Shakespeare wrote (Julius Caesar, Act 3, Scene 1, 270-275):
And Caesar’s spirit, raging for revenge,
With Ate by his side come hot from hell,
Shall in these confines with a monarch’s voice
Cry “Havoc!” and let slip the dogs of war,
That this foul deed shall smell above the earth
With carrion men, groaning for burial.
OK – I am being a bit overly dramatic, but as I surveyed the political landscape over the weekend, that quote came to mind. The conventions mark the informal beginning of the election campaign, and though the start of the convention has been postponed one day due to weather it seems clear the campaign has begun in earnest. And with it, the Mormon card is on the table, though not fully in play – at least not by the campaigns, the surrogates are in full bloom.
Given the events of 2008, the primary campaign was charted territory, the factions were largely known and well defined. The fight was tough, but a strategy was devised based on the experiences of 2008, effectively executed, and victory was inevitable if not easy. But not so with the general election now upon us. We are now fighting a battle in waters we have not been in before and we are fighting the worst of foes – a Chicago pol.
The uptick in Mormon talk has been enormous. Some of it self-inflicted. We opined on Friday that Romney was running a risk by claiming religious privacy for withholding more than the legal minimum of his tax returns. The left is banging that drum hard. (e.g. New York Post, UPI and Current TV) I pretty well covered this with my Friday analysis so I will let it go at that.
Some people act like it is a huge deal that Mormons will be praying and participating in the convention – as if this was putting Mormonism front-and-center. Such claims came from Buzzfeed, WaPo and the SLTrib. As I said last week, I don’t see it – this is faith stuff, civil religion stuff, not Mormonism. Consider this interview he did. Where’s the distinctly “Mormon” in anything he said. Any Christian of any sort in the same situation would give very similar answers. Of course, the to-be-expected and necessary biographical stuff, like this from CNN has to mention his Mormon affiliations. And such will naturally lead to checking in on the “Mormon community.“ Of course, when the left gets hold of it is when things start to really get out of hand. I think most people, after the convention, will see this for what it is – the press trying to create something from more or less nothing.
On Friday, when Lowell appeared on the Hugh Hewitt show, we quick linked to an article with a hint at some in-depth review. The article was in Deseret News and concerned information the CJCLDS had released about lay leadership and how Romney fit into that picture. As I read it with greater care it turns out I already analyzed in in depth – before it came out. Last Monday I said:
The more I think about it, the more I think Romney SHOULD say something at the convention – not in a speech mind you – but at a press conference or in a press release saying, “All questions about Mormon belief and practice should be answered by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. (Which he has been saying all along – this would just make it solid and definitive.) The CJCLDS should put out a document along the line of “A Primer on LDS Belief and Practice for Journalists that are too lazy to call us or read our website.” OK, maybe all that stuff after the word “Practice” could be dropped, but you get the idea.
In all honesty, I think that is the picture that is emerging. The convention will feature Romney talking about faith within the bounds of the commonly accepted American Civil Religion. The press will try to turn that into a discussion of Mormonism, Romney will deflect such and the CJCLDS will gladly answer any specific inquiries.
But now it gets underhanded. Last Friday Hugh Hewitt spent a great deal of time on Debbie Wasserman-Schultz just flat out lying to Anderson Cooper about Romney’s stance on abortion (subscription required). Romney is on record as supporting the right to abortion in the case of incest and rape, and Wasserman-Schultz attempted to hang the Republican Party platform, which makes no such allowances, around Romney’s neck. Her claim is essentially that Romney HAS to “own” the “extremism” of the party. She really did not sound too bright in her less than effective defense of her blatant misrepresentation of Romney’s position. You’d think Obama might try to back away from her a bit.
‘‘I can’t speak to Gov. Romney’s motivations,’’ Obama said. ‘‘What I can say is that he has signed up for positions, extreme positions, that are very consistent with positions that a number of House Republicans have taken. And whether he actually believes in those or not, I have no doubt that he would carry forward some of the things that he’s talked about.’’
There is a dog-whistle in there. Consider that comma-surrounded, and therefore emphasized, phrase “extreme positions.” We have contended here all along that Mormons were viewed by the left, who see religion almost purely in ethical terms, as sort of uber-Christians. There is little doubt in my mind that with Wasserman-Schultz fighting this losing battle on abortion and Obama singing this “extreme” song that they are attempting to sound that very note. The press is helping with all this “Mormonism front-and-center” nonsense. They learned from 2008 as did Romney. They learned that an overt play of the Mormon card would backfire.
There are also the imagined racial dog-whistles that stand behind every anti-Obama utterance ever made, at least in their minds. When you think every criticism is a dog-whistle, you are likely to criticize in precisely that manner. The American public sees through the claims of racial dog-whistling pretty readily. Once they see the convention, they will see through these very real dog-whistles as well. But that does not mean they will be without effect. As I said, this is uncharted territory. Meanwhile, the Catholic drums are starting to beat as well.
The campaign is upon us.
Lowell adds . . .
I am in Tampa for the Republican National Convention (as a member of the delegation from the great State of California) and will be reporting now and then about my experiences. Three items for now:
We attended LDS church services in the California delegation’s hotel yesterday morning. They were sweet, substantive and very pleasant. Afterwards I realized that not one speaker — not even the invocation or benediction — mentioned Mitt Romney or any political subject at all. How Mormon!
I have been pinching myself regularly since arriving. Last night we attended the big welcome party at Tropicana Field. Thousands of people wearing Mitt Romney hats, buttons and t-shirts. I kept asking myself: Is this really happening?
Along those lines, Nancy French of Evangelicals for Mitt takes a walk down memory lane: This week in Tampa: They said it couldn’t happen.