On Somali Terrorism

Published: PolicyMic (March 27, 2012)

Of all my experiences as a graduate student, none can match the time I spent as a teaching assistant for Said Samatar. A professor of African History at Rutgers University-Newark, Samatar is the kind of scholar every up-and-coming aspires, or at least should aspire, to emulate: Intelligent, accessible, puckishly funny (he liked to prepare students for tests by quoting Dante: “Abandon all hope ye who enter here”), and armed with a biography that makes one pause before whining about your own petty travails.

Samatar, you see, is Somali. Although he was born in Ethiopia, he spent a good part of his adult life teaching at Somali universities, at one point barely fleeing Mogadishu with his life after a warlord put a bounty on his head. While other people may wax poetic or indignant about abject poverty or the hardships of war, Samatar has first-hand familiarity with these heinous aspects of the human condition.

As such, I thought of him when I saw the following report in the Washington Post two weeks ago:

A former Army soldier has been indicted in Maryland on charges that he tried to join a terrorist organization in Somalia.

A federal grand jury indictment returned Wednesday charges Craig Benedict Baxam with attempting to provide material support to Al-Shabaab. He faces a maximum sentence of 15 years if convicted. 

The 24-year-old Baxam, who is from Laurel, served in the Army from 2007 to 2011. He was arrested on a criminal complaint in January upon returning to Maryland from Africa.

Prosecutors say Baxam cashed out his retirement savings and bought a plane ticket to Kenya with plans of traveling to Somalia and joining Al-Shabaab. He was arrested in Kenya before reaching Somalia.

Baxam’s public defender has said Baxam was naïve, impulsive and simply exploring his religion.

This is not the first time an Islamofascist was discovered in our military. One recalls Nidal Malik Hasan, the Army psychiatrist whose shooting spree at Fort Hood left 13 people dead and 29 others wounded back in 2009. Although we are fortunate that Baxam’s criminality had less bloody consequences, we are still left with a man who, while harboring terrorist sympathies, was able to not only join the Armed Forces but maintain a career there from 2007 to 2011. The same institution that until recently had no compunction about dishonorably discharging members based on their sexual orientation spent years training and employing a cryptology and intelligence expert whose private life (unlike that of the homosexuals they persecuted) actually did pose a risk to our national security.

In Hasan’s case, grave suspicions had lingered for years without anyone acting upon them out of fear of being accused of religious discrimination. While we still don’t know what the military knew about Baxam’s dark side and how long they knew it, the Hasan incident certainly makes those subjects valid fields for inquiry. If they didn’t know about Baxam’s affiliations for the bulk of his service, how come they didn’t detect them? If early signs did exist that Baxam wished to aid our nation’s enemies, why did it take so long for them to be acted upon? Was the military again afraid of violating the tenets of political correctness (against Muslims, mind you, not homosexuals)? Were measures at least taken to minimize the damage he could do until he was discharged? Was his discharge even related to these issues? Most important of all, what preventive measures can the military take to avoid having this happen in the future?

These are questions that, alas, cannot be answered by anyone without direct access to Baxam’s case. Upon further research, however, I learned that Al-Shabaab is actually a branch of Al-Qaeda (although many members are unhappy with that alliance), one that rigidly enforces Sharia law in those parts of Somalia (mainly in the south) where it has acquired control. As such, several questions occurred to me that seemed perfectly suited for Samatar’s field of expertise. A brief interview transcript is posted below:

Rozsa: “What is the appeal of groups like Al-Shabaab to certain Muslims?”

Samatar: “The appeal of Al-Shabaab lies in its billed image as a Messianic Movement. When people suffer sustained trauma, as the Somalis have in 20 years of relentless anarchy, they are easily brained-washed into following a messia, a redeemer.”

Rozsa: “What impact has it had on the political, social, and cultural life of that beleaguered country, as well as on the overall security of its citizens, both in the areas it controls and in the nation as a whole?”

Samatar: “A most destructive impact on Somalia – socially, culturally, and politically. They amputate limbs, take 13-year-old girls to the market place and have them publicly stoned to death for alleged sexual infractions. Somalis feel like the apocalypse has descended upon them.”

Rozsa: “Is there a risk of Somalia (a) having its government toppled by Al-Shabab and/or (b) becoming a breeding ground for terrorists, akin to Yemen?”

