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“Precisely Imprecise”: Romney Not Familiar With Questioning Obama’s Faith, But Stands By It

After the political world was consumed by yesterday’s New York Times’ report on the racist strategy memo for a Republican super PAC to “Defeat Barack Hussein Obama,” Mitt Romney was forced to “repudiate” it. But what of his own statement, back in February, invoking the Rev. Jeremiah Wright to Sean Hannity, after Hannity played a clip of President Obama talking about religious diversity in America?

Romney said: “I’m not familiar precisely with exactly what I said, but I stand by what I said whatever it was.” No, that wasn’t mistranscribed. He said that. If there’s ever been a perfect encapsulation of Romney as a candidate, there it is.

Here’s what Romney was referring to–or not remembering precisely or exactly. As reported by Politico yesterday, in February, during a Romney appearance on his show, Hannity played a clip of an Obama speech in which the president said, “Given the increasing diversity of America’s populations, the dangers of sectarianism are greater than ever. Whatever we once were we are no longer a Christian nation.” Obama was talking about religious pluralism, but Romney took it as a cue to question his patriotism, by invoking Wright. His answer to Hannity:

The other part of his quote is also an unusual thing, where he says that sectarianism (presents) a great threat. Look, he may not be much of a student of history but perhaps he doesn’t recall that from the very beginning, America had many different sects, many different religions, that part of our founding principle was that we would be a nation of religious tolerance. Also, without question, the legal code in this country is based upon Judeo-Christian values and teachings, Biblical teachings, and for the president not to understand that a wide array of religions and a conviction that Judeo-Christian philosophy is an integral part of our foundation is really an extraordinary thing. I think again that the president takes his philosophical leanings in this regard, not from those who are ardent believers in various faiths but instead from those who would like to see America (more secular. And I’m not sure which is worse, him listening to Reverend Wright or him saying that we … must be a less Christian nation.

That’s an even more florid pander to the Christian right than Romney’s Liberty University commencement speech last weekend. He’s not precisely familiar with it, but he stands by it, for sure.

The Romney camp is working hard at putting distance between the candidate and any race-baiting strategies that might be deployed by its allies. But of course Romney himself–even if he’s not precisely familiar with it now–is not above questioning the president’s patriotism, his commitment to Christianity, and the alleged anti-American-ness of Wright, and therefore Obama.

It’s true, of course, that Romney was feebly acknowledging religious pluralism; he has at one time argued that there is no religious test for the presidency. (I wonder if he’s familiar, precisely, exactly, or otherwise, with that today.) When Romney spoke to Hannity last February, it was on the heels of the presidential debate for which he had hired former Liberty University debate coach Brett O’Donnell, and in which he perfected parroting the religious right’s Christian nation ideology in an answer. Faced with a question from Hannity about Obama’s fealty to this Republican ideology, Romney seized the opportunity to invoke Wright.

In the Washington Post this morning, religion columnist Lisa Miller asserts that Obama and Romney have very different views of God, and that when Americans “pull the lever this November, you will not just be voting for president. You will be saying what you believe about God.” Miller goes on to present an embarrassingly simplistic dichotomy: Romney “stands for the individualistic version of American success; Obama for the collectivist.” One of these views (of God) favors slashing taxes and government; the other shared sacrifice and gay marriage.

These are not, though, two cleanly differentiated views of God that in fact inspire each candidate’s politics. (There aren’t even, of course, two cleanly differentiated views of God in American religious life. But that’s another matter.) The candidate’s politics are informed by party, and by ideology; God is added later to justify them. That’s why Romney, born into a minority faith, can feel perfectly comfortable, when put in a room with Sean Hannity, claiming that America was founded on a religion other than his own, but that the other guy, who actually shares the religion that Romney claims the nation was founded upon, is the one who is undermining the proclaimed official national religion by promoting religious pluralism.


By: Sarah Posner, Religion Dispatches, May 18, 2012

May 19, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Turnaround Is Fair Play”: What If The Girl Scouts Investigated The Bishops?

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops is going to investigate Girl Scouts USA because of concern over some of the Scouts’ program materials and some organizational ties, such as—cue ominous music—the Sierra Club and Doctors Without Borders!

But what if Girl Scouts USA were to turn the tables and scrutinize the bishops’ group overseeing the investigation: the Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth?

After all, that committee includes the Most Rev. Salvatore J. Cordileone, Bishop of Oakland, who publicly bemoaned the fact that former Harvard president Lawrence Summers was excoriated for suggesting that women tend to have less aptitude for science and math. “Why,” asked Cordileone, “didn’t he have a right to say something which is a perfectly legitimate observation?”

