Heading into this year’s Republican primaries, it was an open question as to whether Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith would be a hindrance to his presidential hopes, as it may have been four years earlier. Evangelical resistance to voting for a Mormon was exploited by Mike Huckabee in 2008. Last October, when a pastor affiliated with Texas Governor Rick Perry spoke up about Mormons being part of a cult and said it was acceptable for voters to reject a candidate because of his faith, it was reasonable to wonder whether religious prejudice might play a role in this election too. But this time the attacks on Mormonism didn’t work and tonight Romney will be in the spotlight as he accepts his party’s nomination.
Just how much Romney will talk about his faith in the speech is a subject for speculation. But rather than shy away from it, tonight’s convention program will talk about the subject openly. Given that faith has always been central to him, that’s appropriate. But it’s also good politics. Though Democrats have at times spoken as if they could profit from a campaign aimed at portraying Romney as “weird” — coded language that could only be a reference to the uber-conventional Republican’s faith — the more the public understands about the candidate’s religiosity, charitable giving and belief in helping others, it can only help him.
Two years ago when the Ground Zero mosque controversy was at its height, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg was not only among the most ardent defenders of the plan to put an Islamic center in the shadow of the site of the 9/11 attack, he was also among the loudest of those accusing the project’s critics of bigotry. Saying that those who questioned the appropriateness of the plan should be “ashamed of themselves,” the mayor proclaimed that nothing less than the principle of religious liberty was at stake in building the center. But as the cover of the latest issue of Bloomberg Businessweek demonstrates, squeamishness among our elites — even those who run a magazine that is named for the mayor’s business empire — about even the appearance of prejudice is often limited these days to things that might offend Muslims. When it comes to Mormons, anything still goes.
The cover, which takes a piece of Mormon iconography in which Jesus is depicted as speaking to Mormon prophets, provides a caption bubble in which he instructs them, “And thou shalt build a shopping mall, buy stock in Burger King and open a Polynesian theme park in Hawaii that shall be largely exempt from the frustrations of tax…” to which one of the prophets responds, “Hallelujah.”
While the business affairs of the Mormon church are fair game for coverage, one has to ask the same question about this cover that can be posed about many of the cheap shots at the Mormons (or Catholics, for that matter): Would Businessweek be any more likely to mock the Prophet Mohammad in this manner than the veterans of the South Park comedy series were when they produced a Broadway hit satirizing the church?