Posted by: mutantpoodle | December 6, 2007

The Romney Twist

If you’re Mitt Romney, it helps to be limber. And not just so you can renounce beliefs and convictions you claimed to hold dear just a few years ago. Today’s test of the Romney flexibility was the much touted and anticipated Romney speech on faith – not his faith, mind you, although he did assure us that he wouldn’t be taking orders from Salt Lake city.

Romney’s task was to walk the tightrope that involves him praising the separation of church and state – but not that they should be too separate, mind you, because then we’d all be secular humanists heading to hell, or something like that.

More specifically, Romney needed to (a) praise religious diversity and freedom, (b) convince voters who like to check candidates’ church memberships that, notwithstanding theological differences, we’re all really the same underneath (and by that he means, in Digby’s immortal phrase, “he hates all the same religions the Christian fundamentalists hate”), and (c) reassure those same Christian fundamentalists that he didn’t really mean all that stuff he said earlier about separation of church and state.

By that standard, my guess is he did OK – after all, he was trying to convince a small subset of our population that he’s just as intolerant of the secular as they are – but I don’t know what this does for him in the long run. Maybe it removes the religious debris from his road to the GOP nomination, but I’m not sure it gets him much past that.

Mostly, this all makes me think how much has changed in 47 years. In 1960, people were concerned that JFK was part of a strange and secretive religious sect that would control him as he performed his duties as President. Kennedy successfully assured them that his religion was and ought to be a private matter, and that he was simply an American of faith running for President. Meanwhile, some people may be concerned that Romney is part of a strange and secretive religious sect that would control him as he performed his duties as President, but the real concern among the true believers is that those who should appropriately be his faith-based puppetmasters – the Falwells, Robertsons, and Dobsons of the world – won’t have enough influence on him.

I really don’t care that Mitt’s a Mormon. I do care that a lifetime (or is it a couple of years?) of reflection (or pandering?) has led him further and further from positions of freedom and tolerance. That isn’t the GOP base’s concern, but since they’re clocking in at about 20% of the electorate, they might be less important than the 70% of the country who don’t identify themselves as Republicans, or the Republicans who believe in personal freedom, religious liberty, and social tolerance.

The brief Kennedy clip above is a mere taste [the entire speech, including a quite contentious Q&A session, is here], but enough to demonstrate the yawning chasm that separates the two men’s understanding of their constitutional duties. Kennedy was clear that his allegiance was to the constitution – Romney, throughout his speech, took pains to balance his appreciation for the constitution with evidence that he didn’t believe in the salient aspect of that document with respect to religion after all. [Kennedy also pointed out that there were far bigger issues facing the United States than his personal faith.]

From my perspective, Mitt Romney is a man who either has gotten less wise and less compassionate over time, or he’s willing to pretend that he has in pursuit of the highest elected office in this land. Anyone on that path – whether Mormon, Muslim, Jewish, Protestant, or Catholic – seems to me unfit for office.

A dozen speeches on faith would leave that essential element unchanged.

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