Here's why David Axelrod can piously assure journalists that Mitt Romney's Mormonism is "off the table" for the Obama campaign this year: He knows the media and low level surrogates will cheerfully carry that toxic water on Team Obama's behalf. The New York Times in particular seems to have an obsession with Romney's faith, having printed a steady stream of news stories, juvenile tweets and sneering columns on the subject. Over the weekend, the Times published a 2,600 word examination of how Romney's beliefs have shaped his personal and public life. Much of the story is straightforward and fair -- even crossing into sympathetic territory at points, but it also includes passages that are sure to terrify the Times' core audience of urbane secular leftists:
Being a Latter-day Saint is “at the center of who he really is, if you scrape everything else off,” said Randy Sorensen, who worshiped with Mr. Romney in church. As a young consultant who arrived at the office before anyone else, Mr. Romney was being “deseret,” a term from the Book of Mormon meaning industrious as a honeybee, and he recruited colleagues and clients with the zeal of the missionary he once was. Mitt and Ann Romney’s marriage is strong because they believe they will live together in an eternal afterlife, relatives and friends say, which motivates them to iron out conflicts. Mr. Romney’s penchant for rules mirrors that of his church, where he once excommunicated adulterers and sometimes discouraged mothers from working outside the home. He may have many reasons for abhorring debt, wanting to limit federal power, promoting self-reliance and stressing the unique destiny of the United States, but those are all traditionally Mormon traits as well.
Be very afraid of this officious, adulterer-excommunicating zealot, America! (How many Americans will tremble over the "Mormon traits" of "abhorring debt, wanting to limit federal power, promoting self-reliance and stressing the unique destiny of the United States," I wonder?) As for Romney's rigidity, the piece notes that while he operated "by the book" as a church elder, his penchant for compassion and creativity informed how he executed his duties:
Church officials say Mr. Romney tried to be sensitive and merciful; when a college student faced serious penalties for having premarital sex, Mr. Romney put him on a kind of probation instead. But he carried out excommunications faithfully. “Mitt was very much by the rules,” said Tony Kimball, who later served as his executive secretary in the church. Nearly two decades ago, Randy and Janna Sorensen approached Mr. Romney, then a church official, for help: unable to have a baby on their own, they wanted to adopt but could not do so through the church, which did not facilitatefor mothers who worked outside the home. Devastated, they told Mr. Romney that the rule was unjust and that they needed two incomes to live in Boston. Mr. Romney helped, but not by challenging church authorities. He took a calculator to the Sorensen household budget and showed how with a few sacrifices, Ms. Sorensen could quit her job. Their children are now grown, and Mr. Sorensen said they were so grateful that they had considered naming a child Mitt. (The church has since relaxed its prohibition on adoption for women who work outside the home.)
The story also charts Romney's active prayer life and his ability to separate religious teachings from public policy stances. As I said, the article is generally even-handed and informative, yet Breitbart's Joel Pollak makes a good point:
Needless to say, the Times has never held Obama to anything like the same standard. It ignored the racist teachings of Wright's Trinity United Church of Christ--of which Obama was well aware, despite protestations to the contrary--and fails to hold him to account when his actions violate the tenets of that bizarre, radicalized and racialized congregation. (Wright himself has not been shy in attributing Obama's perceived compromises to political expediency--as well as to "the Jews.")
Ed Morrissey illustrated this double standard last week:
Go to the New York Times website and do a 12-month search for “Romney Mormon,” and see how many hits come back. I’ll end the suspense — “about 12,000 results,” according to the search I conducted earlier today. Now, do a search on “Obama Jeremiah” in the same time frame, and you’ll get 4,190 hits, which is more than I expected but only about a third of the Romney-Mormon search results. Actually, the same search only turns up 4,330 hits since 1851, which means that before mid-2011 the Times only had less than 200 hits for that search item. The media has been asking questions about Romney’s faith all throughout this cycle’s 365 days, whether it has to do with polygamy (473 hits), racism (501 hits), contraception (265 hits), or contributions (2,040 hits). That’s more than article a day that mentions Romney, Mormon, and polygamy at once.
On Sept. 11, 1857, a wagon train from this part of Arkansas met with a gruesome fate in Utah, where most of the travelers were slaughtered by a Mormon militia in an episode known as the Mountain Meadows Massacre. Hundreds of the victims’ descendants still populate these hills and commemorate the killings, which they have come to call “the first 9/11.” Many of the locals grew up hearing denunciations of Mormonism from the pulpit on Sundays, and tales of the massacre from older relatives who considered Mormons “evil.” “There have been Fancher family reunions for 150 years, and the massacre comes up at every one of them,” said Scott Fancher, 58, who traces his lineage back to 26 members of the wagon train, which was known as the Fancher-Baker party. “The more whiskey we drunk, the more resentful we got.” There aren’t many places in America more likely to be suspicious of Mormonism — and potentially more problematic for Mitt Romney, who is seeking to become the country’s first Mormon president. Not only do many here retain a personal antipathy toward the religion and its followers, but they also tend to be Christian evangelicals, many of whom view Mormonism as a cult.
Really subtle, WaPo. Thanks for that hot scoop. In case you were curious, Romney leads Obama by 24 points in Arkansas. "Problematic!"
UPDATE - An addendum: If the New York Times' rigorous deep-dive into Mitt Romney's church and religious belief system is fair game (and I'd say it is), why can't a Super PAC run truthful ads about Barack Obama's hateful pastor? I think Romney was smart to disavow Wright as an issue for his campaign, but I'm not governed by Romney's preferences -- nor is an independent expenditure group. For every thumb-sucking, transparent hit on Mormonism the MSM perpetrates over the next six months, maybe alternative media outlets should delve deeper into the theology and views spewed from the pulpit of Barack Obama's church for two decades. Speaking of which, remember this?
"We cannot see that what we are doing his the same this Al Qaeda is doing under a different color flag!"
Finally, let's recall that the voters who are most likely to discriminate against Mormon candidates are Democrats:
Democrats are more likely to oppose a Mormon candidate in 2012 than Republicans, according to a new Gallup poll. Based on a poll of 1,020 adults, 27 percent of Democrats would vote against a Mormon candidate for president because of religion, compared with about 20 percent of Republicans and independents who said they would oppose such a candidate.
Guy Benson is Townhall.com's Political Editor. Follow him on Twitter @guypbenson. He is co-authors with Mary Katharine Ham for their new book End of Discussion: How the Left's Outrage Industry Shuts Down Debate, Manipulates Voters, and Makes America Less Free (and Fun).
Author Photo credit: Jensen Sutta Photography