Who is afraid of Mormonism? Virtually all of the commentary regarding it and the election has focused on the fact that a not-insubstantial part of the Christian evangelical right is hostile towards it.
That may be true but there is evidence that an even larger section of the secular Democrat left is even more hostile.
To recap an already-familiar story, the "Mormon issue" jumped back into the news this past weekend when a pastor introducing Texas Governor Rick Perry before a major gathering of religious conservatives said the nomination should go to a "genuine follower of Jesus Christ." The pastor later told several reporters that Mormonism was a "cult."
Mitt Romney, the current frontrunner and Perry's main rival, is a devout Mormon and he and his allies wasted no time in denouncing the remark as bigotry. Perry awkwardly distanced himself from the comments.
This prompted much media clucking virtually all of it around whether the controversy was wounding Romney among the conservative voters he needs to get the nomination and win the White House. This topic is hardly new among opinion journalists writing about Romney either.
Many cited a recent Gallup poll that found that 22 percent said they would not vote for a Mormon for president. By comparison, only 9 percent said they would not vote for a Jew.
Parsing the poll though, a different picture emerges. The number of Republicans who said they would not vote for a Mormon was 18 percent, several points below the average. The number of independents who would not vote for a Mormon was 19 percent, also below the average.
So who was throwing the average off? Democrats. Gallup found that 27 percent, more than a quarter, definitely said they would not vote for a Mormon for president.
In other words, it is not Red State voters who fear Mormons the most, it is the secular, college-educated, liberal blue state voters that do.
Just consider the obvious fact that a Mormon is the current GOP frontrunner. Another Mormon, former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, is also in the race. The late liberal darling Mo Udall aside, when has a Mormon ever figured in a Democratic presidential race?
This shouldn't be too surprising. "Mormons are creepy and weird" has been a favorite theme of liberal opinion commentary ever since Romney emerged as a major political figure.
I wouldn't vote for someone who truly believed in the founding whoppers of Mormonism. The LDS church holds that Joseph Smith, directed by the angel Moroni, unearthed a book of golden plates buried in a hillside in Western New York in 1827. The plates were inscribed in "reformed" Egyptian hieroglyphics -- a nonexistent version of the ancient language that had yet to be decoded. ... He was an obvious con man. Romney has every right to believe in con men, but I want to know if he does, and if so, I don't want him running the country.
In a widely noted 2007 essay for the New Republic, Damon Linker expressed his concern that a Mormon president might subordinate himself to LDS church elders.
The essay echoed the same bigoted arguments that critics of John F. Kennedy made regarding his Catholicism in the 1960s. The difference, Linker explained, was that this time the concern was for real:
Mormonism has none of [Catholicism's] moderating safeguards. It considers its leader to be the "mouthpiece of God on Earth." Mormon cosmology is arguably incompatible with natural law theory.
Bill Maher's documentary Religulous included a whole section attacking Mormon beliefs as loopy, though in fairness to Maher, he at least wasn't singling them out. The whole film was an atheism infomercial.
Mormons have also been the target of protests by gay rights groups for supporting the anti-gay marriage Proposition 8 in California. A boycott of Mormon-related businesses and institutions by progressive groups followed the vote.
(That African-Americans actually provided the margin of victory for Prop 8 was ignored by those same groups.)
For the secular left, Mormonism combines everything they dislike about Christian evangelicals -- their conservatism, their religious devotion, their power as a political block, etc. -- with a theology that seems even more outré and even less ethnic diversity. If anything, it is surprising that Gallup's 27 percent figure for Democrats wasn't higher. I guess the Mormon niceness counts for something.
So, yes, Romney's Mormonism will complicate his hopes of making it to the White House -- it already has -- but it is worth remembering that the people who are most likely to say, "Heck, no, I'm not voting for one of them," don't vote Republican in the first place.
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