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Manufactured Outrage, Religious Edition

Well, that didn’t take long. You had to figure it would just be a matter of time before Team Romney alleged anti-Mormon bias by its opponents or the press, and bingo, today we had two separate instances of the charge being raised. And in both instances, it was groundless. There will surely be moments in months ahead when the accusation is merited. But flinging the charge around like this is hardly the way to start things off.

First, there was this on Mike Allen’s Playbook this morning, suggesting that the Obama campaign’s argument that Romney has a “penchant for secrecy” has a hidden anti-Mormon message.

WHAT REPUBLICANS ARE SAYING about the “penchant for secrecy” attack line against Romney: “These are exactly the kind of questions we asked about Obama in 2008 and were accused of race baiting, or suggesting he was somehow un-American. Now they ask it: What’s his secret? It does seem like they are going after the Mormonism, right? I’d do the same thing if I was them. But we were never up on our high horse about better angels and hope and change and all that B.S..”
—From an LDS member: “[T]his is a way to talk about Romney’s Mormonism without appearing to be attacking his religion. … Because, isn’t Mormonism some mysterious cult involving secret temple rites and strange undergarments? And it just happens to dovetail with some minor points on offshore accounts, but I think the message between the lines is clear.”
—Ben LaBolt of the Obama campaign told the HuffPost’s Jon Ward in November: “Attacking a candidate’s religion is out of bounds, and our campaign will not engage in it.”
—David Axelrod, Obama’s top strategist, said in a statement to Playbook: “Refusing to release income tax returns and the names of your fundraising bundlers, removing the hard drives from your state computers when you left the governorship, refusing to offer details of your plans—these have noting to do with religion. George Romney was a leader on disclosure when he ran for President, releasing 12 years of returns. This is issue is about Mitt Romney, not his faith.”

No, it is not inconceivable that some voter out there hearing about the secrecy-minded Romney will think of his secrecy-minded religion (and it is secrecy-minded: Ann Romney’s own parents were barred from attending the Mormon service for her wedding.) But it is just a fact that there are all manner of non-religious ways in which Romney has demonstrated a penchant for secrecy: Having your gubernatorial aides go to great length and cost to remove the hard drives from their computers before you leave office; refusing, so far, to release anything close to the range of tax records that prior presidential candidates (including your own father) have released; promising donors who give at least $50,000 that they will be able to attend a private, “special retreat” with Romney this summer ... this is all entirely worthy of scrutiny, and to use one’s religion as a shield against having to answer for such secrecy is pretty high up there on the cynicism chart.

Second, there was faithful pro-Romney blogger Jennifer Rubin (yes, her again) lashing out at an article by Buzzfeed’s McKay Coppins that places Ann Romney’s decision to stay home to raise her five sons in the context of cultural expectations for Mormon women. The article bends over backwards to be sensitive; if anything, its effect is to defend Ann Romney against the notion that she stayed home because her husband was rich enough to spare her the need to work. More likely, the article suggests, Ann Romney was observing standards within the faith to which she converted:

...[W]hile much of the debate has centered on class — with liberals casting full-time motherhood as a luxury for the rich, and conservatives hoping working-class women will identify with her — the fact is that even if Mitt were a middle-class schoolteacher, there’s a good chance Ann still would have foregone a career.
That’s because for many Latter-day Saint women, staying at home to raise children is less a lifestyle choice than religious one — a divinely-appreciated sacrifice that brings with it blessings, empowerment, and spiritual prestige.

But this was enough to set off Rubin. Never mind that Coppins is himself an LDS member. Oh no, the piece signals, as Rubin’s headline warns, that it may now be “open season on Mormonism.” “The piece foreshadows, I fear, of what is to come — effort to portray Mormons as weirdly out of step and unmodern, and by implication, Romney as being unfit for the presidency,” (sic) Rubin declares.

We saw this once before—back last fall, Team Romney went after the Obama campaign for hinting that it would be trying to make hay out of Romney’s “weirdness.” This, too, was taken as a veiled attack on Romney’s faith—never mind that there is ample “weirdness” about the candidate that has nothing to do with his religion, from tying the dog on the car roof to pretending to be pinched in the butt by waitresses. But beyond that, the Romney campaign managed to get through the primaries without much crying wolf. It’s apparently too much to hope that such restraint will continue.

follow me on Twitter @AlecMacGillis