Wednesday, February 13, 2008

An Inconvenient Truth: Romney's Campaign Brought Anti-Mormon Bias Out of the Closet

Former Massachusetts Governor Tried Hard to Draw Support from Conservatives as the GOP Alternative to McCain, But Christian Evangelicals -- Distrustful of Mormons -- Refused to Vote for Him, Opting Instead for Southern Baptist Ex-Pastor Huckabee

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney speaks during his ...

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney was in a fighting mood on Super Tuesday, vowing to fight on for the Republican presidential nomination, despite having been resoundingly rejected by conservative Christian evangelicals, who voted in droves for former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. The former Southern Baptist minister swept all five southern states in last week's quasi-national primary -- effectively sending Romney's campaign off the rails. Two days after his Super Tuesday debacle, Romney bowed to political reality and announced his withdrawal from the race. While Romney refused to acknowledge that questions about his Mormon faith was a factor in the failure of his campaign, strong evidence has emerged of a pattern of anti-Mormon bias against him. (Photo: Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

By Suzanne Sataline
The Wall Street Journal

Mitt Romney's campaign for the presidency brought more attention to the Mormon Church than it has had in years. What the church discovered was not heartening.

Critics of its doctrines and culture launched frequent public attacks. Polling data showed that far more Americans say they'd never vote for a Mormon than those who admitted they wouldn't choose a woman or an African-American.

A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll in late January revealed that 50 percent of Americans said they would have reservations or be "very uncomfortable" about a Mormon as president. That same poll found that 81 percent would be "enthusiastic" or "comfortable" with an African-American and 76 percent with a woman.

The former Massachusetts governor's Mormon faith "was the silent factor in a lot of the decision making by [Christian] evangelicals and others," says Democratic pollster Peter Hart, who conducted the poll. The Romney campaign ran into "a religious bias headwind," Hart and his Republican polling partner, Bill McInurff, wrote late last month.

"I don't think that any of us had any idea how much anti-Mormon stuff was out there," said Armand Mauss, a Mormon sociologist who has written extensively about church culture, in an interview last week. "The Romney campaign has given the church a wake-up call. There is the equivalent of anti-Semitism still out there."

For Romney, Super Tuesday Was the End of the Road

On Thursday, Romney was suspending his quest for the Republican nomination, following a poor showing in the "Super Tuesday" contests. Romney made no mention of his religion when he withdrew.

There were many other factors that may have contributed to his failed campaign. He didn't gain sufficient traction among the social conservatives influential to his party. Opponents attacked him, saying he changed his moderate stances to more conservative ones to attract votes, including his position on abortion.

Some observers play down religious bias as a factor. Ken Jennings, a Mormon who was a "Jeopardy!" champion, says anti-Mormon attacks "contributed" to Romney's problems, but weren't the only obstacle. "I suspect there were bigger forces in play than the religion," such as perceptions that Romney had shifted his positions, said Jennings in an interview from his home in Seattle. "There were principled reasons to say, 'I like McCain over Romney.'"

Religion "wasn't a factor in the governor's decision to step aside," says Eric Fehrnstrom, a campaign spokesman. "There was a lot more focus on religion early on in the race, but as people learned more about Gov. Romney, his success as a businessman and as leader of the Olympics, it receded as an issue into the background."

Nevertheless, Romney's campaign exposed a surprisingly virulent strain of anti-Mormonism that had been largely hidden to the general public.

Pundit Rips Mormon Church as a Religion Founded by an 'Anti-American, pro-Slavery Rapist'

In December, political pundit and actor Lawrence O'Donnell Jr. unleashed a tirade on "The McLaughlin Group" television talk show, tearing into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, as the Mormon Church is known officially, and into Romney's faith.

"Romney comes from a religion founded by a criminal who was anti-American, pro-slavery, and a rapist. And he comes from that lineage and says, 'I respect this religion fully.'...He's got to answer."

Mormons were outraged. Hundreds complained to the show and on radio talk shows and the Internet, protesting that the remarks about church founder Joseph Smith were bigoted and unfounded. O'Donnell, a former MSNBC commentator who plays a lawyer for polygamists on the HBO drama "Big Love," says he has nothing to apologize for. "Everything I said was true," he says.

