I doubt that it surprises many Mormons that Mitt Romney wants to leverage his religion to drum up his support among co-religionists. It does, however, surprise the Boston Globe, and in all likelihood it surprises a lot of its readers. The more others view Mormonism as normal, the more shocked they are to see evidence of the prevalent us-versus-them mentality among Mormons.

Last week, I posted an article about Senator Reid’s ethical problems. The two dominant strains in the comments were disappointment and defense. Aside from Arnold Layne and myself (and I am not Arnold Layne), very few people were willing to attack Senator Reid for his moral lapses.

We do not have to search far to find examples of this kind of us-versus-them attitude in the larger world. Here in Massachusetts, we continually re-elect (by wide margins) America’s most reviled Senator, Ted Kennedy. In many states, Republicans run smear ads against their opponents to highlight how often they voted with Ted Kennedy. Shortly after I moved to Massachusetts, I was utterly dismayed to hear a “John Kerry for Senate” advertisement wherein Kerry touted his own frequent agreement with Ted Kennedy(!)

Conversely, most of my fellow Bay Staters (as we Massachusetts residents like to be called) identify so strongly with Ted Kennedy that they tend to perceive attacks against him as attacks on Massachusetts.

Though Ted Kennedy is a uniquely polarizing Senator, our approach in Massachusetts to Kennedy is typical. It’s the way that voters generally approach their own long-term, incumbent political representatives. Over time, voters tend to identify with the prominent political figures they elect, and being represented by that prominent political figure becomes part of many voters’ personal branding. (Perhaps it would be appropriate to insert a comparison to Stockholm Syndrome right here.)

Now, back to Mormonism: I’m trying to use this analysis to show that Mormons treat prominent Mormon politicians like Romney and Reid and Hatch the same way that voters treat the incumbent politicians who represent them. And it seems to me that there is some sense in which Mormons do expect Mormon politicians to represent them, even when they do not belong to that politician’s constituency. The problem is that this is the exact fear of many non-Mormon voters; viz., that Mormon politicians represent other Mormons and the interests of Mormonism, and not the interests of their constituents.

When one points out that Senator Reid does not appear to be particularly ethical or that he cannot plausibly be said to be pro-life, Mormons rush to defend him or express their disappointment. For my part, I believe that it is damaging to our religion to approach politics this way. What does Senator Reid owe us anyway? Most of us aren’t even Democrats. Shouldn’t news of a vote or a success or a failure or even a moral lapse just be one more interesting bit of news about a prominent Mormon?

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