Romney and Huntsman: Are Mormon politicians catching up to Jews?
02/10/2011 - 11:45
James Besser

 There's been a lot of buzz in recent days about Mormons in politics – and the claim that church members, long the victims of discrimination in the political world, may be coming into their own in much the same way as Jews have entered the political big leagues in recent decades.

Former Mass. Governor Mitt Romney remains a strong contender for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination; Jon Huntsman Jr. , a former Utah governor and now U.S. ambassador to China, is widely expected to make a run for the nomination.

In today's Washington Post On Faith blog, Orthodox Union public policy director Nathan Diament wrote that raising the issue of faith for these candidates can be appropriate – as it was in 2000, when Sen. Joe Lieberman, then a Democrat, ran as the party's vice-presidential candidate, the first Jew on a major party ticket.

“[T]here may well be unfamiliarity, ignorance really, with Mormonism and it is appropriate for voters to ask questions and seek answers, from political leaders and from the media, to enlighten people about Mormonism and how it might serve to shape the values and thinking of a candidate for the presidency,” Diament wrote. “The very same process took place with regard to Orthodox Judaism when Al Gore nominated Joe Lieberman for the vice presidency in 2000. The day after Gore announced his selection of Lieberman, I published an essay in the Post's Op Ed page to explain key aspects of Lieberman's faith and practice.”

There may be a difference, though. While anti-Semitism remains an ever present hum in the background of American politics, anti-Mormonism is much more overt in some circles – starting with big segments of the evangelical Protestant community, where Mormonism is considered a dangerous pseudo-Christian cult.

That leads to this paradox: most prominent Mormon politicians (Sen. Harry Reid, the Senate minority leader, is an exception), fall on the conservative Republican side of the political spectrum.

But a big part of the GOP base resides in an evangelical community where distrust of Mormons is the strongest. The question is, which will prove more politically influential: the Mormons' appeal to conservative social and political values, or theological perspectives see Mormonism as a threat to other modes of Christianity?

I'm not sure the Lieberman example should be a source of reassurance for Huntsman, Romney and others.

It's true that despite some worries in the Jewish community, Lieberman's Orthodox Judaism was a non-factor – and in many cases a political plus – in his 2000 vice presidential run.

But there's been a significant turn among evangelicals in recent years; many now venerate Israel and respect Jews, although it's not always clear how much of that admiration is based on Bible prophecies that have a grisly last chapter, at least if you're Jewish.

Many of those same evangelicals who think Jews are cool share the religious distrust of Mormonism. So in some ways today's rising Mormon politicians may face more obstacles than Lieberman faced in 2000.

One other fact illuminates this discussion: Jews and Mormons are each about 1.7 percent of the overall U.S. population. But Jews are 7.3 percent of the current Congress, while Mormons are only 2.8 percent. So in Congressional terms, at least, Mormons are lagging behind Jews. On the other hand: there are two Mormon politicians who could be serious presidential contenders next year. Where are the Jews?

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When discussing Mormons and Jews, I think it is also of real value to compare the positive attitude about Jews that Mormons have expressed from the very founding of the Church. While members of other Christian religions have often associated Jews with those who killed Christ, Mormons have consistently looked at the return of Jews to Israel as one of the events to occur before the last days. It is rare indeed to find a Mormon leader saying anything negative about Jews publicly. I know that my teachers always taught respect and admiration for Jews as one of the tribes of Israel.

"On the other hand: there are two Mormon politicians who could be serious presidential contenders next year. Where are the Jews?' Sadly, there are not enough Jewish Republicans in elected office. (4 Jews ran for Congress in NY this year, only one was elected.) Norm Coleman "lost" reelection in 2008. That leaves House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, and his only higher aspiration seems to be Speaker of the House.
Ironically, since most Mormons tend to be conservative, they wouldn't vote for Harry Reid for president. Their political ideology trumps their religion in this case. Too bad evangelical Christians are the exact opposite. If they keep stabbing qualified, conservative candidates in the back because they don't believe in the same brand of Jesus, they have only themselves to blame when liberal after liberal gets elected.
Mitt has been successful because he has surrounded himself with qualified people. His Administration/Team will help us turn this country around! It’s time for true leadership, not a rebel rouser community organizer who carried a bullhorn, but a guy who knows what he's doing and has respect for Jews! It's time we understood the difference between Obama Care and Romney Care… On Good Morning America, Mitt said: “I’m not going to apologize for the rights of states to craft plans on a bipartisan basis to help their people.” This is no longer a bad answer! See the relationship between Romney’s private CEO experience and how he applies it to non-profit and Government? Through his pack, Mitt Romney has doled out nearly $130,000 in contributions to Republican candidates already in 2011, an early sign of both financial strength and a commitment to party. It's time American Jews step up and rally behind a true friend of the Jews (pro Israel, pro business, pro constitution), even if he is a Mormon! PS, another area where Mormons are catching up to Jews is in academics. For example, Jews have had a high percentage of Nobel Prize winners. With the high educational standards of the rapidly growing LDS Church, it won't be long before you see more LDS Nobel Prize winners also!
I think if people have questions about Mormonism they should look for Mormons to answer those questions and not the media, or politicians. If they have a policy question, by all means ask a politician. If you have questions about someone's faith, it is a good practice to ask someone who has that faith.
Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman are "non-Trinitarian Christians". 11 of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were non-Trinitarian Christians. Those who insist on their narrow definition of Christianity are doing our Republic an injustice. By the logic of some Evangelicals, those 11 Founding Fathers would not be eligible for Public Office.
One minor correction--Senator Reid is still majority leader in the Senate.