A Tale of Two "Politico" Posts
IT WAS A VERY BUSY "Romney and religion" day at Politico yesterday. The day began with a marvelous op-ed by one of the most influential Evangelicals in the nation, Mark DeMoss.
A month before this luncheon, I'd spent an hour in Romney's office, wanting to hear firsthand his vision for the country. After studying his life and career for a number of months, I told the governor that not only could I support him (a number of evangelicals have said as much), but also that I would support him. (I further told him I was not for hire. I was looking for a good candidate, not a client for my PR firm.)
I have often been asked whether evangelical voters could find their vision for president in a man of another faith, and specifically a Mormon. Then it struck me: This is the wrong question. To evaluate a candidate solely on religion is unfair to both the candidate and the religion. The better question is: Could I vote for this Mormon? That Catholic? This Baptist?
For example, there are Mormons who would not get Mitt Romney's vote (and, he tells me, Mormons who would probably not vote for him). Similarly, there are Southern Baptists I would not vote for. So, could I vote for a Mormon? It depends on who the Mormon is.
For years, evangelicals have been keenly interested to know whether a candidate shared their faith. I am now more interested in knowing that a president represents my values than I am that he or she shares my theology. In fact, in terms of values, evangelical Christians have more in common with most Mormons than we do with liberal Southern Baptists, or those of any other faiths and denominations who promote abortion rights and are attempting to redefine marriage.
For decades, evangelicals have proudly worked side by side with conservative Catholics, Jews and, yes, Mormons on issues of life, the family, gambling, pornography and Israel, to name a few. Why, then, couldn't we be governed by someone from one of these other religions?
Lowell and I are scheduled to interview Mr. DeMoss tomorrow and we hope to have that interview up sometime next week. It should be interesting.
BUT THEN POLITICO FOLLOWED UP with this bit of "huh-what?" from Garry South. South breaks little new ground and scatters about a few snide remarks, but never once connects the dots in a fashion that would make any of those slights matter a whit in how Romney, or any other Mormon, might perform in the office of the President. In fact his charges are really non-charges, and he resorts to the old tactic of "I'm not saying it should be a problem, but somebody has to look at these things."
But then one must consider the source here. South is described this way by his admirers:
Garry South has been called the "Carville of California" by The New York Times and "one of the top political strategists in the Democratic Party" by DailyKos.net, the most-visited liberal-leaning blog.
Comparisons to James Carville and endorsements by DailyKos will not exactly endear South to anyone on our side of the aisle, but that information helps explain the tactic and proves once again our primary point: The most vicious religious attacks on Romney are not from Evangelicals or any other conservative, but from the left. This makes it four-for-four of the nastiest, most bigoted articles on The Question from the left: Linker, Weisberg, Woodward, and now South. And that is precisely why Evangelicals have to stand up to this kind of stuff – I keep hearing echoes of the attacks on James Watt as Secretary of the Interior because of some creedal Christian eschatology – WE'RE NEXT!
Lowell: One of our readers saw it correctly, I think:
This is an interesting twist, seriously different from the secular-left attacks such as those in [The New Republic] . . . Some of that stuff stems from wrongheaded bias against personal religion in general.
South's piece is an example of malice, deliberately crafted by a political operative for an obvious purpose.
Isn't it fascinating that a man with South's background would take the time to write a religious hit piece on a Republican before the GOP primaries are even under way? [John wonders: Does he have a client at the moment, or is he fishing for one?] What could possibly be his motive?
By the way, to call the Daily Kos a "liberal-leaning blog" is like calling Hezbollah a "Muslim-oriented organization." But I digress.
Garry South. Let's see; wasn't he the Gray Davis campaign manager who, in 2002, mounted a ferocious and expensive campaign against Richard Riordan, then the moderate Republican mayor of Los Angeles, during the Republican primary? It seems that South wanted to knock the moderate Riordan out of the race so that Davis could run against the relatively unknown and very conservative Bill Simon (whom Davis barely beat anyway). It also seems that South bragged openly about the success of this strategy. Based on that very peformance, South later was excoriated for engaging in "puke politics" by his own party's Attorney General, Bill Lockyer.
So, yes, as John says, consider the source as you evaluate the soundness of South's remarks.
