Mitt Romney’s newest ad, called “Be Not Afraid,” appears on the surface to be all about religion, but that’s not all that’s at stake. Instead, Romney seems to be using the ad to return to the well trodden “Obama’s a communist!” rhetoric:
The ad begins with a straightforward statement about the Affordable Care Act. “President Obama used his health care plan to declare war on religion, forcing religious institutions to go against their faith,” the voiceover narration says, referring to the portion of the ACA that mandated that religiously-affiliated employers provide their female employees with contraception (though there are exemptions to the mandate). “Mitt Romney believes that’s wrong,” it concludes.
The video then cuts to a speech Romney made on his gaffe-filled trip to Poland, celebrating Polish Pope John Paul II’s famous “be not afraid” speech. The inspiration for the title of the video, those were words that, as Romney put it, “would bring down an empire.” The empire in question, of course, was the Soviet Union, made clear by the final shot of Romney shaking hands with Lech Walesa, leader of the Solidarity movement and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to combat Soviet rule in Poland.
The words, “endorsed by Lech Walesa” are displayed onscreen as the voiceover asks the key question of the ad: “When religious freedom is threatened, who do you want to stand with?” I stand with the English teachers who taught me never to end a sentence with a preposition, but that’s beside the point.
Before I watched this ad, I was surprised to read that Romney had taken a page out of Rick Perry’s playbook by accusing Obama of waging a war on religion. Despite the obvious influence of the religious right on the Republican Party, I expected Romney to stay far away from the topic of religion, lest America suddenly remember that he’s a Mormon.
Bringing in a famous anti-Soviet activist, though, allows Romney to play the religion card to make a larger point. Although he is of course courting religious voters who feel that their religious freedom has been threatened by Obama’s support of contraception, abortion, or even gay rights, the implicit connection between Obama and the Soviet Union could get libertarian-minded voters thinking about their economic freedom as well.
That’s right: this “religious freedom” ad may be fundamentally all about economics. Although the Soviet Union was an atheist government, its suppression of religion is hardly its claim to infamy. No, that honor lies with its economic policy, which Romney’s ad implies could be the future for an Obama-led America.