As part of the lead-up to Frontline's new documentary, The Choice 2012, they've asked several close observers and biographers of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney to engage in what amounts to an online version of a roundtable discussion about the two men and the formative experiences of their lives.I found it to be a fascinating exchange. Take, for example, this entry from Obama biographer David Maraniss responding to an earlier observation by Jodi Kantor:That's right, Jodi, and it goes back even a decade before that speech, even before he became a community organizer in Chicago. In 1982 he wrote a letter to a girlfriend in which he described how his life was forcing him to an all-embracing philosophy. "Caught without a class, a structure, or tradition to support me, in a sense the choice to take a different path is made for me," he wrote. "The only way to assuage my feelings of isolation are to absorb all the traditions and all the classes; make them mine, mine theirs."
The entire conversation is filled with similarly close and perceptive observations about both men, structured in response to four "artifactsofcharacter" presented by Frontline.I think we get a contemporary glimpse of this aspect of Pres. Obama in the latest campaign video produced to persuade "people of faith" to join and support his re-election. In both word and image, the video is broadly and---within the constraints of American civil religion---deeply inclusive. At a couple of points I hear (or think I hear) echoes of Catholic social teaching as transmuted through the Campaign for Human Development-funded community organizing work Obama did for a few years in the mid-1980s: the dignity of work, the inherent worth of all human beings.Given the powerful testimonies at the Republican National Convention from people who had encountered Mitt Romney in his role as a LDS stake president, I can't help but think that a similar fluency in speaking about faith, citizenship and politics from Gov. Romney would serve him (and his campaign) well.(I spent a bit of time searching YouTube and the Romney campaign website for a similar clip from and/or about Mitt Romney, but was unsuccessful. If anyone knows of one, please link to it in the comments.)