In sum, the left’s obsession with Romney’s faith tells us more about their ignorance of faithful people of all religions than anything else. There’s virtually nothing in the piece’s Mormonology (the equivalent of Kremlinology) that could not be said of many other denominations. In fact, religious voters of other faiths will instantly recognize all these “Mormon traits” as “traits of religious people.”
No, religious voters of other faiths would not instantly recognize all of these traits as generic traits of all observant believers. Mormonism is a distinctive religion with some real, substantive differences from all other religions. Whatever else one wants to say about it, it is a religion with a unique understanding of America in history. For example, take the conviction that America is “the Promised Land.” While this is a rhetorical or nationalist conceit that many American Christians indulge, they don’t really believe it as a matter of religious conviction. That is, it is not something that they profess as Christians, but as American citizens who also happen to be Christians. It is something Christians may believe in addition to the teachings of their religion, or in spite of those teachings, but it is not something that they believe because of those teachings. As Rod says, this is not a political liability for Romney. On the contrary, Romney’s religiously-inspired Americanism is something that he shares to some extent with most, if not all, Americans:
But this has to be admitted: there is nothing about American exceptionalism that is limited to Mormon believers. Most Republicans, and many Democrats, would agree with Romney on this, and consider their belief nothing more than ordinary patriotism. This is garden-variety American conservatism, exactly what you would get from any GOP presidential candidate who is not Ron Paul — and indeed, some version of it is what you would get from any presidential candidate, including the Democrats. American exceptionalism is so deep in the American psyche that no politician hoping to be president can challenge it.
Unlike many of Romney’s other stated views, his Americanism is probably one of the few things that he genuinely believes. To the extent that he has any “core” at all, this is part of it, and that actually helps to reassure voters uncertain about whether there is anything that Romney isn’t willing to alter about himself for the sake of electoral advantage. I consider Romney to be a deeply dishonest political opportunist of the worst kind, and I find his nationalist triumphalism to be dreadful, but even I have to acknowledge the testimonies of his good works as a member of his church.
Rubin is so eager to protect Romney from any serious criticism that she can’t recognize how helpful stories like this one are for the candidate, which is why she panics every time someone writes a positive story about some aspect of his religious background. Romney may not speak about his religion in public except in the most generic terms, but broadly sympathetic news reports about it are bound to make him a more sympathetic and likeable figure. This is an invaluable service for a candidate with a remarkable ability for inspiring distrust and hostility. Rubin’s complaint is that the article makes Mormonism seem no different from other religions and presents Romney as a pious, charitable person. If this is what counts as liberal media bias, Romney would probably like to have more of it.
But that still leaves the matter of defining a candidate by his religion, something JFK eschewed and something never invoked when Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) ran for VP [bold mine-DL].
That’s absurd. Lieberman’s religion was frequently mentioned when he first selected and during the weeks and months that followed. News stories reported on his religious observances, and the media generally gave the subject very positive coverage. No one perceived any significant political liability in Lieberman’s case, but the idea that his presence on the ticket was not discussed frequently in terms of his religious identity is simply not true. More to the point, Lieberman’s religion was far better known and understood by most Americans at the time than Romney’s is now. It is inevitable that there will be even more coverage of a relatively unfamiliar religion.