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Jonathan V. Last on Romney


… has trouble understanding my brief endorsement of Mitt Romney on NRO. He writes:

“Perhaps I’m misreading Novak, but it seems that he’s saying that (1) Romney’s Mormonism is not a fair issue for discussion, and (2) the very fact there is some discussion of it creates a positive Christian duty to support Romney.”

Actually, my point is that Mormonism is a suitable issue for one’s own decision about whether or not Mormonism is the true religion, which compels one’s own mind. It is a suitable issue, too, for philosophical and theological discussion. But to make the case that of differences of religious faith among candidates is a useful discussion in choosing a President of the United States, one needs to make a number of distinctions and to make explicit a series of assumptions. And one needs to avoid appealing to long-standing, demeaning canards that have often in the past been used by uniformed opponents of that faith.

Public political discussion of Governor Romney’s faith in recent weeks, however, has been marked by so many flagrant misstatements about that faith, and the repeitition of so many long-conventional bigotries about it, that it seemed to me to far beyond the limits of fair discussion. It seemed to me that certain boundaries had been violated. I take Governor Huckabee’s apology to Mr. Romney after the Iowa debate to be in agreement with me, at least in his case.

On point (2) it is not the fact of discussion but the flagrant unfairness of too much of the discussion that led me to want to come out in defense of someone being treated unfairly. It would have been preferable for me to hold my fire until the fight for the nomination was over. It seemed clear to me, however, that some Christians, especially some Catholics, eve if if only a few, ought to speak up now when the fire is hot, lest it be said of us that we were silent in the face of a manifestly wrong use of religious issues.

Some years ago, I remember Norman Podhoretz sticking up for Catholics in a particular debate, making some points that no Catholic could successfully do, without seeming to indulge in special pleading. I was very grateful for that. The general lesson I learned is that in a pluralistic nation we do better when members of one community come to the defense of those in another community when they are being unfairly treated.

I did not imagine imposing some new “duty” on all Christians to come to the support of one wronged candidate. Since Romney had become my reasoned choice anyway, I judged that I should not keep it private any longer. If Romney had gone down in Iowa on account of false and inflammatory innuendo, and I had not spoken up in time, I would have felt complicit by silence.

Many of the writers — even editors — of NR did not agree with the editorial endorsement of Romney. Many have declared for other candidates. Some have simply not decided. Two or three have immediately dissented. There was no “stampede,” such as Jonathan Last charges. In my own case, I was sorry that I had not beaten NR to the punch.

I am grateful for Mr. Last’s challenge to make my points more clearly.


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