A reader of my blog (and a formidable acquaintance) takes me to task for an earlier post about Mitt Romney in which I alluded to Kolob, a legendary planet that figures in LDS traditions.   Their comment is too sharp and too thoughtful not to be reproduced in full:

This just in: planet Kolob has yet to be discovered, but Willard Romney's 2011 tax returns have been released,Yes, planet Kolob has yet to be discovered. In fact, science has yet to verify any religious belief.

That does not stop people from thinking their own magical thinking is superior to the magical thinking of others, and use this is a form of condescension.

Is there some connection between the Romney tax problem and his improbable belief God lives near Kolob? About as much a connection between Obama's problems and his improbable belief in the Resurrection I would imagine.

Unnecessary mockery of another's religious beliefs is always an implicit invitation to unnecessary mockery of one's own religious beliefs. Most who believe in intellectual honesty try to avoid it, as it is always a quick race to the bottom.

Hmm.   I guess I'm not wearing a seamless garment?  Actually, I don't know that Romney believes anything about Kolob, as it's apparently a minor heterodox claim among the LDS that is not, as far as I know, believed to be essential to the Church's teachings.  An appropriate comparison for the President would not be his improbable belief in Resurrection (which is surely central to Christianity), but perhaps to a dispute about whether St. Paul was married, or no.
At any rate, nothing in my post asserts that any belief held on faith on my part is superior to any belief held on faith on the part of LDS, and I think my critic misread my intent if they presumed that I was  mocking the beliefs of LDS generally, or Romney's beliefs in particular.   My reader is a principled skeptic on a host of topics, so perhaps he or she was too quick to seize upon comments that referenced religion as being inherently critical?  Alternatively, my writing sacrificed clarity for a stylistic flourish? (More on that in a moment).

At any rate, my critic asks about the connection between Romney's taxes and his (supposed) beliefs about where God hangs out.  Well, at the risk of being picky please note that I didn't reference that belief at all, but merely the fact that Kolob hadn't been discovered.   Unlike God's existence (which my reader correctly notes cannot be verified), the existence of a planet like Kolob is, in principle, verifiable.   If some LDS astronomer predicted (for whatever reason) that a planet with certain properties and dimensions would be detected around a certain star, that could be tested.   This would still not prove any theological claims about any planet, whatever you called it, but again I wasn't referencing those claims.   For that reason, it would be a mistake to think that I am somehow invested in a contrary, but equally theological claim about Kobol's properties, or that I could imagine that the failure to verify Kobol's alleged existence could be enlisted to support my own brand of "magical thinking."  (Shoot, I don't even like the term "verify" that much, because of its association with logical positivism. )

The actual linkage that I had in mind was not God's existence, but Kolob's existence.   There is a play on the word "discovery" in a legal sense, in that in releasing his 2011 tax returns Gov. Romney was finally providing some transparency and documentation on an item that was as previously remote as an alleged (and as yet undiscovered) planet.   In the back of my mind I also had the image of other things that are remote to the average American: Swiss bank accounts and Cayman Island tax shelters.   Perhaps I should've chosen some other image of a remote, fantastic place (Shakespeare's "undiscovered country", or Shangri-La, etc.) as a means of making that point.   My critic is quite right about one thing: given that Mr. Romney's LDS beliefs (whatever they are) are not germane to how his taxes are perceived, it would not be appropriate to mock them.  I'm disinclined to discuss such things in general in the political arena, except perhaps in the case where a person's professed beliefs are explicitly contradicted by their actions.   That seems fair game to me, but even there I suppose I should be cautious.  Throwing stones can be contagious.

Anyway, the substance of my post clearly has nothing to do with what items either I or Mitt Romney take on faith.  It was an attempt by me to parse the whole issue of taxes and wealth in the context of framing a winning political message.  I think I was actually very fair to the Governor and made clear I think arguments that appeal to envy of another's class or wealth are non-starters with me.  Those kinds of arguments also lead pretty quickly, in my critic's phrase, to a "race to the bottom."   But I think I also made clear that Mr. Romney's lack of transparency hurts him with voters, regardless of what I or anyone else thinks about class envy.  That lack of transparency makes Mr. Romney more remote, and makes a difficult task (connecting with the average person and winning their trust) all but impossible. 

As I noted, I'm not really all that concerned about how Mr. Romney made his money.   The IRS got to see it, and presumably they apply a pretty good "smell test" to returns on income of seven figures, or more.   I was trying to explain why Romney's success, in my view, could've been part of a more user-friendly narrative that could've pointed to the Governor's potential strengths, and why his choices were simply bad politics.  This post doesn't really critique Romney's beliefs or character one bit: it's about the choices he made in the course of several news cycles that any reasonably talented politician would've understood were not in his best interests.

In conclusion, I would like to thank my critical reader for provoking this response, because one of my goals this year is to write, write and write some more...and, hopefully along the way, polish my writing skills.   Part of writing is editing, but one of the bracing things about blogs is that people often do not edit their own work.   It's a format that lends itself to a "quick-write" sort of response.  I wrote the first thing that popped into my head for an opening paragraph, looking for an exotic "grabber" to bring the reader in, and those kind of "impulse buys" clearly have their drawbacks.   While I don't think my general argument is in any way compromised by my poor choice of parallelism, my skeptical reader seized upon my first nineteen words, ran it up the yardarm and fired away.    To me, it was just another literary reference, like Croesus or "death and taxes".  If someone thought I was fanning the flames of anti-Mormon bigotry, I ask for a mulligan.   I ask my skeptical readers to consider giving me the benefit of the doubt.

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