And what of Willard Romney? His nomination also marks an objective first, though the near total silence about this fact is deafening. Romney rarely calls attention to the fact that he is a Mormon. Besides revealing something of his personal style, this reticence reflects the recognition that this first is not being widely celebrated. Why this is so most likely has much to do with the disposition of those who distribute the awards for tolerance. These judges, deriving mostly from the intelligentsia, appear reluctant to celebrate Romney’s first for fear of diminishing the more prized achievement of President Obama, as if the nation were incapable of celebrating more than one feat of tolerance at a time; or, seeing the success of so many Mormons, they may consider that this group does not suffer sufficiently from duress to warrant the acknowledgment of a first, although group success did not deter the widespread celebration of Joseph Lieberman’s nomination for vice president in 2000. It might also be that many do not see Mormons as a genuine minority. Take away Mitt Romney’s religion, and he looks, walks, and talks every bit as much like the perfect WASP as that other non-Protestant nominee, John Kerry. The most likely explanation, however, is that the tolerance-anointers are not very excited about Mormons—they may even have friends who utter less than sensitive comments about them in private company. This last possibility has been artfully deflected by the creation of the impression that only conservative evangelicals oppose the election of a Mormon president. In fact, polls show that by far the greater opposition comes from Democrats.At The Daily Beast, Peter Beinart adds:
Despite the media’s obsession with the alleged anti-Mormonism of evangelical Christians, the party with the larger anti-Mormon problem is the Democrats. According to Gallup, while only 18 percent of Republicans said they would oppose a Mormon candidate, among Democrats the figure was 27 percent. As if on cue, Montana’s Democratic governor, Brian Schweitzer, last week volunteered that women would not back Romney because his father was “born on a polygamy commune in Mexico.”
To its credit, the Obama campaign repudiated Schweitzer’s statement. But between now and Election Day, anti-Mormonism is going to be the Democratic Party’s constant temptation for one simple reason: there are votes in it.
One reason Democrats may be more anti-Mormon than Republicans is that Democrats, on average, are more secular. Devout Protestants, Catholics, and Jews may be more tolerant of Mormonism because they understand from firsthand experience the comfort and strength that religious commitment brings. Many secular Democrats, by contrast, may start with the assumption that religious orthodoxy produces irrationality and intolerance. I don’t think, for instance, that there’s any way to understand the hostility that many liberals felt toward Joseph Lieberman in the 1990s—long before he became associated with the Iraq War and the John McCain campaign—without understanding their hostility to what they perceived as his moralistic Orthodox Judaism. Democrats may exhibit greater suspicion of Mormonism, in other words, because they exhibit greater suspicion of all organized religion. It’s just that anti-Mormonism is still socially acceptable enough to confess to a pollster.