October 20, 2011

Romney May Be Victim of Bigotry, But He's Also a Bigot

Mitt Romney MormonBefore I leave the subject of Willard "Mitt" Romney and his Mormon religion behind, I want to return to something that happened during his 2008 campaign with special relevance to atheists. We're all familiar with the phenomenon where someone who was the victim of bigotry gains a little bit of status and then ends up engaging in bigotry toward others. A commonly cited example involves African Americans who are vehemently anti-immigrant or anti-gay. A less commonly cited examples concerns Romney and we atheists.

In the run up to Romney's 2008 campaign, he realized that his Mormon faith was going to hurt him in the Republican primaries. The Republican Party has been targeting evangelical fundamentalist Christians so blatantly that any candidate who doesn't fit that rigid mold is going to struggle. Romney knew this and attempted to play down his Mormon religion. Nevertheless, he faced considerable criticism for his religious beliefs.

As the 2008 election neared, Romney gave a memorable speech during which he tried to ease concerns about his Mormon beliefs but ended up sounding like something of a theocrat. Romney's strategic gamble, which came through loud and clear in this speech, involved pandering to the same Christian extremists who had been attacking his religion. And it so doing, he revealed himself as a bigot by attacking secularism. Sadly, this sort of bigotry has been deemed acceptable by many in the mainstream media and did not prompt the widespread condemnation it deserved.

Romney's attempt to appease the Christian extremists failed. As more information emerged about what exactly Mormons believe, including the secret oath they swear around the age of 19, it became almost impossible for anybody to trust Romney when he claimed that his church would not govern through him. For once, the Christian right and the atheist community found something on which they could agree: Romney was unacceptable.

I think that things may be different this time around. The hatred of Obama is so intense on the right that it would not surprise me to see the Christian extremists eventually decide to get behind Romney. They aren't going to be happy about it, but I suspect that many will do it.