Friday, August 10, 2012

Mormonism and the "wimp" factor

I'm not an expert on Mormonism and I don't support those who attack Mitt Romney for his religious beliefs.

What I DO know a thing or two about is authoritarianism (especially of the christian fundamentalist variety) and how that affects one's personality. And whatever Romney's religious beliefs are, its clear to me that his Mormon faith is of the authoritarian variety.

Let me give you an example of how that works.

I was having dinner one time with someone who - as an adult - is still mired in christian fundamentalism. In a moment of absolute honesty, she told me that she has so much trouble making decisions these days that she can't even figure out what to chose on a menu.

I was so struck by that statement! What I heard is that she has become so dependent on God, parent, pastor, church, bible, etc. to tell her what to think and what to do that she no longer had the ability to even contemplate what SHE wanted. In other words, she had lost the ability to think for herself.

Stepping out to think for yourself when you've always relied on others for your grounding is a terrifying thing to do. Back in 2006, Sara Robinson wrote a 3 part series on the Orcinus blog about authoritarians. In the second of the series, she talked about listening to the leavers and said this.
We must never, ever underestimate what it costs these people to let go of the beliefs that have sustained them...Internally, it requires sifting through every assumption you've ever made about how the world works, and your place within it; and demands that you finally take the very emotional and intellectual risks that the entire edifice was designed to protect you from. You have to learn, maybe for the first time, to face down fear and live with ambiguity.
That is why, as I've written about before, revelation is so terrifying.

Its clear to me that Romney has never had the courage to face that terrifying moment. It also seems clear to one of his biggest supporters...Peggy Noonan.
Romney is not over-managed by others—he isn't surrounded by what George H.W. Bush called "gurus"—but he over-manages himself. He second guesses, doubts his own instincts. Up to a certain point that's good: Self-possession is a necessary quality in a political leader. But people don't choose a leader based solely on his ability to moderate himself. They're more interested in his confidence in his own judgment, or an ease that signals the candidate has an earned respect for his own instincts.
This is how Romney earns labels like wimp, flip-flopper, etch-a-sketch, etc. He doesn't know his own mind and is left to simply do as he's told in the moment. And so he is progressive when governing a blue state and "severely conservative" when he needs to win over the Republican base.

I'm not suggesting that Romney needs to leave his Mormon faith in order to find his core. I know plenty of christians who have a mind of their own but don't adhere to authoritarian fundamentalism.  Where my lack of knowledge about Mormonism shows is that I don't know whether that kind of thing is possible within that religion.

But if Romney ever wants to be a real leader, its something he'd have to do.


  1. Yes, it's possible - witness Harry Reid. What I see with Mitt is more a "bully" problem. He's extremely authoritarian, even uncaring when he thinks he's in charge, but the moment he's in a situation where he's not, he suddenly flounders around, tries to do whatever he thinks will get him what he wants, and whines that someone is being mean to him when they push back.

  2. You are making an implicig assumption Ms. Smarty. To wit: Romney wants to be a leader.

    He doesn't. He wants to be in charge. He wants people to do what he tells them. He wants to be the one to sign the bottom line. But be a leader? Nah. A corollary to leadership is allowing people to go in a different direction if your leadership is not to their taste. Won't happen if Mittens is in charge.

    Besides, I'm becoming more and more convinced that Romney is in it for the $$$. Being Pres would be VERY lucrative without being particularly dirty. Agnew was an amateur piker.

  3. Great distinction between being a leader and being in charge, DerFarm.

    I've been semi-tight with a good number of Mormons and my impression is that it historically shared a lot of the authoritarianism of smaller, highly fundamentalist denominations but that it's grown enough that things are starting to broaden. This is only an impression, but I don't think it's gone particularly far in the broadening but that it is going there.

    I guess people use their own experiences to view the world. I see Romney a lot like the rich kids I went to school with. I've noted this before. They weren't stupid as a group, but never pushed the envelope. The middle-class and scholarship kids were the ones in school who really did the thinking, because they had to produce. And yet those rich kids, as a group, are the ones who still have the most things. Obama is one of the kids in that kind of environment who really had to put out and had the goods to do so. I imagine he has never forgotten--as if people will let him--that at some level the ones from rich families see him as an interloper, with frequently racist overtones. Jeez the racism I'd hear from some of the people with money. The press leads us to believe that it's a working class white problem, but it goes all the way up.