December 4, 2007

Did Cafferty Cross The Line?

Hugh Hewitt and Duane Patterson link to this Jack Cafferty commentary at CNN tonight, discussing the speech Mitt Romney will give on Thursday, "Faith in America". Cafferty said that he felt the speech would be a waste of time unless Romney gave a detailed apologia regarding Mormon doctrine and practices. He based this on the supposedly secretive nature of temple practices and the small percentage of Americans who have experienced them:

The specific quote from Cafferty is, "It's not like he's a Catholic or a Protestant or a Lutheran or a Methodist or a Baptist." The implication is that any minority religion would require an explanation for a candidate to be considered for public office. Cafferty said that 25% of voters in some polls would not vote for a Mormon, and unless Romney could change their minds, he had no chance of winning an election.

We have two issues here -- religious privacy and electability. In any other sense than the latter, Romney doesn't owe anyone an explanation of Mormon practice or doctrine. For the curious, books do exist on both, starting with the Book of Mormon, Hugh's book A Mormon in the White House? for specifics on Romney, a debate between a Mormon and an evangelical in How Wide the Divide?, or a more contentious comparative look at the differences between Mormons and Catholics in Tale of Two Cities, written by a Catholic priest raised as a Mormon. The information exists, and the supposed secrets of the Mormon temple are available to anyone who cares to research it.

So Romney doesn't need to adopt the role of apologist for the LDS church, at least not to qualify for the presidency. In fact, the Constitution makes this very clear. The government will have no religious test for office, according to the plain reading of Article VI. That doesn't mean that voters can't consider religious affiliation or lack thereof as part of their decision-making process, although most would consider it unseemly to do so. Americans have a tradition of separating religious life and practice from public office and responsibilities.

Cafferty notes that 20% of the people don't feel that way when it comes to Mormons. Romney also has taken notice of it, because otherwise he wouldn't be making this speech. As I wrote earlier this week, Romney's decision to make this speech puts this in play for political commentary. If he's making this address to convince that reluctant 25%, discussing what Romney needs to say in order to convince them seems fair game. Cafferty put it rather baldly and not terribly sensitively, but it doesn't rise to the level of outrage, given the circumstances.

I still think this speech is a mistake. Nothing Romney says will convince more than a handful of the anti-Mormons to support him, but I think the numbers Cafferty mentions apply much more to the primary than the general election. It opens this up and legitimizes this as a political topic, and sets an expectation that Romney will have to do exactly what Cafferty recommends. Romney's making this a bigger deal than it deserves, and he's invited the punditry to make precisely these comments. I'm no fan of Jack Cafferty and try hard to do something else when he appears on my television, but this is no occasion for breaking out the boycott plans.

Let's see what the CapQ community thinks. Vote in the poll below, and leave your thoughts in the comments.

What Should CNN Do With Jack Cafferty?
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UPDATE: Well, I have to agree with Hugh on this, as well as Kathryn -- The Boston Globe has put a lot more effort and resources into staking out the house of Mitt Romney than they ever did on resolving the controversy over John Kerry's Christmas in Cambodia fables. Then again, I never expected them to be impartial, anyway.

UPDATE II: Michelle Malkin has a few questions about journalistic double standards.


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