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February 25, 2007

By Their Works Ye Shall Know Them

By Ezra

When my great-great-grandfather was 14, he stole a wagon. At 22, he over-imbibed from a wineskin and had impure, though partially humorous, thoughts about a nearby goat. These thoughts were never acted upon, but they existed nonetheless.* So here's the question: am I a thief? A sexual deviant? Is the guilt from these events sexually communicable and endlessly heritable? Or does the fact that I am a different person and find goats useful for nothing beyond purely platonic petting absolve me?

Rare is the individual who would even imply that guilt jumps generations, who would stare at me suspiciously and whisper about my ancestors to cast aspersions on me. Sadly, those individuals work for The Associated Press. I can't add much to the LeMew, Shakes, or Atrios on this one, save to echo Duncan's warning that "Romney's going to find out that it's not important whether you're a 'person of faith.' What's important is that you're a person of the right faith [and] it's time to be honest about that."

And we should be honest about more than that: If you're not of the right faith, the press will ruthlessly root out the quirks and eccentricities of your beliefs -- the same ones that are beyond reproach or comment in "mainstream" religions -- in order to unsettle the electorate. They will play to prejudice, never against it. The cynicism of the Romney story is breathtaking. I don't believe for an instant that Jennifer Dobman or Glen Johnson believe the marital habits of Mitt Romney's great-great grandfather have a shadow of relevance to Romney's tendencies, proclivities, or beliefs. They're perfectly aware that Romney has had exactly one wife ("By their works ye shall know them.")

What they do know is that there is a certain subsection of Americans who won't be so fair, who'll be subconsciously or overtly repulsed, who will e-mail this story to all their friends, who will move from not understanding it to slowly distorting, who will create chain letters about the hidden polygamy of Mitt Romney, who will inveigh against him from church pews. They know this story will resonate, even if only among ugly communities that the reporters would be ashamed to ever overtly aid. They will play to prejudice because it sells, and they can play to prejudice because Mitt Romney doesn't believe the right things. And this is how Mitt Romney will be Gored. not because they hate them, but because, above all, reporters want their stories to resonate, and playing to prejudice -- whether it be anti-intellectual or anti-Mormon -- does.

*None of this is true, at least so far as I know. My great-great-grandfather was a mensch.

February 25, 2007 | Permalink


Ezra you can make a fine cheese out of goats milk. It is good for children that can not eat milk. My friend Rusty has a sign at his farm that says " I milk the nanny goats. YOU can milk the billy goat." Sorry that was a bit off track.

Posted by: cheflovebeer | Feb 25, 2007 12:40:46 PM

The AP article is dreadful, and hung on the slender-est of hooks - there's some "modern issue" is polygamy because Big Love is on HBO? Please. Next up: Centurion Sex... because HBO also shows "Rome."

I do think that Romney's presence in the campaign is going to shine more of a light on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and it's not just going to be about polygamy and it's going to be clear that they don't, exactly, fit into the Christian right in a way evangelicals are comfortable with. Lots of people, I think, don't really understand what makes LDS different from other religions. (I think you have to spend some time in Utah to really appreciate how odd - not necessarily in a bad way - it can be.) But making this about the marital activities of people living before 1900 is absurd. This kind of smear-y stuff can only help Romney, if only by giving him an "I'm not that" out on some Mormon practices.

By the way, dude... enough with the goat bashing. Goats are hot. ;)

Posted by: weboy | Feb 25, 2007 12:45:50 PM


regarding your conjecture...
who knows how far into the future karma can revisit and cast itself...through generations.
anything is possible.
in some ways, perhaps even dna is a kind of karma...
maybe even a vehicle of karma.
who can really know.
all we can know for sure is...
tikkun olam
repair the inner self and repair the world
through right thought and action.
the rest is on the other side of the veil.

Posted by: jacqueline | Feb 25, 2007 12:52:05 PM

once again, i agree with weboy...no goat bashing!
.... goats are incredibly lovely and playful creatures!
delicate boned pygmy goats, angora goats, and billy goats...
little horns, amber eyes, and smiles full of mischief..
and nothing gambols like a goat!!!
it could make you smile, no matter what!!!

Posted by: jacqueline | Feb 25, 2007 12:58:28 PM

While Mitt Romney condemns polygamy and its prior practice by his Mormon church

Curious piece. I wonder about the editing. More detail than anyone is likely to want to know, even if they're interested in the topic of Romney's roots. The lead is surprising for a couple reasons. One, it doesn't follow the AP style, which calls for using the official name of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the first mention (this article doesn't give the official name at all). And I'd be surprised if Romney has condemned the former practice of polygamy. He condemns its current practice. If he hasn't condemned its past practice, that might become an issue for some.

