US Government and Politics No Longer Run by WASPs. Does It Matter?

Brad Knickerbocker, Christian Science Monitor, August 19, 2012

No matter how it turns out, the 2012 presidential election will have made history.

For the first time since the founding of the Republic, none of the major party candidates for president or vice president is a WASP—a white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant—a fact that was confirmed when Mitt Romney picked Paul Ryan to be his running mate.

Mr. Romney is Mormon, Mr. Ryan and Vice President Joe Biden are Roman Catholic, and President Obama—a man of mixed race—most obviously is not a WASP.

With the candidacies of Mr. Obama and Sarah Palin in 2008, the trend toward greater diversity took a big step. But this year’s election and its lack of the kind of person the Founding Fathers were—ethnically, racially, and religiously, at least—is causing widespread comment.

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The Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life recently reported “little evidence to suggest that concerns about the candidates’ respective faiths will have a meaningful impact in the fall elections.”

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Although they both attend Catholic mass regularly, Ryan and Biden have very different positions on abortion, gay marriage, and the “social justice” aspects of the economy—subjects of high interest to movement conservatives, particularly evangelical Protestants.

“As Ryan and Vice President Joe Biden articulate their views, we will be tuning into an intra-Catholic conversation pitting ‘social justice’ Christians on the left versus ‘family values’ Christians on the right,” writes Boston University religion scholar Stephen Prothero on his CNN blog.

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Pew finds that a substantial minority of registered voters who know that Romney is a Mormon—19 percent—are uncomfortable with that fact. The number increases to 23 percent among white evangelicals.

“Most adults say that Mormonism is very different from their own religious beliefs, and only about half of the public thinks of Mormonism as a Christian religion,” Pew reported last month.

Obama faces similar unease. Nineteen percent are uncomfortable with his religion, and 17 percent say he’s a Muslim.

The decline of WASPs as the dominant group in presidential politics is reflected in the other branches of government as well.

“The hallowed halls of Congress are changing fast,” writes Mr. Prothero on his CNN blog. “There are now both Buddhists and Muslims in Congress. And Catholics, Jews and Mormons are better represented there than they are in the US population as a whole.”

That includes the leaders of both Houses of Congress. Speaker John Boehner is the Roman Catholic graduate of a Jesuit university, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is Mormon.

With the retirement of Associate Justice David Souter in 2009, the US Supreme Court became completely non-WASP. Of the nine justices today, six are Catholic and three are Jewish.

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