As careful readers of this blog know, it was Hugh Hewitt who first planted in our minds the idea for this blog. That story's here. So it was with great pleasure that we conducted a telephone interview with Hugh on Friday, March 16. Our subject was Hugh's new book, A Mormon in the White House? Ten Things Every American Should Know About Mitt Romney. To a great extent that book is about the same thing this blog is about: What should be the role, in a presidential campaign, of a candidate's religious views?
Here's the transcript of our interview. "LB" is Lowell Brown, "JS" is John Schroeder, and "HH" is, of course, Hugh Hewitt. Enjoy!
LB: John is going to start us off.
JS: Lowell and I are here with our favorite radio talk show host and blogger, Hugh Hewitt, who unfortunately is responsible for the blog. Our lives have never quite been the same.
LB: Our blogfather.
JS: That’s right. And Hugh has his book out this week, A Mormon in the White House? 10 Things Every American Should Know About Mitt Romney, which is very, very kind to Article VI Blog, and we thank you for that Hugh.
HH: It was a pleasure. I didn’t really know if you guys would do what you’ve done and I’m glad you have. I think it is an incredible resource for the coming campaign, and not just for the Romney people but for every journalist who needs to get their arms around this issue.
JS: Well, we appreciate that. Hugh, because we are not real journalists, we are part time volunteer “pajama journalists,” we’ve done our best to prepare for this interview, but it may be a little bit scattered. Let’s start with a silly question. You have interviewed a lot of people for the book. What was the one interview you most wanted that you didn’t get?
HH: That’s a great question, actually. I would say, the Prophet. [Referring to the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Gordon B. Hinckley. --Ed.]
LB: He wouldn’t talk to you?
HH: I tried to get over there a couple of times and always the timing was wrong. They never said they would anyway, but a couple of times I would intersect with one of the 12, and that always blew up too, so that would be the number 1 and 2 through 13 and I suppose the other two members of the first presidency, so, that would have been interesting, but they are very careful not to involve themselves in this campaign. And I think that led to a little bit more difficulty than normal.
LB: They want to stay as far away as they can from looking like they are involved or endorsing or taking a position one way or the other.
HH: Yes, yes.
JS: While we are talking about that, that raises the issue that occurred, when was it Lowell, when the BYU contacts and that story blew up? Was that — that was in the fall, wasn’t it?
LB: It seems like it was September. [It was actually October 19, 2006. We first blogged about it here. –Ed.]
HH: I cover that in the book. That was much ado about nothing. One enthusiastic email — I think they met — Josh Romney and a political consultant, and one other person — who met with Elder Holland to brief them. And an enthusiastic email went out and the Boston Globe immediately declared the Mormon Conspiracy to be underway. And it was a laughable — one of many laughable articles on this campaign from the Globe which bears quite an animus towards Gov. Romney.
LB: The funniest thing that stands out in my mind is the image of a Boston Globe reporter staking out the LDS Church Administration Building, sitting somewhere across the street and keeping track of who went in and came out. Apparently they actually did that.
HH: Yup. Trying to figure out if the vast web of connection was underway. Or the illegal immigration story that tried to connect groundskeepers to Romney. From Guatemala. They really have a vendetta underway, a journalistic vendetta, of course.
JS: Oh, there is no question about that. Now I have a rather — I want to take a side track from the BYU event. We had a bit of a dust up on our blog over that event with Patrick Hynes, who at the time was on Ankle Biting Pundits, who rather enthusiastically and uncritically passed that story on.
HH: Well, Patrick is working for John McCain.
HH: So, anything he can pass on that will attempt to slow down momentum, either for Romney or Giuliani is to be expected, and I think Patrick does a fine job as a McCain operative, because that’s what he is.
JS: Well, getting to my question, — Understood. — But getting to my question, he was not at the time revealing that in his post where he did this, which we thought was necessary. You have engaged him as a regular columnist at Town Hall, where you are managing Editor.
HH: Executive Editor, actually.
JS: Oh. Executive Editor.
HH: I have no management duties.
HH: Thank goodness.
JS: So that was not really your decision to hire him then?
HH: No, but I enthusiastically embrace it. I want everyone in the campaign to have a home at TownHall.com.
JS: OK, but it is clearly as the McCain guy.
LB: As long as it’s disclosed. Right?
HH: Yes. And it is disclosed.
JS: OK. I just found that an interesting decision because — well, Lowell took him on more than I did, but up until all that happened, he had not been completely forthcoming about his association with McCain.
