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Mormon Media Observer: What Mitt might have said

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 4 2012 2:10 p.m. MDT

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney looks over the podium position during a sound check at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012.  (J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press) Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney looks over the podium position during a sound check at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. (J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press)

Of all the telling things said about Mitt Romney's night accepting the Republican nomination in Tampa on Thursday, the most interesting came from Paul Gigot, the terrific editor of the Wall Street Journal opinion page.

He wrote in the Wall Street Journal's online blog:

"Those testimonials about Romney in the last hour were impressive and moving. I cover politics for a living, and I didn't know those stories. Can you imagine if they had been about, say, Bill Clinton? They would have been in books, media profiles and probably a TV movie five years ago. Romney's modesty has probably hurt him."

As a Latter-day Saint, Romney has had to work with hundreds and thousands of people where they live, seeing their problems first-hand. Such work has required intense, emotional thought that breeds insight, compassion and judgment. We Latter-day Saints all know how being a member of a congregation changes us.

I am an average Latter-day Saint, at best, but my LDS life has given me so much insight into the lives and problems of the world. My mission took me into the homes of the poor, the elderly and the sick in Japan. I experienced bigotry and learned how to face hard questions.

When I look back on my experiences in graduate school in Maryland and Ohio, I had some amazing teachers, people whose careers I had followed for years and still do. I am deeply grateful to have had these experiences, which changed my life.

But the school was not nearly as rewarding, soul-stirring and life-changing as being a simple ward mission leader there at the same time. Through my visits, I learned of the problems in our health care system and of problems with things as mundane as public transportation. I learned of poverty and immigration.

Being a Latter-day Saint has taught me a great deal about the problems of the mentally ill, of disability, of broken families and of crime.

No amount of classroom experience could compare with this training and the profoundly moving experiences I have had.

Given his prominent role in the church in Massachusetts, Romney's experience as a Latter-day Saint far exceeds my own, so it is obvious to me that being a Latter-day Saint has given him remarkable insight into national problems — at the level of individuals.

Here is why. Though I don't know Romney, I have personally wrestled with the problems of other people, wondering how best to help, as I have lived the life of a Latter-day Saint. I haven't always been as successful, but the process has changed me. I find I care much more about people than I once did.

I am not endorsing Romney. The same things could be said about Harry Reid or other prominent LDS Democrats.

Now, maybe the endorsements of Mitt's religious life at the convention, if belated, were enough to communicate what Latter-day Saints all know about how this faith changes them. Nor would I say that other religious traditions precludes similar lessons about life.

Still, as I studied Romney's specific acceptance speech, I couldn't help but wish he'd done a little more. Don't get me wrong. It was a fine and effective speech.

There are hundreds of ways to tell the story of the Latter-day Saints that puts them at the heart of the American story.

Think of the potential for a speech-writer. America drove the Latter-day Saints from the country, persecuted them, made war upon them and, today, puts one as a nominee for president.

Such shows the great capacity of the American ideal to include those it had once rebuked.

Romney might have also have told America the story of the handcart pioneers or the Mormon Battalion members, who despite adversity, still believed in American opportunities and ideals of religious freedom. He might have told how this history of handcarts teaches him of the duty to help others.

Or he could have talked about visits to the hospital or the home of an ailing widow.

We have a story tell, one worth telling, and it's embedded in our simple lives, as Latter-day Saints.

Lane Williams teaches journalism and communication at BYU-Idaho. He is a former journalist whose scholarly interests include Mormon portrayals in the media, media and religion, and religion and politics.

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