Friday, May 13, 2011

Book Review, A Mormon in the White House

Book Review, A Mormon in the White House, 10 things Every American Should Know about Mitt Romney by Hugh Hewitt, 287PP plus index, Regnery Publishing, Inc.. 2007.

Though this book was written specifically for the 2008 presidential election, it is likely to be at least as applicable in 2012. Not only is Romney almost certainly running again but John Huntsman is also likely to run. That could make two Mormons (Latter-day Saints, or LDS) trying for the presidency. However this book is specifically aimed at Romney and as such only part of it will be applicable to Huntsman should he run. In fact most of the book is not about religion at all, rather it is about Romney's life, business, qualifications, etc. Only one chapter an the appendix are specifically about religious issues, though that one chapter is the longest in the book. There are also some religious items scattered through the rest of the book.

Part of the book is obsolete in that Hewitt discusses specific opponents Romney was facing, especially John McCain. It is also interesting that Hewitt assumed that Hillary Clinton would be the democratic nominee with Obama as the likely vice presidential candidate. He also almost totally ignores Mike Huckabee who probably did more than any other candidate to block Romney's road to the nomination. Of course that is all in the past and most of the book is still applicable today.

Section I is an introduction to Mitt Romney, including his family background, education, and business successes. Those business successes are considerable, to the point that Hewitt claims that Romney would be by far the wealthiest president in our history if he is elected. Bain and Company, the consulting firm that was his employer for many years, and Bain Capital, which he founded, have both been very profitable. Interestingly, after he founded his own company, his former employer got into financial difficulty Romney returned and turned that around.

The “Bain Way” is interesting and shows how Romney would be likely to govern. It consists of hiring the best possible people, then analyzing every problem from every possible direction as well as getting input from all who can provide information or who have a stake in the problem. Only after that is done do they make a decision. The Bain consultants would do this with companies they worked for, with great results. Romney's own company did it as well, buying up poorly performing companies and applying that method to improve their performance. That is likely how he would work as president and it's a rather good technique.

Of course Romney's most famous turnaround success was the Salt Lake City Olympics. Though not on the scale of the federal government, many of the problems were similar in that multiple stake-holders, nearly all with big egos and turf to protect, had to work together for the Olympics to come off even marginally well. The success was not marginal, it was resounding.

The final chapter in Section I is about his family. Ann Romney appears to be nearly the ideal candidate's wife and prospective first lady, though she does have MS. Their five boys have all grown into the kind of men any parent would be proud of. In fact the biggest, probably the only, criticism about the family is that “they are too perfect.”

Section II discusses Romney's beliefs and public sector accomplishments. The fact is that Romney was governor of the bluest of blue states but remained socially and fiscally conservative, as well as fighting mismanagement of things like the “Big Dig.” He vetoed bills that would have made abortion easier, and fought against the court-mandated homosexual marriages. Though earlier in his life he was not as pro-life as many would wish, his change to being solidly pro-life seems to be genuine.

As governor, Romney “went into full Bain mode,” reaching out and hiring the best people he could get. He then encountered a current budget shortfall of $600 million with a projected $300 billion shortfall for the next fiscal year. He balanced budgets for both years without raising taxes. Though many (myself included) are concerned about the health care mandate passed during his administration, it probably was an improvement over the previous situation in the state.

Most importantly, as governor Romney appointed six judges to the court of appeals and his appointments probably give an indication of what he would look for in federal judges. Those appointments, and his statements on what a judge should do, indicate that he is likely to seek judges, not robe-clad legislators. He will probably appoint federal judges who believe in the constitution and in their inherent limitations as judges.

Section III talks about the campaign ahead . That was the campaign in 2008, a campaign now behind us but there are likely to be similarities in 2012. Romney has some real advantages with his record as a successful entrepreneur and governor. There is not a hint of scandal on his record. In addition, though the LDS church will stay out of any campaign, it is clear that many members will support him, often with great enthusiasm. And many of those church members are experienced at public speaking and dealing with people, the result of their missionary work. They have the skill sets required of effective political volunteers and the volunteer ethic that makes it likely they will in fact work for their favorite.

Perhaps Romney's biggest non-religious disadvantage is that he is “too perfect” and will trigger envy as an attack ad. He has been called “a little too smooth.” Envy may also aim at his wealth, estimated at between $500 million and a billion. He also did not serve in the military though that is likely to be less of a problem in 2012 than it was running against McCain in 2008.

On the religion question, Hewitt lists three potential problems: First, will church leaders give orders if he is elected? He concludes that there is no way that would happen. Second, Mormonism is “just too weird. The conclusion is that all religions look weird from the outside and that should not be an issue. Thirdly, many Evangelicals may fear that such would legitimize “Mormonism.” However neither Hewitt nor the scholars interviewed in the appendix believe that would happen. In fact the appendix is an interview with two scholars from Biola University. Neither of those men would object to voting for an LDS on religious grounds though both oppose the LDS church doctrine.

Hewitt and others also point out that if other Christians make Romney's religion an issue they are loading a gun likely to be aimed at them in the future. The main-stream media elites tend to be suspicious of all religion, as do many in the Democratic party. They have mostly felt restrained from making overtly religious attacks in the political arena. However should one religion attack another to prevent someone being elected, all restraint will be removed. We could expect anyone committed to his religion to face a maelstrom of criticism should he run for office.

All in all, this is a worthwhile book, providing a lot of information about a possible next president.