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Friday, November 2, 2012

How Race And Religion Shape Two Unique Candidates

Republican president candidate former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama meet at the end of the last debate at Lynn University on Oct. 22, 2012 in Boca Raton, Fla. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

Mitt Romney is the first Mormon to win a presidential nomination. Barack Obama is the first African American president and he’s asking for a second term. What is important to know about those two aspects of these two men?

In the October 8th cover story for TIME magazine, Jon Meacham writes:

“By cultural and theological conditioning, Romney expects life to be difficult, even confounding — hence the need for the analytical skills of a management consultant. Mormons are accustomed to conflict and expect persecution. The Mormon sense of destiny gives followers a part in a divine story, a larger saga of the conflict between good and evil, infusing their lives with both great purpose and keen pragmatism.”

Meantime, Peter Wallsten writes in The Washington Post:

“Obama rarely discusses his innermost feelings about being the first African American to occupy the Oval Office, according to friends and associates, preferring to keep his thoughts closely held, shared with only a select few. He has shown himself to be drawn to the symbolic, or even aspirational, aspect of his presidency.”

Additional reading on race and Obama:

Additional reading on Romney and Mormonism:


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  • charles

    I love Jon (his book about Jackson was the best book I read last year) but saying that “being adaptable for the sake of expediency” is simply a wordsmith’s way of saying “lying about one’s position for political opportunism.”

  • Max E Stanton

    Thank you for bringing out the fact that not all Latter-day Saints are made from the same mold.  I was an anthropology professor at a Latter-day Saint university for 37 years.  I taught human physical evolution from the same textbooks and authors that were used at the University of Oregon where I received my doctorate.  The last Republican president I voted for was Nixon in 1968.  And I proudly drove my car to work in 1972 with a McGovern sticker on the bumper. I voted for Onbama in 2008 and will so again this year.

  • Barbara L.

    With all due respect to Jon Meacham — is Mormon “expedience”: a  theologcial twist on flip-flopping?  This was already floated this week by David Brooks in the NYT.  I’m getting scared.  Whatever happened to essences and soul?? 

  • Candice

    I wish president Obama could call out the obvious racism directed towards him with out coming off as “an angry black man.” it’s too bad that he is a tough methodical smart man that can rise above ignorant comments only because it come off as weak to the black community when he doesn’t seem to defend himself. The fact that he has to defend a fist bump to the people that watch fox news shows you how much further we need to go when it comes to racism.

    • BHA_in_Vermont

      He gets the short end either way. If he is assertive in defense of himself, his policies and his presidency, he is labeled an angry black man. I think this is what we saw during the first debate: Don’t come across as aggressive. If he does not get assertive, he is labeled too “weak”. And we saw the result of the first debate.

  • Drew
  • Kara

    Firstly, I want to say that I took offense to the comment made on air about if he’ll be “blacker” next term, said with a laugh. The concept of people being too black or not black enough is one that has been used in and out of the black community to malign people for being who they are. No matter what Barack Obama does he will not become more or less black, whether or not he takes more interest in addressing issues disproportionately affecting black people is a different concept.

    Anyway, I really loved that comment about him being a real negro vs a magical negro. Throughout the civil rights movement we always had to find these unbelievably unblemished black people to carry the torch. Just as there were several trial Rosa Parks who were not chosen to be the symbol for the bus movement because of their human mistakes e.g. teen pregnancy, it took someone like Barack Obama, someone with no history of fault to be elected president and at this point what the civil rights movement truly needs is to see someone with flaw and challenge and realize that black people deserve success and non-discrimination just like everyone else regardless of their humanity.

    • Robin

      Yes it came out quickly as the clock counted down, my apologies! 
      Luckily Peter knew that I meant what you more eloquently said,
      that he’d address issues disproportionately affecting African Americans.
      And yest Toure’s comment was lovely.


      • It

        Why is it ok to say “he’d address issues disproportionately affecting African Americans” but it would not be to say “he’d address issues disproportionately affecting Caucasian

        Americans?” Aren’t both just as racist?

