Senior adviser to the Obama campaign, David Axelrod, has pledged to make a campaign issue out of what Mr. Axelrod sees as Mitt Romney’s penchant for secrecy. Speaking to Politico, Axelrod said that Romney’s approach to matters both political and financial reminded him of the old TV show “I’ve Got A Secret.”
There is no way to know what Mr. Axelrod’s real intent was — he may not be fully aware of it himself — but if his primary concerns were with Romney’s financial and political transparency, then why raise those last three questions about his character, belief and life history?
As Jon Meacham asked on “Morning Joe” Monday, “Is this code for the secrecy of the Mormon Church?”
The White House has consistently insisted that it would not make religion an issue in the presidential race, but with questions such as those raised by Axelrod, you have to wonder. Given the concerns expressed by large numbers of Americans about the Mormon faith and the LDS church, questions about what Romney “believes” and “what he stands for,” easily pass for thinly veiled references to the candidate’s faith.
“The ‘secrecy’ charge is particularly damaging for Romney because it is a clever way for Obama to exploit some Americans’ discomfort with Romney’s Mormon faith without ever raising the issue directly,” wrote Post columnist Marc A. Thiessen Monday.
Given the ongoing concerns expressed by Obama supporters about criticisms directed at the president which are little more than thinly veiled race-baiting, the Obama campaign needs to be especially cautious about this kind of talk. They need to be better disciplined when raising issues which they fully appreciate have the very real potential of pandering to the worst kind of anti-Mormon bias, especially given the ugly way in which some of the president’s detractors continue to question the his faith in baseless ways which pander to American haters of Islam.
In fact, the very claim of which the Obama campaign is so proud regarding their commitment to not making religion an issue in the campaign is itself problematic. The declaration itself suggests that there is in fact an issue there, but that they will take the high road and avoid it, in favor of more substantive issues. Their claim is no better, and no worse, than when people begin critiques of the president with comments about their position having “nothing to do with any possible religious identity issues” the president may have.
There are plenty of real differences, both in matters of policy and approach to politics, between President Obama and the presumptive Republican nominee, Mitt Romney. Those are the real issues which will shape our nation for the coming years and those are the issues about which both campaigns should be speaking. And if people do want to speak about each others’ faiths, then by all means do so, but do it openly, honestly, and based on facts, not fear and innuendo.