(An aside: Is there anyone who seriously thinks Lawrence Summers had no legal right to say what he said? Isn’t the issue that a whole lot of people thought he was, you know, wrong; and, further, that being that glaringly wrong in public carries the consequence of strong disagreement and professional ramifications? But hey, while we’re on the subject of people having or not having the legal right to do and say things that other people strongly disagree with: It may interest you to know that Cordileone was also one of the major driving forces behind Prop. 8 in California, which outlawed same-sex marriage.)

Also on the committee is Most Rev. George Rassas. In 2008, Cardinal Francis George, Archbishop of Chicago, said in a deposition that Rassas had “withheld information about abuse allegations.”

These are two of the people who will be seeing whether Girl Scouts USA meets the appropriate standards for a Catholic organizational partner. In light of this, why not ask whether the Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth meet Girl Scouts USA’s standards, rather than just the other way around?

Girl Scouts USA has, after all, developed significant programming to encourage girls to pursue their interests in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The website even calls girls “natural scientists”! Moreover, when faced with abuse disclosures from scouts, Girl Scout volunteers are instructed to “tell her you believe her” and “report the suspected abuse to the local agency designated to investigate such cases.” As such, the actions of Bishop Cordileone and (if Cardinal George is correct) Bishop Rassas suggest that they may not share these Girl Scouts values. I suspect those are values that many of the Girl Scouts’ constituents probably also hold dear.

Of course, I doubt Girl Scouts USA will point this out. Perhaps they rightly perceive what I should probably also do a better job taking to heart: that it’s not very charitable to judge a whole group by the few cherrypicked things you most object to (polite cough). At the same time, just like a church has the prerogative not to partner with a group that violates its religious convictions—understanding that they may thereby compromise their reach—neither is an organization that works for girls’ empowerment under an obligation to compromise its core values. Should they wish to do so, Girl Scouts USA is in a position to claim the moral high ground here.

By: Sarah Morice-Brubaker, Religion Dispatches, May 17, 2012

May 19, 2012 Posted by | Religion | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Still Separate And Unequal”: Mitt Romney Fails To See America

After a third reading of Mitt Romney’s Liberty University commencement speech, I still fail to see how my Post colleague Michael Gerson could have described it as “more than good.”

Romney’s address struck me as standard fare for a college graduation. He hit all the familiar notes: gratitude to school and a nod to parents for sacrifices made; celebration of the virtues of hard work, devotion to principles, individualism, service, family. There was even a little shameless politicking, with Romney telling the audience “what the next four years might hold for me is yet to be determined. But . . . things are looking up, and I take your kind hospitality today as a sign of good things to come.”

It was the kind of speech that could have been delivered — sans the pandering and the references to more-contemporary figures (the late Chuck Colson; the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, who founded Liberty University; and the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.) — to college graduating classes in the 1950s or even in 1900.

The Liberty remarks, as seems to be true of many Romney speeches, reflected a rather constricted view of the country. Perhaps it’s because Romney chooses to deliver most of his lines to narrow audiences.

Missing in his Liberty offering, as with some other Romney speeches, is any recognition — not praises, mind you, but simple acknowledgment — that 21st-century America is more than a white, middle-class country.

He revealed no sense whatsoever of knowing that the overwhelming majority of Liberty grads will, in their adult lives, inhabit an America in which they will be the minority.

Romney’s speeches seem tailor-made for audiences that look pretty much like him.

At least that is what one is led to believe after observing where Romney chooses to go and what he has to say.

I tried to imagine Romney’s Liberty address being delivered to the graduates and their families at the 2012 commencement exercises I attended a week ago at historically black Howard University in Washington.

I cannot believe, however, that the Romney campaign apparatus would have allowed the presumptive Republican presidential nominee to tell an African American audience numbering in the thousands that Falwell was “a gracious Christian example” and a “courageous and big-hearted minister of the Gospel who . . . never hated an adversary.”

Indeed, Romney lauded Falwell, who famously said: “I do question the sincerity and nonviolent intentions of some civil rights leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Mr. James Farmer, and others, who are known to have left-wing associations.”

Romney spoke glowingly of the same Falwell who said of the landmark Supreme Court school desegregation decision: “If Chief Justice Warren and his associates had known God’s word and had desired to do the Lord’s will, I am quite confident that the 1954 decision would never had been made. The facilities should be separate. When God has drawn a line of distinction, we should not attempt to cross that line.”

The same Falwell who disparaged Nobel Peace Prize winner and Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu as a phony. (Falwell later apologized for that remark and claimed that he had misspoken.)