I would expect to see more articles like this one coming out of Salt Lake City, more than, say, the Bible Belt. I don't know the authors of this article, but the news media here is well connected with groups who are unhappy with Mormonism, especially polygamy and the stance against gay rights.

The biggest difference between her husband and the other candidates, Ann Romney said, is that "he's had only one wife."

McCain has been married twice; Giuliani three times.


Some goats are very smelly! But I do love goat's cheese, which has something of that odor.

Posted by: Sanpete | Feb 25, 2007 1:36:15 PM

Boy, that is a really dumb attack on Romney? Some of my ancestors were slave owners (this is true). I have nothing to do with them and I am extremely ashamed of this. Does this make me unsuitable for public office now?

Posted by: Unstable Isotope | Feb 25, 2007 2:42:50 PM

There is definitely media bias in the reporting around Romney. It's a bias that is usually mischaracterized as liberal: i.e., it's the bias of affluent, urban coastal professionals. But it is a bias that is more elitist and anti-populist than liberal as such (c.f. the standard total view on free trade). And it's more post-WASP bourgeois snobbery (which includes urban Catholics and Jews now, but not Baptists or Mormons) than it is secular hostility to religion per se.

Romney's pretty screwed (in addition to his own "for it before he was against it" opportunism), because on the question of the LDS, the prejudice of the MSM is shared by a core Republican constituency. Never mind that this urban elite is also prejudiced against the fundamentalists with whom they share the anti-Mormon prejudice. That won't matter, because conservatives can usually be counted upon to vote their fears and resentments, not to detect this kind of irony or contradiction.

Posted by: kth | Feb 25, 2007 2:49:27 PM

I wonder: did Islam's history of polygyny come up as a smear against Keith Ellison's campaign?

Posted by: Julian Elson | Feb 25, 2007 3:20:49 PM

Rare is the individual who would even imply that guilt jumps generations

In personal relationships, I think that's true. In politics, I don't think so - on "both sides of the aisle," to wear the cliché even more. You don't have to look hard to find people expressing contempt for either of the Presidents Bush because of money that Prescott Bush (the current president's grandfather) made from German business in the 1930s, nor is it difficult to find disgust for Kennedy family politicians based on the source of Joseph P. Kennedy's fortunes.

I think this stuff works better than you may want to believe, Ezra.

Posted by: Matt | Feb 25, 2007 3:28:37 PM

I disagree with all of you. It's a very straightforward article about an unusual aspect of Mitt Romney's family background, which is a completely legitimate subject for a presidential candidate.

Furthermore, the article bends over backwards to point out that this has nothing to do with Mitt himself. In fact, it takes the unusual step of leading with a disclaimer, even before the "news" lead about polygamists in Mitt's background. A more typical approach would be to open simply "Mitt Romney's great-grandfather had five wives..."

How is this different from articles about Rudy's mafioso uncle or Barack's shepherd father? There's no need to get overly sensitive or PC about this. After all, Mitt himself is not averse to bringing it up, or even making jokes about it.

Posted by: rosswords | Feb 25, 2007 3:31:47 PM

The press has sensationalized Mormonism since it began -- so much so that a fictionalized ex-Mormon was the first culprit(*?)captured in the Sherlock Holmes stories, see A Study in Scarlet.

*Don't know if culprit is the right word but villian doesn't suit given the nature of the story.

Posted by: Emma Zahn | Feb 25, 2007 3:44:39 PM

Personally, I think polygamy is making a comeback. If two men can get married, why not a man and two women? They love each other, right?

Rare is the individual who would even imply that guilt jumps generations

Lots of things jump family generations, guilt among them. Would you vote for the great-grandson of Adolf Hitler? (Yes, Hitler. I went there.)

Posted by: Korha | Feb 25, 2007 4:30:24 PM

Would you vote for the great-grandson of Adolf Hitler?

Why not (if there were one)?

Posted by: Sanpete | Feb 25, 2007 5:35:27 PM

Would you vote for the great-grandson of Adolf Hitler?

That would depend on his personal history and stance on the issues. I agree if he made that a major selling point of his campaign, I might have some issues.

I'm a New Testament kind of Christian, though.

Posted by: Magenta | Feb 25, 2007 5:52:57 PM

I heard his uncle was a crooked French-Canadian. Who got gut-shot running gin.

Posted by: Jacob | Feb 25, 2007 6:18:44 PM

The article was ridiculous, but Romney's Mormanism is legitimate fodder. Mormans believe some really strange things. The origin of the religion is sort of a 19th-century version of Scientology with the "seer stone" and the sacred tablets found in upstate New York [now Hillary land!!]. If Joseph Smith had known about spaceships, I have little doubt he would have incorporated them into his founding myths. That Romney apparently believes this stuff is reason enough to question his fitness for office. This is much scarier than how many wives his great-great grandfather had.