HH: And I think he figured out from that time forward, that that simply cannot be the case.
LB: Yes, since then he has been open about it. What I objected to at the time was that if you look up his company on the internet, they are in the business of creating favorable buzz on behalf of their clients. Or negative buzz on behalf of their clients’ opponents. Which is exactly what he was doing with stories about Romney.
JS: The next place I think we’ll go — you mention this in the book, Hugh, and it was something Lowell and I found out very, very early on when we started the blog, somewhat disappointingly. There appears to be a great dearth of case law related to Article 6, and I’m just wondering why, and what does that mean?
HH: It’s self-executing . That’s why. For the longest time everyone understood what it meant, that one did not ever suffer penalty for their religious faith in the public life of the United States. Much like the 14th Amendment removed disabilities to African Americans serving in the public life of the United States. However, the internalization of that ethic seems to have frayed, even after the 1960 campaign. And I was talking with Bill Bennett about this this morning. The bar is so low when it comes to attacks on Mormons vis a vis any other minority, that it is shocking. And I think that is because simply opinion leaders have not educated those who take their cues from them about what is and what is not acceptable concerning Mormon bashing. And unless and until they do, it is going to continue, until it becomes unacceptable, or — we internalize from public figures, how to act. And thus, many of us have watched the decline of Catholic bigotry. We have watched the decline of attacks on gays and lesbians. We have watched the decline of attacks on African Americans, on Muslims because of the public debate about those. That has not yet happened about Mormons. It has got to.
LB: I'd like to follow up on that because we have been talking about this issue, and you have been also, in the context of essentially beating up on a religious minority. But I noticed just a couple of days ago, and I sent this to you, a survey showing that the LDS church is now the fourth largest denomination in the United States. Ahead of Presbyterians, Episcopalians, etc. And so it is not really a minority religion at all. Is it possible the problem results more from a combination of that unfamiliarity and lack of leadership you mention along with maybe some fear of the church’s apparent success?
HH: Well, I don’t think it’s the latter. Even though it is the fourth largest denomination, as, what are there about 5 million in America, now? It remains a fairly distinct and insular religious minority in the United States as probably fewer Mormons than Jews, I would guess. I’m not sure about that, but growing rapidly. And the fact is that it remains very unknown to people. So envy is not operating here, so much as I think historical hangover from the founding of the church and the persecution years, to the well developed sense of interest in it by mainstream media that has led to things like Mormon America, the Ostlings’ book. The Under the Banner of Heaven book, which was really quite hurtful to the Mormons because of its purposeful, almost, confusion of the LDS church with the FLDS. [By “FLDS,” Hugh is referring to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, headed by Warrant Jeffs, a notorious polygamist now on trial in Utah for two first-degree felony charges of accomplice rape. There is no relationship between the Mormon Church and the FLDS. --Ed.]
And then Big Love. Again, more purposeful confusion of what is going on in the public square concerning mainstream LDS and its splinters. So, I don’t think its envy. I do think it’s a lot of combination of the other things.
JS: Hugh, if I can just disagree with you a little bit.
JS: We recently did a series of posts on the Smoot hearings of 1901 through 1905, and the charges against Smoot, that resulted in those hearings and the challenge to his seating in the Senate, were originally brought by the Salt Lake City Ministerial Association.
HH: How interesting.
JS: Yes. And the woman that wrote the book, Kathleen Flake, who is at the Vanderbilt Divinity School talked about the fact that part of the reason — now, she’s LDS, so we’ve got to take this with a grain of salt, but she talked about the fact that they had to create an issue — the ministerial association had to create an issue, to keep the funds flowing because they weren’t self-supporting and they had to bring in mission funds from the east coast. And also, I do get some challenges in Godblogging from Christian pastors in largely Mormon communities. Or creedal Christian pastors, to keep our terminology straight, in largely Mormon communities, who feel discrimination and frustration at being in such communities.
HH: Who’d think — I have never really believed that this was a problem, but you tell me that you think it is?
JS: I’m not sure it’s a problem on the national scale. I am not sure it would be a statistically significant problem if we did these numbers, but I do think it’s a really important issue for some people. Yes.
HH: You know, when I bring my lawyer’s ear to arguments about that, I often hear people projecting their own sense of failure onto communities. I have heard that a lot, by the way. Oh, the Mormons won’t do business with you, the Mormons work against you, etc., etc. But I just have never seen that made by folks at a high enough level of success for me to credit them. Does that make any sense?
JS: Sure it does. Sure it does. And the people I hear it from are just pastors of ordinary churches and communities.
