The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

April 28, 2012

Sunday Forum: 2012 campaign field narrowed

— Presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich announced last week that he would be pulling out of the race and would make the announcement on Tuesday.

Political columnists, looking for new angles in what’s expected to be a long summer leading up to November, came out last week in force, drawing distinctions between the rich, challenging the current administration on constitutional freedoms, and lamenting a candidate who didn’t make it to the finish line.

The following are excerpts from three of those syndicated columnists used frequently by the Globe.

Will Mitt Romney finally let his hair down?

WASHINGTON — And now we have the great loosening-up campaign.

The problem? Nobody can really imagine living next door to Mitt Romney, let alone exchanging house keys with him in case of emergency. That is how Howard Baker, the former Republican senator from Tennessee and all-around good guy, once described a hypothetical perfect presidential candidate.

So now that Romney has locked in the GOP nomination, his staff is trying desperately to make him seem more normal. It will be many moons before this capitalist wears a tie again.

First step was to do another Top Ten list with David Letterman. Of the top things Romney wants the American people to know, No. 10 was: “Isn’t it time we have a president who looks like a 1970s game-show host?” No. 1 was: “It’s a hairpiece.” I particularly liked: “My new cologne is now available at Macy’s. It’s called Mittstified.”

Good job, writers. But the remaking is going to be heavy slogging. The same week as the list appearance, Romney also gave a speech calling for Americans to congratulate rich people for their success. Congratulate?

While I am convinced the election will be one of the tightest we’ve ever had, I also think the issues of wealth and likability will be key.

Although Romney was born into wealth, one of his grandfathers was a Pennsylvania coal miner. This is not the same as being the son of a single mother struggling to make ends meet, which is President Barack Obama’s story, but it still has a nice ring to it.

Eager to take advantage of Romney as the son of inherited wealth, Obama remarked recently that he was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth. That prompted Romney to tell Fox News: “I’m not going to apologize for my dad’s success, but I know the president likes to attack fellow Americans. He’s always looking for a scapegoat, particularly those that have been successful like my dad, and I’m not going to rise to that.” Oh no. Wouldn’t be prudent.

When John Kerry, running for president in 2004, was photographed wind-surfing, it was a killer image. And not in a good sense. It is a sport more likely to be indulged in by the wealthy than the rest of us, and the picture did Kerry a lot of harm. When George H.W. Bush seemed not to understand supermarket scanners (a false perception — he used to shop at Safeway and was being shown a new state-of-the-art scanner), it reinforced the idea that he was out of touch.

That is what Romney is up against — the common perception that he is stiff, out of touch with common concerns and defensive about his vast wealth, increased by a job in which he fired a lot of people.

Americans don’t resent success. But they want fairness and even playing fields and equal opportunities. And please, Candidate Romney, stop telling us we should congratulate you for being rich. It’s unseemly.

Ann McFeatters, a Scripps Howard columnist,  has covered the White House and national politics since 1986. Email

First Amendment most powerful weapon

I have no record as a prophet except when, at the end of Barack Obama’s first year in office, I reported: “Obama is possibly the most dangerous and destructive president we have ever had” (“America Under Barack Obama: An Interview With Nat Hentoff,” John W. Whitehead,, Dec. 11, 2009).

Already, he had begun to place our Fourth Amendment guarantees of personal privacy on life support. He had started to invoke the “state secrets” presidential rule to stop certain lawsuits against his government from even being heard by a judge. (This he did more than his predecessor, George W. Bush.)

But Obama’s disregard of We the People’s essential judicial due process rights reached its apex on New Year’s Eve of 2011 — as the citizenry were otherwise distracted — when he signed into law Congress’ passage of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2012, which would:

“Codify methods such as indefinite detention without charge and mandatory military detention, and make them applicable to virtually anyone ... including U.S. citizens.” (“Beyond Guantanamo,” Abner Mikva, William S. Sessions and John J. Gibbons,, Oct. 7, 2011).

This exasperated quotation came from three notable former federal judges. (Sessions is also a former FBI director.) Anthony D. Romero, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, was also stunned:

“The statute is particularly dangerous because it has no temporal or geographic limitations, and can be used by this and future presidents to militarily detain people captured far from any battlefield.” (“President Obama Signs Indefinite Detention Bill Into Law,”, Dec. 31, 2011).

I’ve been claiming, without access to classified evidence, that Obama lied when he boasted he had ended “renditions.” But there they are, in the law he signed that comprehensively is the most dangerous and destructive assault on who we are as Americans in our history.

Hey, Democrats, are you all voting in lockstep with this guy? Yes, he sure is our first black president; the day after the election, I felt great. But then I saw and documented his persistent success in transmogrifying this nation.

What does the Republican leader who will almost assuredly be challenging the president’s re-election have to say? I’ve not heard a word yet from Mitt Romney about the NDAA, nor how FBI Director Robert Mueller and Obama continue to ambush our personal privacy rights.

Will I vote for Romney? To beat Obama, yes. How much more of who we are, though imperfect, will be left after four more years of Obama? We’re not conquered by him yet. Our most powerful weapon to remain who we are, the First Amendment, is open to everyone, whatever Obama thinks of them.

Nat Hentoff is a nationally renowned authority on the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights. He is a member of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the Cato Institute, where he is a senior fellow.

Santorum’s bid restored faith in politics

Rick Santorum was a warrior returning home from battle.

In Washington, D.C., earlier this month, 1,000 Catholics gathered for the eighth annual National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, which had everything to do with religious liberty this year. The former Pennsylvania senator, freshly retired from his upstart presidential-nomination campaign, was in the audience, and was welcomed with a standing ovation.

The crowd’s embrace of Santorum stood as a paradox, in a way, to electoral reality. Santorum did not win over members of his own faith, after all. In state after state, he won with evangelical voters instead. A number of years ago, in fact, he had been named by Time magazine as an influential “evangelical.” What was that about? People have told me that it’s because he comes off “judgmental.” But what does that mean? As best as I can tell, it means he has clear moral standards, tries to live up to them and has the courage to actually talk about what he believes.

Santorum, like John F. Kennedy, is keen on the principle enshrined in our Constitution that presidents should not impose their religious views on the nation. And, like Kennedy, he believes that a candidate’s religious affiliation shouldn’t be a disqualification for office. But Kennedy, in a 1960 speech, presented a model for pushing religion to the margins of our public life, a fact that has impoverished a nation that once prized religion as a civic good.

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, of Philadelphia, has said that Kennedy was “sincere, compelling, articulate — and wrong.” The 1960 speech, Chaput said, “began the project of walling religion away from the process of governance in a new and aggressive way. It also divided a person’s private beliefs from his or her public duties.”

The archbishop made these comments on the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy speech, in 2010. Fast-forward to today. Religion is in the news, as the current White House shows an unprecedented hostility to the free practice of religion in America. And, as it happens, Catholics are in the driver’s seat, or at least providing political cover: The federal mandate requiring all employers to pay for health insurance plans that include contraceptives, sterilization and even abortion, with only the narrowest of exceptions, was presented to us by a Catholic, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, and has been defended by former Scranton altar boy Joe Biden.

Which presents the central question: Are we a people who think that truly living as believers — being fully integrated people whose actions are in accord with their religious views — is a plus for society? One archbishop declared at the D.C. prayer breakfast that “merely tolerating religion with hostility is not religious freedom.”

The word the current administration uses is “accommodation.” A key question this election year is: When exactly did we become a nation that merely accommodates religious freedom?

Kathryn Lopez is the editor at large of National Review Online She can be contacted at