In her March 18 column, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote a scathing and nasty indictment of Presidential candidate Mitt Romney based on his Mormon religion. She trots out various Mormon practices and beliefs many consider strange, and slams Romney for not addressing them.
If a Presidential candidate was Jewish, a similar column could have been written about how Jews have strange views of the coming of the Messiah and are disproportionately wealthy and dominate so many visible professions and businesses. Yet, the New York Times would never print such a column. It would offend their readership and would invite protests by the Anti-Defamation League. (Full disclosure: I have been honored by the ADL).
But Dowd was too clever by half: she avoids offending Jews by quoting other Jews decrying the fact that some Mormons gave post-death "baptisms" to Holocaust victims. She closes the piece with the end of a lengthy quote from Elie Wiesel: "Poor Anne Frank. As if she didn't suffer enough." This is a standard journalism trick to let others say what you think.
Similarly, she seeks to avoid being compared to similar bigoted attacks over a half century ago against the Catholicism of Presidential candidate John Kennedy. She trots out Romney's opponent, Rick Santorum, as a follower of Opus Dei but says it is okay because he wears his religion "on his sleeve."
Dowd has crossed a line of unacceptable bigotry by castigating a candidate because of his religion. No amount of quotes from other people (including saying that many "others" consider Mormonism a "cult") makes it better. Holding one person accountable for all acts by their religion is as absurd as holding all Muslims responsible for extreme Islamic terrorists, all Jews responsible for the Jewish Defense League and all Germans for the Holocaust.
Our national strength is our diversity. To paraphrase Martin Luther King, we will succeed when we judge people by their character rather than their skin color (or, if we can extrapolate, religion).
What Dowd fails to mention is that Mitt Romney isn't the only prominent Mormon. Indeed, Mormons contribute mightily to American success. Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader, has been a national figure for nearly a decade. The CIA actively recruits Mormons for their language skills, high intelligence and disciplined lifestyle. Mormons are also very family-oriented and live wholesome lives. In short, they are often model-Americans.
Yet Dowd uses her perch as a columnist for a leading newspaper to attack a candidate not for anything he has done, but for the fact that his religion has some seemingly unusual practices and beliefs. (Guess what? All religions seem weird to outsiders).
It is wrong and un-American to attack a candidate on the basis of religion, sex, race or ethnicity. If a major media outlet had attacked Sen. Joe Lieberman or New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg for being Jewish, Obama for being black, or even Barney Frank for being gay, there would be outrage. Yet the Times published this xenophobic column.
To Dowd, the Holocaust lesson was not about the dangers of her type of vitriol, but about protecting the sensibilities of Jews when it suits her purposes. Well, this Jew says it is unethical and un-American to slam a candidate on the basis of the beliefs of and act by those in his religion. Calling it a "cult" doesn't excuse it either. For shame on Dowd and the Gray Lady - the New York Times.
Gary Shapiro is president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA)®, the U.S. trade association representing more than 2,000 consumer electronics companies, and author of the New York Times bestselling book, "The Comeback: How Innovation Will Restore the American Dream."