  • Candace from San Diego CA

    Listening to Here and Now’s story today regarding the “blackness” of our President was a sad reminder that we have a long way to go before we, as citizens, are color blind. As a young child of 11 years, I traveled through the South and witnessed shocking segregation, something I had never been “obviously” exposed to living in the Northwestern US. I am one of the “white” supporters of President Obama, not because he is black but because I feel he has been a good President during very difficult times in our Country. I feel that he has represented the population, not a segment of the population, and his service has been strong and as far as I can tell fairly transparent. I hope that one day we awaken to a society that votes not based upon special interest but rather for candidates who care for everyone. I look forward to a day when conspiracy theories are no longer a part of politics and that negative campaigning takes a back seat to honest debate. Maybe I am a dreamer…but in the words of the John Lennon, I hope I am “not the only one.”

    • K from Las Vegas, NV

      So well said. I have always been frustrated by the segmentation of Americas… black Americans, Indian Americans, etc… Why can’t we all just be Americans? Seems to me that this labeling is what furthers our separation. Maybe I too am an idealist, or many might even say ignorant. Perhaps I am.
      However as the very proud granddaughter of a Pearl Harbor survivor and WWW2 Veteran, who was taught about freedom and the sacrifice required by so many to achieve it. I can only hope and pray that on one beautiful day, we will all stand during”God bless America” as what we all are free to be… Americans.

      Thanks for the read and a wish for better times ahead for every American.

  • Darrol

    Remember Obama is of mixed race.  he grew-up in an around people who are white. that he is defined as back is a shortcoming of society.  inability to simply look at the whole person first.. rather than the person’s skin.   to say that he is black, then  project his outlook and tendencies and belief system  based upon that observation, diminishes him (the individual),  his non-black family and his personal  experiences which may not match the assumed “Black” paradigm.

    Remember it was often said that Bill Clinton was the first black President because his disposition of inclusion..   his “feeling the pain” of the disenfranchised. and working toward addressing those concerns.  That perspective  is also that of President Obama  - the person… with or without his dark skin. 

  • Michigan Mormon

    As an independent Mormon woman struggling still to decide to vote for Obama (who I voted for in 2008) or vote for a fellow Mormon, I see Romney’s struggle as simply this: he is a moderate who, as a Republican candidate, is forced to kowtow to the powerful tea party. We will not see the real Romney until (if elected twice!!) his second term.

    • BHA_in_Vermont

      If you are even CONSIDERING voting for Romney BECAUSE he is Mormon, you need to look at why you vote. That is no better than voting for or against someone because of their race or gender. How would a Romney Presidency affect positively or negatively YOUR life and the lives of those around you in the near and long term? Vote for Romney IF you think his “plans” will fix all the problems better than Obama’s “plans”.

      And if he is a chameleon changing from what you think is his true moderate self into a far right ultra religious conservative and then back, I have NO interest in seeing him in the White House. If you can’t get elected based on what you REALLY believe and lie your way through the primaries to get to the general election, you are not serving anyone in your party.  This is NOT SURVIVOR(tm).

  • MayaLynn

    As a Mormon, I agree with Meacham’s analysis of the deeply pragmatic streak in Mormonism and the need for accommodation.  But at what point does that pragmatism become unprincipaled?  As part of Utah’s push for statehood, Mormon leaders lied to the U.S. Congress under oath about the on-going practice of polygamy.  It was referred to as “lying for the Lord,” justified by the higher good of freedom of religion and safety from prosecution.  Romney has lied repeatedly in this campaign, and I, for one, am embarrassed to see this characteristic self-protectivism taken to extreme dishonesty.

  • Ckite

    Mormons and many others did help rescue the Constitution in 1862 by securing the communication and transportation lines from West to East. Mormons were key to finding gold in California and this gold was essential to preserving the union. Lincoln, ministers, and others were then key to changing the purpose of the war.

  • Judgclayt

    You did not ask Mitt Romney to express the depth of his whiteness but you ficused on Barack Obama and the depth of his blackness.

    When is he going to be seen as the president who happens to be black?
    WHEN, WHEN?????????????????????

