This morning, Mitt Romney gave a brief speech on faith in America. I attempted to liveblog it. A heaping bowl of mixed success is thus served:
Mitt's getting introduced by President George H. W. Bush, here at his house, flanked by ten American flags, which hopefully will be enough.
Bush begins by remarking on Romney's large family, which maybe isn't the best way to go about selling this guy. Those Mormons sure can breed! But his introduction is short and sweet and metered in its praise. Bush indicates that this appearance does not constitute an official endorsement.
Romney: "When Americans face challenge and peril, they rise to the occasion."
Romney paints himself as a "generational" candidate, here to fight Islamic radicalism, foreign oil dependence, and "the breakdown of the family." Whatever that is.
Freedom requires religion just like religion requires freedom. Hoo boy. I'm not sure I agree with either side of that premise.
Romney mentions Kennedy and Massachusetts within the first ten minutes. "No members of my church will ever exert their influence over political decisions."
This isn't just me saying this as a liveblogger...but he's speaking way too fast. He's in debate mode. Racing through it. And that's too bad because I think Romney needs to sell this speech as something he has a deep-seated comfort in saying. He's got to breathe, stretch out, let things reverberate a little. Finally, an applause line lets him come up for air.
"Some believe such a confession will sink my candidacy, if so, so be it." Well, he's out there, now, and I have to say, at last we have an example of Mitt not bending over backwards in an effort to be liked by everyone.
Oh, but here we go! He presents a laundry list of aspects of other people's faiths that he "wishes were part of his own." He's moved at the sight of "other houses of worship." He appreciates Muslims' "commitment to prayer." That's why they cannot be in his cabinet! They're PRAYING all the time.
And now we get the broad play to evangelicals, discussing the "removal" of religion from the public sphere. But he just spoke about traveling the country and being moved by the sight of all those houses of worship! And he defames "secularism." How come the secular philosophies that helped our founders conceive this Nation never get any credit? Locke? Rousseau? The Enlightenment?
And weirdly, he immediately jumps into this mushy, secular, "family of man" stuff. Depressing. He really does want to be liked by everyone. That's his driver. I was incorrect when I said he was taking a huge chance before--that "so be it" line--that was just an example of Mitt wanting to be liked by people who criticize him for wanting to be liked by everybody.
Mitt promises that there will be no established church under his Presidency. Uhm, thanks. Yeah...we know. Because that's the law.
Now he's discussing about how the "vibrancy" of our multiculturalism and multitude of faiths sets us apart from the tyranny of Islamic radicalism. Good to know he saw that West Wing episode.
"Any believer in religious freedom has a friend and an ally in me." Well, I should hope so! I didn't know this was an issue.
Romney ends powerfully, though, invoking Samuel Adams and the fight to found the Nation. Huge applause. And one final parting shot of "God Bless America."
Chris Matthews, by the way, immediately goes in the tank for Romney. Everyone on MSNBC's panel thinks Romney won big time. Pat Buchanan thinks that the speech places him squarely in the conservative tradition. Minutes before this speech was given, this same panel was talking about what a mistake this speech was. Only Joe Scarborough seems to realize that Romney basically ran down a talking points checklist designed to maximize appeal.
Ultimately, though, he did himself a favor by not attempting to "explain" Mormonism. The real metric for success here, though, is whether church leaders across the nation take time this Sunday to dissect Romney's religious beliefs - an idea advanced by the preceding panel that I though was a particularly trenchant remark. Romney needed to let everyone walk away feeling enough of a personal reverberation - a little private acknowledgement - so that people won't feel inspired to put Romney's faith under any additional microscopes.
But will it work? The blueprint was: a little something for everyone, and no Mormonism for anyone who doesn't want it. (The word "Mormon" was only used once.) If you were an evangelical conservative, was hearing your code words - and getting your button pushed - enough to keep your mind off his discussion of aspects of other faiths he'd love to incorporate within his own and the sopping "family of man" mush? Or was his "all of us in common" ending moving enough to make people look past their prejudices?
Interested in chatting this out? Please leave a comment!