NPR this morning portrayed Mitt Romney’s Mormonism as an obstacle to his candidacy, and presented South Carolina as just the sort of place where it would pose a problem.
The setup included the words, "Romney’s traveling to places where people aren’t entirely receptive to a Mormon president." We then find ourselves "at a Rotary Club luncheon in Aiken, South Carolina." In case you are not familiar with the Palmetto State, you are informed that "its voters include lots of fundamentalist Christians."
The segment describes the candidate’s speech, then acknowledges that "There wasn’t a single mention of religion until Romney faced reporters outside." You hear him being questioned on the subject by a reporter with an accent that definitely did not come out of South Carolina. The reporter, to his credit, asks whether this is only an obsession of the press. Romney responds that he does hear about it from regular folks — apparently, just not at the Rotary in Aiken.
Not to say the producers couldn’t persuade a South Carolinian to support their thesis. Rep. Gloria Haskins of Greenville obliged them by saying:
I think as an evangelical Christian, it is a big thing for me, yes, because again, his faith is
inconsistent with my faith. His faith is consistent with the Book of
Mormon. My faith is consistent with God’s Word, the Bible, and they’re
So did NPR set up South Carolina unfairly as a symbol of narrow-minded prejudice threatening an otherwise-viable candidacy? I don’t know.
Personally, I don’t think it’s narrow-minded or stupid or intolerant to consider whether a candidate shares your most fundamental beliefs regarding the way this whole thing called existence is set up. It’s infinitely more important than party label, much less whether Mr. Romney is a sufficiently pure "conservative" for the party’s right wing to stomach — the point that actually seems to be giving him more trouble than how he prays.
Where prejudice is a problem is when false and even absurd assumptions come into play — such as the widespread suspicion that JFK would be taking his marching orders as commander in chief from the Pope. (Something about the Pope just seems to freak out a lot of protestants. I used to be a protestant myself, but don’t ask me to explain it.)
I suspect that among most who vote in the GOP primary here, a more likely question will be: Why should I vote for this guy rather than John McCain? That’s who has gone the farthest in sewing up S.C. support at this point.
For some on the party’s ideological extreme, of course, almost anyone is preferable to the man from Arizona. He’s just too reasonable for them. But those hunting for their pure knight of conservatism seem unlikely to dub Mitt "I was for gay marriage before I was against it" Romney. (Fair or not, that’s the rep he’s having to live down.)
McCain’s still the man to beat, and that’s not a theological issue.