Sunday, December 09, 2007

Excerpts from Mitt Romney's 'Faith in America' Speech

Mitt Romney's speech does NOT work on a number of important fronts.

Follows is a point by point response to excerpts from the Romney "Religion speech" earlier this week:

clipped from

"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."

Very good! A person's religion (or non-religion) is a very important part of who they are. The notion that such a matter is irrelevant to how a person will govern a nation is perfect folly!

"I am an American running for president. I do not define my candidacy by my religion. A person should not be elected because of his faith nor should he be rejected because of his faith."

Yes this too is perfectly true. A person should NOT be voted for or not voted for because of his or her faith.


Neither should the person bracket this matter. The insistence on bifurcating doings and who and what a person is, has proven enormously errant and costly in all ways.

"Let me assure you that no authorities of my church, or of any other church for that matter, will ever exert influence on presidential decisions. Their authority is theirs, within the province of church affairs, and it ends where the affairs of the nation begin."

Two problems with this passage: In the first sentence, the speech writer offers and Romney agrees to deliver this phrase: "or of any other church for that matter"

The problem with this phrase primarily has to do with seriousness of just what the candidate has agreed to attempt. OF COURSE no other church will attempt to influence Romney in any way that a voter would consider problematic. Romney's a Mormon, the only church a voter concerns him or herself over vis a vis Mitt Romney is the Mormon church,

So why add the pharse "any other church for that matter"? It is there to say, "Why are you worried in particular about MY church? Many candidates are members of churches. In fact the guy that just beat me in Iowa was actually a pastor! Why do you demand to know only whether or not MY church will exert undue influence over me? Why don't you want to know about the church of, say perhaps my former pastor competitor who just whipped my butt while spending 1/10th of what I spent. Why don't you want to know whether or not HIS church will influence HIM!? What is this religious discrimination?"

Here is the big problem with this tiny phrase "or any other church for that matter": This particular text is about the candidate's religion. Such a text must be perfectly and completely sincere. It can NOT enjoin cleverness, and political-ness. This is the one speech where the candidate must simply say what he or she means. Does he want to talk about his opponent's faith? Then do so. Does he want to address religious bigotry in America? Then do so. If you choose to speak about religion, then do so. It is a good and legitimate topic (especially after this current administration). But be simple and be straight. This is the one speech where political speech writers must be given the weekend off.

The problem with the "or any other church" line is that is mismatches the occasion in which a person must be sincere. If you choose to speak about religion, it is the time suffer NO cleverness. Speak straight.

Secondly and as importantly, why does a person of faith presume that it is so easy to identify a clear line of demarcation between "the province of the church" and the "affairs of the nation." Is it possible that any church on earth addresses its adherents in such a way that everything taught is utterly irrelevant to social and political life? Is it really correct that spiritual and religious teachings are so irrelevant to life that it utterly withdraws and has zero to say "where the affairs of the nation begin"? Why belong to such a church? Why would anyone want to vote for someone who is completely uninfluenced by one of the most important parts of anyone's life, namely what they BELIEVE. If Romney's a Mormon, and that fact has NOTHING to do with how he governs, I am not interested in a leader like that. If one's religion has nothing to do with who one does as pertains the most important things in one's life (like being PRESIDENT for example!) the I am not interested in a person as sorely rent as that.

"As (Massachusetts) governor ... 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 any church above the plain duties of the office and the sovereign authority of the law."

Again, why would someone both belong to a religion AND hold public office if his or her religion were at odds "with the obligations of [an] office and of the Constitution? I am not interested to know that a candidate is proudly not confused about what constitutes religion and what constitutes "the sovereign authority of the law," what I want to know is this, if your religion is at odds with the sovereign authority of the law, then I would like to know that you will NOT hold any elected office, OR if you want to hold elected office, then you will not belong to such a religion. I don't want to know that you fancy yourself for some odd reason as capable of keeping contrary convictions separate. We already had a president who tried to separate himself as a person from his ability to govern. This great compartmentalizing capacity, did our country and society no good at all. We don't need another such self-separating leader. They cause serious and enduring problems.

"If I am fortunate to become your president, I will serve no one religion, no one group, no one cause, and no one interest. A president must serve only the common cause of the people of the United States."

Good. That's good. That is a good point of juncture and overlap between religion and political governance. And it is good to explain this to prospective voters.

"Some ... would prefer it if I would simply distance myself from my religion, say that it is more a tradition than my personal conviction, or disavow one or another of its precepts. That I will not do. I believe in my Mormon faith and I endeavor to live by it. My faith is the faith of my fathers -- I will be true to them and to my beliefs. "

Again very good. That is positive. It is good to know that you will live by your faith and not distance yourself from it. But if you will live by your faith, how on earth is it possible that it will not influence your governance?