Although "The McLaughlin Group" said it will keep O'Donnell off the air for now, neither MSNBC nor HBO plans to take action against him, spokespeople from both networks said.

"The vast majority of Americans recognize that one of our strengths as a nation is our tolerance for religions that are different than our own," Fehrnstrom said. "Sadly, not every person thinks that way, but there's nothing that can be said or done to change their small minds."

Mormons Dismayed by Persistent Bias Against Them Nearly 180 Years After Church's Founding

For Mormons, O'Donnell's comments were a rallying cry. Members of the church are taught not to argue with outsiders over faith. But as criticism of their faith rose to new heights during the campaign, the Mormons took on their antagonists like never before, in a wave of activism encouraged by church leadership.

Mormon leaders and church members say they were initially unprepared for the intensity of attacks, which many say were unprecedented in modern times. The attacks, they say, are a sign that, nearly 180 years after their church's founding, their long struggle for wide acceptance in America is far from over, despite global church expansion and prosperity.

On the Internet, the Romney bid prompted an outpouring of broadsides against Mormonism from both the secular and religious worlds. Evangelical Christian speakers who consider it their mission to criticize Mormon beliefs lectured to church congregations across the country.

Richard John Neuhaus, editor of the Catholic journal First Things, wrote that a Mormon presidency would threaten Christian faiths. Atheist author Christopher Hitchens called Mormonism "a mad cult" on, and Bill Keller, a former convict who runs an online ministry in Florida, told a national radio audience that a vote for Romney was a vote for Satan.

"It seems like it's been open season on Mormons," says Marvin Perkins, a Los Angeles Mormon Church member who lectures about the history of blacks in the church.

Romney Speech on His Faith, Reminiscent of JFK, Failed to Change Evangelicals' Minds

Romney was reluctant to speak publicly about his religion. Eventually, senior advisers persuaded him to do so to allay voter concerns about how it might affect his decision-making as president.

Inevitably, comparisons were made to a now-famous 1960 campaign speech that another presidential candidate from Massachusetts, then-Senator John F. Kennedy, who became America's first Roman Catholic president, delivered to an audience of Southern Baptists. Although Romney's December speech was well-received by political pundits, it did little to move his polling numbers upward.

That same month, M. Russell Ballard, one of the Mormon Church's 12 apostles, or governors, urged students at a graduation at the church-owned Brigham Young University to use the Internet and "new media" to defend the faith. At least 150 new Mormon sites were created and registered with the site "People were haranguing us on the Internet," Ballard said in an interview. "I just felt we needed to unleash our own people."

Normally insular church leaders, with help from Washington-based consultant Apco Worldwide, began a public-relations campaign last fall, visiting 11 editorial boards of newspapers across the country. In another first, the church posted a series of videos, some featuring Ballard, on YouTube to counter a wave of anti-Mormon footage on the site.

Many Mormons were excited by Romney's candidacy. "There's a member of the tribe that's up there," Nathan Oman, an assistant professor at William and Mary School of Law, said last month, adding that he had not yet decided whom to vote for. "What happens to him is a test of whether or not our tribe gets included in the political universe."

Polygamy, Doctrinal Differences at Root of Antipathy Toward Mormons

Mormonism began in 1830 after Joseph Smith, a farmer in upstate New York, said an angel led him to some golden plates that contained a "New World gospel" -- the Book of Mormon. Mormons regard themselves as Christians, but some Christian denominations, particularly the Southern Baptist Convention, do not.

The SBC, the nation's largest Protestant Christian denomination, regards as heresy the Mormon belief that Smith was a prophet and that the Bible was not the final word of God. And it posts essays on its Web site saying Mormonism is a non-Christian cult.

The faith's early history was marked by tension and brutal forced exiles, sparked in part by the practice of polygamy -- having multiple spouses -- by some church members. After Smith was arrested in Nauvoo, Illinois, a mob killed him and drove off his followers. The Mormons fled west, ultimately settling in Utah in 1847.

Polygamy fed repeated conflicts with the federal government until the church banned the practice worldwide in 1904. The church has flourished in recent years and now claims 13 million members worldwide.

Romney's candidacy revived old lines of attack and mockery of some of the church's unusual practices, such as secret ceremonies, the wearing of special undergarments, and the baptizing the dead in the belief that it will help them join family members in heaven.

