Mansoor Ijaz wants to paint Romney as a bigot for refusing to commit to nominating a Muslim to the Cabinet if elected. He claims, as do others linking to this story, that Romney's answer demonstrates a latent anti-Muslim bias. Instead, Ijaz demonstrates the absurdity of identity politics. Pay close attention to the question and the answer in this exchange:
I asked Mr. Romney whether he would consider including qualified Americans of the Islamic faith in his cabinet as advisers on national security matters, given his position that "jihadism" is the principal foreign policy threat facing America today. He answered, "…based on the numbers of American Muslims [as a percentage] in our population, I cannot see that a cabinet position would be justified. But of course, I would imagine that Muslims could serve at lower levels of my administration."
Romney, whose Mormon faith has become the subject of heated debate in Republican caucuses, wants America to be blind to his religious beliefs and judge him on merit instead. Yet he seems to accept excluding Muslims because of their religion, claiming they're too much of a minority for a post in high-level policymaking. More ironic, that Islamic heritage is what qualifies them to best engage America's Arab and Muslim communities and to help deter Islamist threats.
Ijaz, however, started off by doing exactly what he accuses Romney of doing -- playing identity politics. The presidential Cabinet includes only a small number of positions, and Ijaz wants Romney to commit to holding a position open for a Muslim, regardless of qualifications. Which position should this nameless Muslim take? Homeland Security? Defense? State? And what qualified candidates does Ijaz have for these positions?
As it turns out, Ijaz has someone in mind: himself. Ijaz spends four paragraphs talking about what a great candidate he himself would be, given his service to the nation. Nothing on his resume rises to the level of running the Pentagon, Homeland Security, or even the Department of the Interior. He would certainly make a good advisor to the FBI or the CIA, or perhaps the State department -- the kind of position Romney acknowledged as a possibility.
Ijaz also gives some indication that he didn't even understand his own question:
Imagine how a qualified American Muslim FBI director, sensitized to the genuine concerns among Arab and Muslim communities about civil rights violations, would be able to ensure that FBI actions and policies target the real bad guys, not communities as a whole.
The FBI Director is not a Cabinet position. The FBI director reports to the Attorney General. Romney's answer doesn't rule out that kind of assignment, assuming -- once again -- that a Muslim has the qualifications for the job.
Romney should have emphasized that in his answer. The point in picking Cabinet officials should be to find the best people for the job, and had Romney emphasized that, he would have shown Ijaz as the small-minded questioner he was. Instead, Romney gave a direct answer in the same sense of identity politics that Ijaz used, and noted that in that kind of system, plenty of other minorities would have claim on Cabinet positions before Romney worked his way down to the Muslims, Sikhs, Laplanders, and Vietnamese.
Ijaz thinks he's skewered Romney for bigotry. Instead, he has only outed himself as a self-promoter and identity-politics obsessive.