Friday, November 30, 2007

Political Science: waiting on a grade

This past Tuesday I turned in the following paper to my Political Science professor and am currently awaiting my grade. I figured y'all would like to read it and post your own grade and we'll see how you would fair as a Kennesaw State University professor. Enjoy!

The Place of Religion in the Presidential Campaigns of
John F. Kennedy & W. Mitt Romney

Mahatma Gandhi said, “Those who say religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion is (Mahatma” While the United States is a place where religion and politics don’t often mix well, the majority of its citizens consider themselves to be believers. In June 2006 the Gallup organization reported that “…92% of Americans can be classified in a group that tilts toward the existence of God, stating that at the least they think God probably exists, even though some have a lot of doubt about it (Newport”

This measure of devotion is benign in a statistical setting, but when real people running for the office of American President claim adherence to an organized religion, passions are ignited nationwide. This essay will discuss the presidential campaigns of John F. Kennedy and Willard Mitt Romney with respect to their respective religious affiliations.

Kennedy is to date the only practicing Catholic to have served as President of the United States. Romney has aspirations of being the first member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (commonly known as LDS or Mormons) to be sworn in as Commander in Chief.

Men of Massachusetts

John F. Kennedy and Mitt Romney have plenty in common beyond their political goals. From 1947 to 1953 John Kennedy represented the state of Massachusetts in the House of Representatives and again in the United States Senate from January 3, 1953 to December 22, 1960 leaving the Senate to be sworn in as the thirty-fifth President of the United States. Similarly, Mitt Romney served as the governor of Massachusetts from January 2, 2003 to January 4, 2007 and is currently campaigning for the 2008 GOP nomination (

Additionally, both Kennedy and Romney graduated cum laude from Harvard University; Kennedy in 1940 with a degree in International Affairs (Degregorio 547-548) and Romney in 1975 with a JD/MBA from Harvard Law School and Harvard Business School (

Family Matters

Both men also come from families with a history of public service. Romney’s father was a three time governor of Michigan, Secretary of US Department of Housing and Urban Development and, albeit briefly, a Presidential candidate himself in 1968 (

Kennedy’s family had planned on his brother’s success in politics, but when Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. was killed in World War II, John became the next man in line. In the late 1940s and early 50s the Kennedy family was closely associated with Senator Joseph McCarthy. Joe Kennedy was a leading McCarthy supporter; Robert F. Kennedy worked for McCarthy's subcommittee, and McCarthy dated Patricia Kennedy (

When John Kennedy ran for president against Richard Nixon there was a large emphasis on the roll of the family. Richard Nixon’s wife Pat was already publicly known as the “Vice President’s Wife” often appearing alone at women’s assemblies and tea parties.

In an effort to counteract the effects of the “Pat for First Lady” campaign, the Kennedy campaign used Jackie’s pregnancy and the prominent Kennedy ancestry to communicate their family unity.

As Keith Melder points out in Hail to the Candidate: Presidential Campaigns from Banners to Broadcasts, “Although Mrs. Kennedy’s pregnancy kept her from active campaigning, she was still projected as a loyal and supportive wife, doing her best to elect her husband. Having had experience as a roving photographer and sometime-columnist for a Washington, D.C. newspaper before her marriage, Jackie was photographed at her typewriter (in the latest, elegant, designer silk suit) writing her campaign column, “The Candidate’s Wife.” Developed and circulated by the Democratic National Committee, it was the first time a candidate’s wife had her own column discussing campaign issues.” John F. Kennedy was elected President on November 8, 1960 and seventeen days later on November 25, John F. Kennedy, Jr. was born (Melder 155-157).

Not unlike Kennedy’s, Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign puts his family in the forefront. Romney has an advantage that the 1950’s Kennedy campaign never imagined – the entire Romney family can be seen by voters twenty-four hours a day with updates at the push of the “refresh” button. Using the ever evolving technology of the internet, Mitt Romney has a website with blogs, video, press releases, links to media articles and a lot of photos with his grandchildren.

Included in the site is the “Five Brothers Blog” where Romney’s five sons all post information about the campaign and their respective families. Jackie had “The Candidate’s Wife;” Romney’s wife has

In a press release from dated Thursday November 22, 2007 former Governor Mitt Romney made the following statement: "As Americans celebrate Thanksgiving, let us give a special thanks to the men and women serving in our military. Their sacrifices are especially heroic as they celebrate the holidays in distant lands. We send them and their families our prayers and deepest gratitude.”

