A Volatile Mix…
What mix? Well for starters, Mitt Romney (God forbid anyone would be allowed to forget he’s a Mormon!) is polling very well and came out with an awesome op-ed in the Boston Globe. Secondly, the religious angle to the Nevada Senate race is getting really ugly. (Pun intended – and for the record, while Sharon Angle did pathetically open this can of worms, it’s Reid that has gone all “attack dog” over it.) There are religion angles in other mid-term races as well. And finally, the Ground Zero Mosque controversy just keeps rolling along, despite some enormously silly comparisons. (I don’t get the comparison at all, frankly.) So, what do we get out of all of this? (I am not going to go near the “Obama’s a Muslim” meme – it’s just silly. See some reasonable commentary from Slublog and a CSM blog points out that the man’s lack of convictions creates a vacuum that needs to be filled – but give me a break, some vacuums need to remain empty.)
There are a lot of cries that Romney should be be “out front” of the GZM issue. After all, he’d be a “hypocrite” otherwise. Funny how all these calls have come from the left, like Newsweek and CNN. Allahpundit looks wisely at the political wisdom of Romney’s play here. Ramesh Ponnuru used the controversy to point out that Evangelicals are not really biased against Mormons so much as they are identity voters. (Not sure that’s true in Iowa, Ramesh, but you are probably right about the rest of the country.)
The point Ramesh makes is applicable here as well, there is no bias at play in the GZM controversy – it’s not a First Amendment issue at all, it’s a land use/zoning issue. No one is saying that Muslims cannot worship freely and openly in Manhattan, just not on that spot in Manhattan. In the ’08 cycle, so many were quick to point out that despite Article VI of the constitution they were free to exercise their privilege in the voting booth as they saw fit. That’s something we never contested. We, like Ramesh, wondered about the wisdom of voting by identity, but never abouit the right to do so.
There is little Romney can do to help himself here. Should he step out on GZM on a Constitutional level he will elevate the issue to a place that it clearly does not belong and blow his excellent conservative credentials on matters legal and constitutional. Should he attack it on a zoning/land use level he will fuel those that did exercise anti-Mormon bigotry last time to do so again.
Besides, it’s really a local matter, not a federal one.
People run for POTUS for a lot of reasons – they want to inject a specific issue into the campaign; they want to accumulate personal power for other political purposes; they want to accumulate public recognition for a career in media in some fashion – the list could go on for a while. The point is that the simple descriptive “former candidate for president of the United States” buys a person quite a bit. Right now, the media-discussed Republican “field” is full of such people.
This can be a good thing or it can be a bad thing. It is a good thing when they bring something to the campaign that might otherwise not be picked up. That’s probably why a Rick Santorum run continues to become a higher probability. Santorum will never get elected, but a credible run on his part will keep social issues somewhere in the mix in an election where they could be off the table altogether. With the economy in the state it is in, they certainly should not be front and center, but they are important.
The presence of Haley Barbour in the mix may be good or bad. He is a formidable fund raiser and his presence in the race, at least for a time, can increase that ability – which can certainly aid other more viable candidates. He also, as Santorum, can serve as a target for some of the more cartoonish attacks from the left leaving the serious players a more open playing field. However, problems can arise if in his desire to use his fund raising prowess to serve as “kingmaker” he ends up being more self-serving rather than party-serving. (Lowell interjects: Barbour is a former RNC Chairman who has a history as a party man. So I like to think – hope? – he would not be self-serving.)
Need an example of the whole self-serving model? Look no further than our old “friend” Mike Huckabee. He is polling well in Iowa, but that is about as surprising as ice in Antarctica. We will not review here (we’ve done it already) how Huckabee, by hanging around like he did without an iceberg’s chance, mucked up ’08. Huckabee is currently billing himself as “a preacher who accepts all, a politician that never plays politics and a host unlike any other.” Do I think he’ll run? At this point, yeah – I do. Which means the serious players will have to make Iowa unimportant which will neutralize him for the rest of the campaign. Huckabee will be aided by a press that desperately wants Iowa to matter – which will be fine for Huckabee since media is really what he is after. But we cannot let him serve the party another mediocre candidate.
