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As the election campaign moves closer to November, President Obama and his media allies will be seeking subjects other than Mitt Romney’s business credentials to use against him. It is virtually certain one of those subjects will be Romney’s Mormon religion. To that end, the New York Times has devoted several articles to the subject, even as — once again — the president’s 20 year association with Rev. Jeremiah Wright remains largely below the radar.
“Just as Ronald Reagan deployed acting skills on the trail and Barack Obama relied on the language of community organizing, Mitt Romney bears the marks of the theology and culture of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” writes Times columnist Jodi Kantor before noting that Mr. Romney declined to be interviewed for the piece. Kantor then proceeds to establish the idea that Romney is extremely dogmatic, attempting to emphasize criticisms that undoubtedly resonate with the Times’ liberal readers. “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,” writes Kantor. “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.”
Those so-called Mormon traits sound remarkably like traditional American values, but Kantor manages to frame them in an entirely different light. “Every presidential candidate highlights patriotism, but Mr. Romney’s is backed by the Mormon belief that the United States was chosen by God to play a special role in history, its Constitution divinely inspired,” she writes. She then quotes Philip Barlow, a professor of Mormon history at Utah State to deride Romney’s “squeaky-clean persona” as “too plastic, the Ken side of a Ken and Barbie doll,” according to the professor.
Kantor also lays the groundwork for future attacks on Romney if he decides to go on the offensive against Barack Obama in the religious arena. After noting that Romney “frequently spoke about obeying authority, the danger of rationalizing misbehavior and God’s fixed standards,” she cautioned that “many also see a gap between his religious ideals…and his political tactics.” Tony Kimball who served as Romney’s executive Church secretary serves up the “obvious” explanation. “I have absolutely no idea how he rationalizes it,” said Kimball. “It almost seems to be the ends justifying the means.”
Another Times piece by David Leonhardt takes a not-so-subtle swipe at Mormonism as well. First, he notes that a study by the Brookings Institute indicates that Romney’s religion isn’t likely to hurt him at the polls in November. Yet Leonhardt also notes that a Gallup poll cited by the Brookings authors reveals that “[O]nly a hypothetical gay candidate (32 percent) and a hypothetical atheist candidate (49 percent) fared worse than the Mormon candidate.”
The Times’ Jim Rutenberg illuminates Mormonism’s “first families,” whose historical descendants “have formed a financial bulwark and support network for Mr. Romney at every important point in his political career,” and who “are tied to businesses with robust agendas in Washington…and have something to gain by having a friend in the White House.” The implication is clear: Romney is little more than a crony capitalist hiding behind a patina of religious legitimacy.
The Times brings a racial element to the mix as well. First the obligatory swipe. Black Mormons have joined the Church, despite its “turbulent history of excluding people of black African descent,” writes Susan Saulny, who then proceeds to reveal that, despite being Mormons, black Church members prefer Barack Obama for president. Yet the breadth of Saulny’s survey regarding that preference is laughable. Included in the piece is a boilerplate Democratic talking point as well. “My problem with Romney, politically, is that he cannot relate to the common man,” said professor Jerri Harwell. “I’m afraid of what would happen to the economy given his frame of reference.” She also contends that Romney “hasn’t even worked in years.”
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