There are a lot of people out there all worked up about the SuperPACs and their potential for mischief. I, frankly, do not understand all the fuss. The use of surrogates, cut-outs, and the deniable in politics is as old as politics itself. William Safire once said that Nixon’s biggest issue was his loyalty. When he should have let the Plumbers go completely and hang in the wind, he could not do it. Interesting analysis – it is for others to judge its worth.
SuperPACs are just a bit more above board form of this ancient political art. I think maybe all the fuss is that those fussin’ are unhappy that it is a bit more above board. Could that be because bringing such activities above board threatens to “out” the surrogates we do not know about – like maybe the press?
These thoughts ran through my mind as I read some of the stuff that came out over the weekend. NPR commented on Jonathon Chait saying that this campaign is just not going to be that nasty?! As A.B. Stoddard said at The Hill:
Mitt Romney, who is running a risk-averse campaign with a real shot at winning the presidency, has chosen not to talk about his religion. So far, the Obama campaign has stayed away from the topic — this week, when Bill Maher called Mormonism a cult, senior Obama adviser David Axelrod said attacking Romney’s religion was “not fair game.”
Yet no matter how the Obama campaign treats Romney’s Mormon religion, others will continue to keep it in the spotlight.
And who might the “others” be?
Well. let’s see, ABC News tries to explain Mormonism. It is actually not a bad piece, but why write it? – it mostly serves to remind us that it is an issue. Remember last Friday when I teed off on identity politics? How about this headline from USAToday:
Obama-Romney: African-American vs. Mormon
Lovely, just lovely. But the real topper is Frank Bruni @ NYTimes contending that Romney’s faith just does not carry the emotional cachet of Obama’s race:
Axelrod’s words, meanwhile, are a reminder that more than three and a half years after Obama made history as the first black man elected to the presidency, he still presents more than a résumé and an agenda. He still personifies the hope, to borrow a noun that he has used, that we really might evolve into the colorblind, fair-minded country that many of us want. His own saga taps into the larger story of this country’s fitful, unfinished progress toward its stated ideal of equal opportunity.
Although Romney would be the first Mormon president, that milestone doesn’t fit into the country’s history in the same way. Although his religion, like Obama’s race, has made him an outsider in certain circumstances and at certain times, that’s not something he or his supporters really promote.
Folks, I hate to tell you, that is the definition of nasty. Not only is it identity politics, but it seeks to make one identity somehow better than the other. So much for “colorblind.”
OK – I may be exaggerating just a bit to say we do not know the press to be Obama surrogates, but what we can see here is that even if the campaign organization keep an air of civility – this is not going to be a civil campaign season. The campaign is not even really underway and already we see the press dipping into the nastiest possible meme: identity vs. identity. Here’s hoping the effect of this early coverage is inoculation instead of building intensity. As we analyzed on Friday, identity politics makes war, not democracy.
Lowell adds . . . The Return of White Horse!
A Politico piece by Edward-Isaac Dovere appearing on Memorial Day seems to say, “We know the candidates don’t want to talk about the details of Romney’s Mormonism, but doggonit, we want to talk about it, so we will!”
…Romney, for the most part, has steered clear of answering detailed questions about his religious beliefs—referring to “people of different faiths, like yours and mine” in his commencement address to the evangelical Liberty University is about as far as he’s gone in the 2012 campaign.
That leaves journalists and other observers searching for clues, and the attention already going to Mormon views of the Constitution, which has percolated up from the blogs to the New York Times, provides a window into how this can play out on the campaign trail.
(Emphasis added.) “Searching for clues?” About what? Aren’t we really talking about “searching for something juicy?”
Readers of Dovere’s piece should be forgiven for thinking that is exactly what he is doing. He devotes the rest of his article to dredging up once again the White Horse Prophecy. For those unfamiliar with this bit of Mormon folklore, it relates to a prophecy that Joseph Smith allegedly made (but which was not documented until 50 years later), stating that someday the U.S. Constitution would “hang by a thread,” and Mormon elders would save it.
The so-called ‘White Horse Prophecy’ is based on accounts that have not been substantiated by historical research and is not embraced as Church doctrine.
But it gets better. In response to Dovere’s inquiry Michael Purdy, a Church spokesman, said:
The Church perspective is this: It’s not our doctrine, it’s not taught in our meetings, and as we’ve said repeatedly, it’s not relevant to who we are as a people….We’re certainly aware that there is a national (and perhaps international) conversation going on about the Church and its beliefs. We want to answer questions for those who have them but stay out of the politics.
(Emphasis added.) But that is not the end. Dovere quotes Mitt Romney himself from 2007:
In 2007, at the outset of [Romney's] first White House run, he told the Salt Lake Tribune he hadn’t heard his name associated with the White Horse, and pointed out that the prophecy isn’t official doctrine. “There are a lot of things that are speculation and discussion by church members and even church leaders that aren’t official church doctrine. I don’t put that at the heart of my religious belief,” he told the paper.
Whatever else might be said about Dovere’s piece, it is well-researched. It’s just not persuasive.
My own experience over 40 years of watching Mormons in politics agrees with the view of one well-known Utah pundit, La Varr Webb, whom Dover also quotes: “It becomes a joke, every time we have a prominent politician, Orrin Hatch or someone else, [he] is going to save the Constitution.”
Wouldn’t all of that tell you enough to know this is a non-issue? Maybe, but it’s not enough for Dovere. You’ll have to read his Politico piece to see just how doggedly he clings to the issue.
Which raises the only important question: Why does this matter? Dovere himself reports that Romney has said, over five years ago, what he thinks about the White Horse Prophecy; that the Church has said all it has to say; and that the Romney campaign has no further comment.
So we are left with this: A totally irrelevant and totally manufactured non-issue is being thrust into the public consciousness.
What possible positive impact can such efforts have on the presidential campaign? To me the most likely results are distraction from the real issues (think of the economy and foreign policy); encouragement of further discussion about obscure, allegedly Mormon beliefs; and worst of all, a continuing emphasis on the identity politics John decries above.
I don’t think it is realistic to expect the news media — especially the left-leaning segments — to drop the Mormonism issue. As we’ve said before, Romney’s faith is pure catnip for them. Responsible analysts simply need to keep calling out the MSM on such irresponsible reporting so that at least the public has a decent chance of seeing it for what it is: a needless and possibly cynical distraction. We’ll do our best here to help get that that done.