Much has been made of presidential candidate Mitt Romney's devotion to the Mormon Church. In previous writing, I may have been a little too hasty to trivialize Romney's faith, thinking it of only limited relevance to his policy ideas.
But as the campaign trail has continued its insufferably slow progress towards election day, it has become clear that Mitt's faith can tell us plenty about his vision and values. In particular, it arguably informs his nationalistic biases, his suspect foreign policy, and his tendency to judge America and its ideals as superior to all others.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, just like any other religion, should not be subject to the brevity of synopsis that I am about to give it, but it is important to shed at least a little light on the Mormon history. Joseph Smith, founder of Mormonism, believed that America is the earthly home of the Garden of Eden, and that a resurrected Jesus showed himself there to restore gospel. It is also where he will return again in the future.
Marion G. Romney, cousin of Mitt, and a leading authority of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has spoken in the past of the "final, great and glorious destiny" of the United States where "Zion is to be established and the New Jerusalem is to be built". It is from there that the law of God can be brought to all nations.
Mitt has seemingly absorbed these messages into his political being. Exhibit A could be his 2010 book No Apology: The Case for American Greatness. See also his comments in Cathedral Age magazine: "My faith is grounded in the conviction that a consequence of our common humanity is our responsibility to one another - to our fellow Americans foremost, but also to every child of God."
Note the phrase "to our fellow Americans foremost". This, of course, makes him no different from so many other patriotic politicians, but other policies of Mitt's set him apart from the crowd, and could potentially be traced back to his Mormon roots.
Take defence spending. Romney's ambition is to tie defense spending to GDP at a level of 4%. At first glance, this looks like an unaggressive policy, but should the economy grow as he predicts and defence spending is gradually adjusted to his goal by the end of his first term, then America could potentially fork out an extra $400 billion on defence over a Romney term compared to what is planned should Obama reclaim office.
An extra $400 billion. That's nearly three times America's current annual education budget, and not too far shy of what it currently spends on Medicare in a year. Already, the US government leads the world in defence spending with expenditure of $716 billion annually, more than the next 26 biggest spending countries combined.
Does this extra spending become an imperative for such a staunch follower of the Mormon faith, to protect the country that is at the core of it? Possibly. Of course someone without faith could espouse the same policy, but it would be equally misguided.
Gaffes made on his recent world tour, however, seem more uniquely Romney. The eight-day, three-country tour questioned not only his political professionalism but also his general foreign policy framework. It is unlikely that Romney will ever be comfortable on the world stage until he divorces himself from his great preoccupation with his own citizens, and in a world so integrated, he should not become President until he can do so.
The values that he holds are so overtly American that there seems little leeway for consensus, even with Democrats. He's moved to the right of his moderate Massachusetts governing since entering the election race, sure, but it appears his Americo-centrism has ballooned also. The economic argument that he could give for his plans to lower taxes on the rich and to trust more to the markets, for instance, has been subsumed under the mantra that state programmes erode 'American' freedoms.
Make no mistake, America is at the heart of everything that Romney is about. And its not too much of a stretch to attribute this at least partly to his faith. Never mind his recently lampooned comment that his job is not to worry about the 47% of Americans dependent on government, it seems he is also reluctant to worry about the roughly 95% of global citizens who live outside the US. America cannot afford to isolate itself, and Romney needs to realise this pretty sharply should he enter the White House.
All this nationalism may win him votes. It may even win him an election. But at a time when America needs to abandon is self-styled exceptionalism in the name of cooperation, its bad news for almost everyone else.