Friday, June 22, 2012

Romney’s "Friends:" I’m Mormon, Not Christian; Extreme Wealth Inequality is Good

It is always beneficial for a politician to have many friends. Friends can contribute money or advice; they can be comforting in trying times; and like kids, they can say the darnedest things.

Mitt Romney has been on the defensive about his Mormon faith, not because of his Democratic adversaries, but because the Evangelical Christians who make up so much of the Republican base have a habit of referring to Mormonism as a "cult."

A recent opinion piece in the New York Times by David V. Mason may not have been viewed as helpful. He chose the provocative title: I’m a Mormon, Not a Christian. The reference to Mason as a "friend" was made with tongue firmly planted in cheek. There is no known connection between the two people, other than their Mormon religion.

Mason provides this perspective:

"For the curious, the dispute can be reduced to Jesus. Mormons assert that because they believe Jesus is divine, they are Christians by default. Christians respond that because Mormons don’t believe — in accordance with the Nicene Creed promulgated in the fourth century — that Jesus is also the Father and the Holy Spirit, the Jesus that Mormons have in mind is someone else altogether. The Mormon reaction is incredulity. The Christian retort is exasperation. Rinse and repeat."

So far so good, but then Mason proceeds to say he is tired of theological hair splitting, and implies that Christianity is unworthy of his membership.

"Being a Christian so often involves such boorish and meanspirited behavior that I marvel that any of my Mormon colleagues are so eager to join the fold."

He believes that Mormonism stands on its own as an equal to Christianity, each being based on Abrahamic origins.

"....I rather agree with Richard D. Land, the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, who calls Mormonism a fourth Abrahamic religion, along with Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Being set apart from Christianity in this way could give Mormonism a chance to fashion its own legacy."

Mason then leaves the reader with this memorable quote:

"Whatever happens in November, I hope Mormonism eventually realizes that it doesn’t need Christianity’s approval and will get big and beat up all the imperious Christians who tormented it when it was small, weird and painfully self-conscious. Mormons are certainly Christian enough to know how to spitefully abuse their power."

Did he just say that Mormons are going to take over and when they do they will abuse their power and beat up "imperious Christians?" I think he did.

Adam Davidson provided a fascinating article in the New York Times about Edward Conard: The Purpose of Spectacular Wealth, According to a Spectacularly Wealthy Guy. Given that Conard is a former colleague of Romney at Bain Capital, and is one of his largest doors, the appellation "friend" is appropriate. Davidson tells us that Conard’s wealth is "most likely in the hundreds of millions."

Romney is not really very good at projecting himself as just a normal guy who happens to be wealthy. While not ashamed of his wealth, he does not go around bragging about it. He would probably be happy if the issue of wealth never came up. Being friends with Conard may make that difficult.

"Unlike his former colleagues, Conard wants to have an open conversation about wealth. He has spent the last four years writing a book that he hopes will forever change the way we view the superrich’s role in our society. "Unintended Consequences: Why Everything You’ve Been Told About the Economy Is Wrong," to be published in hardcover next month [June} by Portfolio...."

And what is Conard’s contribution to Romney’s political messaging?

"....[he] aggressively argues that the enormous and growing income inequality in the United States is not a sign that the system is rigged. On the contrary, Conard writes, it is a sign that our economy is working. And if we had a little more of it, then everyone, particularly the 99 percent, would be better off. This could be the most hated book of the year."

Conard argues that the economy is driven by people willing to take risks. The greater the payoff in wealth, the more likely people will be willing to take extreme risks.

"....’When I look around, I see a world of unrealized opportunities for improvements, an abundance of talented people able to take the risks necessary to make improvements but a shortage of people and investors willing to take those risks. That doesn’t indicate to me that risk takers, as a whole, are overpaid. Quite the opposite.’ The wealth concentrated at the top should be twice as large, he said."

And then there is this observation:

"Conard....insists that even the dodgiest financial products must have been beneficial or else nobody would have bought them in the first place. If a Wall Street trader or a corporate chief executive is filthy rich, Conard says that the merciless process of economic selection has assured that they have somehow benefited society. Even pro-market Romney supporters take issue with this."

And, finally, one more politically incorrect comment:

"The financial crisis, he writes, was not the result of corrupt bankers selling dodgy financial products. It was a simple, old-fashioned run on the banks, which, he says, were just doing their job."

"With friends like these....who needs enemies?"

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