Let’s play “Imagine an Alternative Universe.” Suppose that Representative Paul Ryan had said that Joe Biden had “sullied the religion that he and I share.” How many days of the news cycle do you suppose would be dominated by the story? How many Democrats and members of the press would declare that this kind of religious provocation/bigotry rendered Mr. Ryan unfit for high office? Please submit your estimates to my inbox.
Now back to the universe we inhabit. The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, participating in a unilateral race to the bottom, said just that about Mitt Romney. Highlighting an Internet item, Reid said he agreed that Romney “sullied” the Mormon faith, and that in Nevada, voters would “understand that he is not the face of Mormonism.”
That is low even by Harry Reid, “a little birdie told me Romney paid no taxes for ten years,” standards.
Consider the deviousness. By calling Romney a bad Mormon, Reid draws attention to Romney’s (and Reid’s) religion for the benefit of anti-Mormon bigots who may not have heard about Romney’s faith. Reid doesn’t fear such prejudices himself because (a) he was reelected to a six-year term in 2010, (b) he hails from Nevada which boasts a large Mormon population, and (c) religious prejudices rarely affect House or Senate races.
But really, saying someone “sullies” a religion? Republican senators should be demanding an apology at the very least, or calling for his resignation. President Obama should be asked if he approves of this kind of character assassination.
It would be a disgraceful smear even if Romney were an ordinary politician. He has his faults, of course, but it happens that he has a truly unusual and admirable history of personally helping the less fortunate. His personal commitment to helping others would be exemplary in a clergyman. It’s almost unheard of among politicians. We learned last week that Romney donated 29 percent of his income to charity in 2011, and that over the course of the past 20 years, he has donated an average of 13.5 percent of his income — well over the 10 percent tithe that many great faiths suggest.
How much does Mr. Reid donate? We don’t know, because he chooses to keep his tax returns private. We do know, however, that between 2000 and 2004, Mr. Obama donated about 1 percent to charity (he bumped it up to 5 percent in 2005 and to 22 percent last year).
“Lunch bucket Joe” Biden — champion of the middle class — donated an average of $369 per year for the ten years prior to 2008, or .03 percent of his income.
Not only has Romney been extremely charitable with his money, he has devoted his time to those (many in his church, some not) who were facing crises. He spent many hours with a 14-year-old cancer victim in the hospital. He saved a family of four from drowning when their boat capsized. When two teenagers in a Boston family were injured in a car accident, the entire Romney family showed up on Christmas Eve bearing large boxes of gifts, and a generous check for the parents. Romney also offered to pay for the boys’ college educations when they recovered. He closed Bain’s offices to search for the missing daughter of a colleague. These are but some of the many stories of personal generosity and remarkable kindness detailed in The Real Romney by Michael Kranish and Scott Helman, two Boston Globe reporters. Has Mr. Reid ever done anything comparable?
Since Senator Reid has directed personal slanders against Romney, it’s worth noting that Mr. Romney earned his fortune by working in the private sector. Mr. Reid too is a wealthy man, with an estimated net worth between $3 and $10 million. Yet as Betsy Woodruff documents on National Review Online, he has acquired all of it while serving in public office, and while earning a salary of $193,400 or less. “I did a very good job investing” he explained in 2010. If you believe that, Mr. Reid has a bridge to sell you. Really. In 2006, Reid earmarked $18 million to build a bridge across the Colorado River between Laughlin, Nev., and Bullhead City, Ariz., a project, Woodruff reports, “that wasn’t a priority for either state’s transportation agency.” Reid happened to own 160 acres of nearby land, whose value appreciated considerably after the project was approved.
Something is sullied here, but it isn’t Romney.
— Mona Charen is a nationally syndicated columnist. © 2012 Creators Syndicate, Inc.