If there were two constants from the 2004 and 2008 presidential election talking points of the left, they may have been that questioning the religion or patriotism of candidates, or at least Democratic candidates, was off-limits. More than that, those questions, we were repeatedly lectured, were divisive, hateful, and appealed to the lowest common denominator. They might have been racist, too.
And so, when the well-documented vitriolic statements of Rev. Jeremiah Wright—which included blaming the United States for the 9-11 attacks—came to light, news organizations such as The New York Times dismissed Barack Obama's 20 years of faithful attendance at Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ.
Forget that Reverend Wright officiated at the wedding of Barack and Michelle Obama, that he baptized the Obamas' daughters, and he inspired the title of Obama's best-selling memoirs, The Audacity of Hope. No, for the Times, questions on the Reverend Wright issue were moot. Indeed, perhaps no single organization, including the Obama campaign itself, better shepherded Barack Obama through the Reverend Wright controversy better than The New York Times; ignoring at first, then downplaying the scandal until Obama's speech on the issue, which led the Times to compare Obama to Abraham Lincoln. Issue resolved, as far as the Old Gray Lady was concerned. [See photos of the Obamas behind the scenes.]
In a Sunday column titled "Asking Candidates Tougher Questions About Faith," Times Executive Editor Bill Keller signaled that things have changed. But as the column demonstrated, the Times not only wants to ask questions, it also wants to take cheap shots. For example:
Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman are Mormons, a faith that many conservative Christians have been taught is a 'cult' and that many others think is just weird.
So, in 2008, questions to a candidate about the man who officiated at his wedding, baptized his children, and helped title his lucrative memoir were nonstarters. In 2011, anything goes!
But Mormon candidates weren't the only ones targeted by Keller. Aside from a questionnaire for some Republican candidates, "I also asked specific questions of the candidates"—questions that sounded closer to the opposition research performed by the Democratic National Committee than a journalist whose past willingness to ask Barack Obama questions about religion is nonexistent. [See a slide show of who's in and out for the GOP in 2012.]
Former Sen. Rick Santorum's "evangelical Christianity," Keller writes, "raised concerns about their respect for the separation of church and state, not to mention the separation of fact and fiction."
As The Times later corrected, Santorum is, in fact, a Catholic, the same denomination as Nancy Pelosi and the Kennedy family.
Speaking of the Kennedys, former Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, she of the most cosmically inept gubernatorial campaign in history, penned this piece earlier in the week for The Atlantic: "Is Rick Perry as American as He Thinks He Is?" (The obvious answer, if you're a scion of American royalty, being "no.")
"The real question is not what character he would make of the United States but whether he believes in America at all," writes Kennedy Townsend, who has previously written a separate piece asking if Governor Perry could consider himself a Christian (Funny, Democrats never ask that question when attending a pro-abortion rally.) [Read Ken Walsh: Rick Perry Brings Religion Back Into the GOP Race]
No one, of course can question Kathleen Kennedy Townsend's American-ness. Not only is she the niece of President John F. Kennedy and Sen. Ted Kennedy, but also, born on the Fourth of July, she's the real-live niece of Uncle Sam. Which perhaps gives her the right to do what—rightly—caused Democrats and the media to howl whenever it happened to President Obama or Sen. John Kerry: question one's patriotism, or whether one is a "real American."
Let's posit this: One's faith is an important part of what informs them. Questions about faith are natural and proper. Using a candidate's faith to attack them is as destructive as ignoring legitimate questions that may be detrimental to a favored candidate.
And every candidate running for president loves the country and is fully American. (And, yes, as dictated by the Constitution, born here.)
Let's also posit: such criticisms and complaints like those by Keller and Kennedy Townsend do a good job moving the debate away from President Obama's job performance and an economy with a 9.1 percent unemployment rate—and in doing so, do a huge favor for an administration seeking to distract from its record.
- See photos of the GOP hopefuls on the campaign trail.
- Vote: Will Rick Perry's Prayer Summit Help or Hurt His 2012 Chances?
- Read Susan Milligan: Romney and Huntsman Face the Voters' Mormon Problem
Corrected on 9/6/2011: An earlier version of this article misstated the office Kathleen Kennedy Townsend sought in 2002. She ran for governor of Maryland.