HH: And so they have — on the other hand, when I went over there to do a series for Utah public television, in I guess it would be ’97 or so, the — I interviewed a few Catholic people — I did three interviews for that series. And they had none of that argument going. So.
JS: Well, Lowell — my personal experience is in rural southern Utah where my wife and I like to vacation quite a bit.
HH: So, I have not been there.
JS: And Lowell likes to point out to me that there is probably a big difference between urban and rural Mormons as well.
HH: And I think you are also going to find a big difference in any rural community vis a vis outsiders. That’s what I would think.
LB: There are differences among California Mormons, Utah Mormons, Massachusetts Mormons, Illinois Mormons, and Florida Mormons — they’re like anybody else, a product of the culture where they exist. I haven’t lived in Salt Lake City for 25 years, but having grown up there, it is a phenomenon that I think is tough for some people, many people, to not be a Mormon and live in Utah. I feel for those folks. However, you’re right. There are many non-LDS community leaders in Utah. There was a Jewish governor of Utah in 1918, for example, which is pretty remarkable, considering the times. And those successful folks there are the ones who are not the ones who complain, and they find a way to get along and be a part of the community.
LB: I have a question that takes us slightly off that track. In your book there was a very interesting quote from George Romney’s campaign for Governor in Michigan in 1962 where I guess then-governor, that Gov. Romney, made a pretty public fast, meaning as he was deciding to run, he fasted and prayed and sought divine guidance. And the President of the Michigan AFL-CIO, Gus Scholle, made fun of that. He said, "The big clown. He thinks he has a private pipeline to God." George Romney replied, “The same pipeline is available to Mr. Scholle if he cares to take advantage of it."
HH: I saw you quoted that in your Meridian review today. That was very interesting.
LB: Could a candidate say that now?
HH: Oh, sure.
LB: I’m thinking of your book, Painting the Map Red, and your chapter on the left’s war on religion. I wonder if a candidate could say that today without being laughed off the front page.
HH: Well, you know the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff can’t say that homosexual acts are immoral anymore. So, there is a changed political climate. But whether or not — I think there is a difference between what elite media mocks and what Middle America hears. And I think they still would applaud the George Romney response that was defending prayer. That’s what it was. He was defending prayer.
LB: And making one of the greatest slap-downs I’ve ever seen, by the way.
HH: The other thing that was fascinating about that, by the way, was that the Unions just hated George Romney so much because of his time at American Motors. and during the war years when he was helping to run the Detroit production stuff, that they, I think that the public in Michigan understood that it really wasn’t about his religion, it was just another round of the union lobby throw-down. I have a question for you, Lowell.
HH: In your Meridian Review you said you cringed when I quoted from the King Follett Discourse and B.H. Roberts. Why?
LB: Well, I'll start with the King Follett Discourse, from a Mormon perspective. That is a speech by Joseph Smith, and is based on four different sets of contemporaneous notes taken by by four different people. It is not taught as church doctrine, and — because there is uncertainty as to whether the Prophet really said all those things. So, as a life-long Mormon, I’ve grown up never hearing much about it except as sort of a passing reference in Sunday School every now and then, by a teacher who is curious about things like that. So, its not really something that we hold out to the world as an expression of our doctrine, and, you couldn’t have known that. I thought your book was extraordinarily fair and you clearly made a great effort and did a great job of being fair on those issues. But that one did kind of make me wince.
HH: So that’s interesting. So the King Follett Discourse is not church doctrine?
LB: No. I think most people think that it is very interesting and probably basically accurate, but there are some statements in there that are pretty extraordinary, and the fact is that we like to be very, very accurate about doctrinal matters like that, and there is no truly reliable historical record as far as I know, of that talk. Like I said, there are four different versions, and the one you read is probably an amalgamation of those four different versions that someone put together.
HH: I’m sure it's from the Ostlings’ book.
LB: Could be.
HH: How about B.H. Roberts?
LB: B.H. Roberts is well regarded, probably the first real Mormon intellectual. He was quite a bright man. He was elected to Congress, but I think never seated because of polygamy. A lot of liberal Mormons nowadays like to quote him because he said lots of things that are somewhat edgy. But he also is not a spokesman for the church and his writings are not considered expressions of church doctrine. They are just the interesting views of an expounder, I guess.
HH: And is he incorrect?
LB: Actually, what he said is essentially what I have always been taught, when you get right down to the very bottom doctrines. But a lot of people, and you didn’t do this, but many people like to dig up old quotes by 18th or 19th century Mormon leaders and quote those now as if they are expressions of current doctrine, and that’s not always the case.
