When Mitt Romney was fighting the last time around for the Republican nomination his Mormonism was an issue. He gave a major speech, “Faith in America” (12/6/07) to put concerns about his religion to rest, which most commentators believe he did. His speech, however, focused on ideas that underpin Republican fanatic support for “small government”; ideas that are alive – if not healthy – today. These ideas must be challenged.

In the views of some of its followers the small government ideology is a moral crusade which rests on the link between freedom and religion, specifically the idea that an individual must be free in his relationship to his god to decide to be charitable or not. The government must not get in the way of this freedom through, among other things, its social welfare programs. Romney said: “Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom. Freedom opens the windows of the soul so that man can discover his most profound beliefs and commune with God. Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone.” This was Romney’s central theme, using “freedom requires religion” to mean absolute opposition to the “religion” of secularism, and secular government. Romney’s thinking is quite in line with former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney who once said that environmental action was a question “personal virtue”. Anything moral cannot be in the realm of the government

The second half of his formulation – “religion requires freedom” – is in line with another Bush Administration figure, and former RNC Chair, Ed Gillespie. Gillespie wrote in a recent op-ed (WP 5/26) that compassion for the poor should be directed at moving them to self sufficiency and the “dignity of work.” Gillespie acknowledged that the poor need better education, but praised Speaker Boehner for raising money in private charitable donations as a paradigm for funding education.

For these small government fanatics protecting the private charitable action is the moral priority. To put it charitably, the figures do not add up. Their prescriptions cannot be a serious solution to American’s social and economic needs. In addition, they are a rejection of the ethical principle that all human beings should be treated with dignity. The rich are not “better” human beings because they are able to dispense charity, they are only given an entitlement to feel better about themselves.