There is a big burly guy in my neighborhood named Joe, the kind of friendly gent who would never hurt a fly unprovoked but could probably smash anyone who attacked him into smithereens. We seem to shop for groceries on the same schedule, and each of these frequent chance encounters turns into a discussion of matters political. Actually, he starts the ball rolling by asking me one question or another in a tone that respects my expertise, seducing me into unleashing long tirades of opinion that I usually have the good sense to reserve for the paying customers.
"Do you think Romney can win?"
The first time he asked that one I shared with him the analysis by Dick Morris that shows that 7 to 8 out of every 10 undecided voters in midyear polls wind up going against the incumbent. He figures the logic for that is they know the incumbent already and if they tell the pollster they are undecided, that is their reticent way of communicating that they are not too thrilled with the fellow in office.
He asked me a variation on that question the next time and the time after that. The other day was about the fourth version: "If you had to predict right now who would win the election… if you had to bet right now on the election… do you feel that there is a definite chance…?" He was polite enough to stay in the role of questioner, but I could hear his opinion screaming to be released from confinement.
"What do you think of Romney's chances?" I asked, breaking the cardinal rule of the columnist: Never let your readers turn you into their therapist.
Finally someone wanted to know what Joe thought and he was only too happy to tell. "I don't believe this country is ready to elect a Mormon. I spend a lot of time with members of different Christian denominations and to hear them speak about Mormonism is a real education. They hate it; they don't consider it real Christianity; they look at it as a cult."
My rejoinder to this was that all of those prejudices have been buried forever. We already elected a Catholic President, a Jewish Vice President (although the technicality of the Electoral College prevented him from serving despite getting a half-million more votes), a couple of Southern Baptists and who knows what all. No one is voting for the guy they don't believe in because the guy they do believe in believes in things they don't believe in.
Walking away afterwards, I realized a point I had missed throughout the primary season. Namely, that Romney being a Mormon turns out to be a big asset for him in this particular election. The hardest part for a lot of the Independents in rejecting Obama is the feeling they had four years ago that they were doing something beautiful for the image of American tolerance by voting for this guy. They were, although it came at a high price, bringing a volcanic flow of molten collegiate abstraction down on the guys at the bottom of the mount listening to the sermon.
Now they need a competing narrative, these indie types do. It has to be a win-win, where they get to be nice guys both times. They need a woman or a Hispanic or an American Indian or someone in a wheelchair or… eh? A Mormon you say? A fellow whose grandfather had to run to Mexico because he was persecuted here? That will do.
So, my friends, it is time to make history, to show once again how open-minded and good-hearted and broad-minded and big-hearted we are. Yes, there has been a tragic history of mistreatment of Mormons in this country. They were viciously murdered as they made their scary trek from New York westward, finally settling in Utah mainly because there was no one else there. It is time to make up for this sorry chapter in our history, to right a wrong we committed against a beleaguered minority.
There are other reasons too, like the fact that this guy specializes in fixing messed-up budgets with big deficits. But this is no time to think selfishly. It is time for apologies and reparations. As for Obama being laid off, there is no need to fret. I hear Joe Biden has a shovel-ready job for him.