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Mitt Romney’s Mormon Politics

Is there a Jewish equivalent to the translation of sacred to political?

Marc Tracy
May 23, 2012

Two recent pieces have explored how Mitt Romney’s devout Mormon faith directly informs his politics.

In the New York Times, Jodi Kantor reports, “Mormons have a long tradition of achieving success by sharing secular versions of their tenets.” So it’s not only that Romney’s positions on social issues like abortion and same-sex marriage stem from what his church teaches. It’s that more abstract concepts like his devotion to following the rules, which shows in his being anti-corruption, or his belief in American exceptionalism, find sacred parallels in Mormonism.

And in New York, Benjamin Wallace-Wells, writing about Mitt’s father George, who contended for the 1968 Republican nomination, has this fascinating disquisition:

Institutions have an essential place in Mormon thought; they are the mechanisms by which the individual is transformed. In Romney’s private correspondence this theme is vivid: Asked repeatedly by young men for his advice, he suggests they dedicate themselves to their church, to their professional organizations, to volunteerism. This was the sustaining idea of his life—that buying in would bring rewards. …

What was taking shape was his vision of a perfect society, one in which government need not intervene because the “independent sector”—community organizations, professional and religious groups, and American businesses—could fix social problems on their own. Whenever they were detailing a solution to a policy problem, Romney’s aides learned to look first to these groups before turning to the government. He believed “that these contexts would help the individual, that they would give meaning,” says De Vries. No one, after all, is more invested in a good elite than the outsider who has had to work to join it. “I think he believed that America would always work,” De Vries says, “because America had always worked for him.”

My question: is there a specific politics that Judaism, as a religion, informs? Adam Kirsch broached this topic last week in his essay on the strange death of left-wing Judaism. Is the historic Jewish association with causes of social justice a function purely of historical circumstance? Is it something to do with tikkun olam? Or is it far more theologically sophisticated?

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.