GOP Presidential nominee Mitt Romney was asked during the 2008 GOP presidential primary campaign what he thought about diversity. He gave the stock answer that he supported it in government and corporations. A little later Jay Leno in a late night interview asked him whether his administration would be truly inclusive. Romney tossed out the pithy one liner that he believed discrimination is wrong.
Romney managed to answer the question that has nagged every GOP presidential candidate (and president) since Nixon without saying anything. But it's not a politician's words that count. It's their action and public record. Bush managed to blunt the hard criticism that a GOP White House is almost always a virtually an exclusive white, rich, male, clubby preserve with his arguably breakthrough appointments of Coin Powell, Secretary of State, and Condoleezza Rice, National Security Advisor and Secretary of State, and Alberto Gonzalez, Attorney General.
Romney's successor Deval Patrick, a Democrat, and the state's first African-American governor, wasted no time in knocking Romney for his blatant race and gender blind spot on appointments. In his inaugural address he made it clear that he would make diversity and inclusion a huge part of his administration. Romney, not surprisingly, did not attend Patrick's inaugural.
Romney now that he's the declared GOP presidential candidate and the presumptive front-runner for the nomination can't duck the diversity issue. The parade of Romney race tinged gaffes that include the metaphorical reference to hanging Obama, a joke about Obama's birth certificate, using the racially offensive word "tar baby" to describe a public works project, and an animal reference in a pose with an African-American doesn't tag Romney as a racist. He apologized or pleaded ignorance in every case. But it does touch off warning bells on race.
Then there are the questions about Romney's faith. The Mormons at one time clung tightly to a well-documented, race-tinged dogma for more than a century that blacks were an inferior race, could not be priests, serve on missions or be married in the Temple. Mormons were hardly the only religious group that hid behind the Old Testament curse of Ham as a cover for their blatant racial bigotry. Many evangelical fundamentalists did the same. The Mormons scrapped it only after church leaders said they got a revelation from God in 1978. That was a decade and a half after the great civil rights battles of the 1960s.
The Mormon leaders claim that they have convincingly junked their racist past, and tout their much-publicized genealogical research on African-American families, their aggressive missions in Africa, and the handful of blacks that serve in the important church body known as the Quorums of the Seventy to proof it. But Mormon leaders have also have rejected calls for the church to apologize for its century plus defense of that past.
Mormon change efforts are certainly commendable, but that doesn't lessen suspicion that the attitudes of rank and file Mormons toward race and gender issues aren't still frozen in time. The inherent social conservatism in the Mormon faith and practices further deepens the suspicion that a Mormon in the White House would hardly be prone to make diversity the watchword of their administration.
In opinion polls nearly half of all Americans have an unfavorable view of Mormons. They still see the faith as clannish, cultish, polygamy practicing, and far out of the mainstream of American religious traditions. They are rightly troubled that Romney's faith and conservative politics may be so meshed that a Mormon could not keep church and state matters separate.
Romney bristles at this notion. In a speech in December, 2007 he tried to put the fears to rest that his faith would not be an issue in his governing. Romney's right that his faith shouldn't be the determining issue in whether he's fit to be president. And an irony is that in some polls African-American Protestants are actually less hostile to Mormons than hard line white evangelicals. Still, Romney's actions, not his words or poll numbers, on diversity are and should be a determining issue whether Romney is fit to be president. His record and words are anything but promising on this. And that's more than simply a matter of faith.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is host of the weekly Hutchinson Report Newsmaker Hour on KTYM Radio Los Angeles streamed on ktym.com podcast on blogtalkradio.com and internet TV broadcast on thehutchinsonreportnews.com
Follow Earl Ofari Hutchinson on Twitter: http://twitter.com/earlhutchinson