Truth and Consequences: Mitt Romney, Proposition 8, and Public Reason
35 Pages Posted: 6 Mar 2009 Last revised: 9 Jun 2015
Date Written: March 19, 2009
Although formal religious tests for federal office are constitutionally prohibited, they have long been fact of political life in presidential elections. John Kennedy remains the only nonProtestant ever elected President. The "Judeo-Christian tradition" notwithstanding, no major party has ever nominated a Jew for president - let alone a Buddhist, Hindu, Mormon, Muslim, or unbeliever.
Against this electoral history, it was perhaps predictable that mainstream Christian commentators would feel free to legitimate religious attacks on Mitt Romney during the Republican presidential primaries on the ground that Mormonism is a "false" religion. Ironically, however, the Mormon church periodically intervenes in initiative and ratification campaigns to defend "true" or "divine" principles that it believes ought to be enforced by law and reflected in public policy. How upset are folks entitled to get when their church is labeled "false" in an electoral campaign, if the church itself regularly participates in such campaigns on the basis of religious truth and falsity?
My purpose in this Essay is to examine the deployment of religious truth-claims in electoral politics, through the lenses of Gov. Romney's unsuccessful campaign for the Republican nomination and the LDS church's participation in the successful Proposition 8 campaign to ban same-sex marriage in California. I will argue that in contemporary electoral politics, attacks on the truth of a religion make little sense in light of the pluralism and postmodernism that now characterize the contemporary United States, but are a likely consequence when the religion itself introduces such truth-claims into electoral politics.
I argue religious pluralism and contemporary postmodern sensibilities now preclude any religion from plausibly asserting in public contexts that its claims are true to the exclusion of all others. In such a culture, the introduction of religious truth-claims into electoral campaigns presents distinct disadvantages and dangers to liberal democracy, particularly when done from the right. I illustrate the deleterious effects of such claims, and the corresponding virtues of public reason, by reference to the attacks on Romney's Mormonism during the Republican primaries and the Mormon church's support of Proposition 8. I close with some observations about the necessary priority of pluralism to truth in electoral politics.
Keywords: belief, Latter-day Saint, Mormon, pluralism, postmodernism, politics, Proposition 8, public reason, religion, Mitt Romney, spirituality
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