"Some believe that such a confession of my faith will sink my candidacy. If they are right, so be it."

Good again.

"There is one fundamental question about which I often am asked. What do I believe about Jesus Christ? I believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God and the savior of mankind."

OK - So what. That is a question Romney should NOT bother to answer. Unless of course he offers an example of some policy or legislation that he would support on the basis of that belief, and would reject on the other hand if he happened not to believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. No one is asking any other candidates about their Christology? This is a silly concern. If voters don't know what Mormon's believe and their curious, let them look it up, or go chat with a missionary. Is it really possible that a voter who is so religiously narrow that she will vote for you if you believe Jesus is the Son of God, but would vote against you if you do not, would now decide that you're Christologically kosher? Of course she won't, no Mormon is going to appeal to that kind of religiously narrow person, anyway. It is smarter to keep your dignity, and not play into the hands of this corrosive part of American politics.

"There are some who would have a presidential candidate describe and explain his church's distinctive doctrines. 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."

Yet in giving this speech at all, you tread these very waters

"You can be certain of this: Any believer in religious freedom, any person who has knelt in prayer to the Almighty, has a friend and ally in me. And so it is for hundreds of millions of our countrymen: We do not insist on a single strain of religion -- rather, we welcome our nation's symphony of faith."

Romney's decision to deliver this speech comes from the calculations of his campaign strategists. This is fine. If he wants to give it fine, if he doesn't fine. This is simple strategy, coming from these little sharks and bean counters sucking the blood out of political campaigns. They strategize right, they strategize wrong, that's their business. It doesn't matter as pertains to the extremely important matter of the relationship between religious belief and governance.

The problem with the speech is not that it was given. The problem is that so little was correct in the speech. Virtually ONLY his express commitment to universal religious freedom - (which by the way is unrelated to being a Mormon. You could hold any faith and be committed to religious freedom, and you could hold any faith and not be.) The one thing he gets right in his big speech about his religion, turns out to be unrelated necessarily to his explanations about his religion anyway!

The rest, as described above introduces a good many points for serious pause. The content of the speech is the problem. Not that he chose to give it.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Commentary on Leaves

Dear Friends

Recent demands have interfered with my steady production of editorial length commentary.

Presently my reportage and commentary is to be found on



The web presence of the Inter Religious Federation for World Peace

Please visit these sites frequently.

Thank you as always for your constant support and encouragement

Frank K

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

A deal for North Korean denuclearization
by Frank Kaufmann

Resolving differences and removing tension and conflict is always good. It must be genuine of course, and cannot be sought for or declared carelessly or naively, for each breach of trust in the pursuit of harmony makes the next try fraught with all the more struggles. At times the seeming breach of agreement can come from misunderstanding, or different understanding of viewing the same terms of agreement. A seeming "violation" of an agreement, is not always from deceptive and underhanded intentions.

This morning's announcement from the spokespeople for the 6 party talks, that a deal was reached for North Korean denuclearization is wonderful news, potentially lifting a horrible spectre of destabilization from a key global region, (and by implication the whole world). Time Magazine does raise some important questions in its argument that the tentative agreement, is less a comprehensive solution than it is a starting point, such as But what is the trigger, in terms of aid delivered to the North, for the regime to actually begin tearing down the reactor? and other very important elements left vague, like, what of the six to 10 nuclear bombs that the North already has in its arsenal, according to U.S. intelligence analysts? Does anyone believe Kim Jong Il will give those up? Or does he believe they are the ultimate guarantor to the survival of his regime?

These are important questions, but should not serve to diminish the importance of the agreement as far it has come, nor the achievements of the negotiators.

What are the implications of this "first harvest" for the current challenges presented by Iran's frightening nuclearization? (The Financial Times writes Iran will be able to develop enough weapons-grade material for a nuclear bomb and there is little that can be done to prevent it, an internal European Union document has concluded.)

The applicability of the hard-won Korea agreement to Iran is not readily seen, especially when looking at the external elements in the compromise. Until now international affairs continue to be engaged politically, a system of trades and compromises grounded in self-interest. This is a mossback approach to relations that soon will pass from the coming world. If one remains bound in perspective to narrowly political approaches to the resolution of differences, then there is very little to draw from the Korea progress to apply to Iran. North Korea essentially was purchased (possibly temporarily) with approximately 1 billion dollars worth of oil. It is obvious that this cannot apply to the Iranian situation.

