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Red State’s Erick Erickson gets his Mormon In The White House review reviewed.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

HH: I’m joined now by Erick Erickson, editor of Red State. It may come as a shock to many of you in the audience that I’ve written a new book called A Mormon In The White House?, that debuted at #25 on the New York Times bestseller list this weekend, #18 on the political books list. And Mr. Erickson has written a review of it. Now I got lots of reviews of this book, some very, very kind, some very, very negative. Mr. Erickson’s is mixed. But nevertheless, I found it very offensive, and so Erick, welcome to the program. Are you ready?

EE: Yeah, sure, thanks, welcome, thank you.

HH: Let’s tell people a little bit about you. First, you’re a lawyer.

EE: I am.

HH: You’re a Georgian.

EE: Yes.

HH: And do you still live in Georgia?

EE: I sure do.

HH: Do you know any Mormons?

EE: Yeah, actually, my best friend growing up in Saudi Arabia was Mormon.

HH: Okay. Have you stayed in touch with him?

EE: I have.

HH: Okay. Here’s what you wrote that I object to, in the course of this book review written at Human Events. “If we can expect heavy participation by Mormon missionaries as grass roots activists for an American presidential campaign, why can we not ask questions about Romney’s Mormon beliefs, and why can Americans not be concerned?” Now do you expect more African-Americans to be involved in politics, Erick, if Barack Obama’s on the ticket?

EE: Oh, yeah, absolutely.

HH: Will that legitimize questions about whether or not a black ought to be president?

EE: No.

HH: Do you expect that more Jews got involved in politics because Joe Lieberman was the nominee?

EE: I would expect so.

HH: And would it have legitimized anti-Semitism?

EE: Oh, gosh no.

HH: And so how is it different for you to write that as I note, there will be more Mormons involved in politics, because they’ll be excited that their co-religionist, Mitt Romney, is involved. How does that legitimize inquiries into Romney’s Mormon beliefs?

EE: Well, I think it goes back to what I took to be the central premise of your book, in that this shouldn’t even be a discussion. And this point goes to that, where I think people are going to have these questions, and I think we need to take the opposite tack, not say it’s not up for discussion, but instead be willing to discuss it, and show people that it’s not a big deal.

HH: But why should we, would you be willing to discuss why it’s not a big deal to be black, or would you sit down with an anti-Semite and discuss with him why in face there isn’t the protocols of the elders of Zion at work here? Why would you legitimize a bigoted inquiry which would be one based on theology?

EE: Well, I think that Mormonism, frankly, is something that’s coming onto the scene now, politically, in people’s minds. And the media is going to be doing this. We’re already seeing the media do hatchet jobs on Romney, discussing polygamy and stuff. And if we’re going to say it’s not up for discussion, there are still people who are going to be discussing it, so we should be out there defending it and saying it’s not a big deal.

HH: Well, that’s not…when you close your article writing that I wonder why it is that Romney can take such great advantage of these young people, but Evangelicals and others should not even consider it. Now those are two very different things. I mean, it’s objectively true that when people find in candidates common ground, whether of race or ideology or religion or ethnicity, they get excited and they turn out in great numbers. But I don’t see how that legitimizes inquiries into someone’s theology. Just explain it for me.

EE: Well, I think it does, simply because Mormonism is unfamiliar to most people in the country. A lot of people are going to have questions about it, and I think it does a disservice to Romney, the candidate, Romney the man, and Romney and Mormon, when we say we shouldn’t be discussing Mormonism, because people do have questions about it. A lot of people have stereotypical issues with Mormonism, that they’re familiar with people knocking on their door, particularly in the South, I think. And so I really feel strongly that people need to be out there discussing this, and doing as you did in several parts of the book, showing that these are just, they’re regular people. But I think saying this isn’t up for discussion, I think, is wrong, and I disagree, to some degree, with your premise about Article VI, Clause 3 of the Constitution, and the whole religion test. I think it’s very clear from the writings of the founders, and from the patterns and practices at the beginning of the country that, I mean, people can vote these issues. We shouldn’t be telling people no, you can’t vote for someone, or vote against someone because of their religions beliefs.

HH: Well, people can vote against a Jew because he’s a Jew, but that doesn’t make it respectable, does it?