HH: Yes, you see I used it because the Ostlings had summarized it as being the easiest way to summarize doctrinal differences between LDS and evangelicals and Catholics. But you are the third person who said I wish you hadn’t used B.H. Roberts. And I’m wondering if that is because B.H. Roberts is so clear or because he is so cloudy.
LB: I think it is more of the latter. And the Ostlings book, by the way, is not regarded as a very fair book by most.
HH: It isn’t?
LB: No. It’s not. I think they tried hard. And I don’t think they meant to be unfair. But it is not well received in the Mormon scholar community.
JS: Hugh, if you are really interested in that stuff, there are two books that I read that Lowell didn’t complain at me about. One of them is How Wide the Divide?
HH: That is by?
JS: Robinson and Bloomberg.
HH: Craig Bloomberg. He’s supposed to be very good.
JS: Yes. And the other one is called A Different Jesus? — and why is his name escaping me? The guy from BYU, Lowell.
LB: Oh, Robert Millet.
HH: I’ll look for those.
JS: They’re all theology — but if you are interested in seeing the theological divides, they’re helpful. Which brings me to another question I have. Let’s see if you share a problem I share. Because you are very accurate and kind, I think, not being the expert on our blog, with Mormon theology. Have you been accused of being a Mormon apologist yet?
HH: No. Because I tried, I made such a conscious decision to stay away from theology and to cloak myself in the view that I would quote Mormons talking about Mormons and quote anti-Mormons talking about anti-Mormons. And then I would leave the field quickly and say all of this has nothing to do with politics. So, I have not been accused of being a — it’s hard to when you quote Walter Martin — who may be the biggest name in anti-Mormon literature. Is that fair to say, Lowell?
LB: Frankly I’d never heard of him but from what you’ve quoted him as saying, it looks like that’s true.
HH: So that is, I think, a complete immunization from anyone saying its an apologist. Plus there are so many quotes from people like Mark Halperin and Christopher Hitchens in the book that very few people could effectively accuse me of being an apologist for the faith.
JS: I happen to feel that way about the way I blog, and yet I have been accused of it on more than one occasion.
HH: I do get emails from cranks. But that’s not the same thing. I don’t worry about cranks.
LB: We all get that mail. Both of you have been very careful to say that you don’t agree with Mormon theology, and that’s pretty clear. I think that immunizes you from any claim that you are apologists.
HH: I hope so.
JS: And I try to stay away from the theological stuff too. But you know, for example the place where I get it is the typical arguments that say, well, ex-Mormons say this and ex-Mormons say that, to which I really respond, well, would you like me to bring in the ex-Presbyterians or the ex-Young Life people?
HH: In fact, I cringed on one of my radio show interviews. I’m not sure which one it was because I’ve done so many this week. We had an ex-Mormon call. And usually that means, here comes a roundhouse. But this fellow at the end said, so now I’m an evangelical, but I’m going to vote for Mitt Romney because he is an extraordinarily well-qualified candidate and probably the best person to be President. It was the Laura Ingraham show. That’s exactly what it was. And I said, whew! I was just ready for the experience because a lot of people view their own religious dramas as somehow at stake in this. And they are not. It’s the American drama that is at stake in this.
JS: That’s an excellent point Hugh. Let’s go back for a second. You talked about how opinion leaders haven’t taught us since the 60’s. One of the questions I had written down is that the Democrats really have been playing identity politics, since the 60’s and maybe even for a decade or two before. Do you think that Bush-Rove played identity politics with evangelicals in the last two election cycles and do you think that has helped make this current debate coarser?
HH: No, I don’t think they did. I think that Bush has actually conducted — I’ll back up, there is no doubt the Republican Party has identified people of faith as a core component of their majority, though not a majority of their majority. That means mass attending, weekly mass attending Catholics, Evangelicals, Mormons, Orthodox Jews, those people have to be ID’d and motivated and as they say in the business, touched, to remind them to go out and vote. And that is very much part of the Republican Party base and that is a very good thing in politics to do. At the same time I don’t think W is attempting to not have secular Americans vote for him. But he is also not dishonest about his faith.
And in fact I see in Romney’s responses to my questions the same unwillingness to diminish his own convictions that W has been faithful to as well. He is not going to attempt to be other than what he is. It would have been easier for Romney to have sort of accepted the Hitchens invitation to indicate he is not a faithful Mormon. But he rejected that. And it would have been easier for George Bush when he was asked who was the most influential person in his life to have cited George Washington, or Abraham Lincoln, but he cited Jesus Christ. So I find that not coarsening at all, but refreshingly candid and I think it is very, very endearing in both candidates.
