Yesterday, Lowell compared and contrasted several articles covering Romney and Mormonism and asked:
Which voice will prevail? The Romney voice of mainstream civil religion, appealing to the “better angels of our nature” — another Lincolnism? Brody’s voice of sectarian suspicion? Or the Obama campaign’s voice — the voice of those seeking to gain and hold power by any means necessary, however dishonest and cynical?
As I survey the news today, I cannot help but think the press has one particular voice in mind – I think we can all guess which one. On Monday, in the Washington Examiner, Byron York wrote:
The Republican primary race was longer and more grueling than Mitt Romney hoped. But for all its rigors, the contest left three key Romney issues unresolved. Each will play a role in the general election campaign — but in a different way than in the primaries.
The third factor is Mormonism. For the most part, Romney’s religion didn’t arise in the Republican race. It’s possible it won’t in the general election. But if the campaign reaches the final weeks and Romney is leading Obama, some Democrats will find it hard to resist trying to make Mormonism a factor in the race. They tried hard in 1994, when Romney unsuccessfully challenged Sen. Ted Kennedy for a Senate seat from Massachusetts.
That’s a fair analysis that sound remarkably like what we have said here several times already. But then, almost plagarisitically, Maggie Halberman had a Politco piece (quickly echoed on her blog) about the “hidden” (note the sinister implications of that word) Mitt Romney:
Mitt Romney is a man of faith, successful in business and with the executive experience that comes from running a big state.
A perfect presidential résumé? Pretty close.
Only one problem, as his critics note: Romney doesn’t spend much time talking about it.
And he does not talk about what people close to him describe as a lengthy list of charitable works, neighborly help and major donations, in part out of personal discomfort with focusing on his good deeds and, in some measure, several Romney backers say, because it will focus attention on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a religion that’s rapidly growing but about which misperceptions remain.
Is she practically begging someone to put Mormonism on the table or what? Could she not have waited for the York piece to marinate just a bit before she used the lines of attack he discussed? The press is just itching for the Mormon thing. There is coverage of the Hill Cumorah Pageant in the Wall Street Journal. (since when is that WSJ material?) Time/Life ran pictures on a 1953 raid on an FLDS polygamist town. (PUH-LEAZE!) Somethings are more subtle. Chris Cilizza described the media-created issue around Romney’s tax returns as “exotic.“ There’s a bell-ringing word if ever I heard one – look for that to morph into a Mormon reference quite rapidly.
Somethings are not so subtle. Cameron Joseph in The Hill:
Next year could be a banner one for Mormons in the nation’s capital, with their numbers and influence likely to grow whether or not Mitt Romney is elected president.
Depending on who controls the Senate, it will have either have a Mormon Senate majority leader in Harry Reid (D-Nev.) or a Mormon president pro tempore and Finance Committee Chairman in Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).
And if Romney wins the White House, not only will the United States have its first Mormon president but a number of prominent Mormon Republicans might be selected for plum administration positions.
“I wouldn’t be surprised, especially in a Republican administration, to see members of my faith well represented,” Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), a rising Tea Party star who is Mormon, told The Hill.
Let the conspiracy speculation begin! And at TNR, Amy Sullivan attempts to turn Romney’s love of country into something religious (and therefore inappropriate?):
A favorite conservative charge is that Obama is ashamed of his country and goes around the world apologizing for it. (Sample Hannity segment: “Why is Obama apologizing for America and not to America?”) It’s no surprise, then, that Romney states bluntly in his speech: “I am an unapologetic believer in the greatness of this country. I am not ashamed of American power.”
Chait questions whether Romney actually believes this himself or whether the rhetoric is just a bit of nationalist demagoguery. Figuring how which of Romney’s statements and positions reflect his authentic self has become something of a bipartisan sport. But I think it’s worth noting that an enthusiastic belief in American exceptionalism is part of Mormon culture and theology. There is the sacred significance of America as the setting for the Book of Mormon and the birth of the Latter-Day Saints. But there is also the belief by early LDS leaders that Mormons would one day rescue the country when it threatened to fall apart.
The line between reporting and propaganda is a fine one. Last week, in my travels I visited Zeppelin Field in Nuremberg, Germany, home to all of those Nazi rallies. It is most famous in my mind from the newsreel footage after the allies captured the city of the swastika being blown up. I spent a lot of time comparing it to my visit to Red Square during the Soviet days in 1989. Both are places that evil regimes used to generate public support for their agendas. Both are places soaked in blood.
But I found Zeppelin Field much more viscerally disconcerting. I find two reasons for it. For one, many good things have happened in Red Square as well as the bad. The other is more subtle. When I visited the Soviet Union, it was clear that many endured the soviet state, but few embraced it fully. When one looks at films of, or reads about, the Nazi rallies in Zeppelin Field one sees a population enamored with and fully embracing the Nazi way and regime. Much of this was fueled by the propaganda of the Nazi state.
Media is a powerful thing. That is why it was so important for the Allies to blow up that swastika and for the whole world to see it blown up, as we have, over and over and over again in the ensuing decades. Something that evil has to be utterly destroyed.
Nazi comparisons are fraught with risk, and this is no exception. I do not analogize the Obama Administration to the Nazi’s in any way. The Obama administration has not proposed genocide, nor is it evil. It is; however, very wrong. It has demonstrated a willingness to accumulate power to itself that it does not rightfully deserve – something that has historically lead to evil. It has resorted to legislative trickery to defy the will of the populace. There is little question that many of its actions remain unexamined by the press – something that borders on, if not crosses the line to propaganda.
The Mormon issue could be a powerful issue for propaganda. Mormonism remains a mystery for so many and into that mystery much misinformation can be poured, shaping public opinion in quite problematic ways. The only counter is good information. That is why this blog, and many like it, exist. But we are not enough. It is up to every reader and their friends to spread the word.
The next few months are going to be very interesting.