  • Sawyer

    regarding the “white horse” as it occurs in prophecy in the book of revelations, this may be where some have conjured up this idea of conquering others but that is a total misinterpretation of the prophecy, which I know because I have retranslated and found major errors in ALL the current interpretations I have seen. The two points that are misinterpreted are regarding the  “bow” the one who sits on the white  horse carrys and that he conquers. Most translate “bow” as a bow and arrow, thus a weapon of war, when it actually comes from the greek tikto, which means “to bear” or “produce”, to birth young. And conquer has to do with  the greek nikao, the same word translated in other places to overcome or prevail, that is related to the meaning of israel, those who prevail as Jehovah, which Jesus said was a must to be with him in his heaven based kingdom. This overcoming/conquering has to do with overcoming one’s more animal selfish nature, fully consistant with the Old and New Testement teachings of Moses and Jesus. So to treat it as a war call in a militaristic violent setting is a huge twist out of context. Robin, I suggest you have me as a guest. I have a book I’m about to self publish that re-translates and re-interprets all Jesus prophecies that is very, very eye opening and is filled with very direct and thorough cross referencing and context and common sensical practical evaluations of what was intended by those prophecies.

    • J__o__h__n

      Robin, please don’t have authors of self-published books interpreting religious texts on your show!

  • Not Wondering

    I am always nonplussed when someone remarks that the current presidential race is the “most racially divisive” race ever, or words to that effect.  Race hasn’t been a factor before, simply because there has never been other than a white male running before.  I think it is obvious that a certain segment of the population can’t get over the fact that the president is half black.  Instead of wondering why it is that race keeps popping up in the election, you simply need to face that fact.  Why is anyone surprised?

  • Bonnie Hausman

    I gave up considering the religious affiliation of political candidates long ago…yes, as long ago as 1960 (before I could vote) when the issue raged during the Kennedy-Nixon campaign.  Ever since then, I have preferred to vote for a candidate based on leadership, political philosophy, and policy perspectives rather than putting religious affiliation into the calculus. 
    Admittedly, before casting my ballot for Senator Obama in 2008, I had to absorb the fact that his church was led by Reverend Jeremiah Wright, a man who spewed venomous hatred, yet it was Michelle and Barack’s spiritual home, the place where they brought their children to listen and to worship!.   I was excited about the message from Barack Obama and what his promise could mean for millions of black and poor children, but honestly, I couldn’t imagine sitting in any religious sanctuary for even 5 minutes and allowing my young children to be exposed to the vitriol that we were hearing from Rev. Wright.  No one I know in Newton MA would tolerate their pastor or rabbi indoctrinating their children with such messages of hatred. 
    Then today, on Hear and Now, more than five decades after I first heard about discriminating against a candidate on religious grounds, you raise the issue of Mormonism only four days before a presidential election.  But, unless I arrived in the middle of the conversation, only one of the candidate’s religions was up for discussion.  The parallel topic should have been the United Church of Christ in Chicago under Rev. Wright because that is President Obama’s spiritual home. He went there, it is told, to solidify a “black” identity.  Yet, he isn’t “black” but is a mixed product of two American races and cultures.  Still, the Rev. Wright perspective was the one he identified with, chose as the site for his marriage and the place he would come with children for spiritual guidance.  So be it.
    Again, I may have come to the discussion mid-way, but I heard no mention of Rev. Jeremiah Wright when discussing Pres. Obama’s spiritual leader and mentor.  And, Robin, could you explain to your audience, please: what was the purpose of bringing religion into the conversation in the first place, just four days before the election?  And especially with no mention of Obama’s spiritual mentor and leader?  Have you brought the candidates’ religious affiliations and spiritual identities to the political forum again, 52 years after we thought we put this to rest? 

    • Adam S.

       I see your point. I am a member of the same church as Romney I was happy with the assessment in this program because the part I caught didn’t feel like an attack on my personal faith. It’s what’s troubled me about Romney’s candidacy. I now get attacked in the articles I read the shows I watch and the people I talk to because my faith is a national political issue. The feeling of discrimination is pretty strong for me when even in unrelated main stream news outlets someone needs to mock my beliefs because they find them “strange” with out taking any time to try and understand them. I felt that the comments in this program were in no way negative or critical and actually felt like they came from someone who bothered to give thought to our views as they are and not as they might seem from an outside point of view.  That being said it has been entirely one-sided Romney’s beliefs, and mine coincidentally, are up for major scrutiny, this isn’t the case for almost any other candidate. That being said I am happy that it seems Obama hasn’t wasted his time on this issue. or at least not that I’ve seen. I think almost any other politician would have gone after Romney’s religion with a fork and knife.