JS: Well, the follow up comment and follow up question. Did you catch the Romneys on Larry King last night?
HH: No, I had Duane tape it and we will be playing a lot of it on the show today. How did it go
JS: It went — I didn’t catch all of it but I read the transcript this morning. I happen to think Romney hit finally the perfect formulation on the answer to the religion question because he proceeded talking about a person of faith, and the difference faith has made in his life by saying, "Look, my theology is different than yours." Which is what he did in your book, but usually on his sound bite TV appearances, he doesn’t get that statement in.
HH: He did do that in my book and I think maybe as the reactions have flowed in, he has recognized that’s the best way to deal with this. It’s not about theology. Did he follow by saying, look at my family, because this is what Lowell said in the Meridian Review today.
JS: Well, that’s exactly what he did.
LB: Yeah, he did. And I actually thought he was quoting from your book. It was funny. I think he has realized that theme works, and it was the identical language, almost, that was in your book.
HH: People believe different things, but look at my family. And it has the additional benefit of not upsetting Mormons. He’s not, he’s not trimming.
JS: Now, a follow up question to that. There is a lot of pressure out there, including a USA Today piece by two Mormon political science professors about six or eight weeks ago about Romney to do a “Kennedy speech.” I’ve argued on the blog that I don’t think he should because of precisely the reasons we’re talking about. First of all, the Kennedy speech, Kennedy sort of backed away from Catholicism. It was sort of I’m a Catholic, but I’m not a real serious Catholic. And I think if Romney said that about being a Mormon, he would be painted as just being disingenuous and secondly because I think the press is so much different that it was then, that he would be opening himself up to far more press questions than he ought to have to deal with.
HH: I am with you. I think at this point, he’s almost, I’ll have to read the Larry King thing, but I think eventually he is going to say, "asked and answered." And I hope he starts referring people to my book, but he should say something like–
JS: Actually he should refer them to Article 6 blog, Hugh, but that’s –
HH: (laughter) He’s going to say I have been happy, because it is an important thing for Americans to know, to discuss my faith in detail, with a number of authors, whether Atlantic Monthly Magazine or Hugh Hewitt in his book, or on Larry King, and I have done it a lot. But there comes a point where the repetition of these questions begins to fray the acceptable approach of Americans to discussions about religion. And I think we have reached it. So, at this point forward I am going to tell people I am proud of my church and proud of my family and they can go read about this at length, in A Mormon in the White House, a fine book by that wonderful author, Hugh Hewitt, although I don’t like all of it in the book, and then be done with it. Because I don’t think a big speech would matter. It’s a different world. The big speech was kind of a surprise in 1960. And his dad did a similar thing in ’66 in Salt Lake City with the Protestant pastors of Salt Lake City. But, you know, everybody who wants to know his answers on these questions now have a variety of resources available for them to get them. I just want to know if you two think that’s the case.
JS: Yes, I do. I certainly do. Lowell?
HH: I don’t know that there is any other relevant question left to ask. Lowell, do you?
LB: Well, here’s a follow up question I have for Hugh, which kind of answers his question to me. In your book you quote Romney as follows, he says what we have just been talking about:
"To understand my faith people should look at my home and how we live," Romney at one point suggested. "Of course, doctrines and theology are different, church to church, but what my church teaches is evidenced by what I have become and what my family has become."
So you say:
This is a powerful response to opponents of Romney who base their opposition on theology . . . Romney is very bluntly underscoring that despite deep differences, the practical impact of his Mormon faith on moms and dads and kids is quite obviously productive of tight and devoted families."
Now, my question, and my answer, I guess, is: I wonder whether this will get out. I don’t think — I think among people who are conservatives that will strike a great chord, and I think it will indeed get out. But I wonder how much the left is going to hate that and how hard they’ll hit it and if they’ll get away with hitting it.
HH: Well, I don’t think they can get away with hitting it, so they won’t. If you begin to attack someone’s successful family life as irrelevant to the American experience, or to the Presidential campaign, I think you’ll run straight into the red state/blue state divide, only at a much deeper level. So, I think he’s going to always say that, and I hope he always says that because it is an indication of character to raise a family of well-adjusted productive, happily married children. It just is. For people to argue that that’s not true is going to fly in the face of not just American experience, but common sense.