Some Evangelicals Brand Romney's Mormon Faith 'Un-Christian'

Among the most active critics were practitioners of evangelical Christian "apologetics" -- speakers and writers who make their mission to actively defend their faith. For some of them, that involves criticizing Mormonism. At the Life Point Bible Church in Quincy, Illinois last month, evangelical apologist Rocky Hulse told 35 members that Romney should not be considered a Christian.

Hulse, himself a former Mormon, told the group that Mormons believe in more than one god and that they believe God impregnated Mary in the normal fashion, not by granting her a virgin birth. The audience sat rapt.

Scott Gordon, president of the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research, a Mormon group, says Hulse is wrong on the facts. Mormons pray to one God, he says, and believe, like most Christians, that Mary was a virgin. Gordon went on talk-radio shows to rebut claims of other apologists.

Huckabee Remark Sparks Anger Among Mormons -- and a Decision to Fight Back

In December, while campaigning for the Iowa caucuses, Republican candidate Mike Huckabee asked a magazine reporter: "Don't Mormons believe that Jesus and the devil are brothers?" Huckabee is an ordained Southern Baptist minister who stepped down from the pulpit in 1992 to run for governor of Arkansas to succeed Bill Clinton, who won the White House that year.

Mormon church leaders, who repeatedly asserted the church's neutrality in elections, had tried to keep out of the political fray. But church spokesman Michael Otterson says they couldn't ignore Huckabee's comment. Members said it implied that they were devil worshipers. Phones were ringing off the hook at church headquarters in Salt Lake City.

"Jesus Christ and Lucifer are indeed offspring of our Heavenly Father and, therefore, spirit brothers" from a pre-existing world, the church said in a statement. "Christ was the only begotten in the flesh."

"I'm not impugning the motives of a political candidate," Otterson said. "But the result of the question was to confuse the situation, not to enlighten." Huckabee swiftly apologized to Romney for the comment. He handily won the Iowa caucuses, helped by huge numbers of evangelicals.

(With Romney now out of the race, Huckabee himself may face voter opposition for his religious views. The January Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll showed that 45 percent of Americans have concerns about an evangelical Christian as president.)

Soon, the Mormon Church began posting its videos on YouTube -- twenty-two so far. One clip, for example, showed Ballard, the church apostle, answering the question "Are Mormons Christian?" It has drawn 26,000 views. By contrast, a cartoon clip from "The God Makers," a 1980s film that mocks Mormon beliefs, has been viewed 945,000 times.

Ballard's call for more new-media activism inspired dozens of new Web sites. On, several Mormons of different political views write about the presidential race. Founder Mike Rogan, of Chandler, Arizona, says he started the blog "to combat some specific misconceptions about Mormons," including that all Mormons are "conservatives with a mindless 'sheep' mentality."

Hitchens, the best-selling author of God is Not Great, wrote last fall that Romney owed voters a discussion about "the mad cult" of his church. Similar commentaries inspired Ryan Bell, a Salt Lake City attorney, to start a Web site, Romney last summer. "Every faith has wacky doctrines," he says, adding that the press seems fixated on his faith's more sensational side.

Past Bias Against Blacks Still Haunts Mormons

Mormon fury boiled over after O'Donnell's appearance on "The McLaughlin Group," when he called church founder Smith a pro-slavery criminal and rapist. He said Romney "was" a racist because he was a member of a church that discriminated against blacks until 1978.

Bell and others responded on their Web sites that Smith, who faced many charges in his turbulent life, including treason, was never convicted of any crimes. (At least one Mormon historian says he was found guilty of a misdemeanor as a minor for fraud, but others say incomplete court records make it impossible to determine.)

The allegations about the church discriminating against African-Americans stung the most. Many Mormon historians say Smith welcomed blacks from the church's inception, had ordained some blacks onto the Mormon ministry and ran on an abolitionist platform for president in 1844.

African-Americans were barred from becoming church leaders, they say, by Smith's successor, Brigham Young. Many Protestant churches, Bell pointed out, were also racially segregated well into the 1970s. In 1978, the church lifted the ban on blacks becoming leaders.

Mormons called on the "McLaughlin Group" to take action against O'Donnell. Host John McLaughlin decided that O'Donnell, who appeared seven times last year, will be kept off the air for now, says Allison Butler, the show's managing director. But any apology to Mormons must come from him, Butler says.

