The most astute commentary I’ve seen on Mitt Romney’s religion speech is David Brooks’ column in today’s New York Times. Brooks starts out on a positive note, writing, “It is not always easy to blend an argument for religious liberty with an argument for religious assertiveness, but Romney did it well.” But then Brooks brings down the hammer:
When this country was founded, James Madison envisioned a noisy public square with different religious denominations arguing, competing and balancing each other’s passions. But now the landscape of religious life has changed. Now its most prominent feature is the supposed war between the faithful and the faithless. Mitt Romney didn’t start this war, but speeches like his both exploit and solidify this divide in people’s minds. The supposed war between the faithful and the faithless has exacted casualties.
The first casualty is the national community. Romney described a community yesterday. Observant Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, Jews and Muslims are inside that community. The nonobservant are not. There was not even a perfunctory sentence showing respect for the nonreligious.
That’s exactly right. Indeed, on “Imus in the Morning,” CBS News analyst Jeff Greenfield noted that even President Bush has taken pains not to kiss off non-believers the way Romney did yesterday.
The normally astute Peter Canellos writes in the Boston Globe today that Romney’s speech was aimed “at all the people of the United States. With its breadth of spirit, it was the most presidential moment of the 2008 campaign.”
I have to disagree. It was a good speech, but hardly a great one. And it was deliberately divisive, aimed not at the American people as a whole but at those evangelical Christians who are thinking of voting for Mike Huckabee.