Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Studies Disagree on How Prejudiced We Are Against Mormons

...But they do agree that we’re more prejudiced against them than almost anyone else. I have to admit that the famous quote from Father Neuhaus that it’s reasonable not to vote for a Mormon because his (or her) victory and admirable leadership might strengthen Mormonism doesn’t make much sense to me. Mormonism isn’t a threat to liberty and justice in our country, and President Romney wouldn’t be the cause of lots of conversions. It might be the case that unwillingness to vote for a Mormon is no stronger than the unwillingness to vote for a Catholics in the late 1950s. Then religion might be a tough but not insurmountable barrier to Mitt’s election. Republicans, of course, are perfectly free to calculate that they can’t afford to lose lots of votes for religious reasons in a year when they begin as underdogs for ordinary political reasons.

Discussions - 8 Comments

Mormonism may be a serious political concern given that the GOP is in a hole and will remain so throughout the '08 campaign, however the polls may fluctuate. But I agree: Father Neuhaus' comment, assuming that's really what he said, makes no sense.
Just as we cannot afford to dismiss tough political calculations for sentimental, "this is America, we should be above this" reasons, we also cannot let our personal theological concerns enter into what should be a wholly political calculus. The national Democratic party is a radical institution and a Democratic president would simply be a disaster for all that social conservatives, of any description, hold dear -- whether they know it or not. Romney is one of them -- one of us -- existentially. If that ain't good enough for us in a presidential election, I despair of our chances in '08.

Which is not to say that "Mittamorphosis" is the ideal candidate, on substantive grounds, for social conservatives. I do believe Romney generally has our positions on these issues, not because I trust everything he says, but because of his Mormon upbringing and continued faithfulness to this unfashionable church. He is not, however, the ideal social-conservative option. Nor is he necessarily the best genuine option available on these grounds. Thompson might be better, and Gingrich would be. Even Rudy might be, depending on the issue. Social cons make a big mistake when they equate their position to pro-life, or even pro-life and opposed to "gay rights." If we are serious about social conservatism, there is a much broader range of issues to concern ourselves with. More often than not, one's positions on abortion and/or gay rights predict one's actions, if not one's positions, on most of the range of social-conservative issues. This is not necessarily the case with Giuliani.
That said, Romney's apparent seriousness about protecting children from porn is both a good sign and smart politics.

Mormonism is creepy in theory but tame in practise--and the bottom line is that it's as American as appple pie. Frankly, I don't see it as any more heretical as most forms of Protestantism! Still, Mitt seems too modern for me.

I agree with DF and RJ: I have a very slight prejudice in favor of Mitt because he's a Mormon--really devoted to a religious community with a wholesome view of life and rife with strange but basically harmless heresies. Maybe Mitt is too modern, but I wouldn't say any of the other candidates are ancient or medieval.

People who are highly concerned, in the context of evaluating Romney, with questions like whether Mormons are real Christians cannot be taken seriously in terms of political discourse. It is very late in the day for this country, and to take our eyes off the ball -- who would be the best president, who is the most electable Republican -- is worthy of scorn. Mormonism grows out of the Western tradition and it shapes most of its adherents to a socially conservative view of society. To me, that's what matters substantively in the presidential context. Whether we should reject a Mormon for reasons of electability is a quite different question. But it should always be segregated from theological mooning, which in politics is worse than useless.

I think DF goes a little too far, we can't be totally indifferent to a candidate's theological mooring. For example, if Mitt belonged to a BIG LOVE Mormon sect, we'd probably have reason to worry about his devotion to our understanding of liberty. But as things stand, he's the only leading Republican candidate who's had only one wife.

The times are far too dangerous, and the chances and risks of a Democratic presidency far too high, to worry about a candidate's personal life -- or more accurately, the history thereof: big difference, I should think -- except on a purely political basis. The sad fact is that effective and important leaders have often been unfaithful husbands. Some of the personally cleanest men (Bush I and II, Ford, Carter, Nixon) haven't been particularly big men in a presidential sense. We cannot take our eyes off the ball. To slightly amend the Buckley formula: Who is the rightmost electable candidate who seems likely to be the most effective president? Everything else belongs in church, or the seminar room.

6: Professor Lawler, I agree we can't be totally indifferent to a candidate's theological mooring. I think it's important for a candidate to be from the Christian or Jewish tradition, broadly defined. I'm OK with a marginally Christian sect like Mormonism. I would not be OK with a polygamist -- this is totally outside the Western tradition. I'm also OK with an agnostic, as long as he doesn't admit to being an agnostic (which no serious presidential candidate, as yet, will do) and has some kind of grounding in Christian or Jewish tradition, even if he intellectually rejects it. A quote from C.S. Lewis (in The Abolition of Man) seems appropriate here. Approximately, it's this: "I had rather play cards against a man who is quite skeptical about ethics, but was brought up to believe that 'a gentleman does not cheat,' than an irreproachable moral philosopher who has been brought up among sharpers."
For instance, Romney may have engaged in more political spin than we'd like. Let's stipulate than he has, and does. In theological terms, he has what many of us consider weird beliefs. He is not, then, morally or theologically irreproachable. But he has an excellent moral upbringing, and that will tell. In a different way, this can also be said of a candidate who has failed -- in the past -- to honor his marriage vows. The larger question, again, being what kind of moral grounding shaped him. Finally, let's talk this worry some people have about whether Thompson is a Christian or a churchgoer. Get real. The man grew up in a thoroughly Christian culture, did he not? If small-town Tennessee isn't good enough, what is?
Rudy's case is a bit more challenging: His dad was a criminal. One would then ask what his other major influences were as a kid and young man. Not to say that this analysis is the one would make in terms of politics or competence. But to me, it's the correct moral analysis. For the purposes of evaluating candidates, their faith and the nature of their faith are simply CLUES to their morality. They are not the entire determinant of their morality, let alone the morality itself. The same can be said of one's history with wives and mistresses, if any.

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