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Mitt Romney

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For some reason The New York Times has given the execrable Lee Siegel space to write on its website. Ruminating on Mitt Romney’s candidacy Siegel puts up a post with the title What’s Race Got to Do With It?, and states:

In this way, Mr. Romney’s Mormonism may end up being a critical advantage. Evangelicals might wring their hands over the prospect of a Mormon president, but there is no stronger bastion of pre-civil-rights-America whiteness than the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Yes, since 1978 the church has allowed blacks to become priests. But Mormonism is still imagined by its adherents as a religion founded by whites, for whites, rooted in a millenarian vision of an America destined to fulfill a white God’s plans for earth.

There is something to this. The ancient leadership of the present day Mormon church grew up in a very different America, and they sometimes reflect that America in their pronouncements. For example, despite the fact that plenty of Mormons are in interracial marriages (I know this from my Facebook friends), there is still some literature floating around in the Mormon church discouraging the practice. Now, granted most Americans’ revealed preferences indicate that they aren’t too into interracial marriage personally, but the social norm is strongly against expressing disapproval in the abstract against the practice.

All that being said, one needs to be careful about overemphasizing the whiteness of Mormons. First, remember that most Mormon males are missionaries abroad at some point in their life, so it isn’t as if they are unfamiliar with societies where non-whites are the majority. And, it is probable that around half of Mormons in the world today are not white (the claims vary on this issue). But it is also notable that Mormons in the USA today are far less white than they were just a generation ago. To illustrate this point I’ve replicated some religious data from the Pew survey. I’ve highlighted in blue some historical mainline/liberal Protestant denominations, and in red some of their evangelical/conservative counterparts.


Denomination/Religion White Black Asian Other Latino N
Evangelical Lutheran 97 1 1 1 1 867
Nazarene 95 2 0 1 2 103
Lutheran, Missouri Synod 95 2 1 1 1 583
Jewish 95 1 0 2 3 671
United Methodist Church 93 2 1 2 2 2232
Episcopal 92 4 1 1 2 468
Presbyterian Church USA 91 4 2 1 2 542
United Church of Christ 91 4 0 4 1 246
Independent Baptist 91 0 1 4 3 905
Unitarian, etc. 88 2 2 5 4 291
Orthodox Christian 87 6 2 3 1 358
Latter-day Saints 87 2 1 3 7 547
Free Methodist 86 7 5 3 0 103
Presbyterian Church in in America 86 5 4 1 4 168
Atheist 86 3 4 2 5 499
Southern Baptist 85 8 1 3 2 2520
Agnostic 84 2 4 4 6 817
Church of God Cleveland 83 2 1 3 11 124
American Baptist 81 4 2 6 7 406
Disciplines of Christ 79 8 0 3 10 137
No Religion 79 5 4 4 8 1971
Church of Christ 76 13 2 3 6 561
Assemblies of God 72 2 2 6 19 477
Catholic 65 2 2 2 29 7393
Religious, no affiliation 60 16 2 5 17 1668
Buddhist 53 4 32 5 4 405
Jehovah’s Witness 48 22 0 5 24 212
Seventh-Day Adventist 43 21 5 4 27 134
Muslim 37 24 20 15 4 1030
Church of God Christ 11 71 1 4 13 158
Hindu 5 1 88 4 2 255
African Methodist Episcopal 1 93 0 5 1 125
National Baptist 0 98 0 0 2 549

Some of the results are not surprising. The Lutheran churches in America have become the ethnic religions of people whose ancestors immigrated from Germany or Scandinavia (and those who marry into these families, who are invariably white because white people have a strong revealed preference of marrying other white people). What is perhaps more interesting is that the list of very white American churches seems somewhat overloaded with liberal establishment denominations. Methodists, Presbyterians, and Episcopalians. These movements have fewer blacks than the Southern Baptists, whose origins are rooted in part in the Southern system of racial segregation! When you compare liberal and conservative divisions of the same church (e.g., Evangelical vs. Missouri Synod Lutherans, United vs. Free Methodists, Presbyterian USA vs. America), there does seem to be a pattern where the proportion of whites is generally higher in the more liberal denomination.

Finally, let’s go back to the Mormon issue. Turns out that Mormons are about as white as Unitarians. This is not too surprising if you’ve ever been to a Unitarian church (I’ve been to several). Mormons are also as white as atheists or agnostics. This will not surprise. But what may surprise is that the denomination into which Barack Obama is baptized has a higher proportion of white members than the Latter-day Saints!