But don't stop there; South's message is that Mormons believe other religions are wrong, and theirs is right. Shocking, isn't it? (John smirks: So he believes they are all right?! How's he do that?)
Notably, South introduces his less-than-compelling argument by saying "Now, I want to make clear that I give no quarter to religious bigotry." That's usually a warning to get ready for some naked bigotry.
To South's rapier-like reasoning faculties, the "critical and basic question" is:
Does Romney's brand of faith and membership in the Church of Latter-day Saints require that he question or dismiss the validity of the Christian tradition, and the efficacy of baptism into their faith, of every non-Mormon adherent of Christianity who has ever lived since the end of the apostolic era? And does he?
Well. South could at least get the name of the church right. His question is frankly so embarrassingly silly that we won't dignify it with much of an answer. Maybe if Romney were running for pastor-in-chief instead of commander-in-chief . . . .
Even so, we wonder: If South were on the other side of Senator Lieberman's 2004 presidential campaign (South was an adviser to Lieberman that year), I wonder if he would have asked this:
"Orthodox Jews believe they are truly God's chosen people, and that He wants them to teach the rest of the world about God. Will that inform a President Lieberman's actions in office? He needs to explain that to the American people. Oh, and how will the Muslim world feel about a Jewish president? Of course, I do not tolerate religious bigotry, no, not for one second; I'm just asking the question."
John inserts again: Sure he would, his arguments reveal no seriousness about religion, only politics. He has no concerns, only tactics. You know, "putting on" bias for the sake of politics is worse than heartfelt bias. Bias rooted in and topped by deception, that's about as low as it gets in politics.
Bottom line: South is simply trying to put this poison in the water. He has a history of involvement in the opposing party's primary and attempting to influence the outcome, and he has always done it in the nastiest, dirtiest way possible. So we have a leopard here who has not changed his spots.
Shame on Politico for publishing such tripe.
In Other News . . .
USA TODAY looks at the flood of Mormon related media in the wake of Romney's candidacy and presents the following quotation:
"We tend to use elections as a way to hold national seminars on religion," says Alan Wolfe, director of the Boisi Center for Religion & American Public Life at Boston College. The candidacies of John F. Kennedy and Sen. Joe Lieberman triggered "seminars" on Catholicism and Orthodox Judaism.
"This is our seminar moment for Mormonism," Wolfe says.
We seem to be confusing marketing and "buzz" with serious politics here, and that is problematic. I have little doubt that such "seminar moments" happen, but why? Particularly in a case like this where the great American tradition would hold that religion should not matter, and yet the very fact of seminars would say it does. I'd like to suggest two reasons.
Firstly, the nation to some extent, and most certainly the media to a huge extent, has turned towards "identity politics" in a way that makes it easy to describe voting patterns, but is very antithetical to how the Founders envisioned tha nation. No longer are we portrayed as the nation of E Pluribus Unum - "From Many, One," but instead we appear to have become the nation of "my group uber alles." I am grateful that most citizens have yet to buy into the media's leanings in this direction, but am uncertain of the public's ability to withstand the onslaught forever.
Second, though, is the phenomenon of cross-marketing. No longer do we just release a movie, but we also release actions figures, collectibles, memorabilia, literature, etc. The synergy of marketing this plethora of products builds market for all the products. And so, though a campaign itself has but a single "product" to sell, the synergy is capitalized upon by movies, universities, media, and so on. All of that is capitalism at its finest in a media-age, but much as the media onslaught in identity politics erodes the general citizenry's ability to hold those identity groups in proper perspective, so the the marketing synergy can blur the line between legitimate political consideration and just having stuff to sell.
One can only hope the seminar throwers out there have the common sense to draw the line clearly while they hawk there intellectual wares.
Finally, out of Providence, RI, a political column uses the increased media presence of Mormonism to once again list Mormon distinctives that some might consider weird. Why-oh-why don't these pieces ever point out the Mormon distinctives that could be consider positives? Could it be because they have an agenda? Why can't they even point out that some of the distinctives they list, like how hard it is to be gay amongst Mormons, is true in a heavily creedal Christian community too?
Lowell: Maybe it's because, while "man bites dog" is news, "Mormons aren't any more weird than other miracle-based faiths" is not– at least in the MSM's mind.
[tags] Garry South, Mitt Romney, religious bigotry, Politico, Mark DeMoss, Mormonism [/tags]