This week, James Rainey of the Los Angeles Times made a fascinating argument about Mitt Romney’s Mormonism. Romney, he suggested, should talk about his faith; doing so “might explode the soft bigotry of critics, particularly liberals who could use a little refresher course in their own values.”
It’s a risky strategy, to be sure. It worked for John F. Kennedy when he spoke openly about his Catholicism; it didn’t seem to work as well for Joe Lieberman when he talked about his Judaism. But Rainey makes an intelligent case for Romney using his religion as a way to show intolerant liberals their own intolerance, and to reach out to other people of faith. Romney’s critics, Rainey argues, “seem blissfully unaware of how intolerant they sound when they poke fun at, say, the ‘Mormon underwear’ that is a confirmation of faith. These are the same people who would be righteously offended by anyone who mocked someone wearing a yarmulke or prayer shawl.”
More importantly than that, says Rainey, Romney as a human being is largely characterized by his faith. “By not talking about his religion,” says Rainey, “it is much more than religion that Romney is carving out of his campaign. He’s effectively concealing his own heart, the best vehicle he has for revealing himself as a man of compassion.”
That is exactly right. Romney seems distant and cold – but the anecdotes from his Church make him seem like a righteous man, charitable and giving.
Rainey may be wrong; perhaps Americans don’t want to hear about Romney’s Mormon faith. But Rainey, who is no conservative, ought to be given credit for making an honest and forthright argument for the place of faith in American public life – and recognizing the inherent bigotry of those who decry such faith.