Romney, Huckabee, religion, politics and voting
When do the religious beliefs of a political candidate matter?
Or to be more specific:
1.) At what point do those beliefs become fodder for other candidates?
2.) At what point should those beliefs matter to voters?
In the past week, there has been much analysis and some gnashing of teeth about Romney's "Kennedy-like" speech on his religious beliefs and its connection to politics, Huckabee's awkward comments on Mormonism, and a common (misguided) understanding of "separation of church and state".
My answers to the questions above:
1.) Rarely if ever. Candidates should speak to the implications of those beliefs-- through particular policy positions. At best, it's bad form.
2.) Quite a bit-- although the extent to which this should occur falls along a spectrum.
Three thoughts here:
-If religious beliefs explicitly connect to policy positions, then the underlying religious beliefs are quite relevant. For example, people were concerned (improperly, I think) that the theology and eschatology of Reagan and Bush would influence policy toward Israel and nuclear war.
-One's policy positions are connected to one's values-- overtly religious or subtly religious, pseudo-religious, or otherwise. So, to say that one can ignore religious beliefs is at least somewhat incoherent.
-At some level, it matters in that religious beliefs can connect to general competence. For example, what if a candidate was a Scientologist? Or what if they have strange super-natural beliefs about horoscopes or the "luckiness" of the number 13? I would find it difficult, with good reason, to vote for someone like that!