"As my family and I gather for dinner this year, we are especially thankful to the Lord for blessing us yesterday with a new addition to our family. Ann and I are thrilled to be able to celebrate this Thanksgiving with our eleventh and newest grandchild, Nathan, having come into this world. Happy Thanksgiving."

As of this writing, the Romney bio hasn’t been updated with the eleventh grandchild, but photos of the child and his mother are there in all their post-partum glory just moments after his birth. Whether in 1960 or 2007, in politics, timing is everything.

Freedom of Religion

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution states that “Congress shall make no laws respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances (”

Nowhere in that simple sentence does it say that a person of religion cannot run for political office, even the office of the president. So why then have so many asked, “A Catholic in the White House?” or “A Mormon in the White House?”

Although Mitt Romney in his campaign for the presidency has the benefit of improved mass media to deliver his name to more voters, he must also deal with obstacles that John Kennedy never knew. Today, anyone who has anything to say simply has to choose a forum in which to speak their peace, regardless of their position.

Amy Sullivan extolled the dangers of electing Romney in her article in The Washington Monthly entitled “Mitt Romney's Evangelical Problem: Everyone wants to believe the Massachusetts governor's Mormonism won't be a problem if he runs in 2008. Think again.” In this article Ms. Sullivan relates a memory from fifth grade: “The first time I ever heard about Mormons was in fifth grade, sitting in a basement classroom of my Baptist church, watching a filmstrip about cults. Our Sunday school class was covering a special month-long unit on false religions; in the mail-order curriculum, Mormonism came somewhere between devil worshippers and Jim Jones. Although most of the particulars are lost to me now, one of the images remains in my mind: a cartoon of human figures floating in outer space (an apparent reference to the Mormon doctrine of "eternal progression") that appeared on the screen next to our pull-down map of Israel. Even at age 10, the take-away message was clear. Mormons were not like us, they were not Christian.

Evangelical opinions about the LDS Church haven't changed so much since I watched that filmstrip more than 20 years ago. In 2004, Mormons were specifically excluded from participation in the National Day of Prayer organized by Shirley Dobson (wife of James Dobson, leader of the conservative Christian organization Focus on the Family) because their theology was found to be incompatible with Christian beliefs (”

The great thing about America’s freedoms, including freedom of speech, is that they are completely free and one does not have to be tolerant or even correct. Ms. Sullivan failed to clarify that Mormons (also Jews, Buddhists and Seventh-Day Adventists) are allowed to attend the prayer event, just not to speak or lead services (

This type of commentary relating directly to the candidate’s religion is easy to find. Indeed, regardless of the topic being discussed, someone, somehow will invariably link the subject back to his religious roots. This isn’t new; it is simply more overt than in the days of Kennedy. Kennedy’s father, Joseph, Sr., said that John’s loss of the vice presidential nomination in 1956 was just as well. He felt that there were many who would blame anything on a Catholic. Without blogs and personal websites to reference, the patriarch might have a hard time proving his case, but the argument was there (

Platform Profundity

Since the elephant was in the room, Kennedy tackled the question head on with a speech to the nation in a televised address to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association, where he unequivocally stated “While the so-called religious issue is necessarily and properly the chief topic here tonight, I want to emphasize from the outset that I believe that we have far more critical issues in the 1960 campaign (…”

The candidate addressed the issue of his religion, but put it in perspective stating that it was less than a priority when selecting a national leader. It can be argued that Romney might feel the same way, but his approach (or that of his advisers) is to address the religious questions only when they come directly from a voter in some intimate setting. reported, “During a house party overlooking Squam Lake, Romney was asked by voters if he would give a speech outlining his religious beliefs and how those beliefs might impact his administration; much like then-Sen. John F. Kennedy did as he sought to explain his Catholic faith during the 1960 election. "I'm happy to answer any questions people have about my faith and do so pretty regularly," the former Massachusetts governor said. "Is there going to be a special speech? Perhaps, at some point. I sort of like the idea myself. The political advisers tell me no, no, no — it's not a good idea. It draws too much attention to that issue alone ("

Because the attacks on Romney’s religion have not diminished in quantity or quality, and do not appear to be waning any time soon, it’s a good bet the tactic needs revising. Kennedy’s speech gave him the opportunity to appear very Presidential, echoing constitutional principals in his rhetoric. After detailing his opinion of the critical issues Kennedy continues, “I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute; where no Catholic prelate would tell the President -- should he be Catholic -- how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote; where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference, and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him, or the people who might elect him.”

