not vote for him. Politically, we simply differ too much.