Voting, Religion, and Public Officials:

Further to Chief Conspirator Eugene’s post below on religion and public officials, I tried my best to answer that question in an article on Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee during the primary in the Weekly Standard (this link directly to the magazine; easier than the SSRN link below). The first part is snark – Andrew Sullivan called it political essay of the year, which I appreciated despite my general lack of enthusiasm for the Daily Dish – but the last part is a pretty serious attempt to address Eugene’s question. At risk of tooting my own horn (more than usual), I think it is one of the better things I’ve written in the last few years – meaning by that the answer to the question I gave in the second half of the piece. It touched some kind of chord at the time, because besides Andrew Sullivan, I got appreciative notes from Aryeh Neier and a conservative pastor who told me that he was surprised to see in a secular magazine of any kind a literal imprecation – and not, so far as he could tell, meant merely ironically. As he said, was your editor at the WS aware that in its pages you called down the wrath of heaven? Literally? Well, yes, my editor was perfectly aware of it – that’s why he didn’t cut anything out of the 6,000 words. But note that the angriest and most frequent email reactions came from Evangelicals deeply offended that I would cite not just to Isaiah but to the parallel passage in the Book of Mormon; that, apparently, was too close to desecration. The last half of the article goes directly to Eugene’s question, in the form of a debate between Mitt Romney and his famous religion speech (which I accuse of conservative multiculti relativism), Huckabee, and Christopher Hitchens.
Mormons, Muslims, and Multiculturalism. Abstract from SSRN:

This essay (6,000 words), which appeared in the Weekly Standard ostensibly as a comment on Mitt Romney’s religion speech of December 2007, contains something to offend nearly everyone. It bluntly attacks presidential candidate Mike Huckabee and his evangelical followers for their demand for a Christian president, and calls them religious bigots.

The essay also rejects, however, a central claim of Romney’s religion speech, that all religious doctrines are beyond criticism or political argument – asserting that Romney, in the attempt to insulate himself from any questions of religion, has endorsed what might be called conservative multiculturalism and moral relativism. The essay argues that this is a disastrous move not just for American conservatives, but for American politics more generally, and urges that liberal toleration has to be understood not as a form of relativism putting religious doctrine beyond scrutiny but instead as a liberal suspension of public judgment on matters that one might well believe one entitled to judge in private. In effect, if the question is what parts of a candidate’s religious beliefs are properly subject to public political scrutiny, Huckabee and his evangelical followers say all-in; Romney says, all-out. Neither of those can be considered the answer of liberal toleration. The essay then proposes, in its second half, three rough rules of thumb for determining whether a proposition of religion believed by a candidate for public office ought to be considered fairly open for political discussion.

An enormously important reason why it matters that a liberal democracy get these answers right, the essay concludes, is that it matters today, in the world as it stands today, to be able to ask these questions of Islam, and of Muslim candidates. The answers to important questions – relations of church and state, apostasy, free expression, the status of women and gays, etc. – cannot simply be set aside. Either voters will not trust Muslim candidates and will simply refuse to elect them, because they are not allowed, under rules of multicultural political correctness (including Romney’s conservative multiculturalism), to ask these questions – or we can put these questions properly on the table, while at the same time having liberal grounds for ignoring questions of doctrine having no substantial bearing on public policy. The former will save everyone’s delicate feelings; only the latter, however, will provide the path for full participation in a democratic political community. (This essay is an unabashed, unapologetic jeremiad and it angered many readers when it first appeared.)

(Sample of the snark below the fold … this essay dated from 2007; many of the characters have shifted position since then. Update: Reflecting on a couple of the comments, yeah, I should actually display some of the more serious argument, which I am putting first below the fold although it makes for a long below-the-fold. But let me also add that although I describe it (accurately) as snark, the nastiness serves a genuine and in my view legitimate affective purpose, which is to ridicule without apology both Romney’s transparent attempt to put any questions about his religion behind a political wall, and a surprising (to me at least) number of Evangelicals’ view that Romney’s religion alone was a disqualifier for the presidency – as many of them no doubt continue to think today and to which I continue to say, further to the burden of the article … God smite them.)

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