You’ll get no complaint from the resident atheist about asking tough questions of any faith, especially after Obama took well-deserved heat four years ago over Rev. Wright (mainly from the right but, to a grudging lesser extent, from the media as well). The curiosity in that case was why our great post-partisan healer tolerated “chickens coming home to roost” sermons for 20 years at Trinity. The curiosity in this cycle will be why Mitt and his parents tolerated the LDS practice of barring black Mormons from the priesthood until 1978.

“I want to hear him talk about this,” said [Prof. Marc Lamont] Hill. “I won’t be disingenuous about it. I’m not going to pretend that I believe Mitt Romney is a closet racist… but he needs to contextualize this for us.”…

For the Obama campaign, trying to turn Mitt’s Mormonism against him would be something of a high-wire act, threatening to injure the incumbent should the strategy go awry. But as Democrats seek to galvanize an underwhelmed liberal base, associating racism with Romney — a bland moderate who often comes off as more hapless than villainous — could help boost election-day turnout…

“I think if he were a child when anti-black policies were in place, that would be different,” said Reid. “But he was an adult, active in the ministry of his church, and it’s fair to ask, if the media cares to — and they should — what he thought of those policies at the time. The question is very much legitimate.”

Columbia’s Hill predicts that combined pressure from the left and the religious right will force Romney to give a major speech addressing the faith of his fathers — similar to the one he gave in 2007, “but far more direct” — in which he will proclaim his Christianity, and condemn dogmatic racism.

Follow the link up top and read to the end for Cornel West’s advice, which not only won’t be heeded but I suspect will be ignored by O’s surrogates in direct proportion to how high the unemployment rate rises. Needless to say, Romney’s been getting this question for years; watch the MTP segment below from 2007 (which is included in the BuzzFeed post) to see how he handled it. Kevin Williamson, who wrote about Mormonism recently for “National Review,” warned a few days ago that “Romney had better get used to Mormon attacks,” but judging from how smoothly he handled Russert here five years ago, he is ready. He notes, correctly, that his father marched for civil rights (although never at the same rally as Martin Luther King, as Mitt has occasionally loosely suggested), which undermines the inevitable “racist Romney” messaging that’s coming, and he can argue that leaving the church would have been counterproductive to the goal of changing LDS policy on black priests. A member of the church in good standing might have had more influence in getting that rescinded than an ex-member who’d left in indignation. Follow the link to Williamson’s post for a bit more on that.

The guilt-by-association narrative really only works in politics when the target’s persona somehow conforms to the evil he’s being associated with. Obama never sustained much damage from the Wright thing because most voters just don’t buy that he’s an angry radical. Romney will get the same pass for attacks on his church’s former racial supremacism, I think: Ironically, the perception that he’s robotic and opportunistic, with no passionate “core” of beliefs, inoculates him in part from the idea that he harbors secret hatreds. Can a computer be racist? Well, there you go. But as these stories bubble up in the media, do keep an eye out for how they’re framed by the reporters responsible for them. No top Democrats are going to go on record about this and probably few of them will even be willing to do it anonymously for fear of how bad it’ll look if “senior Democratic officials” are suddenly involved in a religious whispering campaign. Rather, expect a lot of “some say” stories — “some say that Romney’s religion could be problematic,” “some say they’re uncomfortable with the thought of a Mormon president,” etc. That’s the ultimate media cop out, but it’s probably the only device available to them to push this meme in earnest on O’s behalf.