On paper, few people could be less qualified for leading America through the dark shoals that surround her than Mitt Romney.

In an age where everyone pretends to care for grassroots substance, Romney distinguishes himself as a man made for America’s plasma screens. His Ken Doll looks and velour speaking voice are right out of Republican central casting. His enormous wealth –accumulated through the unproductive buying and selling of money that is damning the titans of Wall Street–  declares him as a plutocrat, while his desire to see the estate tax repealed so that his princelings can spend the rest of their lives swimming in unmerited loot reveals that Mitt thinks he was born to the purple.

Mitt has a finger in the wind when it comes to conservative causes that matter most these days, such as public health care and abortion and gay rights. He wishes to be a moderate in a party with a PR machine that chews up anyone not willing to tattoo a flag on their chest. And he’s a Mormon.

It’s that last thing which should be a big blip on the nation’s radar.

Acknowledging the facts of a politicians’ religion is oddly taboo, considering how much importance we place on politicians stroking their crosses in public. Pols on the left and right rarely criticize someone’s actual beliefs. If they do, it is to mock a specific personality who espouses it, like Jerry Falwell or Jeremiah Wright. “Let the blood of the preacher be on the congregants” seems to be the rule. It is an oblique way to paint a potential leader as outside the mainstream without having to explain what makes for “sensible” religious belief (helpful if you belong to a church with a greater appetite for boycock than NAMBLA).

Yes, targeting a person’s religion can be slimy. That said, believe me when I say that Mitt Romney’s Mormonism is absolutely the only criterion we should use to judge his fitness for office.

And why shouldn’t it be? Absent this intriguing albatross, what else defines him? He is the portrait of establishment politics; a man who opinion polls his every word before they escape his lips, a friend of wealth, and whiter than a shampoo commercial. If his faith can’t recommend him then there really isn’t anything to distinguish Mitt Romney from a department store mannequin.

What else will he run on? Bringing the Olympics to Salt Lake City? Hey, that’s great if you’re an apparel company that wants to wrap your brand in the red, white and blue, but those aren’t exactly manufacturing jobs. He doesn’t have any real dirt under his fingernails; on the contrary:  he’s a career politician like his old man, trying to get the job that pop couldn’t snare. Hasn’t George Bush ended our love affair with aristocracy?

Nope, its gotta be that weird jabberwocky from Utah that we use to define Mitt. And that could very well be a good thing.

Think of the advantages of breaking the religion barrier the way Obama broke the color barrier. Any atheist should be excited at the prospect of a man of non-traditional faith openly guiding the ship of state, if for no other reason than it sounds the all-clear for people of no faith to run.  

The fact of the matter is, a majority of mainline Christians don’t consider Mormons to be part of the body of Christ, since the Mormon concept of God is something out of Foreigner’s “StarRider”. But if you think that reading gold plates out of hats or buying mysterious scrolls off of passing mummy peddlers doesn’t mean that your faith isn’t just so much snake oil, then I’ve got a Shroud of Turin to sell you.

So, breaking the monopoly on Old World Christianity in the White House? Big plus. Of course, that assumes that Romney’s faith is as hollow as a Jack-O-Lantern, that the mysteries of Mormonism won’t be guiding his decisions as he pilots the Battlestar America away from Cylon tyranny.

And what are the Mormon mysteries? Well, we know that the Mormons’ think America, not Israel, is the Promised Land, and that they have some celestial race theories about blacks and Indians that have  been sealed in  Tupperware since the 70s. The polygamy thing is so hopelessly out in the open it almost seems unfair to mention it. And anyway, that tidbit is hardly weirder than circumcision.

But Mitt isn’t just a pew-filler. He was a Mormon bishop (a high-ranking lay position) for several years in Massachusetts. He has ministered to congregants of all stripes, and if this demonstrates that he at least has a common touch, it also shows that he is no cynic either. He is a True Believer, and what those beliefs mean for how Mitt Romney would govern the nation matters. If a president believed that the Greatest Nation on Earth was also the Promised Land, and he subscribed to a belief in American prehistory that is manifestly false, you’d be nuts not to be a little concerned.

Mormonism has been making political inroads through other sources as well. Glenn Beck, the Svengali of Tea Partyism, is, of course, a Mormon. To that end, he has been pushing a book called the 5000 Year Leap, a quasi-religious peon to the Founding Prophets…er, fathers, that mixes in masturbatory praise for the authors of the Constitution with the outright suggestion that our founding documents are actually Holy Writ.

How closely Mitt Romney affiliates himself to this undercurrent of the Right Wing is yet to be seen. Mitt recently yoked himself to conservative Utah Senator Bob Bennet in that state’s recent GOP convention, which failed to nominate him for the Republican primary. This means that the two-term Senator’s seat will now almost surely fall to one of the Tea Baggers that felled him, most of whom would lose a Humanitarian of the Year award to Hannibal Lecter, and some of whom cite the 5000 Year Leap as an inspiration.

So, Mitt may be too soft-boiled for what the Republicans are becoming. Then again, by 2012, the crazy train may have traveled as far from the station as the GOP wants, and they may be looking for a President who can walk the walk without talkin’ the talk. When that day comes, they can rely on this quote from Romney:

“And I’m really proud of the fact that wherever I go, people say, ‘We love the fact that you’re a person of faith, you believe in God, you believe in the Bible, you believe that Jesus Christ is the savior of the world.’ Those are my beliefs, they form who I am. And one of the great elements of America is that we accept people of all faiths as long as they share our values and our love for this great country.”

And if this great country is also the Holy Land, and if the President of the Holy Land follows a prophet who supercedes Mohammed the Final Prophet, why should we worry about the can of worms this may open?