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Mitt Pickers 

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I love Utah. I’m even for Life Elevated. In actual fact, that is'and not simply the $50 slogan that state tourism officials have sold us.


But honestly, Utah can get obsessed with the damnedest things. Just as we rid ourselves of the stink of that “smackdown” between Sean Hannity and Rocky Anderson, the newest bore du jour is the Rev. Al Sharpton’s attack on Mitt Romney and his true Christianity (or not).


One week after Sharpton publicly questioned Romney’s belief in God, the yakking about the Rev’s insult continues unabated on talk shows, on television’s 60 Minutes and in newspaper columns (yep, even this one'but I swear, I’m going somewhere with this). Especially in this state, where we’ve always reveled masochistically in what they are saying about us beyond the Zion Curtain, the scab picking over poor Mitt’s religious persecution never ceases.


Sharpton is hardly a man we should teach our 7-year-olds to emulate. The guy is flat-out racist. He floats in and out of the national political scene as more of a loud-mouthed oddity than a serious commentator or important critic. At one moment, Sharpton is running for president. Then he isn’t. He leads marches with laudable goals but then puffs the air with self-aggrandizement and strut. He carries influence in some corners of black America by offering his institutional knowledge of pre-civil-rights days and reminding people the fight for equality continues. Still, Sharpton? Hardly a W.E.B. Du Bois or Martin Luther King Jr.


So does it matter if he takes on Romney and ridicules his religion, this puff of wind called Sharpton? No. Yet, Utahns are stuck to this matter like flypaper. The Constitution specifically removed religion from politics 200-plus years ago. People who must make religious preference and practices a major issue for a presidential election are not a species we can hope to change.


The whole issue makes you think that Mormons are so sensitive and faith-challenged, they can’t handle the notion that a candidate from their ranks would be attacked and criticized. Well, get used to it. It’s as inevitable as Carlos Boozer getting blasted by those stupid clacking sticks from behind the basket during a free throw in Oakland’s Oracle Arena. Learn to ignore it, people. Learn to concentrate.


Or to put a finer point on it: You can’t squat-pee with the puppies and expect to run with the wolves.


The bigger issue'no wait, the only issue'is Romney vs. Romney. And this is all quite removed from Sharpton’s sharp tongue. Romney is for abortion, until his Massachusetts constituency changes. Then he’s opposed. Same goes for gay rights and embryonic stem-cell research. He’s happy to run on great Democratic-sounding economics'John Kenneth Galbraith sort of stuff'in his liberal home state. But then he sounds like a trickle-down Milton Friedman just in time for the 2008 GOP primaries. The race then boils down to Mitt vs. Mitt. Or “is it Mike?” (Apologies to Doonesbury creator Garry Trudeau.)


Romney told Mike Wallace May 13 on 60 Minutes that his ability to admit a mistake and change his position is a quality of high leadership. Now, that’s some spin. It’s one thing for a governor to change his mind about budgeting for a highway or a political appointee. But abortion? Gun control? Gay rights? These are core issues. Fundamentals. Voters expect backbone there, and they have a reasonable expectation to get it.


What Romney keeps missing, what seems far from his grasp, is that campaigning for the presidency is a drama. Though candidates always claim otherwise when out on the stump, it is not about governmental leadership. The bar-none biggest piece of a race for president is showing character and principle. Americans want to know who has a spine, a soul and a constancy that will ensure a candidate makes the right decisions once in the White House.


Once a candidate establishes the drama, people will allow for the flexibility of leadership, even respect it. George W. Bush, who'boy, howdy'always understood the drama of the campaign, could benefit from a bit of flexibility in his concrete stand on the war in Iraq. People are begging the man to admit his error in prolonging the fight. The guy won’t budge.


So, how about we get to the essence of the Mitt Romney campaign. The man proved himself during his 2002 Winter Olympics bailout to be an effective leader. He deserves a shot at the presidency. But ultimately, the race will not be decided on Romney’s religion. Not anymore than JFK’s was.


Americans will determine who has the most presidential character. And whether he likes it or not'whether it’s fair and reasonable or not'Romney has a lot of explaining to do.


The Rev. Al vs. Mitt is a reed to be flattened in the wind. But Mitt vs. Mitt? That is one big brick wall.


More Mullen:

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