Frank Rich nails Romney

He does more than that, of course--there's some interesting stuff on the Oprah-Obama campaigning and Obama's recent charge up the polls, but it's the Romney stuff that's the hardest hitting, and that I want to expand on a bit.

Rich begins by referencing Lawrence O'Donnell's inspired rant on the McLauglin Group this week. There's video here, and I encourage everyone to watch it instead of taking Jason Linkins' description as accurate. Rich put it this way:

Pushed over the edge by his peers’ polite chatter about Mitt Romney’s sermon on “Faith in America,” Mr. O’Donnell branded the speech “the worst” of his lifetime. Then he went on a rampage about Mr. Romney’s Mormon religion, shouting (among other things) that until 1978 it was “an officially racist faith.”

That claim just happens to be true. As the jaws of his scandalized co-stars dropped around him, Mr. O’Donnell then raised the rude question that almost no one in Washington asks aloud: Why didn’t Mr. Romney publicly renounce his church’s discriminatory practices before they were revoked? As the scion of one of America’s most prominent Mormon families, he might have made a difference. It’s not as if he was a toddler. By 1978 — the same year his contemporary, Bill Clinton, was elected governor in Arkansas — Mr. Romney had entered his 30s.

The answer is simple. Mr. Romney didn’t fight his church’s institutionalized apartheid, whatever his private misgivings, because that’s his character. Though he is trying to sell himself as a leader, he is actually a follower and a panderer, as confirmed by his flip-flops on nearly every issue.

Rich focuses on Romney's character and career as a panderer to whatever electorate he's trying to appeal to, which is one very good way to go at Romney. And the question about why Romney didn't say something earlier is valid.

In the video where O'Donnell gets so animated, the other panelists try to play the "does being a Mormon disqualify one for the Presidency?" and "what about the history of other religions?" cards. Here are the simple answers to those questions.

Being a Mormon does not disqualify one from being President. It need not be an issue for discussion at all. In fact, I'd love it if the religion of the various candidates didn't even come up for discussion in any election. But there's the rub. You can't court the votes of religious people, can't wear your religion on your sleeve, and then expect it to not be an issue, especially when something as despicable as racism as an official holding of your religion as recently as 1978 comes up. There should absolutely be a question as to why Romney didn't personally stand against his church's teachings about racism. His family is notable in the church, and was while the teaching about blacks was still a part of their canon.

Here's the thing--the question isn't whether Romney's Mormonism disqualifies him for the Presidency. It's whether his unwillingness to stand against racism disqualifies him. And his record since the change in his church's teachings doesn't lead me to believe that he's all that strong on the protection-of-minorities front.

As to the history of other religions, there are a couple of issues at play. One has to do with how recent their various scandals happened. I agree--it's a little ridiculous to keep bringing up the Inquisition or Galileo against the Catholic Church. But if candidates are wearing their Catholicism on their sleeves, it would be fair to look at how they responded to the scandal involving priests and sexual abuse of minors.

There's an easy solution to this. If a candidate doesn't think his or her religion should be an issue for debate, don't talk about it. Religion is--or should be, at any rate--a private matter. When you claim it proudly, when you say it is an integral part of who you are, then you open yourself up to questions about those beliefs. Romney should be asked about why he didn't take a public stand against his church's racist dogma earlier, just as Huckabee should be asked if he really believes that human life has only been around for about 6,000 years, or that women should be submissive to their husbands. They've made it an issue.

And the same goes for all candidates. If you're going to try to appeal to voters based on your religious beliefs, then you need to be ready to defend them, especially the uglier sides of them. If, however, you want to keep your religious beliefs private, I'm all for giving you a pass on those questions.

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