Posted by: mert7878 | Feb 25, 2007 7:13:54 PM

"Why not (if there were one)?"

My point is that the great-grandson of Adolf Hitler (if there were one) would start out with a preexisting bias against him. It probably wouldn't be a HUGE bias, but it would be there. Actions have consequences, and those consequences transfer over to your descendants all the time.

You could argue whether this is or is not a good thing. But it's silly to try to deny the reality of it.

"I'm a New Testament kind of Christian, though."

Unfortunately, there aren't that many of you (zing!).

Posted by: Korha | Feb 25, 2007 8:09:47 PM

Mert, I suspect you know as little about Scientology as you do about Mormonism. Read this thread for some other odd beliefs leading candidates have, including the Christians. I personally believe in some very strange things, such as that objects gain mass when they accelerate, that time slows down at higher velocities, that parallel lines can diverge, and so on (and I didn't even get into quantum theory).

Posted by: Sanpete | Feb 25, 2007 8:10:15 PM

You could argue whether this is or is not a good thing.

I think the point here is that it's not a good thing. The quote about guilt jumping generations is about real guilt, while you're talking about imputed guilt.

Posted by: Sanpete | Feb 25, 2007 8:14:44 PM

Wasn't Mussolini's granddaughter in the Italian parliament? and a chip off the Duce political wise?

But SanPete, the mass thing has been shown to occur, as has the time thing, therefore belief is not really required. the parallel lines thing can't be shown since we don't live in a non-Euclidean universe, so Iguess you can g ahead believeing in that.

Posted by: BillCross | Feb 25, 2007 8:27:27 PM


I agree -- lots of Christian candidates [& Jewish or Muslims, were they running] believe a lot of strange things. Things that I think are nothing other than myth, superstition or outright nonsense. Problem is, as a committed atheist, if I wish to have a meaningful vote in a presidential election [as well as most other elections above the level of dog catcher], I have to choose among candidates of "faith." I therefore feel I have a right to make qualitative distinctions among the "faithful." And, IMHO, Mormanism is a whole lot weirder than mainstream Christianity, etc. Though, in fairness, the other religions have had at least a millennium or more head start. And, btw, I know enough about Scientology to know it involves spaceships and Lord Xenu. Say no more.

Posted by: mert7878 | Feb 25, 2007 8:35:03 PM


One more thing. I'm with BillCross: if you equate modern physics with the "seer stone" and Egyptian hieroglyphics being found outside Rochester, you need more help than Mitt.

Posted by: mert7878 | Feb 25, 2007 8:41:15 PM

All belief is silly. It's an understanding predicated on a lack of evidence. Faith. It's entirely dependent on where that faith lies, isn't it.

Is Goring Romney a bad thing? Of course it is. And what a surprise our commercial, bought and paid for press are running with it. Just as it is no surprise, as I think you very correctly point out here, that the real damage and nastiness will come in millions of emails forwarded and chatter around the proverbial water cooler.

That said, aside from the scientologists (and the baptists and the...oh shit) I don't see a group of religionists more primed for some fun party-time antics than the mormons.

But maybe that's just me.

And chances are that we go back far enough into nearly anyone's ancestry we'll find something unsavory. Go figure.

Then again, unless Al jumps back in, this may be the best we get. I need to go make some popcorn.

Posted by: ice weasel | Feb 25, 2007 8:55:48 PM

Bill, mert's point was about strangeness of beliefs. You're talking about reasons for belief. Two different things, which is my point.

Mert, Mormonism seems stranger than mainstream Christianity because you're more accustomed to the latter. If you think about the core beliefs of Christianity they're as weird as anything. But, again, weirdness isn't the important point to consider, or we'd have to rule out physicists. Heck, I think the idea of self-evident principles, upon which our political system supposedly depends, is weird. I'm an atheist too, but I see good reasons for religious people to believe as they do, and it doesn't bother me at all how weird the ideas are. I concern myself with the politics, leadership qualities, things likely to matter.

Posted by: Sanpete | Feb 25, 2007 9:45:58 PM

Posted by: weboy | Feb 25, 2007 9:45:50 AM

By the way, dude... enough with the goat bashing. Goats are hot. ;)

Goat ... mmmmmmmmm ... this entry made me nostalgic for Grenada and curried goat rotis.

On the subject, though, while I would rather that HBO's Rome was an opening to discuss whether or not we want to return to a Republic in the US of A, I reckon that Centurion sex is a more likely angle for Big Media.

If I understand the system correctly, Big Media are an element of the Circuses part, and the Bread is provided on a YOYO basis.

Posted by: BruceMcF | Feb 25, 2007 11:05:31 PM

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