Romney still buries beliefs underground where they can't be seen

Mon, Mar 19, 2012, 00:00

OPINION:The frontrunner fears he could turn off voters by talking too much about his Mormon faith, writes MAUREEN DOWD

TRUST MITT Romney to be on top of the latest trend of the super-rich: the trophy basement.

On Friday, the Wall Street Journal reported on the new fashion to look low-key on the outside while digging deep for opulence – carving out subterranean spaces for Turkish baths, Italianate spas, movie theatres, skateboarding ramps, squash courts, discos and golf- simulation centres.

The Journal reported that Romney has filed an application to replace his single-storey 3,000sq ft beach house in La Jolla, California, with a 7,400sq ft home featuring an additional 3,600sq ft of finished underground space. It’s a metaphor alert, reinforcing the two image problems Romney has: that he is an out-of-touch plutocrat and that his true nature is buried where we can’t see it.

His two-year missionary stint in France taught Mitt to steel himself against rejection. Still, he must feel awful heading into Illinois (where Joseph Smith, the Mormon Church founder, was running for president when he was killed by a mob), spending so much money to buy so little affection.

There’s a certain pathos to Romney. His manner is so unauthentic that you can’t find him anywhere. Is he the guy he was on Wednesday or the guy he was on Thursday?

He has the same problem that diminished the equally animatronic Al Gore. Gore kept mum on the one thing that made him come alive, the environment, fearing he would be cast, as W. liked to say, as “a green, green lima bean”.

Romney also feels he must hide an essential part of who he is: a pillar of the Mormon Church. He fears he would turn off voters by talking too much about a faith that many evangelicals dismiss as a cult, not a true Christian religion.

Rick Santorum is drawn to the extreme and ascetic Opus Dei and sometimes sounds more Catholic than the pope – like his promise on his website to banish hard-core porn if he is elected president.

Yet he has successfully crowded Romney with a fraction of his money by wearing his religion and his immigrant, blue-collar roots on his sleeve.

Mitt works overtime pretending he is a Nascar, cheesy- grits guy and masking his pride in his bank account and faith. When he talked about his beliefs in his last presidential run, it sometimes provoked confusion, like this explanation to an Iowa radio host about the second coming of Christ: that Jesus would first appear in Jerusalem and then, “over the thousand years that follow, the millennium, he will reign from two places, the law will come from Missouri and the other will be from Jerusalem”.

Just as Romney did not step up immediately after Rush Limbaugh called Sandra Fluke “a slut”, he has yet to step up as the cases have mounted of Jews posthumously and coercively baptised by Mormons – including hundreds of thousands of Holocaust victims, the parents of the death camp survivor and Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal and Daniel Pearl, the Jewish Wall Street Journal reporter murdered by al-Qaeda in Pakistan. (His widow, Mariane, told CNN she was “shocked”.)

Believing that only Mormons can get into the highest level of heaven, the Celestial Kingdom, and that others will be limited to the Terrestrial and Telestial Kingdoms, they have baptised anyone and everyone, including Anne Frank, Gandhi, Hitler, Marilyn Monroe, Charlie Chaplin and Elvis.

Asked by Newsweek in 2007 if he had done baptisms for the dead, which involve white garb and immersion in water, a startled Romney replied: “I have in my life, but I haven’t recently.”

Mormon feminists got upset this winter when they found that young women in some temples had not been allowed to do proxy baptisms while they were menstruating.

Church leaders have lately stepped up efforts to stop such baptisms, reminding church members that their “pre-eminent obligation” is not to celebrities and Holocaust victims but to their own ancestors. (Ann Romney’s Welsh father, who disdained organised religion, was baptised.)

Matthew Bowman, who wrote The Mormon People, says Mormons “have a hard time understanding why people from other religions find this so offensive. Mormons don’t think of these people as being made Mormon unless their spirit accepts the Gospel. They just think they’ve given them an opportunity. Mormonism is wildly optimistic.”

Mormons had designated Elie Wiesel, the Nobel Peace Prize winner and Holocaust survivor, as “ready” for a posthumous proxy burial, even though he is very much alive at 83 and still teaching at Boston University and in Florida.

Wiesel calls “the whole process very strange” and faults Romney, a Mormon stake president. “After all, Romney is not simply a Mormon. He’s been a bishop of the Mormon Church. He could have called and told me he wanted me to know that he spoke to the elders and told them to stop it. Silence doesn’t help truth.”

Wiesel adds: “They have baptised over 600,000 Holocaust victims. There is nothing positive in what they are doing. It’s an insult. You cannot ask the dead their opinion.

“Poor Anne Frank – as if she didn’t suffer enough.”