LB: Well, the Nation magazines of the world and the Mother Jones magazines will make fun of the "Leave It to Beaver, too-perfect family," but I don’t think that resonates with anybody but their own readership.
HH: And I also think that the more they do [that], the more they will find themselves alienating voters rather than including voters. When Howard Dean says, We've got to get away from guns, gays and — what was the other one? — He ended up shooting himself in the foot because what matters to people, matters to people, if I can have a truism. And families matter to people, a whole bunch.
The only possible downside to that whole argument is, and I discuss this in the book, is that a lot of families are unhappy. And they are unhappy because terrible things have happened. But I don’t think they are going to blame someone who didn’t have terrible things happen to their family for that. It will be interesting to watch. But I don’t think so.
JS: Well, that steps right — actually I had one more question I wanted to ask you but I’ll put it off because that steps into the question you hinted on the show last night that you want us to ask, why do you think the left has reacted so hard to your Hannity and Colmes appearance?
HH: Because they don’t like the candor and the honesty. I have specific examples. You guys have specific examples, of the left attacking his faith, which are much harsher than the theological critiques being leveled, if at all, from conservatives. And those theological critiques are typically cloaked in love and admiration but concern over the impact of a Mormon President. Very different. There is hatred on the left for Romney. There is concern on the right for Romney. And the right’s leaders have many among them, for instance, Chuck Colson and Jerry Falwell, who reject even that expression of concern. So, I think the reason the usual suspects got all bent out of shape, if they don’t want people to notice this, they want to get the knives into the back of Romney, and they want America to believe the evangelicals put them there.
LB: Have you noticed, Hugh, that in the case of two examples I am thinking of, the Damon Linker piece in the New Republic, and his later comments; and also the Jacob Weisberg piece on Slate, both of those gentlemen actually made an effort to make a serious argument about either the weirdness of Mormonism, in Weisberg’s case, or the problem of Salt Lake City calling the shots in Linker’s case? And I thought it was interesting that two men who are intelligent, experienced folks, made a great effort at making an argument that can’t be made.
HH: Yes they did. And in fact, both of them made efforts to legitimize previously illegitimate arguments in the American public discourse, the mainstream from positions of great influence. Slate is a Washington Post publication and the New Republic is one of America’s great brands when it comes to opinion journalism. So that means, not just them, but their organizations attempted to legitimize previously illegitimate arguments.
It is — if I were an intellectual historian — I am not — I would look at this moment and say, what is going on here? And I do believe the argument I make in the book. It’s the opening salvo in the war on faith. And it is the attempt to turn the weakest flank, if I could use a military metaphor, of people with faith coalition. And that weakest link is the Mormon religion because there are some within the coalition that will accept the existence of Mormons in political battles on such subjects as marriage, but when it comes down to it, they remember their theological divide when it comes time to assess Romney. And so the left is going to attempt to turn that flank and it is important that the right not allow them to.
LB: I have a two part follow up that I think sort of gets us to the money question that John probably wants to get to also. Number one, have you seen anybody on the right go to such lengths to attack Romney intellectually? I think the answer is probably no.
LB: And number two is, if people on the right, conservative Christians and the other conservatives, do attack Romney religiously, are we opening the door for attacks like Weisberg’s and Linker’s to have credibility and respectability.
HH: Absolutely. Bishop Chaput was very explicit on this, that if you believe in Fatima and Lourdes, for example, you cannot be out attacking John the Baptist appearing with Joseph Smith, because Fatima and Lourdes occur after that — it can’t be Weisberg’s argument that, oh, they’ve been around longer. That’s what his argument was, that the Catholics and the Jews, their miracle accounts are older. No, they’re not. They’re more recent. And so, the Catholics are very aware of what’s going on here. Perhaps my advantage in assessing this is that I have been on both sides of the river that is evangelical wisdom and Catholicism. So I think that what Chaput instantly recognized is that the attach on the miraculous is an attack on all faith based people, because even though we have great apologetic efforts under way across the faithful spectrum, everybody wants it, in the end if it becomes illegitimate for public figures to believe in the miraculous, all people of faith are out of the public square.
JS: Well said. I think that is the point of our blog. Certainly from my perspective. And that’s certainly why I picked up this effort when I did. It’s because I’m defending far more than this candidate and a religion. I am defending my voice in politics and my faith in politics.
HH: And that’s our joint project. And that’s why — the book will be out — it will start — then it’s a lateral to you guys, because I’ve got to go on and start doing other news. but it is very much an alarm that ought to be going up among all people of faith, that this is the attempt to turn the flank. And be very, very leery of it. And that’s why the left went crazy on their blogs.
