Kelly Smurthwaite at ksl.com writes that while prominent news outlets are citing the Mormon faith of two GOP hopefuls, Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman Jr., as a potential “weakness,” “prominent politicians and presidents of the United States have spoken in favor of members of the LDS faith, stating the good that members of the church have done in the world, their country, their communities and their homes.”  Take John F. Kennedy for instance (who famously received criticism for being Catholic and disavowed any desire to govern like one).

Smurthwaite’s article is quite accurate, of course, if not a bit earnest in it’s effort to give a good account of the unnecessarily persecuted Mormons as upright, good Americans.  I would speculate that a majority of Americans would agree, when you get down to it.  Funny undergarments, maybe.  But hell, they’re pioneers.  Just like the rest of us — or perhaps better, if you watch the LDS ad campaign from last year.

What Smurthwaite misses, really, is how the idea of religion — particularly minority religions, or in this case Mormonism — can (and will!) be used to influence discussion of presidential candidates’ qualifications.  Going back to Kennedy for an endorsement, and posting a clip of his speech in Salt Lake City only weeks before his assassination in 1963, seems an odd citation for Mormon authenticity, if not odd politics.  (Both Mormon candidates are Republicans, though Kennedy has been known to hark respect from leaders and voters of both parties.)

Rather she had given us a run-down of the candidates’ campaign platforms and asked them policy questions that pertain to, say, our various wars, social policy, the economy….  Instead of getting into the minutia (or specific political rhetoric), she says, as if in counter-mimic of the criticizers: “Mormons are good Americans!”   As the GOP primary approaches, Smurthwaite and other journalists may well remind us that how we talk about Mormon candidates is far too easy to confuse with why.