Samatar: “No, Al-Shabaab is not strong enough to topple the TFG (Traditional Federal Government of Somalia), rickety though the TFG is. No, Somalia will never be a territory for Islamic terrorists. The clan structure trumps devotion to Islam in Somalia.”

Rozsa: Finally, what if anything can America do to counter the draw of groups like Al-Shabab for Muslims?

Samatar: “America should proceed to engage with all the provinces of Somalia – Somaliland, Puntland, etc. – rather than being obsessed with the restoration of the central state. It should never put boots on the ground, but pluck out terrorists by commando raids.”

No further comment requires, except perhaps a nugget of wisdom from Mark Twain, one we should all bear in mind when pontificating about such solemn foreign policy matters:

“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

The Republican War on Women

Published: PolicyMic (March 22, 2012)

Is it fair to claim that the Republican Party is waging a “war on women?”

Let’s look at the facts. Although the phrase in question only regained its political fashionability within the last few months, the sad truth is that the Republican Party’s hostility to women’s rights traces back much longer than that. The days when Senator Margaret Chase Smith electrified Congress with her eloquence and sharp logic subsided long ago; in their place is the party whose much-heralded “Reagan Revolution” was ushered in by a former California governor who proudly made good on his 1980 presidential campaign promise to quash the Equal Rights Amendment.

That spirit is still evident today. With four examples from 2012 alone, one can see it:

– Rush Limbaugh’s reference to Sandra Fluke, and by implication any woman who supports federal guarantees of insurance coverage for female contraception, as being “a slut” and “a prostitute” for supposedly wanting other people to pay for her sex (Limbaugh initially refused to apologize but changed his tune when advertisers began to pull out of his program).

– The passage of a Texas law requiring women to undergo an ultrasound before receiving an abortion, one accompanied by tentative counterparts in Virginia and Pennsylvania.

– The proposal in Wisconsin of a particularly misogynistic law that would brand single mothers as child abusers for not being married, one put forward by a legislator who later admitted that he opposed divorce for any reason, even arguing that women in abusive relationships should just remember what they used to love about their husbands and “re-find those reasons and get back to why they got married in the first place.”

– The fact that the field of Republican presidential candidates includes: a man who wants to eliminate funding for Title X programs that would fund Planned Parenthood (sans abortion procedures) and help poor women receive everything from cancer screenings and pap smears to birth control and wellness checkups, a man who has based a large part of his condemnation of Obama’s contraception insurance mandate on the grounds that “[sex] is supposed to be within marriage” and birth control is “a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be,” a man who voted against the Family and Medical Leave Act, and a man who says victims of sexual harassment “can’t escape some responsibility for the problem” by not just quitting their jobs.

Facts such as these dominate the public image of the Republican Party today, and they can’t be scrubbed out simply because they’re justified by sympathetic female cultural reactionaries, be they commentators like Phyllis Schlafly and Ann Coulter or politicians like Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann. On the one hand, it is quite hyperbolic to classify all of this as a literal “war on women,” since that term more appropriately applies to the extreme atrocities facing the unfortunate female residents of nations like Afghanistan, Iran, and the Congo, even though it’s worth noting that America – unlike nations such as Great Britain, Israel, and Germany – has never had a female head of state. At the same time, the hyperbole is one that Republicans have brought upon themselves. By opposing policies that will allow women full control over their own bodies, sexual choices, marital statuses, and workplace rights, they deny them the ability to fully control their own lives.

This makes me pine for the days of feminism. Not the militant caricature that was given a deliberately pejorative connotation by the likes of Rush Limbaugh (who, among other things, coined the phrase “feminazis”), but the feminism that simply insists that people shouldn’t be allowed to discriminate against others because of biological differences (in this case related to gender) or attempt to impose their personal cultural views regarding sex on those who don’t share them. That brand of feminism is very much needed today. As Cheris Kramarae and Paula Treichler put it best, “feminism is the radical notion that women are human beings.”

Health Care Reform and the Anti-Injunction Act

 

As the Supreme Court prepares to start its hearings on President Barack Obama’s health care reform legislation (the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or PPACA), it makes sense that conservatives and libertarians are eager for the case to proceed as quickly as possible. After all, any ruling issued before November 2012 will constitute some manner of victory for their cause: A complete overturning of the bill will be celebrated as a vindication of the anti-PPACA position and a humiliation for Obama, a complete upholding of it can be used to freshly galvanize the right-wing base against the president (especially given the failure of party frontrunners Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum to accomplish that task), and a ruling rejecting the individual mandate while maintaining the rest of the measure would force Obama into a fight with Congress over an alternative to the mandate (of which there are at least nine), one that could be used to paint him in an unflattering light at the height of the election season.