“I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish; where no public official either requests or accept instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source; where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials, and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.”

“For while this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been -- and may someday be again -- a Jew, or a Quaker, or a Unitarian, or a Baptist. It was Virginia's harassment of Baptist preachers, for example, that led to Jefferson's statute of religious freedom. Today, I may be the victim, but tomorrow it may be you -- until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped apart at a time of great national peril.”

“Finally, I believe in an America where religious intolerance will someday end, where all men and all churches are treated as equals, where every man has the same right to attend or not to attend the church of his choice, where there is no Catholic vote, no anti-Catholic vote, no black voting of any kind, and where Catholics, Protestants, and Jews, at both the lay and the pastoral levels, will refrain from those attitudes of disdain and division which have so often marred their works in the past, and promote instead the American ideal of brotherhood (”

Romney’s responses to his attackers are absent. His responses to those who ask the questions directly are brief at best. At Squam Lake Romney continued, “The values of my faith flow from the Judeo-Christian heritage that we probably all share in this room, which are values of believing in God, in the case of those that follow the Christian line of that philosophy, I believe Jesus Christ is my savior. I believe in the Bible. I believe that liberty is a gift of God and not of government. I believe in serving other people, that it's part of a religious heritage.” Even so, Romney said that he hasn't yet decided whether to give a major speech on his faith. “Until that time, you'll have to rely on what you just heard (”

A Newsweek article from October 8, 2007 notes that it might be time to change that approach. “For all his strengths…Romney has been unable to shake his authenticity problem, the sense that he is a glossy and robotic candidate who will say anything to get elected and believes nothing in his heart. His trouble starts with his all-too-convenient conservative-conversion narrative: the pro-choice, pro-gay-rights governor of Massachusetts was miraculously transformed into a crusader for unborn life and the sanctity of marriage, just in time to run for the Republican nomination for president. But underlying the "flip-flopper" charge against Romney is a more disturbing perception, that the numbers-driven candidate is too cautious and committed to winning to explain what he believes in, including his church.”

Kennedy’s response, decades ago, was that his religion didn’t matter and he won his election. Romney, thus far, has left it at “trust me, I’m just like you.” In an era where terrorists strike in the name of unknown and misunderstood religions, the American people are not getting any more trusting of another’s faith. Indeed, Amy Sullivan has shown that some aren’t even susceptible to more information than they were exposed to as a pre-teen.

Victim to Victor

John F. Kennedy referred to himself as a victim of suspicion based on his religious preference. Today he is seen as a hero to fellow Catholics. “We finally made it,” is the cry from former Boston mayor Raymond L. Flynn when speaking of the influence of Catholic voters in this country at Kennedy’s election ( Flynn says that since that time, the Catholic influence has slid and now the nation’s Catholics are apathetic and alienated by both political parties. While alienated and apathetic, there are 157 Roman Catholics currently serving in the 110th US Congress ( Imagine what could happen if politicians catered to the Catholic vote specifically. If Kennedy was a victim, he is also a martyr in a pretty successful cause.

The Mormons have a little further to go on the road to political prominence, but it would surprise plenty of those fearful of Romney’s election to know that fifteen US Congressmen are members of the LDS Church. That includes Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D – Nevada) (

Kennedy spoke of future victims and a time when the nation is ripped apart in peril. While it’s doubtful that the 2008 election will bring great peril, today’s political landscape is changing dramatically. This year saw the first Muslim elected to Congress and the oath of office taken using the Qur’an instead of the Bible (
Documenting specific instances of religious strife in the Kennedy campaign is not as easy as in the Romney campaign, but there is evidence of political challenges in the name of religion in both camps. Romney is challenged on his policies by his opponents, but the voting public appears more concerned with what they’ve been told about his religion. There is time yet still to see if Romney takes the Kennedy approach to convince voters that neither does he turn to ecclesiastical leaders for advice on public issues.

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