For months, Republican presidential candidates have been eager, if not desperate, to accuse President Obama of waging a "war on religion." Rick Perry got the ball rolling quite a while ago, but his more successful rivals have picked up on the same line.
The problem for the GOP candidates has been substantive: they knew they wanted to accuse Obama of being hostile towards faith communities, but they couldn't explain why. Republicans saw value in the attack -- the drive to paint the president as "The Other" has been a constant for four years -- but they had absolutely no idea how to bolster the smear.
This week, Mitt Romney seems to have settled on a policy to match the attack: the Obama administration's decision to require coverage of contraception as preventive care under the Affordable Care Act is, according to the former governor, an "attack on religious liberty."
Romney told voters in Colorado yesterday that "churches and the institutions they run" will "have to provide for their employees, free of charge, contraceptives, morning-after pills -- in other words abortive pills and the like -- at no cost."
As a substantive matter, Romney's lying. The administration's policy already exempts churches and other houses of worship and "doesn't require any individual or employer to violate a religious belief -- it simply ensures that their employees with different beliefs have the same access to birth control as all other women."
But as a matter of consistency, Romney has another problem: he's not only lying; he's also denouncing Obama for adopting a policy similar to one Romney used to support.
Mitt Romney accused President Obama this week of ordering "religious organizations to violate their conscience,'' referring to a White House decision that requires all health plans - even those covering employees at Catholic hospitals, charities, and colleges - to provide free birth control. But a review of Romney's tenure as Massachusetts governor shows that he once took a similar step.
While Romney was on the attack yesterday, condemning the idea of requiring religious institutions to provide emergency contraception, as governor, a previous iteration of Romney required all Massachusetts hospitals, including Catholic hospitals, to provide emergency contraception to rape victims.
Some Catholic leaders now point to inconsistency in Romney's criticism of the president and characterize his new stance as politically expedient, even as they welcome it.
"The initial injury to Catholic religious freedom came not from the Obama administration but from the Romney administration,'' said C.J. Doyle, executive director of the Catholic Action League of Massachusetts. "President Obama's plan certainly constitutes an assault on the constitutional rights of Catholics, but I'm not sure Governor Romney is in a position to assert that, given his own very mixed record on this.'' [...]
"Governor Romney afterwards lamented that and campaigned around the country as someone in favor of religious freedom and traditional morality,'' Doyle said. "He is very consistent at working both sides of the street on the same issue at the same time. His record on this issue has been one of very cynical and tactical manipulation.''
It's the latest in a series of examples of Romney 2.0 interfering with the ambitions of Romney 5.0.