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Ron Hart Columns: Who loves Jesus the most? Not always best litmus test

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Who loves Jesus the most? Not always best litmus test

December 7, 2007 - Columbia Daily Herald

By Ron Hart

"Religion is as effectively destroyed by bigotry as by indifference."

--Ralph Waldo Emerson

It is my fear that the Republican Party will do what the Democrats did for years: nominate the candidate who is the most zealot-like in the primary and who is least likely to win a national election. This is exactly what happens when the Democrats offer up members of the liberal elite like Mondale, Dukakis, Gore, and Kerry: they get landslides in Northeastern Liberal strongholds like Boston and New York City, but they bomb in the wilds of Texas and Tennessee. I was once told that sending John Kerry to the South to campaign was like flying Harvard to the Orange Bowl to play an SEC team.

The GOP is destined to spend time in the wilderness as a result of both its leaders' hubris and its lack of focus on its "less government" original agenda. Once they were elected, the Republicans chose power over principles, and now their leaders are dropping like flies.

So it might not matter that Mitt Romney, a solid fiscal conservative and successful businessman, will not win the nomination because of the way the GOP faithful view his religion. Huckabee is making primary gains with his Baptist preacher street cred which gives him a holier-than-thou leg up with the all-important evangelical voters. And no one is more surprised by his success than the affable Huckabee himself.

Too bad for Mitt, and too bad for the country that religion, not competence, matters most to the GOP core. We are already mired in a religious war in Iraq, and we do not need to keep heading down that path. We have seen where someone who holds steadfast to his religious convictions, ignoring facts and logic has led us.

It looks like Mitt will do what JFK did. On Sept 12, 1960, John F. Kennedy, in the heat of a presidential race and faced with the same small-minded fear of a Catholic-phobic country, gave a speech at the Rice Hotel in Houston, Texas. This speech has served for decades to define the relationship between politics and religion in this country. In what many regard as the turning point of the 1960 presidential race, he told a crowd of Protestant ministers: "I do not speak for my church on public matters - and the church does not speak for me."

I recently heard Clearance Thomas, the battered-by-the-Left Supreme Court Justice, effectively tell Steve Croft on "60 Minutes" the same thing. Croft was berating Thomas with the usual media argument that he does not represent his people well because of his conservativism and opposition to affirmative action. Thomas, in a very measured and confident tone asked "60 Minutes" why it was that they did not ask Justices Scalia or Alito why they did not better represent the interests of Italian-Americans.

We have to reduce the role of ethnicity and religion in the political agenda. Religion has long been structurally set apart from government for good reason. Indeed, we can observe in many of the Islamic countries where our troops are now stationed just how bad things can become for everyone when zealous religion becomes government.

I am a believer in a higher power myself, so I am not saying that religion should not be considered at all. I just want to get rid of the pious nut jobs who seem to be the loudest and most often appeased to the detriment of government.

Sadly, a Pew Research Center poll in September found that 25 percent of GOP voters, including 36 percent of white Protestants evangelicals, said that they would be less likely to vote for a Mormon. Rudy Giuliani with his three wives does better than Mitt Romney with his stable solid marriage of 30 years and his great kids. Folks, that is small-minded and wrong.

The Democrats are smarter on this. Their leading candidate Barrack Obama has admitted to drug use and no one cared. Meanwhile, the GOP base slices and dices its candidates; forcing them into in a ludicrous competition over issues of religion and morality that should have no bearing on their ability to govern.

Without a doubt Romney, the patrician blue-blood and family man, has no such issues like drugs or multiple marriages in his past. He is like a political Donny Osmond. At best, the staid Romney might have to admit to experimenting in the 1970s with grocery store-bought domestic wines, but that is it.

All politicians tell us that they are going to lead the U.S. into a new chapter. Sadly, they way they spend, it might be Chapter 11. Romney appears to be the only true business person who seems to be willing to cut spending. I hate to see him not get a chance because of voters' religious prejudices.

Otherwise, the GOP's religious zealots should get ready to take their seats in the back pews. If that is all that government is about to them, they will be sitting there for a long time.

2011 Benjamin Franklin Award Winner!

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Columns by Ronald Hart. Ron grew up in Tennessee and began writing a column for his hometown paper in 2002. He attended The University of Memphis and the Institute for Political and Economic Systems at Georgetown University. Ron graduated Magna Cum Laude and was elected student government president. Upon getting his MBA, he went to work for Goldman Sachs. He was appointed to the Tennessee Board of Regents by then Governor Lamar Alexander and is now a private investor. He appears on CNN and has been quoted in numerous publications including the Wall Street Journal. His columns reflect a rare combination of Southern libertarian views and humor. They have been described as "Lewis Grizzard meets P.J. O'Rourke with a dash of Will Roger's horse sense". His columns are carried by 30 newspapers with a total weekly circulation of approximately 1 million readers.