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Monday, December 24, 2007

Analysis and Reaction to Mitt Romney's Speech

Mitt Romney gave a speech many believed he needed to give discussing his faith. I didn't hear it or see it so I will act merely as a sort of weigh station of news and reaction to it.Power Line has audio of the speech and a full transcript.

Over the last year, we have embarked on a national debate on how best to preserve American leadership. Today, I wish to address a topic which I believe is fundamental to America's greatness: our religious liberty. I will also offer perspectives on how my own faith would inform my Presidency, if I were elected.

There are some who may feel that religion is not a matter to be seriously considered in the context of the weighty threats that face us. If so, they are at odds with the nation's founders, for they, when our nation faced its greatest peril, sought the blessings of the Creator. And further, they discovered the essential connection between the survival of a free land and the protection of religious freedom. In John Adams’ words: 'We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion... Our constitution was made for a moral and religious people.'

Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom. Freedom opens the windows of the soul so that man can discover his most profound beliefs and commune with God. Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone.

Given our grand tradition of religious tolerance and liberty, some wonder whether there are any questions regarding an aspiring candidate's religion that are appropriate. I believe there are. And I will answer them today.

The view from the right blogosphere was generally impressed.

He appealed to religious liberty, the liberty that America was founded on. He pointed to what a lack of religious freedom can lead to. And I think he did an excellent job of showing Americans that he is indeed an ally in the fight for the collective faith of all Americans and the religious freedoms we too often take for granted.

The right punditry was more balanced.
There was much in the speech that evangelicals and other religious conservatives will find to their liking. First, there was Romney's treatment of religious liberty. He said it is an inalienable right "with which each is endowed by his Creator." He implied it is, amongst all our liberties, the very first. Romney said he understood the religion clause of the First Amendment as being fundamentally about securing "the free practice of religion" and pointed out that while achieving religious liberty has been a long and arduous process, its benefits--"diversity of cultural expression" and "vibrancy of .  .  . religious dialogue"--are evident and contrast sharply with what you find in Europe, where established churches seem to be "withering away."

Second, Romney took a whack at those (unnamed) who take "the notion of the separation of church and state .  .  . well beyond its original meaning" by seeking "to remove from the public domain any acknow-ledgment of God." It is, he said, "as if they are intent on establishing a new religion in America--the religion of secularism. They are wrong." Romney called for public acknowledgments of God--"in ceremony and word." God "should remain on our currency, in our pledge, in the teaching of our history, and during the holiday season, nativity scenes and menorahs should be welcome in our public places." Romney even managed to work in a reference to judges, saying we need jurists who will stick to original meaning and let stand, for example, "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Third, Romney affirmed that religion is a force for the nation's well-being. "No movement of conscience can succeed in America that cannot speak to the convictions of religious people," he said, citing as examples abolition in the 19th century and civil rights in the 20th. He also mentioned "the right to life itself," a movement not yet finished--and clearly of importance to many Republican primary voters.

The rest of the punditry was a lot more mixed. Here is some from E.J. Dionne.

Romney's speech at the George H.W. Bush library in College Station, Tex., was by turns brilliant and frustrating, inspiring yet also transparently political in its effort to find the precise balance that would satisfy Republican primary voters.

When he spoke of the dangers of subjecting candidates to doctrinal investigations, Romney had perfect pitch. His opponents -- particularly Mike Huckabee, a Baptist minister who is reaping a great harvest of evangelical Christian support in Iowa -- should join him in warning against religious bigotry."

There are some who would have a presidential candidate describe and explain his church's distinctive doctrines," Romney said. "To do so would enable the very religious test the Founders prohibited in the Constitution. No candidate should become the spokesman for his faith. For if he becomes president, he will need the prayers of the people of all faiths."There was also his poetic assertion that "we do not insist on a single strain of religion -- rather, we welcome our nation's symphony of faith."

But in light of all this, it was a neck-snapping moment when Romney declared: "What do I believe about Jesus Christ? I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of mankind."

With those words, Romney legitimized the most fundamental test being imposed on him in some evangelical Christian quarters. He was telling them he deserved an "A" on the religious exam they cared about most. He has every right to declare his faith in Jesus, but didn't his profession, in this context, undercut his central and proper contention that a candidate should not be asked to "describe and explain his church's distinctive doctrines"?

Here is one from the Salt Lake Tribune...

The Creator] should remain on our currency, in our pledge, in
the teaching of our history, and during the holiday season, nativity scenes and
menorahs should be welcome in our public places.

Clearly a nod to religious conservatives who are pushing for religious expression in the public sphere.

So many of the [European] cathedrals now stand as the postcard backdrop to societies just too busy or too 'enlightened' to venture inside and kneel in prayer.

This speaks to the fears of the religious right that if they don't protect and promote religion now, America will go the way of secular Europe.

Infinitely worse is the other extreme, the creed of conversion by conquest: violent Jihad, murder as martyrdom. . . . killing Christians, Jews, and Muslims with equal indifference. These radical Islamists do their preaching not by reason or example, but in the coercion of minds and the shedding of blood.

This is pure religious right rhetoric, but it is also offensive to Muslims to use "Islamists" as a term of fear and horror.

We do not insist on a single strain of religion - rather, we welcome our nation's symphony of faith.

The "symphony of faith" may be Romney's best metaphor, but critics are already using it against him, pointing out that humanists, agnostics and atheists seem to be excluded from playing.

Finally, just for fun here is the view from the Kos.

He didn't say the word "Mormon" once, I don't think. [UPDATE II: Final word count score -- Mormon: 1; Muslim/Islam/jihad: 5] So to the extent that you bought the hype and tuned in because you had genuine questions about the LDS church, you came away empty-handed. And possibly with the nagging feeling that Romney's hiding something after all.

What the speech did succeed in showing is that the Romney operation is the nearest successor (to date) to the Bush operation in its willingness to play the press corps for suckers. Promise a "major address" on some pressing issue, play the expectations game according to the Conventional Wisdom -- that is, raising the stakes by having surrogates use back channels to inflate expectations about the importance of the substance to be addressed -- and then turn it all on its head by delivering nothing of what was promised, and daring the press corps to write their stories with their pants down, having played into the game of promising something big.

The other master stroke here was the choice of venue: the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library. That puts the Romney name next to the Bush name in the papers -- a grab at the mantle, if people will just look past the "H" -- and it allows Romney to deliver what was essentially Republican religionist pablum (I believe in God, He should be on our money, plus we need "our kind" of judges) from behind a podium bearing the presidential seal. A media consultant's dream come true, and what should be a fat bonus for the advance team (but they never get the money).

There is the full view.

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