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December 7, 2007
Romney's Speech on Faith a Triumph
It was certainly the most dramatic moment of the campaign to date for either party. What had only been hinted at and whispered among the candidates and pundits for months - the question of whether Mitt Romney's Mormon religion would prevent him from becoming president - was answered yesterday in emphatic and eloquent fashion by the candidate in a speech that will rightfully take its place alongside other great clarifying moments in American political history.
I still believe it very sad that Romney felt it necessary in this day and age to address the issue. But by rising to the challenge of the moment and what Peggy Noonan, former speechwriter for Ronald Reagan, celebrates by writing "He made himself some history," Romney - win or lose - will have added to the rich texture of our understanding of what freedom really means.
Following are some reactions to the speech from bloggers, pundits, columnists, and other commentators.
I think Romney has hit upon one of the original premises of American religious toleration. I thought he did the Founders' views justice -- and he also made them relevant to today. On the question of how to integrate religion into the basic structure of civic life, I think Romney's reasoning was sound.
But this is the view from 30,000 feet. The purpose of this election is not to design a new constitutional system. Its purpose is to elect a president to govern over a divided nation. Romney offered a rigorous defense of the foundation of American civil society -- but he never addressed the concern that induced him to give this speech in the first place.
The speech was effective for an altogether unpredictable reason. Romney became emotional as he delivered it. One problem many conservatives have had with Romney is that he can seem too programmed, too perfect. His campaign runs like a well-oiled machine, his speeches seem designed to appeal to just the right constituency at just the right time, his hair looks like lego-hair, his family is beautiful. He can come off as something of an automaton.
But his emotion today seemed real, not of the Bill Clinton bite-your-lower-lip variety. And that could end up helping him.
To be blunt, Romney is saying:
It is legitimate to ask a candidate, "Is Jesus the son of God?"
But it is illegitimate to ask a candidate, "Is Jesus the brother of Lucifer?"
It is hard for me to see a principled difference between these two questions, and I think on reflection that the audiences to whom Romney is trying to appeal will also fail to see such a difference. Once Romney answered any question about the content of his religious faith, he opened the door to every question about the content of his religious faith. This speech for all its eloquence will not stanch the flow of such questions.
There was something bold about Romney’s speech at the George H. W. Bush library in Texas today. Here, a guy who is most easily identified as a “flip flopper” who doesn’t believe anything but what is politically advantageous, stated plainly that he would not “disavow one or another of [his faith’s] precepts.”
While assuring anyone who might be freaked out by what they do or do not know about the specifics of Mormonism that “no authorities of my church, or of any other church for that matter, will ever exert influence on presidential decisions,” he nonetheless refused to distance himself from his faith.
Mitt Romney threw a long ball today and scored. There can be no objective argument against that conclusion. Why? Because Romney is running for the GOP nomination, and his remarks, both in delivery and substance, were lavishly praised by Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Michael Medved, and James Dobson, not to mention Mark Steyn, Fred Barnes and Charles Krauthammer -and these were just the seven people I heard on a long drive south to San Diego and then in a hotel room before leaving to post this and give a speech. I am sure when I get a chance to review the blogs more widely late tonight, there will be many others, though in fact every single one could denounce Romney and it wouldn't matter given the line-up of assessments just listed, to which I add mine from earlier today.
Here are seven of the most influential conservative commentators in the U.S., and their opinions on the Romney success are all aligned with mine. Thus, objectively, the speech cannot be judged as other than an extraordinary success for Romney. It does not, of course, guarantee him the nomination, but no other Republican has had a comparable day since the campaign began, and Romney's triumph comes four days before the absentees are available for casting in New Hampshire. Romney's success today has also clearly panicked Mike Huckabee who was on with Glenn Beck tonight warning that the "ruling class" in America is growing more distanced from the people --the sort of arch-populist class warfare nonsense which has never had a home in the GOP mainstream.
Allahpundit (Hot Air):
(Responding to Hewitt) It’s not so much that I disagree — there was nothing objectionable in the speech and it’s bound to bring a few fencesitters over to Mitt’s side — but insisting repeatedly upon its success as an objective fact is a weird rhetorical ploy which reads like a transparent attempt to delegitimize critics as being, in an almost clinical sense, out of touch with reality. Why not just say, “With Rush, Hannity, and Mark Steyn swooning, early indicators are that Mitt’s speech is a smash”? Of all the people commenting today about this, there’s only one who sounds like he’s coming unglued. And it ain’t any of Mitt’s critics.
I'm well aware that this is par for the course among Republican politicians these days, and Romney is doing nothing more than engaging in what's become routine conservative disparagement of those of us who aren't religious. But the cowardice and pandering here is just phenomenal. Not only does Romney not have the guts to toss in even a single passing phrase about the nonreligious, as JFK did, he went out of his way to insist that "freedom requires religion," that no movement of conscience is possible without religion, and that judges had better respect our "foundation of faith" lest our country's entire greatness disappear. And that was just the warmup.
The genius within Romney's speech isn't necessarily his, though the notion that he appreciates the genius of our Founding Fathers and can state it so eloquently is critical. Like it, or not, America is a nation founded not only on the concept of religious freedom and the freedom to be without religion, should one choose. We are also a nation founded upon religious principles, one whose founders effort-ed to elevate those principles above and beyond the realm of organized religion, where history revealed to them how dangerous and deadly that can be. The Founders sought to incorporate the principles of religion, or at least the concept of a God who uniquely bestows freedom unto every individual equally, into a democratic political framework that would preserve them, presumably, for them, as mostly every right-thinking American would value such a thing.
Because of the over-reaching efforts of some secularists to remove any concept of God from the public square, America is at risk, for the first time in her history, of losing touch with the bedrock concept of freedom as a gift from one's own God, and not an indulgence of one's government.
Most of those whose votes Romney seeks will accept the line he seeks to draw between religious faith generally (relevant) and specific church doctrine (irrelevant). Our Founders ceratinly did, as Romney points out. However, Romney is giving the speech because there are more than a few such voters who are not inclined to accept that line.
The speech, which is eloquent and even moving in places, should help Romney with some of these voters, but probably not many.
Adroitly, Romney avoided apologetics except on the nature of Jesus Christ. He then specifically denounced calls for apologetics on any faith being part of a political campaign, whether willingly or compelled. Romney went out of his way to talk about the common nature of America's "symphony of faith," calling on America to focus on our shared values than on less-meaningful differences of practice. He warned that state religions did no good for communities of faith in Europe, where grand cathedrals serve mostly as postcard backdrops -- and even less good in the theocracies of Islam.
If Romney was going to give a speech about faith and politics, this wasn't a bad one to give - superficially anodyne and pro-separation of church and state enough to earn praise from the mainstream press, but also carefully calibrated to make the crucial "our common enemies are more important than our theological differences" point to evangelical culture warriors, complete with references to Godless Europe and the Islamist Menace. (And whether the absence of a shout-out to agnostics and atheists was intentional or not, I can't imagine that his campaign is all that sorry that "Mitt Romney wants to marginalize nonbelievers" is one of the insta-stories coming out of the speech.)