All About Mormons

Will Saletan and I have slightly different angles on the Mormon moment of the GOP primary campaign, which may actually cease or pause tonight. (The Bloomberg/Washington Post/Dartmouth debate is supposed to focus only on economic issues.) Will focused on the persistence of anti-Mormon sentiment, which is one of the few bigotries with some purchase among liberals.

What happened to that rock at Perry’s hunting camp—once proudly displayed, then painted over, and now universally condemned—tells a timeless story about bigotry: You’ll know it when you see it, but you won’t see it till you know that’s what it is. The prejudices you need to work on aren’t the ones you recognize in your grandparents’ generation.

I went for a more theoretical/tortured analysis of the weekend’s bigot eruption. It takes people like Jeffress to engender sympathy among people who don’t consider themselves bigoted.

Jeffress used his moment to create a substance heretofore unknown to nature: sympathy for Mitt Romney. The pastor was condemned almost immediately by people as diverse as James Fallows (“anti-Mormonism is bigotry”) and Bill Bennett (“do not give voice to bigotry”). In his summit speech, right after warning of “a race war declared by the New Black Panther Party,” Glenn Beck summoned his famous tears and said, “I am a proud member of the Church of Jesus Christ”—aka, a Mormon. The Romney religious question has been brought into the race as a vaudeville routine, with a cartoon villain that everyone can agree to hate. It’s the best the candidate could have hoped for. Any other way, this issue is a loser for him.

Embedded in the story is this video, which I’ll post again. William Temple, a pastor who dresses in revolutionary-era garb and spends all of his convention time being interviewed and photographed, shared his thoughts on the Mormon issue. By talking to him I wanted to demonstrate that the Tea Party is not, as is sometimes assumed, a collection of people who don’t care about social issues right now.