What Romney Didn’t Tell You about Mormonism at the RNC

I spent my Labor Day on the beach at Coronado—home to the North Island Naval Station—with two military families we count among our closest friends.

As we watched our kids play jump rope with kelp strands, a friend recalled something Mitt Romney left out of his keynote address to last week’s Republican National Convention.

“No mention of the men and women deployed in Afghanistan,” she said, echoing a concern voiced by conservative commentators like Bill Kristol. “If it’s not worth mentioning us in a national political convention, maybe we shouldn’t even be in Afghanistan.”

Her husband faces possible deployment to Kandahar in February.

That got me thinking. What other “we’s” and “us’s” got left out when the RNC scripted its sell of Mitt Romney?

I was among the many Mormons who were happy to see and hear three rank-and-file Mormon people take the podium at the convention talking in a familiar Mormon way about a familiar Mormon ethic of compassionate service; especially after so much hype and caricature of the faith. (See also Mary Barker’s analysis of the Romney testimonials here at RD.)

But as I reflected, I realized that Romney’s convention was not a moment when the story of the Mormon people was connected to the American story in any meaningful way.

Prominent Mormons may be celebrating Romney for leading the charge on changing public opinion on the faith. But really, Romney has done very, very little to make our Mormon story better known to the American public.

Just as it was virtually missing from his campaign biography, there was, for example, no mention at the convention of what is probably the defining story of Mormon peoplehood—the exodus of Mormon pioneers (Romney’s ancestors among them), so readily translatable into an American story about the importance of common dreams, sacrifice, and the desire to start fresh.

Of course, it’s a story that carries with it all the prejudices and curiosities our faith has always attracted. But to act unashamed of that story in public is to stand such prejudices down—and this season, we have historians like Matthew Bowman, author of The Mormon People, and journalist McKay Coppins, and a host of bloggers doing that work.

Not Romney. And it was probably too much to expect of the careful, nervous, overachieving presidential candidate to represent a little for his faith during his big moment at the RNC, when his job was to tell a story that convinced everyone of his likeability.  

Mormons told stories about Mitt Romney at the RNC to help him win.

But his story really wasn’t about us.

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