The Power in Mitt’s “Long Underwear” Quip

While a squad of Christian conservative heavyweights continues to scheme behind the scenes and Rick Perry preens for his August 6 prayer rally, Mitt Romney continues to act like the frontrunner he is. Today’s news on the Romney campaign is all about fundraising: Romney brought in $18 million last quarter, far outpacing any of his announced Republican rivals, but coming nowhere close to the Obama campaign’s $60 million first-quarter haul. The numbers have been met with a fresh round of handwringing about GOP heavyweights still sitting on the sidelines as well as Romney’s weaknesses against Obama in 2012.

But there may be, just may be, signs that Romney is gaining in one strategic capacity that could prove crucial to his campaign: humor.

Sweating it out while jogging up and down a July 4 parade route in New Hampshire, Romney reportedly quipped: “Maybe next time I won’t wear my long underwear.”

Hold up: Did Mitt Romney just joke about his underwear?

Orthodox Mormons wear sacred undergarments as an expression of their fidelity to their religious commitments, a practice comparable to expressions of commitment in the clothing chosen by orthodox Jews, observant Muslims, and Sikhs.

In public, Mormons tend to be guarded and private about this aspect of the faith, in large part because it has been an object of outsized curiosity and sometimes mean-spirited ridicule by non-Mormons. But amongst ourselves, Mormons do joke lightly about “garments,” and especially about the incompatibility of the knee-grazing, shoulder-covering underclothing with summer heat.

Mitt Romney has never been known for his social ease or jocularity. But is it possible that he’s picking up a few new chops on the campaign trail?

Humor has played an essential role in easing the acceptance of misunderstood American minority groups from Jews to African-Americans to LGBT people. Be willing to joke about yourself and your own tribe’s differences and oddities goes a long way towards disarming suspicion, misunderstanding, and fear. 

Unfortunately, Mormons aren’t exactly known for our ability to translate our peculiarities into humor for public consumption. Most of us are pretty earnest and tender about what we believe, and our tendency to socialize primarily with other Mormons hasn’t helped foster our social skills.

In fact, our lack of ability to laugh at ourselves in public pretty much made us sitting ducks for the godless, potty-mouthed, comic, smarty-pants’ behind The Book of Mormon musical. Sooner or later, somebody was going to rake in a bunch of cash exploring the tensions between Mormonism and mainstream American life in a humorous way. Too bad we didn’t get there first.

But we’re learning. The LDS Church PR department has developed a good-natured, take-it-in-stride response to The Book of Mormon musical, buying up ad space in New York City to capitalize on the buzz. And even Mitt Romney seems to be learning a thing or two about how to wear his Mormonism lightly in public.

If Mormons are ready to joke about ourselves in public, maybe the public will be ready for Mormon president after all.