Although Romney's withdrawal from the race is likely to quiet the controversy for now, many church members believe the turmoil of the past year will have lasting effects. "There will be a long-term consequence in the Mormon church," says Mauss, the Mormon sociologist.

"I think there is going to be a wholesale reconsideration with how Mormons should deal with the latent and overt anti-Mormon propaganda, Mauss continued. "I don't think the Mormons are ever again going to sorrowfully turn away and close the door and just keep out of the fray."

# # #

Volume III, Number 12
Special Report Copyright 2008, Dow Jones & Company.
The 'Skeeter Bites Report Copyright 2008, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.


Sphere: Related Content

Monday, February 11, 2008

AN EDITORIAL: The 'Skeeter Bites Report Endorses Barack Obama for President

A Rising Star in 2004 -- and the Next President in 2009

Senator Barack Obama, who swept to overwhelming victories Saturday in primaries and caucuses in Louisiana, Nebraska and Washington state and Sunday in Maine, is now strongly favored to sweep the "Potomac Primaries" in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C. on Tuesday. With his momentum building since his victory in the January 26 South Carolina primary, the Obama campaign could become an unstoppable juggernaut by the time of the March 4 primaries in Ohio and Texas. (Photo: AP)

COMING WEDNESDAY: The REAL reason Mitt Romney's run for the White House failed -- a reason he refuses to admit

# # #

Dear Readers:

For the first time since I launched
The 'Skeeter Bites Report in December 2005, I am publishing an endorsement of a candidate for public office -- something that I have never done publicly before.

But this is no ordinary public office: It's the highest public office in the land, the presidency of the United States of America. The nation's chief executive. The commander-in-chief of our country's armed forces. And the candidate I'm endorsing is no ordinary candidate.

It is with great enthusiasm, therefore, that I endorse Barack Obama to become the 44th president of the United States.

What can be said about Barack Obama that hasn't already been said in terms of his history-making impact? The junior U.S. senator from Illinois is the fifth African American to serve in that august body since the post-Civil War reconstruction period and the third to be popularly elected -- by the biggest landslide in recent Illinois history.

And, oh yes -- he's the author of two best-selling books,
Dreams From My Father and The Audacity of Hope.

Now, four years after his election to the Senate, Obama -- the son of a black father from Kenya and a white mother from Kansas -- stands poised to make history again as the first African American with a real chance to be elected to the presidency.

During a visit to his father's Kenyan homeland in the summer of 2006, Obama was given a hero's welcome rivaling the late
Roots author Alex Haley in Gambia 30 years earlier after his book became the most highly successful miniseries in television history.

But unlike Haley, Obama's visit reminded me more of another young U.S. senator who received a similar hero's welcome while visiting New York's Harlem -- America's unofficial black capital -- in 1968. His name was Robert F. Kennedy, whose campaign to succeed his assassinated brother John in the White House was tragically halted by bullets fired from the gun of Sirhan Sirhan.

As I watched the TV footage of Obama's visit to Kenya, I received a vision that was as crystal clear to me as those TV pictures: A vision of Obama taking the oath of office as president of the United States in the near future.

Nothing that has transpired in the 18 months since then has detracted from that vision. On the contrary, they are reinforcing it. In the Illinois Senate, in the U.S. Senate and so far on the presidential campaign trail, Barack Obama has demonstrated -- and is demonstrating -- an uncanny ability to work with and reach out to as broad a spectrum of people as possible to get things done.

Writing about Obama's political image in a March 2007 Washington Post opinion column, Eugene Robinson characterized him as "the personification of both-and," a messenger who rejects "either-or" political choices, and could "move the nation beyond the culture wars" of the 1960s.

I don't claim to be a psychic, but as I watched Obama's victory speech at the Iowa caucuses on January 3, I was overwhelmed with the sense that there was an other-worldly presence on the stage behind him. Three other-worldly presences, to be precise: The spirits of John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. And I could sense all three of them whispering into Obama's ear as he spoke, for the Illinois senator's address certainly had Kennedyesque and King-like echoes.

But the primary reason I'm endorsing Obama is an overriding one: We need a president who is willing to get us out of the quagmire in Iraq -- which has clearly become a Vietnam in the desert. In 1968, Robert F. Kennedy ran for the White House on a platform of ending the war in Vietnam. And I'm certain that had he not been gunned down, RFK and not Richard Nixon would have been our 37th president.