    • http://www.facebook.com/stephen.havel Stephen Havel

      Can you espound on specific things rev. wright said that was hateful. I know I could research it, but that wouldn’t tell me to what you are referring.

  • BHA_in_Vermont

    “Help those within the faith community”

    OK, so Romney thinks the Mormons in the “47%” deserve help BECAUSE they share his faith but the rest are entitle

    Got it.

    If he is elected, unless he decides that every citizen of the USA is “within the USA community”, only Mormons will “deserve” help from the government.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1024704853 Clayton Mathis

    I was truly shocked to hear Robin talk about whether or not Obama has commented on his “feelings about his ‘Blackness’.”  Would you ever question how any white politician feels about their “whiteness?” 

    This kind of comment only serves to deepen the racial divide in this country. We can’t live in a post-racial society when we are still having conversations like this.  To me this is akin to the reporter asking Hillary Clinton what designers she likes. No one would ever ask a man that question and no one should question how a person who happens to be black how they feel about their “blackness.” I even find that term offensive.

    • http://www.facebook.com/stephen.havel Stephen Havel

      You’ve got to be kidding that such a statement by robin deepens racial divide. Talk can not deepen a divide UNLESS one is already well divided. To say race isn’t a factor in this race or any contest is like saying there is no racism. Racism is actually race consciousness. The fact is that whites don’t think of themselves as a “race” in the way whites think about non-whites as a race. I’d gamble big money that most whites raised in white households and neighborhoods are pre-programmed to think and act towards all others of non-white skin color as either beneath them or to whom they are fearful of which comes with a hyper racial consciousness and associated judgementalism that is anything but non-bias. Thus why not talk about it as honestly as we can without retorick tip toeing about so much. The whites are in power everywhere in the US and elsewhere so there is no need to talk about whiteness. Whiteness is blatent and quite disturbing in the history that has been played out.

  • It

    To recap this segment: If you vote for Romney you are voting
    for a religious fanatic. If you vote against Obama you are a racist.

  • Dan

    Did you both really discuss The President’s ability to be “more black”in his second term? 

  • bburch

    If you want to know how his Mormonism will influence Mitt Romney as president, look how it informed his term as governor. Look how it influences Harry Reid. Here in Nevada, we’ve had governors, congressmen, mayors, county commissioners, state legislators and community leaders at every level who were Mormons and served without their religion ever being an issue. On the whole they are respected and serve honorably. You don’t need to dig up an obscure quote from Joseph Smith to understand Mormon attitudes about government. In the church’s official statement of beliefs known as the Articles of Faith, number 12 states: “We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring and sustaining the law.”

  • CA_Mormon

    I would agree with John Meacham comments today.  I would say it is a fair commentary.  As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, I grew up in California.  I didn’t attend a chuch school, but I did serve a mission.  A mission teaches an individual, among other things,  about discovering the differences and getting along with those who disagree. 
    I have never lived in Utah, and have always felt that I was always on the “frontier” with my faith, with a constant requirement to explain my faith, and a need to fit in and work with people.  In grade school some ridiculed, by college they asked loaded questions, and adult life they  just ask questions of understanding.  I learned to adapt and fit in. 
    I don’t need everyone around me to believe the same as I do.  I have many non-member friends who know my faith, and I know theirs.  We acknowledge our differences, and respect one another.  Above all we get along and focus on what we do agree on.  These are enriching friendships. 

  • Gary

    I think we need to correct a bit of history as laid out by Kara.   The African American community has had effective leaders but also flawed.  Martin Luther King though flawed by adultery is one of the great figures in history.  Stating that President Obama is, in Kara’s words, “someone with no history of fault…” is inaccurate.  In Mr. Obama’s own autobiography he admits to a significant amount of drug use.  I hope that most people consider breaking the law and taking drugs a fault.  History will judge the effectiveness of President Obama’s leadership but lets at least keep the facts straight.  

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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