Thursday, December 06, 2007

Mitt Romney's Speech


The audience for Mitt Romney's speech on faith in politics was Christian conservatives in the upcoming Republican primaries, and hardly anybody else. As if on cue, Hugh Hewitt immediately pronounced the speech as "simply magnificent, and anyone who denies it is not to be trusted as an analyst."

Although this may lose any remaining respect Hugh has for my opinions, I beg to differ. The speech is chock full of (how can I put this delicately?) rhetorical tensions. On the one hand, "[A] presidential candidate [should not have to] describe and explain his church's distinctive doctrines. To do so would enable the very religious test the founders prohibited in the Constitution." On the other hand, two paragraphs later Romney emphasizes that "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of mankind." Having announced that it would be wrong to go into details about his beliefs, why does he emphasize that one single issue, an issue which separates his beliefs from many religions, but says nothing that might separate him from conservative Christians? Why does he rush to emphasize Jesus's divinity but not other aspects of Mormonism that are just as important and perhaps more distinctive? The answer is that despite his statements to the contrary, he knows there is a religious test for public office, and the people grading the exams are the Republican base.

Again, on the one hand, "A person should not be elected because of his faith nor should he be rejected because of his faith." On the other hand, "[f]reedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom," and "We should acknowledge the Creator as did the Founders – in ceremony and word. . . .Our greatness would not long endure without judges who respect the foundation of faith upon which our Constitution rests. I will take care to separate the affairs of government from any religion, but I will not separate us from 'the God who gave us liberty.'" These remarks strongly identify Americans and Americanism with belief in God. Romney does nothing to suggest otherwise. Indeed, his central point is that the religious share "a common creed of moral convictions." Note carefully his list of religions that form this common creed, all Western and monotheist:

"I believe that every faith I have encountered draws its adherents closer to God. And in every faith I have come to know, there are features I wish were in my own: I love the profound ceremony of the Catholic Mass, the approachability of God in the prayers of the Evangelicals, the tenderness of spirit among the Pentecostals, the confident independence of the Lutherans, the ancient traditions of the Jews, unchanged through the ages, and the commitment to frequent prayer of the Muslims. As I travel across the country and see our towns and cities, I am always moved by the many houses of worship with their steeples, all pointing to heaven, reminding us of the source of life's blessings.

"It is important to recognize that while differences in theology exist between the churches in America, we share a common creed of moral convictions. And where the affairs of our nation are concerned, it's usually a sound rule to focus on the latter – on the great moral principles that urge us all on a common course. Whether it was the cause of abolition, or civil rights, or the right to life itself, no movement of conscience can succeed in America that cannot speak to the convictions of religious people."
What of Hinduism and Buddhism, which are growing in size in the United States and now outpace many Christian denominations? And what of the irreligious, the agnostic and atheist? Do they share a common creed? Do they share the distinctively American values that Romney celebrates?

Romney's speech is no masterpiece. It is as different from John F. Kennedy's famous speech in Dallas as night is from day. It is not a call for religious tolerance, unless tolerance means scrambling to identify yourself with majority religions and lumping together every other belief system as alien to American values and outside the "common creed of moral convictions" that all true Americans share. It is a little like a 1960s black civil rights leader arguing for racial tolerance by emphasizing how light skinned he was.

And it is not a plea that there should be no religious test for public office in the United States. Rather, it is a carefully contrived pander to conservative Christians in the Republican base who have a religious test for public office.

At one point in his speech, Romney says, without a hint of irony, that "Americans do not respect believers of convenience. Americans tire of those who would jettison their beliefs, even to gain the world." Time will tell if that prophecy is true of Mitt Romney.


At the end of the day, there is very little difference between Mitt Romney's position and Ann Coulter's "come on, we're all Christians here" line of argument.

The speech did prove one thing: Mitt Romney is no Jack Kennedy.

Great analysis!


Damn right!

The speech was both everything Professor Balkin says it was *and* a (qualified) success for Romney at the same time. He delivered it well with some nice soundbites and the ending flourish was pretty powerful that drew a standing ovation (I realize the crowd was canned).

So, no kidding Romney is no Jack Kennedy. That misses the point. Romney, as noted in the post, is trying to quell the fears of the Christian Right and let them know he is more like them than unlike them. If you listen to Kennedy's speech you can't help but note how strongly he emphasized the separation of church and state. Two different speeches trying to do different things.

