The 2012 presidential election is over, and Barack Obama has been re-elected president. There’s a lot of analysis being done on the election, and this blog doesn’t have any real insightful things to add to that.
With that said, there is one thing that I’m very proud that the Obama campaign did – or rather, that it didn’t do. Obama’s campaign never attacked Mitt Romney’s faith.
Mitt Romney, as almost everybody in America knows by now, belongs to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He is a very firm believer in the Lord, much more so than most politicians. Of course, all American presidential candidates insist on their Christian faith, but much of that is mere rhetoric. Mitt Romney actually walked the talk, probably more than any presidential candidate since Jimmy Carter.
And he suffered for this. Because in America there is still an element of bigotry against the LDS Church, which insists that members of the church are not “real” Christians. In the Republican primaries, for instance, evangelical southerners consistently rejected Romney.
Barack Obama could have used this in his campaign. He could have used coded religious appeals, of the type that Herbert Hoover used against Catholic Al Smith in the 1928 presidential campaign.
He didn’t. I never once heard Barack Obama say the word “Mormon.” Nor did I ever hear anybody in Obama’s campaign refer to Mormonism, no matter how obliquely. That’s something for which Obama and the Democratic Party ought to be very proud of.
Now, of course there are caveats to this. There was indeed a current of anti-Mormonism running through many Obama supporters. Here a liberal journalist, unaffiliated with Obama’s campaign, would sneak in a reference to Mormonism. There, Obama supporters would whisper (or sometimes shout) about how the LDS Church is racist. But Obama’s campaign itself shied away from such bigotry.
In addition, for most of the campaign Obama led in the polls. At no point was he ever losing the electoral college. It’s easy for a winning campaign to behave civil. What if Obama had been losing by five points in the popular vote and behind in all the swing states? The temptation to resort to attacks on Romney’s religion would have been much greater.
What form would such attacks have taken? A normal candidate probably would have made his own church and his own Christian faith a big and continuous theme in each of his speeches and during the presidential debates. This would have been an implicit contrast to Romney’s “non-Christian” Mormonism. Given Obama’s troubles with his own church, that path was probably not available to him. But there are other possibilities. A super-PAC formally unaffiliated with Obama’s campaign could have released an ad attacking Romney on abortion. This ad could have accused Romney, while head of an LDS branch in Massachusetts, of forcing women not to have abortions. A super-PAC ad could have been released accusing Romney of draft-dodging, bringing up Romney’s missionary work in France. There are a number of such ads which could have been run, all subtly bringing up the LDS church. Obama’s campaign would then deny any to connection the super-PAC running the ads.
Fortunately, Obama’s campaign never did that. He and his campaign stayed on the high road. They did what was right. For that they deserve an enormous amount of credit.