Forty years later, Obama is likewise running on a platform to end the war in Iraq. As a candidate for the United States Senate in 2004, Obama put his political career on the line to oppose going to war in Iraq, and warned of “an occupation of undetermined length, with undetermined costs, and undetermined consequences.” Obama has been a consistent, principled and vocal opponent of the war in Iraq.

"The best way to press Iraq's leaders to take responsibility for their future," Obama says, "is for the U.S. to make it clear that we are leaving. As we remove our troops, I will engage representatives from all levels of Iraqi society -- in and out of government -- to seek a new accord on Iraq's Constitution and governance."

Republican presidential hopeful John McCain insists that to withdraw from Iraq would constitute "surrender to the terrorists." Rubbish! This is the same Joe McCarthy-like rhetoric that kept us mired in Vietnam for 10 years and I don't buy it for a second.

On the contrary, the longer we stay in Iraq, the more we overtax our resources, making it harder and harder to fight terrorists elsewhere -- and even here at home. The longer we stay in Iraq, the more our enemies become emboldened to strike. And the longer we stay in Iraq, the more our credibility with the international community deteriorates. Why else do you think NATO members are refusing U.S. requests to send more troops to Afghanistan?

Get real, Senator McCain! Iraq has become a second Vietnam that is sucking the life and capital out of this country and is stretching our military to the breaking point -- and it's high time for us to get the hell out of there.

Just like the Vietnam war, we went to war in Iraq based on a pack of lies. Just as President Lyndon Johnson lied to us about a non-existent attack on U.S. ships in the Gulf of Tonkin, President George W. Bush lied to us about a non-existent Iraqi stockpile of weapons of mass destruction.

All you offer, Senator McCain, is more of the same in Iraq. I say -- loud and clear -- hell, no! Enough is enough!

Obviously, John McCain won't bring us out of Iraq. But Barack Obama will.

John McCain has refused to pledge to bring our anti-terrorism methods at home in compliance with the Constitution. But Barack Obama has.

John McCain doesn't have a clue about what to do about our worsening economy. But Barack Obama does.

John McCain hasn't even begun to address our deepening health-care crisis. But Barack Obama has.

John McCain has failed to impress many in his own party -- and indeed, many hard-line GOP conservatives still oppose him. But Barack Obama has inspired and is drawing support from across the political spectrum -- Democrats, independents and even Republicans. And he's drawing support that transcends racial, ethnic, gender and generational lines.

We haven't had a presidential candidate with that kind of appeal in 40 years, not since since RFK. And Obama's campaign for the White House comes at a time when Americans are fed up with the slash-and-burn politics of personal destruction that have dominated Washington for more than a decade.

With all due respect to Obama's chief Democratic rival, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, it has to be said that a second Clinton presidency will only continue that poisoned atmosphere -- a re-run of the attack politics that engulfed the nation's capital during her husband Bill's presidency.

A second Clinton presidency would also continue the Bush-Clinton "dynasty" in the White House -- a dynasty that will have turned 20 years old next January. It's hard to believe that it's been nearly two full decades since George H.W. Bush was elected in 1988. It was not the intention of our country's Founding Fathers, having thrown off the rule of the British monarch, King George III, for this nation to be governed by a dynasty of its own.

The time has come for an end to the bitter hyperpartisanship that has poisoned the nation's capital and threatens to poison the entire country. The time has come for a president who's not afraid to reach out across the aisle to work with members of the other party, as well as his own, to address the serious challenges that our nation will face in the coming years.

The time has come for a president who will restore America's standing in the world community -- which the soon-to-be-outgoing current occupant of the Oval Office has all but destroyed with his stubbornly wrongheaded war in Iraq and his equally stubborn refusal to deal with the growing threat of climate change.

Most of all, the time has come for a president who, unlike his predecessor, will be truly a uniter, not a divider. This blogger is convinced that the time has come for a President Barack Obama. I firmly and wholeheartedly support his candidacy and I strongly urge you to do the same.

Skeeter Sanders
Editor and Publisher
The 'Skeeter Bites Report

# # #

Volume III, Number 11
Copyright 2008, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.


Sphere: Related Content