Thus does the left casually open the door to the baldest sort of bigotry, a first cousin of the anti-Catholicism thought buried in 1960, or the anti-Semitism that continues to plague Europe and of course the Middle East. The not-so-deft substitution of “religious heritage” for “religion” is supposed, I guess, to protect Jews willing to abandon the outward display of their faith, but for anyone believing in the miraculous of any sort, well, those days of the great tolerance in American politics are over. ~Hugh Hewitt

Yes, Hewitt, if someone thinks that Mitt Romney’s Mormonism is a reason not to support his candidacy, he is practically just one step removed from joining the Klan (that would be the anti-Catholicism) or perhaps Hamas (that would be the anti-Semitism).  That’s not an absurd thing to say at all!

There is no doubt that Weisberg doesn’t like anyone who actually believes what his religion teaches and takes it seriously.  He doesn’t trust people like that.  That’s just about what you would expect from someone like him.  But do the 53% of evangelicals who say they will never consider voting for a Mormon for President listen to Jacob Weisberg?  Are their reasons the same as his?  Well, yes and no.  All of them are opposed to a Mormon presidential candidate because they believe he believes things that are plainly false.  They are judging by different standards, and where Weisberg’s test would exclude anyone who believes in claims of revealed religion as actually true theirs would effectively reject anyone who does not believe as they do in Jesus Christ.  

Incidentally, it was precisely this bias in favour of a fellow evangelical that rallied evangelicals behind Mr. Bush.  Identity politics of this sort is not exactly an attractive feature of mass democracy, but it is a central and abiding feature.  Those who actually believe that democracy is the best form of government (I certainly don’t) have absolutely no business complaining when their beloved democratic process is simply working as it always has.  After cheering on the bestowal of the great gift of “democracy” on Iraq, now it turns out that Hewitt doesn’t like this particular expression of the popular will.  Rather than face up to the potential evils of democracy that make it possible for identity politics to dominate all other considerations and shut out ostensibly qualified candidates, Hewitt cries about bigotry, yet the very nature of all democratic identitarianism involves the mobilisation and politicisation of prejudice.  All candidates in democratic elections try to show that they are ”like you” and that they represent you, and they want you to identify with them and to see them as a symbol of your hopes and aspirations.  Romney is trying to play this game in a lame, late-in-the-day attempt to prove that he is really “one of us” as far as social conservatism goes, but what his supporters don’t seem to appreciate is that a whole lot of Christian conservatives don’t think of him as ”one of us” because they cannot even accept that he is really a Christian.  If a Muslim, Jew, Sikh or Hindu, or any other non-Christian, ran for the Republican nomination, he would assuredly meet with the same icy reception.  For Hewitt to be loudly complaining about anti-Mormon prejudice, he has to pretend that most evangelicals, whose interests and “values” he often purports to defend, do not fundamentally agree with Weisberg’s rejection of the “founding whoppers” of Mormonism.  That Weisberg’s critique involves far more than that and is a general assault on the role of serious religious believers in public life is for the moment beside the point.  The point is that the problem Hewitt has with Weisberg is one that he would inevitably have to have with a huge percentage of evangelical voters.  Ultimately, Weisberg’s opposition will be neither here nor there.  If he and Damon Linker were the only ones who found Mormonism to be a problem for Romney’s candidacy, it would be irrelevant to Romney’s chances and to the rest of society.  Of course, they are not the only ones.  It is huge numbers of voters, both evangelical and otherwise, who also agree that it is a problem, indeed a dealbreaker, and it is they who will be the ones deciding the issue just as it was decided in 1928.  Unlike 1928, though, Gov. Romney will not even get the nomination.     

What Hewitt laments as bigotry would be what a reasonable observer would call the workings of the much-vaunted freedom and democracy in these here United States.  Ever notice how quickly the greatest enthusiasts for both of these modern god-words abandon their commitment to them when they become inconvenient?  Notice how Republicans are the first to start whining about intolerance when it is their ox that is being gored?  Perhaps it ought to be the case that left-liberals should practice tolerance towards all as they demand that everyone else does, but once you recognise that “tolerance” is a tool and a weapon in the hands of the left to dismantle the traditions and authorities that they despise you begin to understand that it was never a legitimate or desirable principle in the first place.  It was always a deception aimed at the exclusion of left-liberals’ enemies from power and influence in society.  It is suicidal for someone on the right to invoke it in the defense of religious conservatives or to use it as a bludgeon to shame religious conservatives into supporting his preferred candidate (Hewitt might as well have said to his conservative audience, “If you don’t vote for Romney, you are also a bigot.”).

Hewitt calls us all to solidarity with Mormons with rhetoric as treacly as anything on offer from the ADL:

Weisberg’s attack on Romney is exactly the sort of attack on other Christians and believers in the miraculous that the secular left would love to make routine. To mainstream Protestants and Mass-attending Catholics, the virtual mob against Romney because of his LDS faith may seem like someone else’s problem, but it is really another step down the road toward the naked public square. Legitimizing bigotry by refusing to condemn it invites not only its repetition, but its spread to new targets.  

In every pro-Romney article that I have read, everyone reaches for the Kennedy comparison, usually followed by a “I thought we had left all of this behind” and an inevitable, “Never again!”  Now the Niemoelleresque Hewitt warns us, “First they came for the Mormons…”  But no one is coming for them.  No one is doing anything to them.  A very few people are writing (critical) columns about Mormonism, and other people are going to withhold their vote from a Mormon candidate.  Never have “oppression” and “bigotry” been so passive and unremarkable.  But we are supposed to believe that this is the “first step” towards a naked public square.  But the public square was stripped down years ago, and it is only in the last 25-30 years that the attempt to cover it up with any sort of decent clothing has been underway.  Who forms the beating heart of the religious conservatives who most wish to “clothe” the public square in a mantle of righteousness, so to speak?  Obviously, it is the evangelicals.  Who also make up one of the most openly and intensely anti-Mormon groups in the country?  Again, evangelical Protestants.  The Christian people who are against Romney’s Mormonism are precisely the people who want a fully-dressed public square with the clothing options provided by their own tailor.  Like it or not, there are limits to what kind of generic religiosity such people want to promote in public life.  Religions that appear to these Christians to be clearly non-Christian or, at best, wildly heterodox are not going to qualify as part of the clothing of the public square.  You will not be able to scare these people with threats of galloping secularism, because they are already convinced that galloping secularism is here.  They are also probably convincced that the last thing they need to fight secularism is to support a candidate who doesn’t even believe in the same God as they do.  That is what this entire controversy is all about. 

For the actual believers we’re talking about, who are not to be confused with any vague “believers in the miraculous,” but who are people who confess Jesus Christ as Lord, are these people supposed to believe that it will be pleasing to God to elect a non-Christian?  Matched against that far more basic concern, Hewitt’s pleas for tolerance and his long-term fears of providing a precedent for future secularist intolerance (which is a rather silly thing to worry about, since they don’t need precedents, as they make up the rules as they go) appear pretty weak and pathetic.