While Bruni’s piece is a more fair-minded rendering of Rich’s argument, MacGillis’s post—noting the flurry of articles attempting to explain Romney’s “reticence on religion” (he also notes Randall Balmer’s piece on the topic in The New Republic)—offers a bizzare alternative as to why the candidate doesn’t want to discuss his Mormonism: that his work abroad as a Mormon missionary allowed him to dodge the draft.
Romney’s trying years in France spared him the risk of some far, far more trying years in former French Indochina. As The Real Romney, the new Romney biography by two Boston Globe writers, recounts, Romney received a 4-D draft exemption as a “minister of religion or divinity student” that protected him from the draft from July 1966 to February 1969. The Mormon exemptions became more controversial as the war in Vietnam escalated, with some non-Mormons in Utah filing a federal lawsuit against them in 1968.
Tomasky’s article, meanwhile, is for the most part insightful as he relies more heavily on biographical information he gleans from two recently published books on Romney. His efforts at psychoanalysis are fortunately limited to:
Commentators have spent countless hours speculating whether Romney is “really” moderate or conservative. The answer is that he is neither, and both. The lessons he learned from watching his father fail to make it to the White House are: don’t stick to your guns; be flexible; suit the needs of the moment. And so, in order to complete his father’s unfulfilled destiny, he has decided to become his father’s opposite.
Now, certainly, one of the duties of a political journalist, particularly those covering a presidential election, is to shed light on the character of the candidates. And if there’s a character in need of illumination this year it may indeed be Romney, whose resistance to the press and media appearances is well-documented. His reputation as a blank canvas are not undeserved: Rich, quite rightly asserts:
We don’t know who Romney is for the simple reason that he never reveals who he is.
This is the theory I’d offer for why Romney seems like such a phantom to journalists: he avoids us.
As Huffington Post’s Michael Calderone reported in December, Romney has only granted access for profiles in Parade and People magazines. Meanwhile, Robert Draper, who wrote his Romney profile “Building a Better Romney-bot,” for New York Times Magazine last December had this experience with the candidate’s campaign, per his story:
I asked the campaign staff if I could talk to Romney about his economic proposals. They replied that in the interests of controlling the campaign’s message, the candidate would not be participating in any profiles or “process stories.
That’s perhaps one way to control his message, but it’s not a terribly effective one to control the media’s, who must report on the frontrunner whether he cooperates or not. In erring on the side of caution, Romney has estranged himself from the media and the public, and stirred suspicion that he has something to hide.
Even when he is not lying about his history—whether purporting to have been “a hunter pretty much all my life” (in 2007) or to being a denizen of “the real streets of America” (in 2012)—he is incredibly secretive about almost everything that makes him tick. He has been in hiding throughout his stints in both the private and public sectors. While his career-long refusal to release his tax returns was damaging in itself, it resonated even more so as a proxy for all the other secrets he has kept and still keeps.
Dogged reporting (like that of Boston Globe reporters Michael Kranish and Scott Helman in their book The Real Romney) or even a basic archive search (see here for a time when Romney was more open about his faith) is one way to deal with this vacuum. Armchair psychoanalysis is, for better or worse, another.