Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Fear Abroad In The Land

We can all rest easy.    Mitt Romney believes President Obama should not be tried for treason.    On Monday, a a woman at a rally in Cleveland, Ohio for the former governor maintained the President is "operating outside the structure of our Constitution" and should be "tried for treason."   Romney did not explicitly reject the suggestion, though when asked by a reporter a few hours later whether he agreed with his supporter, stated "of course not." He later told CNN "obviously, I don't agree that he should be tried."     There has been no word whether Romney believes Barack Obama actually has committed treason, but at least he opposes prosecution.

This being Romney, a noncommittal response was unsurprising.     Still, it elicited widespread response, most critics  contrasting it unfavorably to that of Republican presidential nominee John McCain, who corrected a supporter in the fall of 2008 by describing Barack Obama as "a decent, family man, citizen, that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues."

But while much attention was paid to what Romney did not say in response to the supporter's assertion at the Cleveland rally, there was little if any notice taken of what the Massachusetts governor did say in response.   "I happen to believe that the Constitution was not just brilliant, but probably inspired.   I happen to believe the same thing about the Declaration of Independence,"  represented a nod and a wink to the far right.      It echoed a January statement of Romney's rival, Rick Santorum, who contended “The Constitution is there to do one thing, protect God-given rights.    That’s what makes America different than every other country in the world.”

Santorum, arguably, is the figure on the national stage who most closely resembles a theocrat, a standing which doomed his candidacy from the start.     He wears his religion on his sleeve and presented a clear contrast not just from Romney but from Gingrich, Paul, and,  practically all other plausible presidential contenders in recent years.    Clearly, Santorum's religious perspective informs his political views, and to a dramatic degree.

Given an opportunity in GOP primaries to select Santorum, most voters ultimately went in another direction.  Mitt Romney, set to be crowned the nominee in Tampa, is presumed to judge issues and approach problems in a more conventional, secular, and less heavenly way.    That Mitt Romney, however, strategically suggests the United States Constitution is "probably inspired."    Presumably, he means by God, for otherwise everything which occurs is inspired in some way by someone and the comment is superfluous.    

The fear across the media of delving into a candidate's religious beliefs is probably magnified when applied to Romney, ironically precisely because of the controversy over his faith.    With many Americans believing that the candidate does not belong to the (un)officially approved religion- Christianity- many members of the media probably are terrified of asking Romney what he actually believes, for fear of being accused of bigotry.

But question they must, not into an individual's most private of beliefs, but rather to determine how those views influence the candidate's opinion on political issues.    Obviously, Senator Barack Obama, plagued by the hysteria over Reverend Jeremiah Wright, faced such questioning.     Romney, now aspiring to the same office as was Obama, should not escape such scrutiny, albeit in a more calm and objective fashion.     He has, inadvertently, opened the topic and, perhaps inadvertently, invited inquiry.      When a supporter raises the issue of prosecuting the President of the United States and the candidate, choosing not to scold her gently, instead maintains that the Constitution is probably "inspired," it is hardly pushy to ask "by whom?"

Failure to probe the meaning of an intriguing comment, offered in response to an outrageous assertion, is giving the politician a free pass.       And make no mistake about it:    Romney, who has had experience as a dog owner (insert joke or cheap shot here), knows a thing or two about dog whistles.     It is akin to South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham once responding to a reporter's question about another politician's ethical foibles by first saying "we all fall short."       The intended audience knows what the speaker is implying, even if much of the larger audience is in the dark.    Let there be light.

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