Friday, April 28, 2006

The Real Prejudice Romney Has to Face

There have been a number of people writing lately about Mitt Romney and his chances as a Mormon of getting votes from revivalistic (i.e. "evangelical") Christians. Amy Sullivan had the original big piece claiming that behind the voting booth curtain, conservative Christians won't vote for a Mormon. First Russ Douthat and then Bob Novak have seconded that opinion. And so lots of people are now discussing it (for example, verbum ipsum).

Let me record first of all my doubts. Firstly, Amy Sullivan and Bob Novak are, for different reasons, no fans of conservative Christians. As I read them the subtext of their columns is as follows: "See? You thought those horrible conservative/dispensational Christians weren't bigots and stooges, didn't you? Well you were wrong -- they are bigots! And you in the Republican Party (or "you dispensational nuts in Israel's amen corner" to Bob Novak) will just have to live with their bigotry -- and it will serve you right! Ha, ha, ha, ha! And we'll defeat Bush for good in 2008 and put Saddam back in charge of Iraq and everything will be sunshine and roses in the Middle East just like it was on Sept. 10, 2001! So there!"

(OK that last part may not be so much what they're thinking, although it is the common ground between a guy like Bob Novak and a gal like Amy Sullivan. And yes, the Democrats definitely need reminding that no matter how unpopular the President is, they can't win by running against him in 2008.)

So, no, I don't think Amy Sullivan's "analysis" of Christian voters can be accepted as simply a neutral observation.

Secondly, I find the constant linking of the idea that "Mormons aren't Christian" with "Revivalist Christians won't vote for them" to be curious. Would conservative Christians vote for a conservative Republican who is Jewish? Probably (in fact, they're more likely to vote for a Republican Jew than Bob Novak is, that's for sure). Is this on the misapprehension that Jews are Christians?

Finally, I think there's a much more powerful prejudice at work in Republican primary voters, and that's the conservative prejudice against Northeasterners, and especially New Englanders -- and this has nothing to do whether the New Englanders are or are not conservative on the issues. Particularly in the South it's quite powerful, and I wonder if that, much more than the Mormon issue, will challenge the Romney candidacy. This is of course one reason why the Democrats have survived minority party status pretty well. They've realized that if you're typecast as the party of one half of America, you're better off geting candidates from the other half, to neutralize that advantage. (That's how the Democrats won with Carter and Clinton, and won the popular vote, even while losing the electoral college, with Gore.) Can the Republicans do the same? Will they do the same? (I'm sure Amy Sullivan's hoping they won't.) I think that's more interesting than whether Romney's a Mormon or not.

Finally, about Romney's Mormonism, I'll just repeat what I said in verbum ipsum's comment box: there are good reasons to vote for a Mormon, even if you definitely reject Mormon doctrine. In the kingdom of the Left Hand (which is all we should care about as voters in a non-sectarian republic), Utah is actually a pretty well-run state. I find its combination of the idea of community responsibility, support for universal education, relatively egalitarian wealth distribution, socially conservative family values, and robust American patriotism, all of which are embedded in the way of life of the Mormons as a community to be not just tolerable, but actually desirable. The downsides (philistinism, the obsession with the immediately useful and practical, the tendency to a kind of practical intolerance which comes from being the heavy demographic majority, and of course the whole doctrinal underpinning of the Mormon system) occur solely in areas in which the president would have no influence on American life.