"Two different speeches trying to do different things."

Which is why he invoked Kennedy?

He invoked Kennedy for rhetorical purposes. Kennedy's speech is looked at fondly both because it was a putative turning point his campaign and because Americans like to think of themselves as open-minded and the episode reminds us religious tolerance (though query whether the fact that Romney had to make the speech in the first place doesn't the latter into a classic case of collective cognitive dissonance).

Freedom of religion = freedom from religion.

Religions can and do compete with one another (sometimes with force of arms). But religions tend to combine when there is perceived to be an attack upon the concept of religion and jump all over the true minority of atheists and agnostics and secularists, even though they do not proselytize. Romney was feathering his own nest in an unprincipled manner, which may explain why he may not have focused on Thomas Jefferson's concept of religious tolerance as a two-way street.

It is as if they are intent on establishing a new religion in America – the religion of secularism.

If secularism is a religion, then Willard is right, freedom does require religion.

A sound analysis, Jack (and do you really want a know-nothing like Hugh Hewitt to respect *your* opinions?). But the Nietzschean in me was actually struck by something else in the speech, which I discuss here:

Is there something werong with "founding a new religion in America?" And if there is, is a Mormon the person to tell us?

During his speech Romney attacked secularism to avoid talking about the role his religion would play if elected president. Sign this petition to tell Mitt Romney to stop creating smoke screens and start addressing the issues people care about.

Prof. Balkin:

And what of the irreligious, the agnostic and atheist? ...

They can GFT. In fact, they don't even deserve to be considered citizens.

...Do they share a common creed? Do they share the distinctively American values that Romney celebrates?

Certainly not ours. They have no morals. It's all "if it feels good, do it". Without some absolute source of moral authority, there can't be any, so they just make it all up as they go.

Besides, Cris'shuns have the patent on "goodness" and the copyright on "morals". Anyone else pretending to use such is infringing Gawd's IP, and will be burned at the stake. The closer the similarity, of course, the less the sincerity, and the greater the infringement.


What we need is a Mark Twain with his posthumous "Letters from the Earth" for a real reality show on the ridiculousness of Mitt Romney on religion. We need satire, we need humor, we need parody, to focus upon the hypocricy of the political scene that attempts to force faith and religion upon all just to suck up to voters. Religion has been, is and will continue to be a profit center in politics.

I have never heard that Mormons believe Jesus to be the Saviour of the World. If so then they must believe Jesus is God. Then they would be Christians and not mormons. Never heard that in my 35 yrs. of Christianity. MItts got some explaining to do. Sandrolin

JFK's Houston speech in 1960 was a profile in courage. Mitt Romney's speech in College Station was a full-frontal pander to the religious right.

I agree that this was a case of Mitt pandering to the Christian right, who, in my opinion, have done more to hurt this country than any other single group.
It is not a pretty picture having Mitt in the White House. Most Mormons I know are eagerly waiting justification for their beliefs, including their extensive food storage, and gardens. They would feel vindicated if gas went to $5.00 a gallon and the rest of us were starving.

Can Mormon's not be "Mormon AND Christian?" It would probably help to get your facts straight before just typing away your false opinions on a blog. Their religion is called "The Church of JESUS CHRIST of Latter-Day Saints." Unless I'm mistaken, a Christian is someone who believes in CHRIST...His name is right there in the name of their church. So yes, I would say Mormons ARE Christians

I have two issues.
1. I do not understand why Mitt Romney's religious affiliation is SO relevant to his candidacy for president. Can't a person judge him by the quality of HIS own character and his political stances? He is neither the spokesman of his religion nor the first politician of his religious affiliation, so WHAT'S THE BIG DEAL?
2. I do not understand why so many people assert that LDS people are not Christians. To be a Christian is to believe that Christ is the Savior, right? To Mormons (aka members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints), Jesus Christ is the only person who can facilitate salvation; without Jesus Christ and his divine power, all humanity is forever banned from the presence of their Heavenly Father. This is the fundamental belief of all Christians including Mormons. The rest of Mormon beliefs and practices are merely tools, a means to an end; that end being salvation and becoming like the Savior. Look at and you'll see. I do not understand how anyone who understands the LDS religion can say that Mormons are not Christians. I myself am a Christian.
What do you think?
What makes a Christian?

btw, if you'd like to elect a president, check out

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