Romney: “A Life Balanced Between Fear and Greed”?

Last weekend’s news cycle brought important stories in the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Boston Globe about how Mitt Romney does business.

The picture they paint is not entirely new, but it is consistent: Romney extracted value while, and sometimes by, outsourcing and destroying jobs, at times financing deals through “leveraged buyouts” that added substantially to the debts of companies trying to stay afloat.

One source close to the GOP candidate told the Globe that Romney’s was “a life balanced between fear and greed.”

The stories led Washington Post columnist James Downie to ask Monday what Romney’s business-world strategy would mean for the American economy. Who are the investors for whom Romney would seek to maximize profit? 

Downie writes: “In this post-Citizens United world, the voters of America are not Bain’s investors, but the workers at companies Romney’s Bain took over. The wealthy donors who are financing Romney’s campaign are the investors.” 

As both the Obama campaign and the media continue to cast about for handles on candidate Romney, the weekend’s stories seem to consolidate a picture of Romney as a man whose core motivations center around performing well for the institutional powers that underwrite his success and status.

Meanwhile, stories about Romney’s Mormonism run on an entirely different track. But in most of them, the candidate’s faith—still unfamiliar to many American voters—is reported as an ethnicity, with human interest stories highlighting how and why Utah Mormons might make good foot soldiers in western swing states, and nothing-new polls gauging consistent levels of voter antipathy towards Mormon candidates (with zero analysis).

I’m waiting for the story that transcends the flat ethnicity paradigm and gets the deeper and more persistent question of religion and moral bearings:

How does the most religiously devout candidate in recent memory reconcile a life of religious commitment with a values-neutral approach to work, livelihood, and the marketplace?

Why does religion play an outsized role in the politics of gay marriage and contraception but apparently has no say when it comes to big-ticket items like national spending and economic policy?

That profound disconnect certainly did not originate with Romney, but it may in fact be the key to understanding how he would lead and govern.

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Joanna Brooks is the author of The Book of Mormon Girl: A Memoir of an American Faith (Free Press / Simon & Schuster, 2012) and a senior correspondent for Religion Dispatches.