[John and I are otherwise engaged these next few days, so just for fun we are re-publishing a post that went up on December 10, just after Romney's "Faith In America" Speech (see it here) at the Bush Library in College Station, Texas. Read it and tell me: Was I wrong? Did things turn out the way I thought they would? That you thought they would? Comment away. Comment moderation is turned off. Let's get a comment thread going.]
Romney’s “Faith in America” Speech: Changing The Discussion Forever
John and I were on Hugh Hewitt’s show Friday for a few minutes and Hugh asked us if we thought The Speech put The Question to bed. We didn’t have time to answer fully.
On reflection, I think what has happened is that Romney has irrevocably and forever changed the discussion about The Question. (K-Lo seems to agree.)
As John notes below, Romney has drawn a line in the sand, and everyone watching this race — candidates, commentators, or voters– will need to decide which side they are on.
Why? Because Romney has taken the high ground on the issue of religion. From this point on, the following statements from his “Faith in America” speech will guide the discussion:
1. “Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom.”
This bold and provocative assertion is a fine example of the line in the sand John references. It has already drawn attack from the left, and probably will as long as Romney is in the race. As for the other Republican candidates, especially Huckabee, they are reduced to saying “me, too.” Romney has occupied the space around the question of religion’s role in civic life. The others can join him in that space, but he was the first to go there.
2. “A person should not be elected because of his faith nor should he be rejected because of his faith.”
An even bolder line in the sand. Can anyone be on the other side of this one? Yes, but no one can stand there without first doing some pretty fancy tap-dancing. To argue that a candidate should be rejected because of his or her faith requires a lot of careful parsing of words and qualification of positions. Can any Republican candidate contradict Romney here? It doesn’t seem so; Huckabee, after insistent questioning by Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday today, and despite frantic wriggling, was finally forced to concede the point.
3. “As governor, I tried to do the right as best I knew it, serving the law and answering to the Constitution. I did not confuse the particular teachings of my church with the obligations of the office and of the Constitution – and of course, I would not do so as President. I will put no doctrine of ay church above the plain duties of the office and the sovereign authority of the law.”
This is one issue that truly is dead after this speech. Any serious candidate who challenges Romney on this point will be reduced to saying that Romney is simply lying – a very difficult burden to carry.
4. “Some believe that such a confession of my faith will sink my candidacy. If they are right, so be it. But I think they underestimate the American people.”
Can you see Mitt Romney, way up there on the high ground? The Dick Morrises of the world, who insist the GOP should not and will not nominate Romney because nominating a Mormon would be to hand the election to the Democrats, now look very small-minded indeed.
5. “I believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of Mankind. My church’s beliefs about Christ may not all be the same as those of other faiths. Each religion has its own unique doctrines and history. These are not bases for criticism but rather a test of our tolerance. Religious tolerance would be a shallow principle indeed if it were reserved only for faiths with which we agree.”
Of course there will be some who want to say, “Yes, but Romney believes in a different Jesus than the Jesus of the Bible.” They are free to do so, but those who will vote based on that concern are a small minority in any event, and look . . . well, small in making that argument. (There’s Romney again, up there on the high moral ground. Get used to it, everyone.)
6. “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.”This is a brilliant two-line argument. Romney makes an entirely reasonable assertion, one that almost everyone will accept: Candidates don’t and shouldn’t speak for their churches. Then he makes that assertion an imperative of leadership and unity: The president needs everyone’s prayers, because we’re all in this together as people of faith.
Of course Huckabee is eager to say that he will speak for his faith and the other candidates should speak for theirs. Which approach do you think will wear best with the electorate-Romney’s high-mindedness or Huckabee’s cynical slickness?
7. “It is important to recognize that while differences in theology exist between the churches in America, we share a common creed of moral convictions.”
The reference to a “creed” is a bit sly; many Evangelicals emphasize that Mormonism’s rejection of the great Christian creeds separates the Latter-day Saints from orthodox Christianity, and the LDS readily agree. But Romney is once again up there on the mountaintop, urging ‘religious people,” in civic affairs, to focus on what unites us more than what divides us. Again, no one can challenge this without looking small; no one can agree without being in a “me too” position.
8. “Perhaps the most important question to ask a person of faith who seeks political office, is this: does he share these American values: the equality of human kind, the obligation to serve one another, and a steadfast commitment to liberty?
“These are not unique to any one denomination. They belong to the great moral inheritance we hold in common. They are the firm ground on which Americans of different faiths meet and stand as a nation.”
This is the kind of language that will end up chiseled on the walls of the W. Mitt Romney Presidential Library, if there ever is one. They are presidential words. As John remarked to me while we filed out of the auditorium at the Bush Library, Romney was speaking to the nation the way a president does.
Going forward, any discussion of The Question will be framed by the statements above, as well as the other marked Romney laid down about secularism — markers no other candidate in this election, Republican or Democrat, has even mentioned seriously yet.
With this one speech Romney has gone from being the punching bag on religious issues to the thought leader on those same issues. It’s an impressive tour de force. If you’ll forgive a purely partisan statement, based on what I know about Mitt Romney, I have a hunch we’ll see more of this kind of leadership as the campaign unfolds.