In the cover story (subscription required) of the current issue of The New Republic, Damon Linker, the author of the rather silly new book Theocons, expresses concern over the idea of Governor Romney’s becoming president. His stated reason is that Governor Romney says he embraces the doctrines of Mormonism, which–Linker says–are simply beyond the pale in terms of what Americans should be willing to accept as the faith of their leader. But if you parse the argument carefully, it’s actually much like the one David criticized earlier–that no person of orthodox faith (one of those pesky “theocons”) should be able to serve. (For instance, Linker ridicules Mormon’s apparent belief that we are in the “last days” before the second coming of Christ. I’d submit that everyone who writes on this website believes that–as did the Apostle Paul.)
Linker further posits that the Governor faces a challenge substantively different from the last major candidate who hailed from a faith as-yet absent from the Oval Office, the Catholic John F. Kennedy, because he’s essentially trying to have it both ways with his faith:
Yet Romney’s task will be much more complicated [than Kennedy's]. Whereas Kennedy set voters’ minds at ease by declaring in unambiguous terms that he considered the separation of church and state to be “absolute,” Romney intends to run for president as the candidate of the religious right, which believes in blurring the distinction between politics and religion. Romney thus needs to convince voters that they have nothing to fear from his Mormonism while simultaneously placing that faith at the core of his identity and his quest for the White House.
I think that argument is balderdash. Governor Romney does indeed share the values of evangelicals, as we have argued over and over, but he’s never claimed that that is the case because of his faith per se. He has never said that he is pro-life because he is a Mormon–he has talked about how his views changed while researching stem cell research. He hasn’t led a multi-year campaign to defend traditional marriage because he’s a Mormon–he’s said repeatedly, publicly, and clearly that he thinks traditional marriage is what is best for children. And the list goes on.
With this in mind, I liked Ramesh Ponnuru’s comments earlier today in The Corner:
Romney might try to appeal to religious-conservative voters not on the basis of his religious faith but on the basis of his agreement with them on the public-policy issues that most concern them. Linker, toward the end of his piece, signals that he doesn’t see the distinction, but I think that says more about his own embrace of liberalism than about the possible alternatives available.