Years ago I once interviewed comedian Jay Leno and he told me something I've never forgotten and think of quite often: when he wants to make fun of a fat man, he never makes fun of him for being fat; rather, he makes fun of his tie.
I think of Leno's maxim whenever I hear conservative Christian voters criticizing Mitt Romney for his alleged failings like Romneycare, flip-flopping, lack of personality etc. because like Leno, what I think they're really doing is describing his "tie" instead of saying what they truly mean to say: he's a Mormon.
As this obfuscation indicates however, it's a prejudice that nobody wants to cop to because there seems to be a general feeling that it's an icky one and so as a result, mainstream journalists continue to be befuddled over Romney's lack of success and try to blame it on the various criticisms of his "tie," only it's not about his "tie," it's about his religion.
But a journalist named Warren Cole Smith has ended the nonsense and has decided to speak the truth on behalf his fellow Evangelical Christians by stating the obvious: he and many of his fellow true believers will not vote for Mitt Romney because he's a Mormon.
I first became aware of just how deep and serious this phenomenon was when my friend Adam Christing returned from producing a documentary on the founder of the LDS church, Joseph Smith called A Mormon President. Christing, a film producer, author and comedian told me he was shocked at the deep resentment that is felt to this day for the LDS church on the part of many of the people he had interviewed in the South and Midwest. I decided to investigate for myself and asked two moderate Republican Evangelical Christian friends what they would do if the choice was between Mitt Romney and Hillary Clinton: without hesitation they said they'd vote for Clinton because of Romney's Mormon faith.
The L.A. Times' Tim Rutten and others have weighed in with attacks on Smith, but this is a mistake because far from shouting down the likes of Smith, this objection needs to be debated openly and honestly if for no other reason than to help the poor Romney kids from watching their inheritance being squandered on a fool's errand. After all, if Evangelical Christians who form the base of the GOP are not going to vote for a Mormon under any circumstances, even willing to turn to the other party's candidate, Mormons like Romney deserve to know the truth.
I would venture to say that the feeling is so strong that millions of Christians would easily prefer a Jewish candidate, say Eric Cantor, over a Mormon one like Romney because though they may wish that Cantor would accept Jesus Christ as his personal savior, they would never label Judaism as a cult, as they would the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
Smith may not be a politician, but his contribution to our political culture fits Michael Kinsley's definition of a gaffe: when a politician tells the truth. He has let the cat out of the bag by admitting that he and millions of churchgoing Christians will not vote for Mitt Romney and if he somehow gets through a GOP primary, they may very well stay home come election day or vote for the incumbent president who, despite his policies which may be diametrically opposed to what they believe in, can look them in the eyes and recount with clarity his testimony of the day he asked Jesus Christ to become his Lord and Savior.
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