December 7, 2007
How Romney's Speech WorkedBy Lee Cary
The setting for Mitt Romney's "Faith In America" speech was staged to answer the elementary question of his candidacy: Can we imagine this man as the President of the United States? Standing before ten American flags, five on each side of the seal of a Presidential library, standing behind a podium with its own seal and garnished with seasonal evergreens, a glass teleprompter at each wing, wearing a serious suit; it was hard not to imagine him as POTUS.
The next and more challenging question he faced was: Is there anything about this man's faith that would adversely influence the execution of his presidential duties, and should concern those who might consider voting for him? The answers to that question vary depending on what the listener wanted, or expected, to hear. It is as though Romney was the subject of a litmus test as distinct groups of listeners dipped their individual shades of litmus paper in the beaker of his words. Those groups include:
1. Professional Theologians: Bob Schieffer temporarily put himself into that category when he asked Romney, during the October 21, 2007 broadcast of CBS's Face the Nation, this question:
Schieffer wasn't looking for an answer; he was looking for a story. Romney dodged the question, as he should have. (Perhaps he should have given the sort of answer the question deserved, "Yes, it was and still is in Branson, Missouri, where the shows are heavenly.) The professional theologians would, if granted unlimited access to candidates, have a never-ending list of religious probes into any candidate who professed any faith. Every significant religion (omitting the less significant ones, for example, Neo-druidism) contains crazy uncles living in its basement that, if exposed to house guests, cause embarrassment, either to the hosts, the guests, or both.
The professional theologians will, naturally, complain that Romney didn't delve deeply enough into specific Mormon beliefs. But once that door is opened into any candidate's religion, the unlimited "How many angels can dance on the head of a pin" questions would do one of the things that the Founders wanted to avoid-pervert politics with esoteric debates over religious doctrines.
2. Zealous, Theologically Conservative Laypeople: Widespread pundit wisdom will say that Romney was addressing Huckabee's base among Iowa Conservative Christians, certainly not all of whom are Southern Baptists, but many of whom are unashamedly suspicious of anything Mormon. Romney's aim, then, was to appeal to this group to not categorically discount his candidacy. That appeal was made on the basis of America's religious freedom-basically, a patriotic appeal. The timing of the speech less than a month before the Iowa Caucasus supports this interpretation.
What does not support this notion, namely that Romney was aiming to change Hawkeye minds in his speech, is that Huckabee supporters will likely only change their minds if Huckabee does or says something that causes them to do so. They are unlikely to abandon Huckabee due to a Romney speech.
More realistically, Romney may have been positioning a partial explanation for a second place finish to Huckabee because he, Huckabee, had captured voters among a Christian right predisposed against a Mormon. In a similar tactic, the Clinton camp recently noted that Iowa had never elected a female, statewide senior official. In any regard, it would be unrealistic for the Romney campaign to expect to peel off Iowa Huckabee voters in the 11th hour.
Most realistically, Romney was talking to Huckabee supporters in anticipation of a decision they'll face if Romney becomes the Republican nominee. Will they support him? That leads to the third, largest, and most important audience he addressed.
3. The Rest of Americans Who Profess A Faith: These were the primary targeted audience, and the message was simple:
Much of his language -- the historical role of religious freedom, the profession of his own faith, the comparison to a dying church in Europe and a militant religion in the Middle East-revolves around that core assertion. The "God who gave us liberty," a composite deity spanning the spectrum of faith expressions, is the source of the "great moral inheritance we hold in common."
The question in the collective mind of this primary audience is this: Can we trust this man, whatever his religious affiliation and beliefs, to act in our best interests while fulfilling the oath of his office? We'll know the answer among Republicans in a few months.
Meanwhile, we can anticipate some long- and short-term outcomes of Romney's speech.
Long-term: The next Mormon candidate for President will not need to make this speech. In the political arena, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints will assume a more credible and mainstream image in the mind of the body politic.
Short-term: Those who parse his language will notice these words and respond with inquiries:
Romney: "...while differences in theology exist between the churches in America, we share a common creed of moral conviction." Response: When JFK delivered his religion speech, there was much more commonality of "moral conviction" in the nation. Since 1960, the common creed has shrunk as the range of contested creedal issues has expanded far beyond those who were concerned over Papal influence in a JFK presidency. New and emerging venues include abortion, birth control, stem cell research, euthanasia, homosexuality, AIDS, same-sex marriage, and even into illegal immigration/open borders. So, just what is our "common creed of moral conviction?"
Romney: "And where the affairs of our nation are concerned, it's usually a sound rule to focus on...the great moral principles that urge us all on a common course. Whether it was the cause of abolition (past), or civil rights (largely past), or the right to life itself (present and future), no movement of conscience can succeed in America that cannot speak to the convictions of religious people." Response: What about those religious communities that, while they may only conditionally condone abortion, do not categorically condemn it? Are they not "religious people?"
This third group will be the ones who decide if Mitt Romney will lead the Republican ticket, and then the nation. The title of the speech, "Faith In America," had a double meaning. It meant having faith in America's ability to exercise religious freedom when that means setting aside religious bias. And, it also means acknowledging the fundamentally important role of faith in the continuing life and health of the nation.
Whether or not Romney helped or hindered his candidacy with this speech will depend partly on how many Americans Mark Twain spoke for when he remarked about all the blood shed by the Church over the centuries because of one missing verse: "Ye shall be indifferent as to what your neighbor's religion is."
On the other hand, if your neighbor's religion practices animal sacrifices, and you have a dog, then....Lee Cary is a frequent contributor to American Thinker.