JS: They did. Hugh, you brought it up so I want to go back to this question. I find your personal faith journey a very, very interesting one because crossing the chasm from Roman Catholicism to Presbyterianism is not a mild trip, theologically, ecclesiastically, or culturally, and I am curious, how do you think that — you’ve talked about it to some extent, how do you think that has effected your ability to see this issue and these questions more clearly than somebody who was born, bred and raised Southern Baptist or Presbyterian, or whatever?
HH: Only in this respect, it has allowed me to begin reporting on religion in 1992. I have been reporting on religion for 15 years for PBS or in my books, in my columns and therefore it is an experience level that makes it more interesting. And it has been able to allow me to talk to people who ordinarily might not talk to me because I have been all over the map and remain comfortable in many traditions and so I, I don’t often discuss and dump in the book my own personal views on this. I did in the Embarrassed Believer and in Searching for God in America, for example, and I sat down with Elder Neal Maxwell. But it’s not central to it, except that the experience I’ve had of reporting on religion has been assisted by it and that experience helped me, certainly, to gain access to a number of people to talk to about this. I think probably Gov. Romney agreed to a no holds barred series of interviews because of the credibility I had achieved with some Mormons out of my work with Neal Maxwell. Lowell, you think that’s probably the case?
LB: I think so. He was a remarkable guy who opened many doors and yours was just one of the big ones that he opened.
JS: Now, here is the interesting question, from my part, sort of, moving off the religion issue a little bit, but not really. I said something on the blog the other day — well, actually, you linked last night to the John Mark Reynolds piece about Romney vs. Rudy.
HH: That was an interesting way to put it — the prodigal vs. the ally.
JS: Yeah, wasn’t it? I argued in that, when I linked to it on our blog, I sort of said that McCain is certainly a lousy Republican and it is hard to say otherwise, and I understand, therefore, you opposition to it, but in terms of being an evangelical Republican, Rudy is a pretty lousy evangelical, so while I like you, would vote for him if he was the nominee, I would do it through gritted teach. I don’t sense that from you.
HH: Oh, no. I won’t have gritted teach at all. And the reason is I think that on the issues that matter to me, he will be almost identical to Romney. And that is that he will appoint the same quality of judges as Romney will and so, the public life of presidents is what I am most concerned with. And I always go back to this: If you assess Lincoln, Jefferson and Washington on theological grounds, you would grit your teeth and vote for them. But you would be happy you did.
JS: Well, I’m not saying that on grounds of religion, I’m saying that on grounds of stance on life, stance on marriage –
HH: I know that. But, on those issues, all that he can do that will effect those issues is appoint judges. And so, I think they are going to be functionally the same in appointing judges. The reason that I am, as I say in the book, it’s a long campaign and I’m going to wait. The reason if, the California primary were held today, I would vote for Romney, I think he is the stronger general election candidate. I was shown a video of Bill Maher showing five different pictures of Rudy in drag. Five different occasions where he was having fun. But, that just doesn’t really work very well out on the campaign trail. It will be exploited. I don’t put any particular downside to it, except that I know it’s going to be the subject of ridicule in the course of the Presidential campaign. And so I just think, Romney’s a better general election candidate.
LB: Speaking of Romney, we have only a couple of minutes left, you’ve spent lots and lots of time with him. What’s the total amount of time you’ve spent interviewing him?
HH: Oh, six or seven hours probably.
LB: What’s your personal impression of him? Is he the real deal?
HH: He is a — I’ve begun using the term "incandescent intelligence." So, I spent time with him in my office. I spent time with him on the west coast. I spent time — a couple of trips to Boston. I talked to him on the phone. I’ve seen him at fundraisers.
He is the same person wherever you find him. I think that’s very important for people to know. And when you see people shift, and it happens in politics a lot, they’re different in small settings and large settings and public and in private with their family, not with their family, with their friends, not with their friends — he’s the same person in each place, which — I’m not a psychologist — and I don’t understand it much, but it speaks to me of integration of personality. And confidence.
I also, I mentioned this to Bennett this morning, Bill brought it up first, Hamilton, in either Federalist 70 or 71 or 72, that the most important thing in a President is energy in the executive. You’ve got to be alive to the office. You’ve got to just have it, that electricity, the ability to manage all sorts of different stuff, and he does, in enormous quantity. I think the reason the McCain campaign is running out of steam is that he’s run out of energy. I think the reason that Hillary is going to have trouble is that she is so palpably not connected to the same kind of energy that Bill Clinton had, and that Obama has, but maybe her organization will carry her through.