Just as a wealth of potential benefits await opponents of PPACA if the Supreme Court issues a ruling within the next few months, virtually none can be gained through additional delay. Indeed, worse than none — after January 1, 2014, provisions of PPACA will be implemented that will directly benefit large sections of the general public (the subsidization of insurance premiums for single adults and individuals with income up to 400% of the poverty line, the ban on insurance companies discriminating based on pre-existing medical conditions, the expansion of Medicaid eligibility to all individuals with income up to 133% of the poverty line, the establishment of health insurance exchanges), thereby significantly weakening the movement to eliminate the bill.

In the end, though, none of this should matter to any conservative or libertarian deserving of those titles. If their oft-proclaimed disdain for judicial activism has roots in anything other than partisan rhetoric, they should want all hearings on the matter to be postponed until at least 2015.

To understand why, one must look back to the days when Andrew Johnson inhabited the White House. According to the Anti-Injunction Act of 1867, courts are prohibited from striking down tax laws before they take effect, with their power strictly limited to handling cases brought to them by plaintiffs who sue the government after paying the tax in question. This directly pertains to the individual mandate, a penalty contained in the Tax Code against individuals who have the financial means to afford insurance but choose not to acquire it (this is to protect patients from having their premiums raised by people who wait until they become sick to obtain coverage). Because the legal opposition to PPACA has predominantly focused on the individual mandate, any postponement of a ruling on that individual measure would need to be accompanied by a delay in the entire case, one that would have to remain in effect until at least 2015 (the individual mandate would come into effect in 2014, making 2015 the earliest year in which a plaintiff could file suit).

Inevitably, many of PPACA’s opponents are seeking loopholes in this legal barrier. One common claim is that because the text of the health bill itself never refers to the individual mandate as a “tax” but instead uses the term “penalty,” the Anti-Injunction Act doesn’t apply to it. This, of course, ignores that the mandate is not only contained in the Tax Code but is collected by the Internal Revenue Service. The other major argument, as summed up by Paul Clement (an attorney representing the states challenging PPACA), is that “the challenge here is to the mandate, and not the penalty that enforces it.” That logic is even more absurd, since the mandate isn’t operative without the penalty; indeed, it can’t effectively be a “mandate” without the enforcement mechanism of a penalty in place to implement it.

The hard truth is that the individual mandate is a tax (semantics-based protests to the contrary notwithstanding), and as such falls under the aegis of the same law that has encompassed comparable bills for nearly a century-and-a-half. For the Supreme Court to make an exception in the case of PPACA would be a classic case of judicial activism as defined by Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of Law, i.e., “The practice in the judiciary of protecting or expanding individual rights through decisions that depart from established precedent or are independent of or in opposition to supposed constitutional or legislative intent.”

The good news in all of this is that the Supreme Court has already hired a special lawyer to argue in favor of applying the Anti-Injunction Act to PPACA, which he will begin to do on March 26th. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean that legal precedent will actually be upheld by the judges, at least not if we have a recurrence of the judicial hyperpartisanship that has reared its ugly head in other recent Supreme Court rulings (Bush v. Gore and Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commissioncome to mind). What’s more, even if the Supreme Court ultimately is convinced to enforce the Anti-Injunction Act (Chief Justice John Roberts is rumored to be especially likely to be swayed by it), one will still need to be concerned about the reaction within the conservative and libertarian communities. If the hysteria that tarnished the right-wing’s response to the campaign to pass PPACA is any indication — from the accusation that it was a “Nazi” bill to the hyperbolic myths about things like “death panels” — there could be quite an ugly backlash.

Then again, maybe they’ll be too distracted by the presidential election to notice or really care that the PPACA hearing was delayed. Or maybe they’ll be so focused on another anti-Obama bugaboo that they won’t have the energy to expend on this issue.

Or maybe, just maybe, they’ll remember what they ostensibly believe as conservatives.

Defending My March 8th Editorial

Editor’s Note: The author is responding to Michael Suede’s article here. Suede responded to the author’s original article.

This is my response to PolicyMic pundit Michael Suede’s editorial “America’s Founders Were Pro-Big Government, But Only Because it Suited Their Interests.” I respond to each passage in its own right, with the different sections indicated by quotes and ellipses.

