Cordials took a hit with the advent of infused liquors. They used to be our sturdy flavor friends, rarely useful, but rising to the taste when called upon. Now they’ve been downsized, as vodka got more productive, infusing itself with a frightening range of non-vodka tastes. Many of the flavors, raspberry or mint, to name just two, supplant a hard-working cordial like Chambord or crème de menthe in contemporary drink recipes. And cordials have another problem: their biggest purveyor in the US is probably DeKuyper, whose labels tell all: I WAS DESIGNED BEFORE POTTERY BARN EXISTED! Enough bartenders brew their own bitters these days—the culinary equivalent would be starting a fish stock not by putting a carcass into a pot of water but by tying your own flies and heading off to Idaho—that brightly colored corn syrup ain’t coming near their specials menus.
Cordials weren’t always so out of touch. I can’t help but think they are due for a comeback, like moderate Republicans. Indeed, a smattering of cordial missionaries are out there in their Bay area backyards, going to insane lengths to recreate crème de noyaux. Don’t try this at home, really, no matter how much Mr. Manhattan says you can. You have to crush the pits of apricots in order to get the kernels, then crush the kernels into a powder, then steep the powder in brandy for a month, then…we’re just getting started. Plus nobody seems to know the full recipe. There might be other kernels—cherry? peach?—to pulverize as well. And something to make it pink. Unless it wasn’t pink back when people knew how to make it. Who can say?
Lots of question marks here, but then lots of distinguished cordials—Chartreuse, Benedictine—have secret recipes and exotic histories involving religious oddballs. Which brings us to Mitt Romney, the endangered cordial of presidential candidates. Surely no one can dispute the oddball history: a great-grandfather, packed off to Mexico with his five wives to preserve polygamy. Oops, that’s three wives. Wife Number Two divorced that particular Romney and he hadn’t married his fifth one yet. He got around to her later, in 1897, seven years after the Mormon church “banned” polygamy. Apparently he was not alone in defying the LDS church ban. The man who issued it, Wilford Woodrow, added a wife or two to his own post-ban collection as well.
All of this was over a hundred years ago, and it’s fair to ask whether any of it matters. After all, Jimmy Carter’s oddball brother was alive and operating during his lifetime, and the less said about Newt’s three wives at this point, the better. Plenty of other presidential candidates have had recent messes, from W’s drinking problem and Ron Paul’s racism to Obama’s Jeremiah Wright problem. What matters from a voter’s perspective, though, is not how recent the event is but how the candidate handles its relevance. Romney’s an active member and elder in the Mormon church. He talks the faith talk incessantly. He’s even taken to accusing Obama of waging war on religion. Since he brought it up—indeed, making himself the defender of God—the details of his faith ought to be relevant. But rather than address them, Romney airbrushes them out. His message is that the Church of Latter Day Saints is just like any other Christian faith. No need to look under the hood, ma’am.
"There are some who would have a presidential candidate describe and explain his church's distinctive doctrines. To do so would enable the very religious test the founders prohibited in the Constitution. No candidate should become the spokesman for his faith. For if he becomes president he will need the prayers of the people of all faiths.”
Nope, no need to look under the hood. The only doctrine he specifies is in the paragraph before: yes, Mitt Romney believes in Jesus Christ. Stop the presses. The rest of the speech is an argument for religious tolerance. Well, almost. Early on he slips in that “Radical violent Islam seeks to destroy us,” which doesn’t sound terribly tolerant to me. Surely the 1.57 billion Muslims around the world get more out of their religious life than hate. Also notice that, while he argues he shouldn't “become the spokesman for his faith,” Romney doesn’t hesitate to speak for what Islam is all about.
It’s illustrative to compare Obama’s speech after the Wright explosion. Remember? Yes, you probably do, unlike Romney’s speech, which you’ll have to look up like I did. Obama talked about the underlying issue, race, but he did so by laying out in vivid detail the unique aspects of his own situation as a biracial person. He described his white grandmother who loved him dearly but whose remarks about blacks sometimes made him “cringe.” (I am paraphrasing from memory. And Obama gave that speech four years ago.)
Obama addressed particulars, which is why his speech is memorable. By contrast, Romney delivers generalities. "There are some,” he says, repeatedly, followed by something you doubt anyone actually said. “I will put no doctrine of any church above the plain duties of the office and the sovereign authority of the law,” he says, using not the personal pronoun “my” to modify “church,” but the generic and categorical word “any.” The only time he names his Mormonism is when he assures us that he’s not about to renounce his faith, as “some” would prefer. By the end, Romney’s no longer an individual. He's the plural "we": “We should acknowledge the Creator as did the Founders – in ceremony and word. He should remain on our currency, in our pledge, in the teaching of our history, and during the holiday season, nativity scenes and menorahs should be welcome in our public places.” Ah, we’re to think. He’s just like you and me. (But not like those Muslims, goes the subtext. For all the talk of tolerance, this is a Christian “we,” with Jews as honorary members.)
In the Middle Ages, cordial meant “from the heart.” That usage is obsolete. Its primary function today is to appear, somewhat insincerely and always adverbially, in the valediction of business letters, or, even more insincerely and adjectivally, as the modifier of choice at press conferences by congressmen after partisan negotiations, to describe how the closed-door “discussions” went. Why, they were “cordial.” Airbrushed, anyone? By the way, cordials, those drinkable nouns, do have one known ingredient: sugar. They are always sweetened. Mitt Romney, who's cordial enough, comes across as hiding a secret recipe, somewhere under that airbrushed hair. The only thing we can say with certainty about the candidate is that he has been seriously sweetened. Maybe he’s not due for a comeback.