Also cross posted at Daily Kos, Glenden Brown offers a perspective on Mitt Romney from behind the Zion Curtain.
In Mormon culture, hierarchical status confers respect. Authority in Mormonism is rarely questioned. Mormon authorities are bad at explaining why they’re doing what they’re doing because within Mormonism they have the ultimate conversation stopper – “God said so.” I think Romney is genuinely confused when his public assurances aren’t simply accepted as fact. Why should people want to see his taxes when he’s said there’s nothing illegal in them? His odd, robotic public persona is the political version of the Mormon church leader who speaks in a near monotone the “church voice” which is designed to comfort by its very blandness. The histrionics of the pulpit pounding evangelical are totally alien to the Mormon church.
Haglund’s thesis – that Mormon masculinity gets knocked out equilibrium by the larger culture – can be expanded. It’s not just Mormon masculinity, it’s the Mormon personality in general. Mitt Romney is an exemplary Mormon with all that implies. The contemporary public square has knocked Mitt out of his equilibrium and he’s wobbling. The collapsing of boundaries between public and private, the refusal to casually accept his authority, the jostling of different groups, standards and rules all feel anarchic to a good Mormon who is accustomed to the order and tidiness of Mormon life.
Living most of my life in Utah and in the shadow of Mormon culture, I see Mitt’s troubles as a near perfect reflection of what happens when Mormons encounter the wider world. They feel adrift, lost, unsure and they feel their sense of self wobble; and then return with relief to the orderly and organized world of Mormonism. Mitt Romney is experiencing this dynamic on the national stage. His missteps, mistakes, and organizational problems all reflect his personal disequilibrium.
Glenden Brown’s starting point was this essay by Kristine Haglund:
The performance of Mormon masculinity is a difficult balancing act, a tightrope walk between poles established by a brutish, hyper-masculine “natural man” and an effeminate gay man. It is perhaps unsurprising that Mormon patriarchs—as well as Mormon men running for high elected office—wobble from their carefully constructed equilibrium when buffeted by the cultural winds of feminism and the gay rights movement.
Her byline reads Kristine Haglund is the editor of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. She lives and goes to church in Belmont, MA. She’s a Mormon scholar and an intellectual; a difficult position to hold in the authority-unquestioning culture of Mormonism. So she knows a little something about high wire acts — but she also may know Mitt Romney from church (he was a bishop and then a stake president in Belmont) or she knows people who do. I think for insight Glenden is on the right track as far as parsing “the public vs. private Mitt Romney.”
However, his experience living “in the shadow” in Utah is a lot like mine, and one thing to consider is that Utah Mormon culture is quite different from… I guess you’d call it “outside-Utah Mormon culture.” It’s MUCH more insular, much more frustrating to the “not-Mormon” person who encounters it at school, in the neighborhood, at the store, at work in Utah. Mom used to get so irritated trying to shop at big Salt Lake retail stores, with NO sales people available; invariably she’d look all over for someone to help with a purchase or a question, and find a huddle of men at the back, deep in conversation. What anybody else would call a male “bull session,” like guys at the automotive score discussing sports or whatever, she’d call a “priesthood meeting.”
On the other hand, LDS friends of Mom’s that were Outside Mormons were much more like any other American family. They complained about Utah Mormon culture, too!
Mitt Romney is a rich big shot in a church that has the unquestioned power to look at your financial statement to determine your worthiness to enter their Holy of Holies. In fact, the church probably knows EXACTLY what’s in the last 20 years of Mitt’s tax returns. It’s funny how quiet the hierarchy has been about the tax return issue. Maybe Harry Reid has a friend “on the inside” who has no love for Romney.
If Huntsman had done better in the primaries, I don’t think I’d have as much of a problem. He went to my high school and some of my younger family members knew some of the family. By all accounts he seems to have been a pretty good governor, and he’s fairly moderate (and moderately fair). I’d have been a little weirded out, but not deeply uneasy and worried about some dumb apocalypse.
That Romney has a private vs. public persona, I think is accurate. I’ve known friends with just the same serious demeanor for church, with a goofy and utterly unserious face for “not-church.”
Anyway, his sense of Noblesse NOT Oblige (n’oblige?) probably comes just as much from being wealthy and privileged as it does from being the closest thing to an LDS prince or god-king on earth.
I highly doubt Romney was into “Church Ball” but he seemed to mix it up pretty well with his hair-cutting and teacher-trapping in school. I do agree that he’s completely baffled by the refusal of We the (Little) People to take him at his ever-shifting word.
One last thing – I spent some time Sunday watching some videos shot inside an LDS temple (not all at the Salt Lake Temple, but some of them. They were surprisingly boring and repetitive – the 1:20-long one with the endowment movie is eye-stingingly dull.