Inside Evangelical Politics…
Last week we pointed out that it seems like it is always the left that gets truly rhetorically nasty. That rule seems to hold true inside Evangelicalism as well as out of it. Last week Jim Wallis did an interview and he turned absolutely uncharitable on Marvin Olasky. At the Corner, Jay Richards said:
What to say at this point? At the very least, Wallis has abandoned even the pretense of civil discourse here. Olasky has evidence of Soros grants to Sojourners, so the most that Wallis would be justified in saying is that Olasky is mistaken and that the evidence is misleading or fraudulent (which seems unlikely). Instead, he says that Olasky is lying for a living.
So Marvin Olasky was slandered by Jim Wallis, as was Glenn Beck. Wouldn’t a man seeking to represent Christians be quick to apologize to both? If Wallis has done so, I haven’t seen it.
Wallis has corrected his incorrect factual assertions, but his tone and demeanor have remained unchanged. Is it any wonder people do not like us so much?
And while we are on the subject – R.R. Reno had some interesting thoughts on civility.
Those Mormon Ads…
Are still being discussed a bit – mostly by bitter, unhappy people. The CJCLDS continues to make the “Romney denials.“ I do want to comment that it takes a very narrow view of a church, any church, to think that advertisements for the church are about presidential candidates from within the church – or even about Prop 8. Jan Shipps has argued again and again that while the Mormons were historically more ethnicity than church, they have transformed since WWII with the geographical diaspora it created among them, into pretty much a standard American “come on in on Sunday” church with some rather idiosyncratic theology.
…is under attack. (Hey! – we told you so.) “On Faith” is recycling the same old question in new circumstances. It’ll be interesting to see how different the answers are with a different person and religion. The fact that there is a difference is the actual heart of the problem.
Patheos, the new religion site that has been getting much buzz lately with collections of essays on the future of Catholicism and Evangelicalism has now done such a collection on Mormonism. This one seemed particularly interesting. Patheos may prove to be a great resource, but so far they are resisting our technical attempts to monitor their content remotely – this is not good when you try to track as much info as we do.
The line between sports humor and religious/political attack is a fine one. Is Keith Olberman a trailblazer? Far as I know, he has never been near Portland.
Some are saying American Protestantism is the most destructive religion in history. Call me when a Presbyterian flies an airplane into a skyscraper.
Some say the Shakers are “sinister.“ Wrong on some things – perhaps, but “sinister?!” Nah, no bone to pick with religion here.
And in Australia, the church/state line is getting way too blurry for my taste.
Lowell adds . . .
For those who missed it, Hot Air offered an interesting twist last week on the news media’s apparent double standard on presidential religion. The whole post is worth reading. A key paragraph:
As I’ve said, I don’t really care what Obama believes. What bothers me is that the press only seems to think a president’s religion is important when his faith can be used to question his policy priorities. If those priorities go against the views of those in the media, then Christianity is a scary fringe faith that needs examining. If the president is progressive, then his faith is pure and he’s only trying to do what’s best for the country. No reason to ask uncomfortable questions.
The writer’s point is that the news media expressed great discomfort, concern, and curiosity about G.W. Bush’s faith and its impact on his actions as president, but seem to think Obama’s Christianity is simply admirable, normal, and pretty much beyond inquiry.
I think we see a variation in the same phenomenon with Romney and even Huckabee. Long-time readers of this blog will remember a news reporter’s confession that while on a visit to Romney’s home she actually snooped around his bathroom, hoping to find a sample of his uniquely Mormon underwear. (I can tell you it would have been hard for her to tell it from anyone else’s Fruit of the Loom.) Huck, despite being my least-favorite Republican in the 2008 cycle, drew my sympathy because his Baptist faith was constantly under the microscope and treated as a real curiosity and a matter of serious public interest.
Which is my way of saying that in the presidential arena, religion has become a reporters’ tool that is too often used to shape the narrative – but mainly by the MSM and the liberal punditocracy, and only when it suits their favored candidates’ purposes. As we’ve often said here, a presidential candidate’s religion is important only about 10% as often as the news media seems to think it is – and even that may be an exaggeration.