“Recently, PolicyMic pundit Matthew Rozsa… On this point, I disagree with him 100%.”

The sole thesis of my editorial was that the Founding Fathers were not inherently opposed to the idea of a federal government that intervened in economic matters. My goal, as made clear in the opening paragraphs, was to draw a contrast between the historical facts and the assertions made by figures like Ron Paul and Glenn Beck, who insist that a stronger central state ran counter to the will of the Founding Fathers, at least insofar as economic questions were concerned. Although Suede subsequently picks my editorial apart in an effort to attribute subjective interpretations of their agenda to me (i.e., that they had “purely benevolent reasons”), the reality is that my main goal — as made clear in the concluding statements as well as the opening paragraphs — was to rebut the laissez-fairest interpretation of our Founding Fathers’ intent, not state whether that intent was a positive or negative one. His effort to shift attention away from my argument in the name of promoting his own agenda is, at best, disingenuous.

It is also worth noting that, although Suede focuses his analysis on Alexander Hamilton and cites him as an example of a Founding Father on whom I lavished praise (“Rozsa then goes on to claim that Federalists like Alexander Hamilton wanted a centralized state for purely benevolent reasons”), Hamilton was only mentioned twice, and briefly at that, in my piece. James Madison, whose motives and ideas factored much more heavily into my analysis, isn’t mentioned once by Suede in his attempted rebuttal.

Incidentally, one of the things with which Suede “agrees” isn’t something I actually argued. Although he concurs that the Founding Fathers wanted a “progressive” state, I actually wrote that “my goal is not to argue that America’s most important leaders would have definitely favored the progressive economic policies detested by the right-wing today.”

“Rozsa states that… such a system.”

While I will address the alternative reasons cited by Suede in a moment, I first need to contest his notion that these claims of mine were “entirely false.” Suede’s choice of quotations is telling here — although he mentions that I wrote “the federal government lacked the instruments with which to effectively confront economic crises that were national in scope,” he conveniently leaves out the remainder of that sentence, in which I provide an example of one such crisis. That crisis, namely, was “the post-war conflict between debtors and creditors which, as James Madison later wrote, ‘contributed more to that uneasiness which produced the Constitution and prepared the mind for a general reform’ than any other issue.”

In the entirety of Suede’s piece, he never once addresses the issue of the crisis between debtors and creditors. Does he deny that it existed? If so, how? If not, does he deny the link between its severity and the motives of many of the Founding Fathers who called for the Constitutional Convention? His analysis is incomplete unless he addresses all of the points that I raised, rather than cherry picking the ones which fit into his own polemic. Likewise, he cannot effectively argue that it is “entirely false” to claim that the Federalists created a centralized state to deal with national economic crises without addressing this issue, to say nothing of the other issues I mentioned (including “that requisitions asked of the states were almost always ignored” and that the government “couldn’t even impose uniform tariff policies throughout the nation”).

“Historian Murray Rothbard… Revolutionary War bonds.”

Bernard Bailyn and Frank Bourgin, the two historians who I used in my own analysis of constitutional history (in addition to referring to the Federalist Papers, the Madison transcripts, and the Constitution itself), both concur with Rothbard insofar as mercantilist influences are concerned. That said, unlike Rothbard, they do not attribute purely sinister motives to these efforts. To quote Bourgin (p. 93), Hamilton “viewed some of the methods of mercantilism as the efficient means of combating European trade discrimination, and to an even greater extent, of planning the growth of American industry.” This is not to say that Hamilton and his allies within the industrialist class did not hope to financially profit from such a system, just as one can’t deny that Madison and many in the Southern plantation class adopted laws that they hoped would benefit them as slaveowners (more on that later). That said, it is important to separate one’s political biases from how one analyzes the existing historical data. If you’re going to address the motives of the Hamiltonians, it behooves you to either (a) rely on both the positive and negative reasons attributes to them, rather than merely citing the one that is convenient to your case or (b) mention both and then explain how the one you dislike happens to be in error. Suede does neither of these things.

“Douglas Adair… a massive one.”

