It’s now increasingly probable that the Republican nominee will be Willard Mitt Romney. He might still lose Iowa; Paul only needs a quarter of the vote and his supporters are way more passionate. (Why such a trivial result among a small sample of comparatively extreme isolated voters should matter much is a mystery.)
But Paul simply is not going to be the nominee; sorry, Paul fans, this is the real world. As Karen Tumulty says, the GOP is going through the Five Stages of Grief with regard to Romney – the final stage being acceptance.
So at least we’ll avoid the dismal prospect of an election with a lousy candidate against an impossible one. The Republican party had a pretty good brand – as The Economist observes, muscular foreign policy, responsible fiscal policy, emphasizing individual freedom and social responsibility, and entrepreneurial pragmatism – until the crazies took over. Just possibly a Romney presidency could make that an aberrant episode.*
Romney is, of course, a Mormon. When stuck once in a Salt Lake City hotel room with the Book of Mormon, I read much of it: an amazing work of imaginative creativity. I was particularly intrigued that its author, Joseph Smith, could get a bunch of local worthies to attest seeing the golden plates he’d supposedly “translated.” There were no plates. Smith was a consummate con artist. (I’ll resist the temptation to elaborate, except to note: 33 wives.)**
Having such a poor economic record, it looks like the Democrats will rely on a smear campaign against Romney, with personal attacks, including his religion.*** Mormonism is an easy target, what with Jesus running around in ancient America and all. Religions generally stretch credulity, but why pick one flatly contradicted by archaeological evidence?
Yet more mainstream faiths might seem less weird only by grace of familiarity. Beliefs that would be labeled clinically insane if held by a few must be considered normal when held by the many. From my perspective, Mormonism versus Christianity is a Hobson’s choice. But I recognize that I live in a nation where religious belief predominates. Thus again I do not consider the majority of Americans deranged; if a majority believes something, then that belief is normal.
And, further, separating church from state, I try to keep religion out of my politics. The Constitution (Article VI, Paragraph 3) expressly stipulates that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” Thus I ignore religion when choosing a candidate. And that’s pragmatic as well as principled. If I didn’t ignore religion, there’d be few candidates I could vote for.
Admittedly, a president’s religious beliefs can influence his actions. That was certainly true of George W. Bush. Nevertheless, there is still a strong national consensus along the lines of John F. Kennedy’s 1960 speech to the Houston ministers, making clear that a president’s actions cannot be in service to his particular church. This clarified a line which no president, not even Bush, could in practice actually cross. Bush did act in line with his moral code; his moral code was shaped by religion; but we all have moral codes; certainly atheists do. The alternative to a president heeding his moral code would be an amoral president.
So when it comes to Romney, I’d rather he wasn’t a Mormon, about equally as I’d prefer non-Christians, but since only in a dream world will I get to vote for an avowed atheist, it’s irrelevant to me that Romney is a Mormon rather than in some other church.
I said “avowed atheist” because in reality many presidents have been nonbelievers – from the first up to the current one. And anyway, I wouldn’t necessarily vote for an atheist, just because she’s an atheist. I didn’t vote for Obama; religious belief was indeed basically irrelevant; my vote was guided by other considerations.
But I also take seriously that this is a free country, and that includes the freedom of other people to do things I detest. It is the essence of democracy that people can vote freely for whomever they want, for whatever reasons they want. If someone won’t vote for Romney because of his religion, that’s their prerogative in a free country.
* His disgusting promise to veto the “Dream Act” admittedly does not bode well.
** Ever notice how with “religious prophets” it’s so often ultimately about getting laid?
*** Also, in contrast to 2008 when he vowed to end partisan bickering and work with both sides in Congress, this time Obama is running against Congress – thus effectively promising that if he wins, he won’t be able to get anything done.