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.