Whereas Murray Rothbard is a controversial libertarian polemicist, Douglass Adair is indeed one of the most brilliant historians of the twentieth century, helping to trace the influences of Western European intellectual traditions on the ideas of Founding Fathers like Madison and Hamilton, to say nothing of many others (he even helped determine the authorship of disputed Federalist Papers, no mean feat). He was extraordinarily prolific, and his analysis of Hamilton’s pecuniary self-interest is indeed as Suede describes it… but again, alas, Suede is selective in what he cites. Ironically, the best summary of Adair’s overall position on Hamilton, which Suede ignores, comes from the author William Hogeland as he criticizes Adair for his liberal bias:

“Adair’s liberal style of Beard debunking (a reference to acclaimed historian Charles A. Beard), in contrast to McDonald’s right-wing one, makes Hamilton a social conservative living in hysterical fear of a chimerical class war. So Adair doesn’t have to deny Beard’s contention that Hamilton’s efforts in public finance involved an attack on the less advantaged; he just sees the class attack as baseless, even silly, off the point of founding history as he’s defined it. Since balancing fights among Americans is what interests Adair and his liberal-intellectual progeny, not the fights themselves, both Hamilton and the his enemies in the eighteenth-century popular-finance movement exist by definition outside the mainstream of the American founding.”

What is noteworthy here is what Suede left out – i.e., the fact that Adair, even as he lambasted Hamilton for being an elitist who wished to skew the government to his own financial interest, also placed him outside the mainstream of America’s Founding Fathers. Many scholars disagree with this analysis (including Hogeland himself, which is why he summarizes it), but they at least see fit to cite it. Suede neglected to mention it altogether.

“Rozsa also states… its property value.”

It is noteworthy that Suede doesn’t list his source here, although I suspect it is Rothbard. Either way, does his historian provide primary sources proving that George Washington agreed to a central national bank for the sole reason that it would increase the property value of his Mount Vernon estate? Showing that this was the major motive would be quite serious, and such a charge requires more than mere “historical interpretation” or circumstantial evidence (like whether or not the northern Virginian real estate bounding the new capital increased in value), but actual primary documents showing that Washington was directly motivated by a desire to accumulate profit. When making such a serious charge, one needs direct and irrefutable proof. I would be especially curious given that the Residence Act of 1790 was passed one year before the bill chartering the National Bank, which was chartered on February 25, 1791.

“As for the Whiskey Rebellion… the excise tax.”

Once again, what claims in my editorial is Suede refuting? Did I argue that the Whiskey Rebellion was localized (as opposed to being national) or swiftly put down (as opposed to being more difficult to quell)? Let’s look at the quote:

“George Washington chartered the First National Bank, created the federal post office, and enforced the government’s right to levy unpopular taxes by quashing the Whiskey Rebellion.”

That, in its entirety, is my mention of the Whiskey Rebellion. Regardless of whether I share Rothbard’s interpretation of those events, Suede once again uses a straw man fallacy to respond to my editorial. A straw man fallacy, for those of you unfamiliar with the term, is defined by The Nizkor Project as follows:

The Straw Man fallacy is committed when a person simply ignores a person’s actual position and substitutes a distorted, exaggerated or misrepresented version of that position. This sort of “reasoning” has the following pattern:

  • Person A has position X.
  • Person B presents position Y (which is a distorted version of X).
  • Person B attacks position Y.
  • Therefore X is false/incorrect/flawed.

This sort of “reasoning” is fallacious because attacking a distorted version of a position simply does not constitute an attack on the position itself. One might as well expect an attack on a poor drawing of a person to hurt the person.

“Any discussion that… Hamilton could have imagined.”

This brings me back to my earlier reference to the role of slavery in the founding of our nation. As historians like George William Van Cleave have identified in books like “A Slaveholders’ Union,” many of the ideas of our Founding Fathers were specifically tailored to guarantee the preservation of slavery in our nation, including ones that strengthened as well as weakened the central state. Why did I neglect to mention this in my editorial, even though it has obvious implications insofar as the question of race in modern America is concerned?

Simple: I did so for the same reason that I decided not to mention the unsavory special interests of Hamilton and his backers, which is that the main goal of my editorial was to refute the charge that our Founding Fathers wanted the republic to be established on laissez-faire principles. Given the wealth of information through which I had to sift in order to explore this argument (as indicated by my list of sources cited at the article’s conclusion), it was critical that I provide my piece with focus by only including data which directly pertained to the rebuttal I was providing to the laissez-fairest interpretation of our nation’s past, disregarding a lot of other information (much of which I would have loved to include if for no other reason than I find it interesting) so as to keep my eyes on the central point. This also explains why I included a great many details about America’s government after the 18th Century (including the Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt administrations) and mentioned other new powers given to the federal government (imposing uniform tariff policies, dealing with bankruptcy issues, or implementing commercial regulations), all of which Suede overlooked in his desire to disproportionately emphasize the emphasis placed on Hamilton and Washington.