EE: No, it absolutely doesn’t, but Hugh, I really think that from your premise starting the book in the introduction, you took a tone of this is out of bounds for discussion. And I really don’t think it should be, because a lot of people are unfamiliar with Mormonism, and if we just say…

HH: What kind of questions do you think Mitt Romney should have to answer?

EE: Oh, I don’t think Mitt Romney should have to answer any questions. I think that Mitt Romney’s supporters, though, should be willing to engage on that subject.

HH: Well, talk to me about what kind of questions you think they should have to answer, or be willing to engage on.

EE: Oh, I think there are a lot of people out there who have the feeling that Mormonism is a cult, or that it’s based on heresies, and I think people need to be able to address those. It’s not a cult, it’s an acceptable, mainstream religion.

HH: And so, what should they…again, I’m having trouble. If you’re Tim Russert, what kind of question do you think is acceptable for Russert to pose of either Romney or a Romney support who happens to be a Mormon? Are you a cultist? Is that an acceptable question?

EE: Well, you know, I wouldn’t think it would be, but I think these are questions that are going to be asked. I mean, they’re being asked right now. Look, I was at a Republican convention for Bibb County, Georgia, this past weekend, and there were a lot of people there who were saying you know, Mitt Romney’s a Mormon, and I’m a Presbyterian, and I just don’t know that I can vote for someone like that.

HH: And again, I know that’s going on, but you seem to endorse the idea that previously illegitimate questions can be raised, simply because they’re on the lips of some people you know. For example, could we raise anti-Semitic slurs of supporters of Joe Lieberman, like, you know, don’t you people run Hollywood and all the banks? Aren’t you really in charge of…

EE: That’s not what I’m saying, and I’m sorry if you took that from me. What I’m saying is that there are people who are going to be raising these questions, and so…

HH: And they ought to be slapped down.

EE: Well, exactly.

HH: Shouldn’t you slap down bigotry?

EE: I agree with you, but I really took from the tone of your book, and maybe it was my mistake, that we should just start saying this is not acceptable, and we should say that, probably, but at the same time, we need to recognize it’s going to happen, and we need to be telling people that this isn’t right, that we shouldn’t be judging this man by his religion.

HH: So you endorse what I wrote in the book, because that’s what I wrote in the book.

EE: Yeah, you…people should not be doing this, but I mean, the impression I get from your book is we start up front saying that people are going to be judging this man, and we shouldn’t even be having this discussion at all.

HH: That’s exactly right. That’s what I…but when you write in your review, if we can expect, if we can expect heavy participation by Mormon missionaries as grass roots activists, by the way, I did not write that, I wrote returned Mormon missionaries who have skill sets that are probably going to be very useful in political organizing. Why can we not ask questions about Romney’s Mormon beliefs, and why can Americans not be concerned? After all, contrary to the popular perception of the left and the media, there were no organized platoons of Presbyterian missionaries knocking on doors for Reagan, brigades of Baptists for Bill Clinton, or marauding packs of Methodists for George W. Bush. This is something relatively unseen and new to most Americans, including many deeply Evangelical Americans who believe Mormonism to be a cult, or at best, a religion that has some shared roots, but is fundamentally grounded in heresies. Don’t most Evangelicals think that the Roman Catholic faith is also fundamentally grounded in heresies, Erick Erickson?

EE: I don’t think so.

HH: Oh, sure they do.

EE: No, I don’t think so. You know, I’m an Evangelical, I’m in the PCA, the good Presbyterians, and…

HH: Well, you’re a heretic, then, because you’re not in PCUSA. No, I’m joking, but…

EE: (laughing)

HH: But Erick, I don’t know where you would draw the line. Is it all right, as the Atlantic reporter asked Mitt Romney if he wears the sacred undergarments of the Church? Is that an acceptable inquiry?

EE: You know, and I guess that’s where it comes down to, Hugh, is I don’t really have a strong line on this, because I think that people in various parts of the country are going to have questions, and people are going to talk about this. And I really feel like we should be saying instead of don’t talk about this, I mean, if people have questions and concerns, such as Al Mohler in your book had some, I think, legitimate concerns from an Evangelical’s perspective…

HH: Well, A) I don’t discredit those. If people want to ask about the Salt Lake City question, or legitimizing Mormon missionary work, and have that conversation, I asked Romney that. Where I draw the line is saying he can’t be president because he belongs to a cult, or that they are a cult…I mean, it’s just not civic discourse, Erick.

