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I didn’t realize it until it was too late but on Sunday morning some devil, or to put it in more modern (but less meaningful) terms, some spirit of masochism infected me.

In retrospect it was just there. There was no old movie on television – so I turned on the morning talk shows. The first thing I saw was Chris Wallace badgering Mike Huckabee, saying that sometime in the last century Huckabee had advocated quarantining AIDS victims. I guess Wallace was trying to throw Huckabee in the soup. But in fact he probably helped him move up five more points in Iowa.

Next, leaping forward into the current century, Wallace asked Huckabee what he thought of people voting against Mitt Romney because he’s a Mormon. Huckabee opined that was something he would never do himself – said it was dead wrong – and added he hoped no one else would do it either.

This struck me as odd since Huckabee’s running TV ads in Iowa telling people to vote for him because he’s a ‘Christian leader;’ it’s hard to figure out how Huckabee’s religion matters and Romney’s doesn’t.

I changed the station and almost every pundit was singing out of Huckabee’s hymnal, agreeing Romney’s religion didn’t matter. But, I suspect, for different reasons.

Huckabee’s reason may be simplest. Had he said, ‘Sure it matters that Romney’s a Mormon’ – he’d have been pilloried in much of the media as a close-minded Baptist minister. So, he side-stepped a deluge of negative press by giving a politically prudent answer.

The pundits, I suspect, fall into two different categories.

First, it seems, some pundits just don’t think religion matters. When they say there’s no need to debate Romney’s Mormonism they mean there’s no point because it’s unimportant.

A second group seem to agree with Romney’s speech in Houston – where Romney tried to reframe questions about Mormonism into a debate about religious freedom. Like Romney, these pundits see a debate about his Mormonism as a struggle between religious bigotry and enlightenment. The curious twist here is – in the name of enlightenment – the pundits are being the opposite of openminded. They are, in effect, stopping the debate. So instead of the benefit of hearing both sides – voters hear nothing at all.

In a way, again like Romney, these pundits are saying it’s not what he believes that matters it’s what he does – as if they are two different things. But unless a man is a hypocrite there ought to be (within the limits of human foibles) some connection between what he believes and does.

No doubt in a debate on Mormonism – as in many other debates – there will be a few voices of bigotry raised. But for most of the Republicans Romney is asking to vote for him, their curiosity about his Mormonism has nothing to do with intolerance. It’s about whether Romney is the best qualified candidate for President and surely, in the context, what he believes matters.

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