Mitt Romney's Cabinet math?

We've come a long way from "a black, a woman, two Jews and a cripple." Or have we?

Published November 27, 2007 2:16PM (EST)

Mitt Romney was reportedly asked the other day whether, as president, he'd consider naming a "qualified American of the Islamic faith." He said no.

"Based on the numbers of American Muslims ... in our population, I cannot see that a cabinet position would be justified," the Christian Science Monitor quotes Romney as saying. "But, of course, I would imagine that Muslims could serve at lower levels of my administration."

Now, we weren't aware that Cabinet positions were supposed to be doled out proportionally by religious faith or other demographic qualifiers -- especially when the doling is done by representatives of a party that so often claims to eschew quotas and set-asides.

But now that we know, we're trying to get ourselves up to speed. It turns out that there are 16 members in a president's Cabinet -- the vice president plus the heads of 15 executive departments -- which means that each individual member represents 6.2 percent of the Cabinet.

According to the 2001 American Religious Identification Survey, 76.5 percent of Americans identify themselves as some kind of Christian. Under Romney's logic, that means Christians should get about 12 seats in the next president's Cabinet. Catholics get about four of those seats; Baptists gets two or three; Methodists get one and maybe two if we lump them together with the Lutherans. The Presbyterians could get a seat, but only if they shared it with the Episcopalians and the Pentacostals.

If Romney said what he's said to have said, he's certainly right about the Muslims, of course: At just 0.5 percent of the U.S. population, they're not numerically entitled to a seat in the president's Cabinet.

But the Romney campaign is now suggesting that maybe Romney didn't say what he's said to have said or wasn't asked what the Monitor says he was asked. As the National Review reports, the campaign isn't saying that the Monitor's account is false, exactly -- it doesn't have a recording of the conversation -- but that what Romney actually believes is that you should "fill responsibilities based upon people's merit and their skill."

And no wonder. If the next president were to fill Cabinet seats based on religious demographics, neither Jews nor Mormons, at 1.3 percent of the population each, would have any chance of getting a seat in the room.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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