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How Bad Would a President Romney Be for Blacks and Latinos?

Mitt Romney says that he will preach and practice diversity. But his record as governor is anything but reassuring on diversity.
 
 
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Now that Mitt Romney has been certified on the cover of Time Magazine as a bonafide GOP presidential contender he'll be peppered with even more tough questions about his politics and philosophy. He'll also be peppered with questions about his Mormon faith.

One of the questions is would his administration be truly inclusive, namely would he preach and practice diversity. The pithy one line answer that he gave when Jay Leno recently asked him that nagging question won't cut it. He simply said that he believed discrimination is wrong.

It's hard to image a candidate, any candidate running for an office, saying anything else. Romney's record as Massachusetts governor is anything but reassuring on diversity. In fact, when it came to appointing minorities and women to judicial posts his record was atrocious. It took a big pounding by the Massachusetts Women's Bar Association in his last year in office before he made a slew of appointments of minorities and women to the state bench. By then Romney had his eye firmly set on a presidential bid, and that put him in the national public spotlight.

His record on diversity would be closely scrutinized. Romney's successor Deval Patrick, a Democrat, and the state's first African-American governor, strongly hinted in his inaugural address that he would make diversity and inclusion a huge part of his administration. This was a not-so-veiled slap at Romney. (Romney did not attend Patrick's inaugural).

Now with Time's imprimatur, his knack for raising tons of campaign cash, and the race for the GOP presidential nomination still in the early stage, and with leading GOP contenders John McCain's penchant for gaffes and Rudy Guiliani's stumbles on abortion, Romney is poised to be the GOP's go to guy if McCain or Giuliani tumble from the top.

The question of diversity in a Romney White House would nag even more. That also brings in the question about Romney's faith. The Mormons clung tightly to their 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 simply held to this racial belief longer and more doggedly than the others, and scrapped it only after church leaders say 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.

Romney himself is a near textbook example of that conservatism. He has aggressively courted the evangelical right, is loudly pro-life, opposes same-sex marriage, proposes big cuts in taxes and government spending, and would pack the Supreme Court with conservatives. He has wrapped himself more snugly in the cloak of Ronald Reagan than the other GOP contenders.

Romney probably wouldn't do what President Bush did and appoint a bevy of high profile African-Americans to top echelon positions. Diversity, of course, was hardly the mantra of the Reagan 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 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 and his backers point to a possible backlash against John F. Kennedy's Catholic faith. It was feared that would derail his White House bid in 1960. That didn't happen because Catholicism is much closer to the religious mainstream than Mormonism is and because Kennedy didn't dodge the issue.

In a speech, early on he 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. He was also right when he told Leno that Americans don't pick candidates based on the church they go to but on the values they share.

However, those values more often than not can't be separated from their religious beliefs and in Romney's case it's far from clear that diversity is one of them. And that's a matter of more than faith.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is a political analyst and social issues commentator, and the author of the book, The Emerging Black GOP Majority (Middle Passage Press, September 2006), a hard-hitting look at Bush and the GOP's court of black voters.

 
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