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Posted by on Jul 2, 2007 in At TMV | 5 comments

Book Review of A Mormon in the White House?

A Mormon in the White House? 10 Things Every American Should Know About Mitt Romney is written by well-known conservative pundit Hugh Hewitt. Hewitt is one of the most vocal opinion-makers in American politics: a partisan Republican and a staunch conservative who does not hold back when dealing with liberals (especially Bill and Hillary Clinton of course). Besides that, he is also a passionate supporter of candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, Governor Mitt Romney. Thus, when I opened my copy of A Mormon in the White House, I knew what to expect: this book was meant to promote Romney, to make him appeal to the conservative base and, in essence, to increase the support for him. Although this book is most certainly a pro-Romney piece of propaganda, it is entertaining, informative, enlightening and persuasive nonetheless.

The structure of the book is simple: Hewitt is trying to sell Romney, so he lists Romney’s strengths, exaggerates them and deal with criticism c.q. Romney’s weaknesses. To do so, Hewitt interviewed Mitt Romney – and others who know a lot about him – on several occasions. Hewitt deals with critics head on: there is no ducking, there is no pretending criticism does not exist. When the author highlights Romney’s strengths he does so in a not-over-the-top manner; using strong arguments to make his case, constantly backed up by examples taken from Romney’s private, professional and political life. Although Hewitt deals with criticism, A Mormon in the White House is a positive book. The author does not try to persuade the
‘customer’ (as in the reader and thus the voter) not to ‘buy’ (vote for) other people, instead he tries to ‘sell’ his own product (Romney).

In the book, Romney is – above all – portrayed as a reasonable and pragmatic conservative. One of the Romney’s main strengths, and red lines throughout the book, is the so-called Bain-way. Bain is a “Boston-based consulting firm whose name has become synonymous with excellence in the consulting field,” and it is here that Romney started his – incredibly successful – professional (business) life. The Bain-way is a way to develop good, sound plans by looking at an issue from all possible sides, and by attacking every proposed solution until every weakness has been exposed and destroyed. One of the ways of doing this – which Romney constantly does – is by bringing experts in a particular field in the same room with each other, who often disagree with each other, and letting them debate each other until a consensus is reached.

Best of all, after Bush’s presidency, is that Romney is his own fiercest and most relentless critic. As Hewitt portrays him, Romney constantly tries to improve himself and his own views by constantly challenging himself / them. As such, Romney practices what Pete Abel and Andrew Sullivan call “the politics of doubt.” Romney, unlike Bush, does not believe that he is infallible, nor does he believe that God constantly tells him what to do. In short, Romney is a completely different kind of leader / politician than George W. Bush is.

One of the strongest criticism directed at Romney is that he has flip-flopped on certain issues, in an attempt to appeal to social conservatives and to get them to support him. Hewitt does not pretend that Romney’s views did not change (doing so would be silly of course) but, instead, tries to explain, by looking at Romney’s record a Governor of Massachusetts, how and when they changed. Hewitt does so in a way that either makes the reader understand Romney’s changed and – ironically – consider this change to be an evolution or, at least, in a way that convinces the reader that if Romney changed his publicly expressed views on certain social issues, he can – at least – defend himself against accusations of being a flip-flopper because he changed his views gradually. And, Hewitt notes, even if you do not believe that he changed his views out of conviction, should conservatives really care about that? What matters more, that someone professes to be a social conservative or that this person implements social conservative policies?

As I wrote earlier in this review, Hewitt tries to sell Romney, by making Romney, quite simply, look good. To do this, Hewitt takes a closer look at Romney’s record as a Governor (moderately conservative), how he saved the Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, his success in his business life (which made him according to some a billionaire), and his personal behavior. Many conservatives believe that the character of a candidate is incredibly important. Their main accusation against Bill Clinton – back in the day – was not that he cheated as such, but that he lied about and that he seemingly could not control himself. Romney belongs to that group of conservatives: he too believes that a president should be of great character, as does the author. That is why the author takes a closer look at Romney’s personal life, his relationship with his wife and children and, of course, how he behaves when he is not working, so to speak. As every salesman, Hewitt finds just about no flaws in his product except for one thing… religion.

Mitt Romney is – as the title of the book suggests – a Mormon. Many conservative Christians have indicated in the past that they will never vote for a Mormon because they consider Mormons to be infidels at best and blasphemers at worst. Instead of trying to portray the Mormon Faith as just another Protestant denomination, Hewitt attacks the anti-Mormon crowd by basically calling them un-American. As Hewitt explains, it is forbidden in the US to conduct a religious test for those seeking public office. Some conservative Christians, however, ignore that principle – which is more than a law – and have created an unofficial religious test nonetheless. As Hewitt explains, it is not just illegal to force candidates to undergo such a religious test, it is a principle, one at the very foundation of America. The author explains that these people are attacking Romney now, and if they win, they will attack Muslims and Catholics as well, and after that every Protestant who is not a ‘born-again’ Christian. What matters, according to Hewitt, is not whether a candidate is a Christian or not, what matters is his (or her character). While I tend to agree with Hewitt to a degree, I think that the most important thing, however, is what policies a certain person favors. Clinton, for instance, did not have a flawless character, but he was a good president.

Hewitt’s style is appealing, his arguments are convincing and his passion is obvious: after reading A Mormon in the White House, even American moderates and – yes – liberals have to admit: Mitt Romney might be too conservative for their taste, but he will make a fine, non-dogmatic president who does not make decisions lightly and who thinks not twice, but three times before proposing big ideas. As for conservatives: I do not see how a conservative, after having read this book, can decide not to support Romney. Hewitt wrote A Mormon in the White House with the goal to persuade conservatives to support Mitt Romney and in this he has succeeded.

A Mormon in the White House: a convincing piece of propaganda.

This review was first published at Monsters and Critics where I am Chief Political Reviewer, section books.