One of the most remarkable things about Mitt Romney's run for the White House is that the presumptive Republican nominee is allowed to attack President Obama on everything from saving the automobile industry to immigration. Yet, the news media rarely point out that Romney is against many things, especially if proposed by President Obama, but is usually evasive on what he is for.
In a departure from the business-as-usual coverage, Politico published a story Sunday under the headline: "Mitt Romney's no-policy problem." It stated, "Vague, general or downright evasive policy prescriptions on some of the most important issues facing the country are becoming the rule for Romney. Hoping to make the campaign strictly a referendum on the incumbent, the hyper-cautious challenger is open about his determination to not give any fodder to Obama aides hungry to make the race as much about Romney as the president."
The most recent example involves President Obama's position on the Dream Act, an acronym for Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors. After Congress failed to pass a bill sponsored by Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), President Obama issued an executive order that incorporated many of the provisions of the bill.
Under the executive order, people younger than 30 who came to the United States before they were 6 years old, pose no criminal or security threat, and were successful students or served in the military can get a two-year deferral from deportation.
"This is not amnesty. This is not immunity. This is not a path to citizenship. It's not a permanent fix," Obama said upon signing the executive order. "This is a temporary stopgap measure."
Speaking to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO), Obama said, "When I meet these young people, all throughout communities, I see myself. Who knows what they might achieve. I see my daughters, and my nieces, and my nephews. That's the promise that draws so many talented, driven people to these shores. That's the promise that drew my own father here," said Obama, whose father was from Kenya.
Appearing before the same group a day earlier, Romney said, "I will put in place my own long-term solution that will replace and supersede the president's temporary measure."
And what is Romney's long-term solution? We don't know because he isn't saying.
Romney, with the media acting as a willing accomplice, has also lambasted Obama on gasoline prices.
In an interview on FOX News, Romney said there is "no question" that Obama was responsible for high gas prices.
But everyone knows that a sitting president has about as much control over gasoline prices as a meteorologist has over the weather.
The federal Energy Information Center breaks down the cost of a gallon of regular gasoline this way: the cost of crude oil accounts for 76 percent, refining expenditures and profits are responsible for another 6 percent; distribution marketing and retail costs add 6 percent and taxes contribute 12 percent.
That reality notwithstanding, Romney was able to gain media coverage by pretending that President Obama, not market factors, dictates the price of gasoline.
The price of a gallon of regular gasoline peaked at $3.97 in April. But that figure has since fallen to $3.41, a decline of 56 cents per gallon, according to the AAA.
If Obama was at fault for the steep increase in gasoline prices, shouldn't he now get credit for tumbling prices? Romney can't have it both ways.
Finally, I don't think a candidate's religion should be fair game in most instances. That's why I objected to the media trying to Velcro the outspoken Rev. Jeremiah Wright to candidate Barack Obama. Similarly, I have advised against focusing on Romney's Mormonism during this presidential election – he has so many positions that make him vulnerable in November. The Obama camp should focus on his position – when Romney takes them – not his religion.
But if the media is going to hold Obama responsible for the statements of Rev. Wright, then Romney should be asked what he did to repudiate the church's former teachings.
Although there were two black priests under Mormon founder Joseph Smith, his successor, Brigham Young, instituted a policy of excluding males of African descent from the priesthood. In 1949, he said, "What chance is there for the redemption of the Negro? The Lord had cursed Cain's seed with blackness and prohibited them the Priesthood." That policy remained in place until 1978.
Although religion is a deeply personal matter, you can bet your 2008 "Barack Obama for President" campaign button that Republicans will resurrect Jeremiah Wright's comments this fall. And they will do it close to Election Day.
Political maneuvering aside, journalists have a responsibility to press Romney to move past his carefully studied talking points. And they can do that by forcing him to share what he plans to do beyond criticizing President Obama.
(George E. Curry is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service. He can be reached through georgecurry.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge.)