EE: Yeah, and I think we’re agreeing with each other, and I guess we deviated to some degree by the wording in your book, but I don’t disagree with you on the lines there. I think it’s legitimate to talk about what do Mormons believe, and I really don’t have a problem…well, I do, personally, but I mean, I recognize that some people, Evangelicals, are going to have concerns about voting for a Mormon, as a Christian might about voting for a Muslim.

HH: Is it acceptable, in your view, to attack Mitt Romney as a member of a cult? Or ought that to be an immediate grounds for…

EE: Oh, yes, absolutely. I don’t think anyone should be leveling the charge of a cult. It’s an acceptable religion, and I frankly think that advocates of Romney should be making the case that not only are these people normal people…I mean, they shouldn’t even be referring to them as these people, for that matter. But they’re everyday Americans like you and me. I mean, gosh, I would have loved to have had Orrin Hatch as president.

HH: So they managed to…you managed to write a thousand words or so, and you couldn’t declare that Mormon bigotry was out of bounds?

EE: Well, you know, I’m sorry. I just think the point of your book was we shouldn’t be talking about it at all. At least that’s what I took out of it.

HH: Well, again, it would have been useful. Hang around, Erick, we’ve got callers for you.

– – – –

HH: To the phones. Chris in Valley Center, you’re on with Erick Erickson on the Hugh Hewitt Show.

Chris: I would like to take issue with the idea of expecting hordes of Mormon missionaries to participate. I’m a returned Mormon missionary. Mormon missionaries are expressly prohibited from taking part in anything political, whatever. You will not ever see a Mormon missionary out canvassing a neighborhood for a Mormon political candidate. The Church never endorses a candidate, it never takes a stand on any races, with the exception of the Equal Rights Amendment and gay marriage.

HH: Thank you much, Chris. Erick, obviously, I did not write that Mormon missionaries would be involved, I wrote that returned Mormon missionaries had skill sets. I think perhaps that’s just an unfortunately choice of words in your review?

EE: Yeah, I think so. I think that’s called…you know, you do make a fascinating point, though, in Iowa, and it kind of goes to one of the points Captain Ed made on this, with, I mean, Mormon missionaries, and my best friend when I was growing up was named Scottie Kanesky. He had a much harder time living in a Middle Eastern country being a Mormon than I did being a Christian. It was a phenomenal missionary for the Mormon Church. And it is a very interesting point that some people may feel compelled to get out and knock on doors for Romney, who are Mormons and have that training. And I think that does give him a unique edge, and I completely…

HH: And a great thing that Americans get involved in politics. E-mail for you, Erick, “Mormons are normal Americans just like you and me. Gee, Hugh, that’s awfully big of him. Would he also say blacks are normal Americans just like you or me? Jews are normal Americans just like you and me and women are normal Americans just like you and me?” Answer, Erick?

EE: You know, let me tell you the little story I’ve had to tell several people on this issue as to why it’s going to be a big deal in the South. My grandmother growing up, my Nanny, went into her closet one day. Now I was probably 18 years old at the time, and just dozens of Books of Mormon fell out. She was a good Southern Baptist. I looked at her, and said Nanny, what are these books here for? And she had this very concerned look on her face, and she said as long as they’re giving them to me, they’re not giving them to anybody else. And unfortunately, I think there’s a perception still in the South that he’s going to have to overcome, and I really, I think, it goes back to my point, where we’re dancing around a bit, that these questions are going to come up, and I think people really need to be prepared to answer that.

HH: And they need to be de-legitimized, is the argument in my book. Ed in Glendora, you’re on with Erick Erickson.

Ed: Hi, Hugh. I just wanted to remind you that the last people to be shot at because of their religion were Mormons, and that the Mormon Church publishes nothing, no books, no pamphlets, nothing against another religion. But I’ll bet you if you talk to your guest, he knows quite a bit of things represented to be printed by a “Christian” organization that are against the Mormon Church.

HH: He just mentioned that, Ed. I think that Erick is saying that in fact, there is quite a lot of anti-Mormon literature out there, as I review in the book, I think fairly, Walter Martin among them. And in fact, there is a new anti-Mormon DVD out. But again, I draw the line between…the theological debate can go on with full vigor forever, but not in the context of not voting for someone for president, or inquiring into specific theological practices. Brian in San Jose, you’re on with Erick Erickson on the Hugh Hewitt Show.