And who can forget Falwell’s finger-pointing after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks? He declared on Pat Robertson’s “700 Club” show: “I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America — I point the finger in their face and say, ‘You helped this happen.’ ”

I suspect if Romney spoke at Howard, he would have skipped that part about Falwell.

But what does the man who seeks to lead this country have to say about, and to, this rapidly changing nation of diverse people with diverse interests and needs?

Thus far, Romney’s thoughts and policy prescriptions seem focused on America’s largest — and slowest-growing — racial group: his own.

Democratic critics accuse Romney of having values that skew to the rich at the expense of the poor. They say he’s disconnected from the problems of average Americans; that he’s out of touch and just doesn’t get it.

Would that it were only a matter of determining whether Romney is on the side of the rich or middle class.

The question is much broader and more significant: When Mitt Romney thinks and speaks of Americans, do those who don’t look like him even come to mind?

Since he launched his presidential campaign, it’s been hard to tell. And Romney’s Liberty University speech was no help.


By: Colbert King, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, May 18, 2012

May 19, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Truth Be Told”: How John Roberts Started This Spending Madness

Related to Joe Ricketts and SuperPACs and all this is of course the Supreme Court decision that made it all possible, Citizens United. It’s worth remembering how we got here.

Jeff Toobin’s piece in this week’s New Yorker is a total revelation. The CU decision, it turns out, didn’t just happen. You know–a case goes through the appellate layers, the Supremes decide there’s an interesting question in it, they grant certiorari, and they hear the case. That’s our assumption, and it’s what usually happens.

Well, it’s not what happened here. It’s technically a bit complicated, but what happened is that the Court heard the case a first time, when the petitioner (Citizens United, represented by Ted Olson) was seeking only a very narrow decision saying that McCain-Feingold spending and disclosure limits should not apply to a political ad/movie that was being offered on a pay-per-view basis. They planned on showing an anti-Hillary ad on that basis, so that’s all they were interested in.

That’s what CU wanted. But through the course of the questioning and the opinion-writing, which Toobin explains in lucid detail (see especially page 5 of his article), it became clear to all involved that the conservative faction–led in this case by Anthony Kennedy–could use the case as a wedge to make a much more sweeping decision. And in stepped John Roberts.

To make a long story short, Roberts held back the decision and rescheduled the case for the next year, This enabled the conservative majority to expand dramatically the scope of the majority opinion. And he sped it up, put it on the calendar for September, not the usual first week of October, in order (Toobin suggests) that the decision would be more likely to have an impact on the 2010 elections.

The important thing to remember here: Roberts is the guy who said at his confirmation hearings that he’d go slow and be highly respectful of precedent. But here, he engineered the Court’s calendar and procedure specifically to turn a narrow case that few people would even have paid attention to into a sweeping decision that changes American politics and undoes a century of jurisprudence.

And that is how we got these SuperPACs. Really an amazing and important story.


By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, May 18, 2012

May 19, 2012 Posted by | Democracy | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Things That Make You Go Uhm”: Why Does Romney Get A Pass?

Greg Sargent highlights this portion from an interview Mitt Romney did with Town Hall this morning:

“I think it’s very hard to tell exactly what the president would do, other than by looking at his record in his first three and a half or four years. And we can see where he took the nation in these years. It’s a massive expansion of federal spending, an expansion of the reach of the federal government, and there’s no question in my mind but that his Supreme Court nominees and his policies would be designed toward expanding the role of government in our lives. And frankly, America’s economy runs on freedom. And he has been attacking economic freedom from the first day he came into office.

Sargent sees this as an attempt to downplay the severity of the economic crisis, and pin the blame for economic stagnation on Obama’s policies. That sounds right, given the extent to which Romney’s general election strategy is predicated on inducing amnesia in the voting public.

This also serves to highlight a point I’ve made over the last week; there’s almost nothing Romney can say that can tarnish his aura of skill and competence. On Tuesday, Romney gave a speech decrying debt, despite the fact that his economic plan would add an additional $6 trillion in debt, on top of what’s projected under current policies. Today, he decries the stimulus—without giving a single idea of what he would have done—and declares that the economy runs on freedom.

Even the most charitable interpretation—that Romney is making a case for free-enterprise—falls apart when you recognize the degree to which government has been an important part of shaping our economy from the beginning. It’s the kind of rhetoric that would have been (rightfully) mocked if uttered by someone like Michele Bachmann, but goes unremarked on when adopted by Romney.

Why? It’s an honest question, because I’m at a loss.


By: Jamelle Bouie, The American Prospect, May 18, 2012

May 19, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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