CNN has obtained a set of talking points the Romney campaign is distributing to prominent Republicans, instructing them on how to respond to the fallout over his claim that the Obama administration “sympathized” with the attackers. The talking points envision a series of questions that might be asked by reporters, and suggest answers. This one jumps out:
Questions & Answers:
Don’t you think it was appropriate for the embassy to condemn the controversial movie in question? Are you standing up for movies like this?
— Governor Romney rejects the reported message of the movie. There is no room for religious hatred or intolerance.
— But we will not apologize for our constitutional right to freedom of speech.
It’s good to know that Romney rejects the message of the movie that sparked the violence. But Jed Lewison raises a good question: If that is so, then what exactly does Romney find objectionable about the Obama administration's response?
Romney’s reaction yesterday was in response to this statement put out by the U.S. Embassy in Cairo. It condemned “the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims.” And it concluded: “We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.”
Romney again repeated his criticism at his presser today. He said: “The administration was wrong to stand by a statement sympathizing with those who had breached our Embassy in Egypt, instead of condemning their actions.”
According to Romney’s talking points, Romney does not find the statement’s condemning of the film’s religious bigotry objectionable, unless his talking points are supposed to mean that he is allowed to condemn such bigotry and the U.S. Embassy is not. In the talking points, the Romney campaign itself calls the movie’s message “religious hatred” and “intolerance.”
In other words, the only thing the Romney camp finds objectionable here — again, going by his own talking points — is that the administration “sympathized with those who had breached our Embassy.” But that did not happen. Even if you hold the Obama administration accountable for the Embassy’s statement, that statement said nothing about violence, and at any rate, CNN’s timeline of events shows that it was issued before the Embassy was breached.
What about the Romney talking point that we “will not apologize for our constitutional right to free speech”? Well, the Embassy’s statement didn’t do that, either. It only decried those who abuse that right by engaging in bigotry; it didn’t question the existence of that right.
Again, it’s good to know that Romney condemns the bigotry in that movie. It’s interesting to note, however, that for Romney this seems more like an afterthought than a central part of the story. As the Post editorial board notes, Romney didn’t see fit to address “the hatred directed at a major religious faith” at his news conference today. By contrast, Obama’s statement tried to strike a balance between condemning religious intolerance and declaring any violent response to it completely unacceptable. Which approach do you think most Americans would find more judicious?
It’s fine for Romney to raise substantive questions about Obama’s policies in the region, obviously, but this whole controversy erupted out of a very specific claim Romney made. His own talking points demonstrate that the claim was invented out of nothing. Tellingly, very few Republicans are adhering to them today.