My main point with this post is that you should be careful of toting up numbers, and using that to buttress your position. Mormons in America are proportionally a white denomination. But they’re arguably no whiter than Unitarians, and far less white than Jews. The fact that Unitarians are just as white as Mormons does not imply that they are equivalent in racial sentiments and attitudes with Mormons. Mormonism’s “race problem” is a feature of its history, and a strain of its modern culture, which is independent from its contemporary demographics. Therefore, the demographics should be set to the aside. No one minds that Evangelical Lutherans are overwhelmingly white because there’s nothing about that religion which is particular racist. If there was, then perhaps one could focus on the demographics as a consequence, rather than a suspicious feature.

(Republished from Discover/GNXP by permission of author or representative)
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Likely presidential candidate Rick Perry’s college transcript at Texas A & AM has been published. Here are the highlights:

…In his freshman and sophomore year, Perry struggled with core science classes, earning D’s in several organic chemistry classes and C’s in general chemistry and physics.

But after Perry switched his major at the beginning of his fall semester in 1970, his grades didn’t improve. Perry got a C in Reproduction in Farm Animals, a C in genetics, a D in Feeds & Feeding, a C in Sheep & Angora Goat Production and two C’s in animal breeding classes.

Many of Perry’s other classes involved military education. Perry has previously credited his time in the A&M Corps of Cadets with giving him the necessary discipline to complete school.

Perry got two C’s in Development of Air Power and took four levels of World Military Systems, earning two C’s, a B and an A. The A was one of only two Perry earned at college — the other was for a class called Improv. of Learning.

The future governor only took one political science class while he was in school — American National Government, for which he earned a B. Other classes outside of Perry’s major included Shakespeare and Writing for Professional Men, which earned him two D’s.

Perry took two summer sessions before his senior year but still needed two more after the rest of his class graduated to complete a degree. He graduated in August of 1972.

The article goes on to note that George W. Bush, John F. Kerry, and Al Gore Jr. were all mediocre students. John McCain was famously a poor student at the Naval Academy (though the I.Q. scores of all four are in the 1.5 to 2 standard deviations above the mean, so a lot of this is laziness and complacency). But what about Perry’s rivals? I suspect Mitt Romney is not going to want his transcript released, but that’s because he’s smart enough that his stellar grades are going to accentuate his “pointy-headed” nerd reputation. Romney transferred from Stanford to be with his future wife at B.Y.U. and graduated as a valedictorian. He enrolled at a joint law & business program at Harvard, graduating cum laude in the former (top 1/3) and a Baker Scholar in the latter (top 5 percent). He later went on to become a management consultant, a profession which puts a premium on raw general intelligence (whether this sector as a whole adds that much value in the greater economy is a different issue, but it certainly adds value to the consultants, as they leverage their cleverness into big paychecks).

Finally there’s Barack H. Obama. He graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law, but to my knowledge his standardized test scores and grades from Occidental and Columbia have never been released. Why? I can think of two possible reasons. He received some affirmative action considerations in his transfer to Columbia and acceptance into Harvard Law School, which he capitalized upon effectively (becoming editor of the law review and graduating magna cum laude). So he would want to emphasize the later upswing of his higher education career (recall that George W. Bush received class-based affirmative action to obtain a spot at Harvard Business School). Or, like Romney Obama does not want to release his transcripts because he already has a reputation of being a pointy-headed nerd, and doesn’t want to exacerbate that any further.

In general I’m for democracy. But I’m not a big fan of this fake populism whereby conventionality and mediocrity in academics is acceptable, even a badge of honor, in our candidates for head of state. In contrast our political executives are tall and slim, on the tails of the distribution in physical metrics! (shorter candidates like George W. Bush and John McCain are usually short only for politicians, not for the general male population) I don’t expect presidential candidates to have grasped the basics of topology or quantum chemistry. But do we really want the person who has their finger on the nuclear button to be that personable and likable guy whose primary aim was to not fail? I suspect we do if the range of candidates is a judge. My own personal sympathies in regards to Romney vs. Perry are probably obvious, but if I had to bet I would go with Perry. He has “people skills.” Romney is, as Mike Huckabee famously observed, the boss who is going to fire you. But sometimes people need to be fired, including the electorate. Though I guess that’s not a good attitude to take in a democracy.

Image credit: Gage Skidmore

(Republished from Discover/GNXP by permission of author or representative)
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Razib Khan
About Razib Khan

"I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. If you want to know more, see the links at"