Rewind to April 2005 for a hint at how theological differences fade once we start talking politics. Some of the most heartfelt remembrances of Pope John Paul II came from evangelical Christians in Congress. Now, true, a Catholic has already been president, and my crowd (I'm Catholic) is bigger that the Salt Lakers, so folks are a bit more used to us; but papists and evangelical Protestants do have some not-minor theological differences. Yet on abortion and cloning and gay marriage -- which Mormon Romney has some experience fighting in his oh-so-blue Bay State -- there's a real political and cultural bond that transcends theological differences. I might not go to church with him, but I can work with him. And if I were a conservative evangelical Protestant, I'd certainly consider voting for someone who talks about a culture of life in the way Romney does.
The media, naturally, will continue to miss the real story: the fact that Romney's convictions, as they are translated into politics, might make him more, rather than less, appealing to evangelicals. This isn't just conservative grousing, either: CNN political analyst Bill Schneider recently remarked, to the LA Times, that "the press is one of the most secular institutions in American society. It just doesn't get religion or any idea that flows from religious conviction."
So can a Mormon be president? Save that question until Romney announces. And ask it again after people have had some more exposure to him, and can reference some speech he gave -- instead of having their quickest thought-association for "Mormon" in current events be an HBO show about polygamy. And if and when some opponent tries to use his religion against him as Democrat Ted Kennedy (yes, brother of the religion-and-the-presidency-taboo-breaker Catholic JFK) did in his 1994 Senate race with Romney, Americans will see it for what it is -- that old-time, hardball, sometimes-unholy politics.
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