Afraid of What?

Mitt Romney’s political ad released today, “Be Not Afraid” states that “President Obama has declared war on religion by forcing religious institutions to go against their faith.”

This is false.

 

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The Affordable Care Act makes no demands on houses of worship.  No demands on religious institutions like hospitals, charities, colleges, and universities.  Period.  Many (including me) have debunked the myth that the Romney campaign would very much like to promote. 

Additionally, ThinkProgress points out:

“In fact, the Obamacare rule Romney is now characterizing as an affront to religious liberties is very similar to a 2002 state law he tacitly supported. Like more than two dozen states across the country, Massachusetts required insurers that provide outpatient benefits to cover hormone replacement therapy and all FDA-approved contraceptive methods — well before Obamacare became law. The Massachusetts rule exempts ‘an employer that is a church or qualified church-controlled organization” from the mandate, but prohibits institutions such as hospitals, universities, and nursing homes from denying their employees birth control coverage.’”

Kathryn Lopez over at the Catholic channel here on Patheos agrees that she doesn’t want to let “religious liberty in America be redefined — to the detriment of more than Catholics.”

In an earlier essay on this, I mentioned Catholics for Choice president Jon O’Brien’s message on religious freedom:

“What we know, and what the bishops missed, is that religious freedom deserves more than a fortnight – and it’s about protecting more than the interests of a small group of men whose demands don’t reflect the needs and desires of the people they claim to represent.”

Because if anything, it is the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops seeking to redefine religious liberty in its image.

What today’s 30 second advertisement does do is use the contraception uproar to play into the “othering” of Barack Obama that has been a conservative mainstay.  It leads off with the ominous question “Who shares your values?” and concludes with a clip of Romney quoting Lech Walesa who said “Be not afraid.”  The ad suggests that Obama does not share your values, and that you should in fact be afraid of him.  This of course reinvigorates the trope of the scary black man who is some sort of Kenyan socialist dictator from whom we must run and hide.  It plays on the ugliest sorts of fears that many economically vulnerable white people have in this country.  He doesn’t look like me, he doesn’t believe like me, he’s the enemy who must be defeated.  This is the same sort of vaguery that continues to allow birther nonsense to get attention.

What the ad does is meld all those the fears together.  He doesn’t share “your” (implied: Christian) values?  Fascinating.  Especially since, insofar as my friend John Fea argued here on Patheos back in February, “Obama may be the most explicitly Christian president in American history.”  This idea, though, is so terrifying to many conservative evangelical Republicans that they tore into Fea online, in print, on his voicemail, and through Glenn Beck’s radio show. 

I don’t even really think we should be afraid of Mitt Romney.  So he doesn’t tell the truth about the Affordable Care Act;  So he supported state-run healthcare for the state he governed, but not for the nation he wants to command;  So he signed assault weapon ban to protect the people of Massachusetts but does not believe that similar protections need to be extended to those of us in the rest of the country. 

After all, he’s just a politician.

There are much more important things of which we should be afraid.

 

About Caryn Riswold

Caryn D. Riswold is a feminist theologian in the Lutheran tradition. She is Professor of Religion and also teaches Gender and Women’s Studies at Illinois College in Jacksonville, Illinois, where she has worked for over a decade teaching undergraduates to think critically and creatively about religion. She earned her Ph.D. and Th.M. from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, holds a master’s degree from the Claremont School of Theology, and received her B.A. from Augustana College in her childhood hometown of Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

  • Florence V Davis

    Pope John Paul II may have said, “Be not afraid” But he was quoting Jesus, whose message of “Fear not” can be found often in the Gospels. Jesus was also the one who called on his followers to feed the hungry, care for the poor, and visit those sick or in prison. When I hear and see Romney echoing Christ’s call to show preferential option for the poor, then I might consider his bid for the presidency. Until then, I’ll stick with President Obama, who is not flawless, but at least has demonstrated concern for the millions of working class people by the legislation he has signed, including the Affordable Care Act.


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