So yes, he is the real deal. What people mean by the real deal is different from person to person, but I hope I have communicated what I think it is by that.
LB: You also say, if we can ask one more question, that Romney should have a stable of “high profile Christians of the most orthodox sort,” people who can step forward at key moments and talk about his faith issues. Who? Who are those people?
HH: I think Mark DeMoss is one of them because of his long standing association with so many great names in the evangelical movement, like Chuck Colson, like Bill Brite, like Jerry Falwell. Very high profile people. And at the same time, he is not a pastor. Chuck Colson would be a great one as well, to speak to this issue, if he does get engaged in the campaign. But those are the — mostly I am going to look for very, very successful men of business and politics who will, like Jim DeMint, very orthodox Presbyterian senator out of South Carolina, he’s going to be a very effective spokesperson in this. I also like the fact that Rudy Giuliani, on my program, said in no uncertain terms, we are so far past this conversation that it shouldn’t be occurring.
HH: Ok? And McCain’s spokesman has said a similar thing, but I have not heard Sen. McCain say it yet. I suspect that he will. Someone needs to ask Hillary and Obama about it soon. and then it has to be rigorously enforced. And that way we can raise the bar against the Weisbergs and the Linkers and The Nation magazine. And so, hopefully, that will be a bipartisan effort.
JS: Well, I think it needs to be enforced within the campaigns as well, because while you are right, a McCain spokesman has said that, there continues to be rumbling out of McCain associates in South Carolina.
HH: There have been. And that’s troubling. That’s very troubling. By McCain associates, you mean previously volunteers and associates have attacked Romney for his Mormon beliefs.
JS: That’s right.
HH: And that needs to be disavowed and distance needs to be established from people who do that. It has to be de-legitimized.
JS: I’m done. You done, Lowell?
LB: I think so. Have you given interviews to other blogs, by the way?
HH: Nope. You are the first blog interview.
LB: I thought so. We feel honored.
HH: Well, you guys have done all the hard work. You know it’s going to be very interesting to see what happens to Article VI Blog as the issue — because for a while no one really thought Romney was going to be that big of an issue. The early polling. But now they realize, with the New Hampshire poll yesterday, and with the moving up of the California primary, and when I was on with Wolf Blitzer yesterday, he informed me that James Carville thinks that McCain’s not even going to make it to Iowa, he’s going to drop out. And then its going to be a very clear choice between Giuliani and Romney, and then this whole issue is going to be dug into by every reporter in America. And they are going to figure out, where do I go to for this? And yes, I hope they buy the book, but then they’re going to want to — the book is static, it’s in time, it comes out in march of 2007 and it sits there, and stuff happens after it. And I think you guys are the go-to resource for that.
The other thing is I hope on Article 6 blog you keep on the front page a list of the seminal articles, like the Weisberg article and the Linker article, so people can see what we’re talking about in one place at one time.
JS: We have a link called Resources for that stuff, because the list actually grew larger than the we could keep on the sidebar.
HH: And to the Atlantic Monthly piece.
JS: And Terry Eastland’s piece from the Standard, which is more than a year old now.
HH: I think that was the first major piece. Yeah.
JS: Yeah. So we call that the Resources Page, it’s in the top links bar on the blog, and it takes you to all that stuff. I don’t know if we’ve got — have we put Linker and Weisberg on there yet?
LB: I don’t think so. It’s one of our challenges with our day job is to find a way to find the time to make the blog accessible to everybody who wants to get to it. So, we will work on that.
HH: And have you two turned into experts in the media yet?
LB: What do you mean by that?
HH: Have other media people called you for quotes?
LB: Not yet.
JS: Not yet, no.
HH: See, that’s what should be happening now. Or very soon. That you are journalists is undeniable, I think. You have been covering this issue, although you are doing it as an avocation rather than as a vocation, and you have been doing original interviewing and original sourcing and that sort of stuff, so they should start coming to you, rather than going directly to the church. It’s very — it’s a fascinating thing, and I hope it turns out that way, because it is what ought to happen.
LB: Well, there is this guy who has a radio talk show who lets us on his show every now and again to talk about this issue.
HH: Well, the other thing that’s happened is I hope you talked to Politico. Politico ought to absorb your blog. But, we’ll see if that’s what happens in time.
LB: Well, we’ll be in touch with them.
HH: Alright, gentlemen.