The Corner

Polygamous Ancestors and the Road to Full Disclosure?

In response to the posts about liberal attacks on Romney’s religion, and specifically in answer to Michael’s post about the press’s “hypocrisy,” I think he’s right about the attacks to come, but I think they will backfire.

Barack Obama was the least-vetted presidential candidate in modern American campaign history; almost every official account or Obama denial about Bill Ayers, Tony Rezko, and Reverend Wright proved incomplete and misleading. Even after three years in office, we know less about Obama’s earlier years than we did of any other first-term president.

By now most of us have shrugged and accepted the asymmetry, given the press’s long psychological investment in the Obama symbolism. So why now upset that balance by going after Mitt Romney’s religion in very non-liberal fashion as The New Republic and New York Times have done this week? It seems crazy to not let sleeping dogs lie.

The focus on Mormonism is ironic in that this postmodern generation of American liberals wishes to raise the religious issue and probe Romney’s family lineage to a greater extent than nearly a half-century ago when Romney’s father ran for president in supposedly far more bigoted times. After all, what are we to learn — that Romney’s great-grandfather was a polygamist and was married to even more wives at the same time than was Obama’s father? Are we to care about one, and not the other? Is the press standard now that a president’s dad can be a polygamist in Kenya, but not his great-grandfather in Mexico? Do we really wish to go down this sordid road of the sins of the father falling upon the son?

And why revisit the now tired issue of candor about a candidate’s religion? It’s been years since Barack Obama bragged to the Chicago Sun-Times in 2004 that he attended Trinity Church “every Sunday” only later to claim he could not remember any of Reverend Wright’s serial racist or anti-Semitic rants; and when he was officially made aware of them, he refused to distance himself from Wright, declaring instead in morally equivalent fashion that he could no more disown him than his grandmother. (Until, that is, Wright committed the far greater sin of ridiculing the D.C. press at the National Press Club. )

And with this new emphasis on transparency, are we to expect that the media will demand this summer that both candidates disclose to press adjudicators their complete medical records in John McCain fashion, as well as their college transcripts? I think that’s where we are headed, given that the media is protective of one candidate for reelection and is simultaneously demanding an intimate level of inquiry about his possible opponent. Is the logic that an un-vetted Obama is now vetted because he has been president for three years and undisclosed information supposedly did not play a role in the manner of his governance? Are we to take that assumption as gospel, and accept that such thinking cannot apply to other candidates (as in, “Don’t vet me, and then when I am in office, I am de facto vetted”)?

In other words, I doubt the press wants to go down this road of religious intimacy, given that it might tear the scabs off wounds that never quite healed, and there are far more pressing issues — like a looming nuclear Iran and $16 trillion in debt — than Mitt Romney’s Mexican-residing many-times-married ancestor.


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