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Race. Religion. The 2012 Elections Are Becoming A Toxic Brew of Fear

By Joe Rothstein — March 26, 2012


A black man or a Mormon.

Like the forces that create earthquakes, that prospect for the presidential choice seems to have triggered tectonic movements beneath the footings of U.S. politics. Combined with other pressures already roiling U.S. society, the seismic danger needle is rising. The true cost of the 2012 election may wind up being measured in lost social comity rather than in record millions spent.

Take a poll and most Americans will say that the skin color or ethnicity or religion of the candidate doesn’t matter to them. Take another poll and you see that 30 percent still believe that Barack Obama was not born in the U.S.

Before the recent Alabama Republican primary, the research group Public Policy Polling asked GOP voters “Do you think Barack Obama is a Christian or a Muslim, or are you not sure?” The result: 14% Christian, 45% Muslim, 41% not sure.

Check out many right wing activist web sites and the language is all about how this non-American interloper is trying to change America into what it’s not. In fact, no need to go to right wing web sites. Just listen to the Republican candidates for governor. They may not be playing the birther or Kenyan cards, but the Obama’s-not-one-of-us message is thinly disguised with a veneer of “European-style Socialism.”

As for Romney, the acceptable mainstream media message for opposing him is anchored in the belief that he’s a closet “moderate.” But then read Pastor Steven Andrew, president of USA Christian Ministries: "Obviously Mitt Romney is deceived. Do you want someone deceived by the Mormon cult in the White House?

Andrews writes:

"Many people know that Mormons teach heresies like Jesus is the spirit brother of Lucifer. But do people know voting for Romney will bring God's judgment (2 Chronicles 19:2)? Voting for Romney or Obama who do not follow God causes the economy to decline and removes Christian freedoms (Deuteronomy 28, Leviticus 26)."

Andrew is not an isolated voice. During the 2008 presidential campaign then candidate Mike Huckabee, an ordained Baptist minister, said that Mormons believe that Jesus and Satan were brothers. Forty-two percent of those polled in a 2011 Public Religion Research Institute survey said they would be uncomfortable voting for a Mormon President.

Gallup last year reported that 22% of respondents said they were unwilling to vote for a Mormon to be President, a number that’s barely changed in the decades since Gallup began testing it when Mitt Romney’s father was the Republican presidential front-runner. That 22% goes even higher in the South and Midwest, and among non-college voters who Romney is counting on as part of a winning coalition.

It's not politically correct to acknowledge that his Mormonism is costing Romney votes in many states and among evangelical voters, but can anyone seriously doubt it?

If, as a voter, you weigh the choice between continuing in the White House an Obama you suspect is not legally entitled to be there by birth and is dangerous to retain there because his true motives are at cross purposes with America’s interests---or voting for Romney, a “saint” in a cult that violates everything you believe to your religious core, where do you turn?

The intersection of those who are feeling disconnected from the mainstream political process is getting crowded. Racial bigotry and religious intolerance are mixing with those displaced by the Great Recession, by long term job and income losses from globalization, by militants on the front line of the immigrant wars, and by the ever-present conspiracy believers, anarchists and others who live on the political fringe.

For many Americans the U.S. government has replaced the Soviet Union as America's most dangerous enemy.

Recently the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks such things, counted 1,274 “Patriot” groups in the U.S., up from 149 in 2008. In addition, the SCLC listed 1,018 “hate” groups, a record number.

A “sovereign citizen” movement is growing---people who deny that they need to follow most laws, such as paying taxes, registering their vehicles or getting driver’s licenses. The FBI has issued a bulletin to law enforcement officials entitled "Sovereign Citizens: A Growing Domestic Threat to Law Enforcement" that describes the movement as "domestic terrorist."

Once the Republican nomination fight has been resolved the contest will settle into a one-on-one battle, most likely between President Obama and Mitt Romney, with more than a billion dollars spent on each side---basically to tear each other down. It’s almost a sure thing that whoever survives in November will do so with negative ratings well into the 50s.

It’s often been said that religion and politics don’t mix. We will certainly see that brew. Add racial animosity, economic suffering, conspiracy theories enflamed by talk show provocateurs, and all of the other dangerous ingredients already at work. The recipe is guaranteed toxic.

The 2008 election was no cakewalk, but at least “Hope and Change” sounded promising. This year, the only way for most of us to survive the long march to election day may be to pull the covers over our heads and wake up after election day hoping it was all a bad dream.

(Joe Rothstein can be contacted at

Joe Rothstein is editor of U.S. Politics Today. His career in politics spans 35 years, as a strategist and media producer in more than 200 campaigns for political office and for many political causes. He was a pioneer in professional political consulting and one of the founding members of the American Association of Political Consultants. During his career Mr. Rothstein has served as editor of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Anchorage Daily News and adjunct professor at George Washington University's Graduate School of Political Management. He has a master's degree in journalism from UCLA.