Pages: 1 2
Presidential candidate Herman Cain has publicly declared that Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith will prevent him from winning the nomination. “I know the South,” Cain recently observed. “The reason he will have a difficult time winning the South this time is because when he ran the first time, he did not do a good job of communicating his religion. It doesn’t bother me, but I know it is an issue with a lot of Southerners.” Cain repeated this not-so-delicate line of attack during last Thursday’s debate, reporting that people in his hometown “are not clear on how” the Mormon religion relates “to the majority of people’s Protestant, Christian religion in the South.”
Regrettably, we’ve been here before.
In the 2008 election cycle, after similar “it doesn’t bother me but” questions about his Mormon faith, Romney was sadly forced to defend his faith and make the case that a Mormon was no more or less qualified to be president than a Desist or Baptist, Methodist or Catholic, Evangelical or Jew.
Back then, it was the not-so-delicate of rumblings of Mike Huckabee—grasping, like Cain today, for some sort of attention—that put Romney’s faith on the ballot. “I really don’t know much about it,” Huckabee said of Romney’s religion, before cynically asking, “Don’t Mormons believe that Jesus and the devil are brothers?”
The reason it was cynical for Huckabee to ask his rhetorical question—and for Cain to say Southerners won’t vote for a Mormon—is that both men were playing innocent but were clearly sending a message.
“I think attacking someone’s religion is really going too far,” Romney said in response to Huckabee’s attack. “It’s just not the American way.”
Of course, this sad case of déjà vu stretches back far further than the 2008 election cycle.
In 1960, responding to similar whispers and signals from his opponents, then-Senator John F. Kennedy delivered a speech and held a Q&A with Southern Baptist leaders. It’s amazing that more than 50 years later, Kennedy’s defense of his right to run and capacity to govern could be quoted virtually verbatim by Romney.
“I want to emphasize from the outset that I believe that we have far more critical issues in the 1960 election,” Kennedy began, citing the spread of communism, childhood hunger and the forgotten poor. He reminded his hosts that he fought—and his brother died—for an America without religious tests of any kind. “No one suggested then that we might have a ‘divided loyalty,’” he intoned, no doubt shaming some of his hosts.
Then, intentionally and wryly imitating the pattern of a creed, he delivered his confession of non-faith: “I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute…I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish…I believe in an America where religious intolerance will someday end…where there is no Catholic vote, no anti-Catholic vote, no bloc voting of any kind.”
Kennedy won over enough voters to settle the sad controversy triggered by his Catholicism. Yet today, according to polling conducted by Pew, a sizeable swath of this great, multi-religious republic has qualms about Romney’s religion. According to the Pew survey, 25 percent of Americans say “they would be less likely to support a Mormon.”
In addition, “About a third of white evangelical Protestants (34 percent) say they would be less likely to support a Mormon candidate.”
That underscores Cain’s point. But that doesn’t let him off the hook. Just because something may be accurate, doesn’t mean it needs to be said (repeatedly). In fact, there are many things that are true that we should seek to change. Disqualifying someone because of his or her faith—or sending signals that it’s OK to do so—is probably one of those things.
Interestingly, the Pew poll indicates that “more Democrats than Republicans say they would be less likely to support a Mormon candidate. Liberal Democrats stand out, with 41 percent saying they would be less likely to support a Mormon candidate.” So much for the enlightened open-mindedness the Left claims it has a corner on.
Pages: 1 2