But I think attacking someone’s religion is really going too far. It’s just not the American way, and I think people will reject that. ~Mitt Romney

Romney said that on The Today Show in response to Huckabee’s question in the Chafets profileDavid Kuo made the right point about this:

I’m sorry but I am really confused about all of this. Since when is asking a question about someone’s religion attacking it?? This is bizarre.

Kuo referred to Romney’s appearance as “pathetic.” 

I am obviously just about as strongly opposed to Romney as you can be, but no one can possibly confuse me for a fan of Huckabee, either.  I think Romney’s Mormonism is something that is legitimate for voters to take into account, but I also know that Huckabee has stated publicly time and again that he thinks it should be irrelevant.  (Here he makes the statement as clearly as anyone could possibly want.)  As a matter of fairness and accuracy, it seems wrong to impute to Huckabee the views and motives of those who are going to vote against Romney on account of his religion unless there is evidence that he actually holds such views and has such motives.  Huckabee has plenty of flaws, all of which are amply detailed in the same Chafets profile.  Ironically, by focusing on this one sentence, the media and Romney are giving Huckabee an easy out  on his genuinely worrisome record and policy views.  By protesting about one sentence, which they must regard in itself as an irrelevancy, and ignoring the serious flaws in Huckabee’s ideas (or lack thereof in certain cases), the media are actually empowering the candidate who stands to benefit from the anti-Mormon reaction among Republican voters.  Whatever Romney may or may not have accomplished with his speech last week, he stands to lose by embracing the rhetoric of the oppressed minority (which, if you haven’t noticed, does not exactly win over conservative voters).     

The small but growing effort to tar Huckabee as some sort of sectarian campaigner or incipient theocrat strikes me as wrong on the merits and seriously counterproductive for those making the argument.  If I am a caucus-goer or a primary voter who has not firmly committed to another candidate, I could very easily see Mitt Romney as someone working with the mainstream media to accuse a social conservative candidate of bigotry.  Think about how that appears to a conservative audience.  It does not make Romney look better to them, let me tell you.  

It seems to me that you give people the benefit of the doubt in these cases.  Huckabee was probably innocently asking the question he asked, and he has since gone out of his way to make it clear that he thinks that the issue shouldn’t be part of the campaign.  He has had opportunities to say publicly whether he thought Mormonism was Christian or not, and he demurred.  He could have very easily said something else, but chose not to do so.  If you find all the talk about Mormonism disconcerting, you really don’t want to get things to the point where Huckabee feels compelled to start answering those questions by labeling Huckabee, pretty much baselessly, as a “sectarian” who is playing “the Mormon card.” 

More bizarre yet is Romney’s reaction.  The question that Huckabee asked actually reflects Mormon teaching with a reasonable degree of accuracy.  (You can say that it takes this view out of context and implies something that the LDS church does not teach, but I think this is a reach.)  If, in fact, Huckabee doesn’t know much about Mormonism, his question might reflect something that he has heard over the years and was asking in the natural give and take of conversation.  Now you can argue that he shouldn’t have said it, or you can argue that Chafets shouldn’t have included it, but Romney’s reaction doesn’t really make sense unless he finds the tenets of his own religion so embarrassing and strange that the mere mention of them constitutes an “attack” or unless you are a candidate, as Romney is, in need of something, anything, you can use to tear down your opponent.  Of course these beliefs are a political liability, as we all know, but if Romney believed what he said last Thursday that those who think these things matter “underestimate the American people” he cannot possibly see a mere question as an attack worthy of condemnation. 

Pluralism doesn’t mean that we all become silent about matters of great importance.  You do not really have a free society if asking questions is considered an assault.  More basically, you need something more substantial than this if you’re going to charge someone with attacking your religion.