Have you ever wondered what a fundraiser is like for a presidential candidate? Jeff and I were invited to a couple fundraisers for Mitt Romney last week. The fundraisers were back-to-back on the same afternoon. A photographer working at the events informed us that Mitt had four such events that day and six the following day.
For many, the term fundraiser brings back memories of selling Girl Scout cookies or shuttling kids door-to-door selling candy bars to raise money for Little League. Needless to say, the Romney fundraisers we attended were the big leagues. As a member of the media, Jeff does not give money to any candidate. Nor do I.
While one fundraiser served wine and hors d’oeuvres and the other juice and fruit, they both had much in common. About 400 people attended each fundraiser. There were Secret Service, local police, state police, golf-cart shuttles and parking attendants. Small, winding New England roads were lined with parked cars allowing only one-way traffic. And while Mitt spoke of his vision for America, the crowd clapped, cheered, and hooted. Plus, Romney supporters were writing out checks—and big ones.
In such an environment, it is easy to forget about Romney’s opposition. During the primaries, his opposition came from fellow Republican nominees. Now it is President Obama. Candidates debate policy, examine track record, and criticize each other’s political platform. Such is the nature of running for office. Unfortunately, personal attacks are also a part of political campaigns. In the case of Mitt Romney, his Mormonism is an easy target. In the most recent Gallup poll, nearly one-fifth of voters surveyed said that they wouldn’t support a Mormon as president. The poll also found that while there is a significant number of voters who refuse support of any gay or atheist candidate for president, those numbers…have significantly dropped. Conversely, voters’ bias against Mormons is about the same as it was more than four decades ago.
With the political spotlight of Romney’s campaign, it is not surprising that Mormonism has become a water cooler topic. For me, it is my religion. When I ran for a local board of education in Connecticut over six years ago, I was astonished when local residents accused me – a Democrat – of being a fanatical Mormon who would censor books. (Oddly enough, my Mormon friends and family – almost all Republicans – view both Jeff and I as liberals.) Despite public information campaigns instigated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the official name of the Mormon Church), Mormonism tends to be one of the least understood or trusted religions. Mormonism is often referred to as a cult and its members as non-Christian. While the accusations are wrong, it doesn’t stop the rumors.
The hit Broadway play The Book of Mormon isn’t helping. Jeff recently went to see it when a longtime Mormon friend called with two tickets and invited him to “see what the enemy is saying about us.” And let me tell you—it isn’t pretty. I got the blow-by-blow report from Jeff. While more than one of our friends thought it was “funny,” the adjective that came to mind for me was vulgar. Furthermore, this play serves as social confirmation: making fun of Mormons is acceptable. It is not acceptable – nor should it be – to mock Jews and Muslims. So why is it acceptable – even cool – to mock Mormons?
But as troubling as it is that my religion is a social and political punching bag, it likewise bothers me when Republicans engage in personal attacks on President Obama—especially when those Republicans are Mormons. While President Obama’s healthcare reform is fair game for debate and criticism, his genealogy isn’t. And calling President Obama stupid, gay or a Muslim accomplishes nothing—at least nothing good. Of course, Mormons aren’t the only folks laughing over Obama slurs. It’s just that Mormons ought to understand what it feels like to be unfairly judged. There is a subtle, yet important difference between attacking a candidate’s political positions and attacking a candidate. And while it is easier to call names than remain objective, the latter is worth the effort. As a child I learned: Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. I disagree. Words do hurt. We can do better than that.