TheDC’s Jamie Weinstein: From Mormonism to Jeremiah Wright, everything’s fair game when you run for president

Jamie Weinstein Senior Writer
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President Obama’s senior campaign advisor David Axelrod said Sunday on CNN that Mitt Romney’s Mormonism is “not fair game” during the presidential campaign.

He’s wrong.

Mitt Romney’s Mormonism is indeed fair game, as is President Obama’s long-time association with the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. That’s because Obama and Romney are running for the presidency of the United States of America, not some dingbat city council seat. And when you are competing for the highest office in the land — the most important elected position in the entire world — everything is fair game. Everything.

There certainly isn’t an exception for a candidate’s  faith, especially when it was crucial in shaping the character of the man running for president. This seems to be the case with Mitt Romney, who has held leadership positions in his church.

This is not to say Romney’s religion should be used to scurrilously defame him, as Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer tried to do recently, or that there should be a religious litmus test for the presidency. Obviously not.

It is to say, however, that if his religion was an important part of his life, it is absolutely fair to examine how it affected him.

For instance, in the The New York Times on Sunday, Jodi Kantor explored Romney’s role as a church leader in Boston. She painted a largely flattering picture.

In the same vein, many conservatives complained about the Washington Post’s recent front-page story about Romney’s high-school bullying. There is little question that the editorial decision to devote 5,400 words to such a minor story, and one from five decades ago, was outlandish and probably demonstrated an anti-Romney bias at the Post. But fundamentally, it’s a fair story to bring up.

From the story, we learned that Romney was — at least in one instance — not so nice in high school. Americans can determine for themselves if that should be a major factor when they go to the ballot box. I suspect it won’t, not least because the narrative doesn’t mesh with the totality of Romney’s life.

But just as these issues are fair game to explore as they relate to Romney, so too are Obama’s associations.

Explain to me again why Obama’s relationship with Rev. Wright is off limits to discuss? He was Obama’s pastor, supposedly a father-figure type for the future president. It was Obama who made the conscious and deliberate decision to make this radical preacher his spiritual guide.

That doesn’t necessarily mean Obama shares Wright’s radicalism. There is evidence to suggest that Obama tied himself to Wright for political reasons. But it is certainly fair to raise the issue and question how the president could associate himself with, and donate money to, a man who held such fringe beliefs.

What Axelrod meant by saying Romney’s Mormonism isn’t fair game was that the Obama campaign doesn’t intend to raise Romney’s Mormonism as a campaign issue. That’s good: It would probably backfire, and it would certainly be an opening for the Romney campaign to hammer away on Obama’s connections to Wright. At the end of the day, the economy is likely to be the number one issue weighing on voters’ minds anyway, not which pew the candidates have worshiped in.

But we shouldn’t be taking important aspects of our presidential candidates’ lives off the table or labeling them inappropriate areas of exploration. When you’re running for president, everything’s open for consideration. The more information voters can consider, the better. Hopefully the media will explore the Obama’s and Romney’s lives responsibly — but more importantly, thoroughly.

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