When asked in a recent Washington Post/Pew Research poll to offer one-word descriptions of the Republican presidential hopefuls, some 30 percent of the respondents said of Mitt Romney: "Mormon."
Troubling? Sure, and not just for Romney supporters. The extent of open, outspoken discrimination against Mormons — three years after the country elected its first African-American president — is, to me at least, a Democrat who would never vote for him, simply unacceptable.
Yet in poll after poll, voters tell surveyors they would have more of a problem with a Mormon candidate, even one from their own party and with whom they agreed, than a Jew or a black, let alone a woman.
Of course it's wrong. Of course it's discriminatory. After, what, about six years of running for president, this is what almost one-third of us comes up with to describe Romney in a word? And how many more are politically correct enough to think it but not say it?
But what is so striking about discrimination against Romney's faith is how many people are absolutely unashamed of their prejudice. In my own informal survey, I've found two common explanations.
The first is strictly based on faith: the concern that Mormons hold themselves out as Christians, and yet do not accept the trinity. Neither do I, I said to one president of a religious university. Does that mean you wouldn't vote for me?
He laughed and said not for that reason. "You don't hold yourself out as a Christian," he explained. In other words, he would have no occasion to judge me on that basis.
The second explanation, which is easier for me to understand but ultimately no less palatable, goes to what seems (to outsiders) the rather incredible history of Joseph Smith and Mormonism and what that says about someone who believes in it.
I'm asked all the time: Have you seen the "South Park" episode on Joseph Smith or the Broadway show? I haven't seen the Broadway show, but I did see the "South Park" episode, with the crawl at the bottom advising that the story it was telling, about the tablets and the rest, was not made up. Real thing.
Did I believe it all? No. But then I don't believe in resurrection, either, which hardly makes people who do unfit for office. I'm not so sure about the Dead Seas parting, or the burning bush, or the tablets Moses got on Mount Sinai, but I hardly expect to be judged politically by my views on religious faith. So why Mormons?
But "Mormon" is only one of Romney's problems.
There is also Bain and Company. Back in 1994, when Romney challenged the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, there was a Bain ad that was never used during the campaign. They didn't need it.
But the ad, which has surfaced on YouTube and elsewhere, is a killer, particularly in this economy: "Mitt Romney says he saved Bain and Company, but he didn't tell you that on the day he took over, he had his predecessor fire hundreds of employees. Or that the way the company was rescued was with a federal bailout of $10 million." That's the beginning.
Then there's the ad — which I might have heard about or maybe I just made it up (although I can promise you his opponents will think of it) — that would feature regular people who once worked at Bain and also the working people who lost their jobs after Bain consultants came in and recommended major cutbacks. This is something consultants like Bain often do: They are brought in so management can blame them when the hatchet comes down.
Finally, there's Massachusetts. My father was a Massachusetts Republican. Massachusetts Republicans are not like other Republicans. Romney would not have been elected governor otherwise. Scott Brown would not have been elected to the Senate. My first campaign was for a Massachusetts Republican and an old friend of my father's: Ed Brooke. I'm proud of it. But the support of people like me is not what helps Republicans anywhere other than Massachusetts.
One other thing my father taught me: You can't beat a horse with no horse.
Right now, Romney appears to be the only horse Republicans have. That may be one of the reasons why Barack Obama is beating all of the Republicans combined in terms of fundraising.
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