It is possible however that a close study of the "heart," mentality, attitudes, structures, and dynamics of the extremely high-level conversations in the 6 party talks, might reveal something that CAN be applied to the Iran question. For example, the US (even directly from Mr. Bush himself) acknowledged actual dependence on China to help make success happen. If there are people from within the 6 party talks who can account for the internal pathways that led to this first small harvest, (and not just the external political conditions of the "deal") there may well be valuable lessons to be learned from Western powers who are concerned over how to dampen Iran's frightening nuclear ambitions and activity.

Frank Kaufmann is the director of the Inter Religious Federation for World Peace. These opinions are his own

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Monday, January 15, 2007

Planning Ahead

by Frank Kaufmann

16 Asian nations just signed the Cebu Declaration on Energy Security, (in the Philippines). Signatories to the Cebu Declaration on Energy Security pledged their support on ensuring the security of energy supplies in the Asian region and to work together to find alternatives to fossil fuels.

On December 1 in the New York Times and wildly reprinted everywhere, Thomas L. Friedman published "The Energy Wall," arguing that curing Western energy dependence on the Middle East will allow Western powers to continue to engage honestly with the most progressive Arabs and Muslims on a reform agenda, without being hostage to the most malevolent."

Presently there are a number of hybrid cars on the US market including the Honda Civic, Honda Accord, Toyota Prius, Toyota Camry, Ford Escape SUV, Lexus 400h SUV, Toyota Highlander SUV and the Mercury Mariner. Some of these are SUV's, and some are luxury automobiles.

I have written repeatedly that the invasion of Iraq was retrograde from every basis for analysis from spiritual to military. In addition to its falseness based on backward and anachronistic starting points, it was also unintelligent from all measures including geo-politicial foreign policy analysis, to the technical use of the term "intelligence." Perhaps the only benefit from this war is that its results are SO bad that it calls otherwise distant or even hostile groups to work together in search of a solution and a way past the current horrors. We must all work together to move forward toward a better world. People exploiting this cosmic misstep simply to attack Mr. Bush and his collaborators, or to pursue domestic or international political advantage, including through hearings to pin blame, are doing everyone a disservice, and all should keep track of who these people are. Electing or empowering such people will not make matters better. We must move past swinging this way or that in the vain imagination that one "side" or other can be correct in isolation.

What is noteworthy about the Cebu declaration and the front-running Western intellectuals and activists advocating and developing future oriented energy sources is the impact these developments will have on the fountainhead of Islamist militancy (and its Latin American friends).

Inexorable progress toward the development of alternative energy sources will bring with it proportional independence of major world economies from the Middle East and other politically and economically backward oil rich areas. Energy like all else in the world will be decentralized (imagine open source wiki like energy production), and human potential will finally be released from backward and moronic political habits dominating international relations even at this moment.

Beyond the general, global impact of trends toward release from bondage and enslavement based on energy greed and need, there is a special impact these developments will have on the Middle East. Progressive and enlightened Muslims should pay extreme attention to these developments and the coming of this re-alignment.

From my limited perspective this is how I see Islam in the world today. It is a tradition closely bound to the ideals of truth and justice. As such interpretation is crucial and tends to come with passion. Truth and justice are not the virtues and ideals that commonly emanate environments of soft pluralism (though they surely can in the right hands). The ideologues (not the thugs) among militant Islamists are committed to rigorous standards of Muslim interpretation. Thus in this world, it is truly the case that ONLY committed Muslims (and a small few others) can intuit and decipher the viability of militant Islamist ideologies. As such committed Muslims (of the progressive and enlightened stripe) are the ones who should passionately lead the mission to recover the ascendancy of the traditions of enlightened Islam.

There are important religious reasons for this, but the pending emergence of political and economic disengagement from the Middle East (and other backward oil rich areas) creates a new urgency. As soon as the worlds major economic engines lose interest in the Middle East, if there is not in place secure foundations for the emergence of stable political society, and fecund economies, that region will sink into a black whole of dark unceasing violence and destruction with no one left to care. I could even imagine even the most virulent Zionists, calmly moving elsewhere (once again) waiting to return and rebuild (Jews seems fairly good at waiting to return. The last wait was a long one).

Energy independence and the realignment of a future world of political and economic cooperation is not THAT close. It is coming soon, but there is still time for the same types of Muslims who helped Europe through the "dark ages," to help militant Islamists through theirs. It will take courage and urgency. But much is at stake.

Frank Kaufmann is the director of the Inter Religious Federation for World Peace. The opinions here are his own

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