This traces back to the fundamental problem with Michael Suede’s editorial; instead of looking at my piece for what it was — an effort to debunk an inaccurate interpretation of history — he instead insisted on injecting a straw man agenda into it alongside the goal that was actually there. Because Suede is clearly very passionate about issues like central banking, he understandably wishes to disseminate his views to others. This is entirely appropriate. Where it becomes inappropriate is when he uses that as an excuse to misinterpret other people’s work in order to promote his own ideological agenda. Considering that the very purpose of my editorial was to contest how certain politicians warp the work of our Founding Fathers to suit their own purposes, the fact that Suede attempted to do the same thing with my own words is an ironic footnote to that piece.

On Mitt Romney’s Mormon Background

Published: PolicyMic (March 4, 2012)

Thanks to his recent victories in the Michigan and Arizona primaries, Mitt Romney once again has emerged as the strongest contender for the Republican presidential nomination. As such, I think it is appropriate to draw attention to the unique dilemma he will pose to liberals in the event that he is the ultimate victor in Tampa.

Up until now, the non-Protestants who have overcome barriers of religious exclusivity through their presidential nominations have all been liberal Democrats, including Al Smith in 1928 (the first Catholic presidential nominee), John F. Kennedy in 1960 (the first Catholic to actually win the presidency), and Michael Dukakis in 1988 (the first Eastern Orthodox presidential nominee). As such, the challenge for liberals in 2012 will be making sure that we stand firm in our opposition to religious prejudice when the target is Romney, a conservative Republican, instead of one of our own.

The signs so far are not auspicious. Of the 22% of Americans who say they would not vote for a Mormon presidential candidate, self-described liberals outnumber conservatives within that group by three to two (27% to 18%). Their animus seems to stem from the Mormon Church’s right-wing political activism on issues like gay marriage and women’s rights, a sentiment best summed up in a recent New York Times editorial by author Jane Barnes, who cited it when claiming that the Mormon Church “does not respect the separation of church and state” and that “individual Mormons have obeyed like sheep.”

While I agree with Barnes that religious institutions like the Mormon Church should not have as much political pull as they currently possess, and further share her disgust with the homophobia and misogyny underlying the support for Proposition 8 and opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment, it is disingenuous to single out Romney’s coreligionists for their actions here while not pointing out the comparable activism of dozens of other religious groups (most notably those on the Christian Right). In the end, a politician’s faith should only be a disqualifier for higher office if he or she has shown a tendency to be unusually subservient to his or her religious institutions when performing the inherently secular duties of public office. Although no evidence exists that this would be the case for Mitt Romney as an individual (at least no more than it would for candidates like Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum), detractors like Barnes assume that because he is a Mormon, he will be abnormally deferential to his faith. The strong argument that can be made about religious beliefs playing too large a role in general in our political life must not be abused to discriminate against one religious group.

This doesn’t mean that liberals won’t also need to fight anti-Mormon assaults from conservatives. Right-wing prejudice against Romney first became evident during his presidential run in 2008, when Richard Cizik of the National Association of Evangelicals admitted that “most evangelicals still regard Mormonism as a cult,” a view echoed by Texas Governor Rick Perry’s pastor late last year. Such views still clearly hold weight now, as indicated by Romney’s consistently poor showing in the primaries among voters who describe the religious beliefs of the candidates as being “very important” to them. A Public Religion Institute Poll even found that 49% of evangelical voters refuse to acknowledge that Mormonism is a Christian denomination. While Romney’s numbers would no doubt be even lower among this group were he not widely viewed as the pragmatic alternative to Gingrich and Santorum, the fact that he is still struggling among individuals who place a high premium on religion is indicative of the larger problem.

There are plenty of excellent reasons to oppose Mitt Romney – his plutocratic economic agenda comes foremost to mind, followed closely by his long history of ideological vacillation – and liberals will be remiss in our duty to the American people if we don’t guarantee his defeat as a result of them. At the same time, we will be equally remiss in our obligation to our own values if we allow our cause to be marred by the stain of religious bigotry, either by allowing it within our own ranks or refusing to condemn it in our adversaries.

History will be watching us.