The New York Times features yet another editorial by yet another journalist giving yet another slate of advice for Mitt Romney to address his "Mormon problem". This time Newsweek's Kenneth Woodward, their reporter on religion, offers all of the reasons that Americans are apparently hysterical about the prospect of having an LDS president:
IN May, Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and 2008 Republican presidential hopeful, will give the commencement address at Pat Robertson’s Regent University. What better opportunity for Mr. Romney to discuss the issue of his Mormon faith before an audience of evangelicals?
When John F. Kennedy spoke before Protestant clergymen in Houston in 1960, he sought to dispel the fear that as a Catholic president, he would be subject to direction from the pope. As a Mormon, Mr. Romney faces ignorance as well as fear of his church and its political influence. More Americans, polls show, are willing to accept a woman or an African-American as president than a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
It isn’t just evangelical Christians in the Republican base who find Mr. Romney’s religion a stumbling block. Among those who identify themselves as liberal, almost half say they would not support a Mormon for president. Although with 5.6 million adherents Mormonism is the nation’s fourth-largest denomination, 57 percent of respondents to a recent CBS poll said they know little or nothing about Mormon beliefs and practices. Mr. Romney needs to be their teacher, whether he likes that role or not.
In my opinion, Romney should use the occasion to explain why he's speaking at Robertson's college at all. Robertson serves as the embarrassing old uncle that can't control his mouth at family reunions. His long history of political lunacy should have marginalized him years ago in the GOP, but candidates like Romney keep propping him up. Perhaps Romney can address Robertson's charges that federal judges are more dangerous than the 9/11 terrorists, or that the US should assassinate Hugo Chavez, because appearing at his venues keeps his media access alive for insane pronouncements like those.
Instead, though, Woodward tries to tell us all why we fear Mormons and why Romney has to spend the next eighteen months explaining an aspect of his life that will have almost nothing to do with his job as President. According to Woodward, Mormons scare us because:
1. They spend a lot of time with other Mormons.
2. They spend a lot of time with their families.
3. Mormons hire other Mormons.
4. Mormons expect their members to volunteer at their churches.
5. Mormons have different beliefs than other Christian religions.
6. The head of the Mormon church is in charge of the Mormon religion.
What earthshaking revelations that Woodward provides us in this article! It's not as if Catholics are expected to perform service in the church and volunteer for duties. Spending time with one's family at the expense of building a country-club clique must somehow undermine society in some way. And as for the fact that Mormons have a different faith than Episcopalians, that revelation truly shakes me to my core.
All of this drivel serves only to perpetuate Mormon bigotry. I could care less what Romney's conception of God is, as long as it doesn't involve strapping on suicide vests or inducing hundreds of people to drink poisoned Kool-Aid. Mormons have lived and thrived in this nation for over a century, and except for a few lunatics who no longer belong to the main Mormon church and insist on polygamy and child marriage, cause no more problems than anyone else. We're not electing an American Pope, we're electing a President, and Romney's choice of religion is neither debilitating nor exotic.
Woodward couches this wretched laundry list of Mormophobia as advice to Romney on how he can assuage the fears of bigots. My advice to Romney is to ignore it altogether and refrain from enabling that kind of debate. He won't convince the bigots anyway, and the rest of us are astute enough to understand that his religion presents no more bar to meeting Presidential responsibilities than did the Deism of our founders, or the Catholicism of John F Kennedy. Maybe if he shows that the people obsessed with his faith mostly consist of journalists looking for a cheap shot at him, the Times and other publications will stop offering their inane "advice".
UPDATE: Why didn't the Times think to offer this "advice" when Harry Reid, also a Mormon, became Senate Majority Leader? And as Hugh Hewitt points out, would the Times have allowed this column to appear on its pages if Woodward had produced something similar during the 2000 election, changing the word "Mormon" for "Jew" and directing it at Joe Lieberman?