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.