Brian: Yeah, like he’s saying, there’s probably more written about and by the Mormons about their beliefs than any other thing in the world. You know, websites, all kinds of stuff, films, movies. You know, if anybody has questions, it’s very easy to get the answers, and I would love to have the discussion with Hugh about the Trinity and all this kind of stuff as a member of the Church, but I don’t think it’s the place. I don’t think it’s really appropriate, do you?

HH: No. I think the theological debate quickly turns in on itself, and will be seized on by the secular left to attack anyone of faith in the public square who believes in the miraculous. And Erick, I made that argument. This is the weak flank of people of faith in the common public good being asked to defend their non-naturalist beliefs. And that’s why demands that he acquit, as Mark Halperin says, tell me about where the Garden of Eden is located, I think are pure bigotry, absolutely unacceptable in American political discourse.

EE: Yeah, those questions, that point I completely agree with you in the book that the left is going to seize on these, and unfortunately, they’re going to seize on anybody who does that. But Romney gives them a bigger target. But you know, I think there’s an overarching issue here, and I think we’re going to have to disagree on this one, but I think the religion clause in Article VI, Clause 3, applies to the government, and not to the people in that…I mean, there may be people out there who won’t vote for Romney because he’s a Mormon, and I don’t think those are probably bad people. A lot of Evangelicals I know are in that boat.

HH: Erick, now obviously, I made the argument in the book, Article VI does not restrain private conduct. It restrains the government, obviously, as the 14th Amendment does. But the 14th Amendment teaches a public lesson that we are against racial bigotry, does it not?

EE: Oh, absolutely, it does.

HH: And so we haven’t outlawed racial bigotry, but we don’t endorse it. We don’t encourage bigots to go on television, do we?

EE: Oh, I agree with you, Hugh. I agree with you. But you know, I keep coming back to, when I read your book, came back to the Tench Coxe quote. He was the one on the Continental Congress, wrote an examination of the Constitution.

HH: Yes.

EE: And he wrote about the Constitution, and about Article VI, and he said any wise, informed and upright man, be his property what it may, can exercise the trust and powers of state, provided he possesses the moral, religious and political virtues which are necessary to secure the confidence of his fellow citizens. And I don’t think we can dodge the fact that people are going to have questions about Romney, and I guess where you and I agree is that we need to make very well sure, particularly when the left picks these up, that we need to make sure they know that there are questions that are just out of bounds. But I do think particularly in the South, more so than any other place in the nation…

HH: And are you going to write at Red State what those questions are that are out of bounds and why?

EE: Well, you know, it’s very interesting. When we started…we made it very clear several months ago, people started raising questions that I think you and I would both agree were out of bounds, and we started shutting down accounts from people who were saying things like oh, you know, Mormonism, they believe in UFO’s and extraterrestrials, and they’re heretics, and they’re going to burn in Hell and all that, and got rid of these people who were just coming on, basically trolling the site. I think a lot of people are going to have that problem to some degree.

HH: I’ve got that…at, we’ve got anti-Mormon trolls, yup.

EE: Yeah, but you know, it’s really hard for me. I guess I’m not a big bright line guy in this area. I think some people are going to have more questions than others, and…

HH: Should you err on the side of being anti-bigotry? Or should you err on the side of inclusive…I want to get one more comment in. Lowell from Article VI blog. Lowell, you’re on with Erick Erickson.

Lowell: Hi, Hugh. I want to ask a question by way of analogy. There is a judge sitting on the D.C. Circuit right now named Tom Griffith. He’s a Mormon. He’s a well-qualified guy, has written an article about Jesus Christ, explaining the Mormon’s view of Jesus, and how…what our view of the Trinity is, or the God-head. And I was just wondering if he ever came up, for example, for the Supreme Court, and was nominated, would it be appropriate for the Senators to ask him about that article?

HH: Erick, ten seconds, because we’ve got to go to break. Erick?

EE: I know that the Senate could, because Article VI very clearly applies to the government not having a religious test.

HH: Erick Erickson, I hope you write more about this. Check out Article VI blog. Great question, Lowell.

End of interview.

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