By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Brooks captures Romney perfectly

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.

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21 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    Dan,I really like what Fred Thomspon had to say yesterday,“I know that I’m right with God and the people I love,” he said, according to Bloomberg News Service. It’s “just the way I am not to talk about some of these things….And he did not seem particularly concerned that his admission would hurt him with voters. “Me getting up and talking about what a wonderful person I am and that sort of thing, I’m not comfortable with that, and I don’t think it does me any good,” he said. “People will make up their own mind about that, and that’s the way I like it.”Full story here, http://blog.washingtonpost.com/the-trail/2007/09/11/post_68.htmlKevin

  2. Don (no longer) Fluffy

    Even if he sits at the right hand of God, Mitt ain’t gonna win.

  3. stephen

    I couldn’t agree with you more. Romney seemed to step up the religion vs. irreligion rhetoric of the right up a notch. It’s a disappointing speech and a troublesome moment in American politics. I talked about the speech on my blog, too.

  4. Bad

    Keller blog thinks he has an argument against your reasoning.I think he’s all wet, and doesn’t understand that arguments are supposed to make sense.

  5. stephen

    That link to my blog post on Romney’s speech is wrong, it should be this.I think one of my favorite analysis of his speech was this editorial in the NYT.

  6. Anonymous

    It’s been pointed out before, but the most damning thing about Romney is that he’s never publicly questioned the teachings of his church. He was 31 years old when the LDS church lifted their prohibition on black priests. This was in 1978. The church has never pubically reversed their position that blackness is the Mark of CainHere’s Brigham Young on the subject:Cain slew his brother. Cain might have been killed, and that would have put a termination to that line of human beings. This was not to be, and the Lord put a mark upon him, which is the flat nose and black skin. Trace mankind down to after the flood, and then another curse is pronounced upon the same race—that they should be the ‘servant of servants;’ and they will be, until that curse is removed; and the Abolitionists cannot help it, nor in the least alter that decree.Other prominent Mormons, most notably the Udalls, spoke out against this doctrine. Romney never did.

  7. mike_b1

    What does “most presidential” mean, anyway? Especially after 7 years of the current jabberwocky.

  8. Rick in Duxbury

    Just in case, I’d like to take this opportunity to apologize for The Inquisition. Also, on behalf of my Scandinavian side, raping and pillaging were just wrong. If I had been there 800 years ago, I’d have put a stop to it. I’m not planning on running for anything but you never know…

  9. Anonymous

    Rick,We’re talking about events which took place in Romney’s adult lifetime, not centuries ago. The real question is, if you’d been alive during the inquisition, would you have spoken out? That said, I’ve heard a number of people make the case that the anti-Mormon push-polling is tied to the Romney campaign. It makes sense: having people arguing about this takes attention away from his endless pandering and his abysmal record as governor.

  10. susan

    Romney went further than just excluding non-believers.Romney said he believed “that every faith I have encountered draws its adherents closer to God.” So I guess even believers don’t count unless they’re monotheistic believers. Despite all their talk about religion, political candidates are incredibly ignorant of the vast variety of religious experience in the world. Which is another reason why they should probably stay off the subject.

  11. Anonymous

    I haven’t seen anyone comment on the “staged” photo-op after the speech. The Globe ran a photo with Romney being hugged by a black minister. Looking on was a, presumably Jewish, man wearing a yarmulke and a prayer shawl. He was identified in the caption as being David Nierenberg, an “activist” from Washington State. The prayer shawl is worn in synagogue and not when attending political speeches. Turns out that Nierenberg is a big fund raiser for Romney in WA. Good grief!

  12. mike_b1

    Romney is better off talking about his religion. Takes the focus off his record as perhaps the worst governor in the country (no tax cut; the only state with a net loss in population on his watch) and business manager where his specialty was gutting companies and sending jobs offshore.By comparison, the funny undies, polygamy and institutionalized incest/rape lifestyle don’t seem so bad.

  13. Peter Porcupine

    Speaking of ‘deliberatey divisive’ – look at what CNN had on the side as Romney DELIVERED the speeech – please, watch it play:http://corner.nationalreview.com/post/?q=ZTQ0ZTQ4OTU2NGUwNmMzNjFmMDVhMDFmZTA2NzAyNTU=I'm amazed that when Lieberman spoke in 2000, CNN wasn’t running a sidebar saying ‘Jews rejected Christ and caused his crucifixion.”In 1978, Mitt Romney was still in college – what were the chances that any news outlet would have PRINTED his thoughts at that stage in his life? As far as him being indocrinated into racism by the Mormon Church, I think the fact that his father marched with Dr. King and was thrown out of his job as Sec. of HUD for wanting to integrate suburban government housing might speak to the principles he was raised with.When will you all ask Hillary Clinton how she can support a denomination that voted to reaffirm a policy to exclude gays from the clergy in 2004? And when exacty was it that the Catholic church decided to allow women into the priesthood?Hillary’s not a homophobe, Kerry’s not a sexist, but Romney is a racist for something his church did away with?

  14. mike_b1

    Romney allows himself to be defined by his religion, something the rest of those you cited never have. Moreover, Romney has never been upfront about the role his religion would play should he be elected — and don’t try to pitch that JFK knockoff speech: anything he says must be taken with the proverbial grain of salt because over his career he has assumed more positions than John Holmes. (Feel free to use that line.)

  15. Sean Roche

    Just curious what the Media Nation measure of a speech is if a “deliberately divisive” speech can also be a “good speech.”

  16. Dan Kennedy

    Well-written and well-delivered. As I wrote.

  17. Anonymous

    “Peter Porcupine” wrote:In 1978, Mitt Romney was still in college – what were the chances that any news outlet would have PRINTED his thoughts at that stage in his life?It’s Romney himself who gives the lie to your spin. Mitt has repeatedly stated that he’s not “a cafeteria Mormon” and has never publicly questioned any church doctrine. He’s also said that he did no private lobbying to get the doctrine changed.Again, the LDS has never publicly repudiated either the doctrine that blackness is the Mark of Cain or the doctrine that blacks are the descendants of Ham and therefore destined to be slaves.

  18. Anonymous

    Almost forgot.PP: Mitt graduated from BYU in 1971 and Harvard in 1975. By 1978 he was 31 already a VP at Bain.It’s not about racism, it’s about character. I’d say Mitt lacks the courage of his convictions, but I can’t see any evidence he has any.

  19. Anonymous

    Boy, talk about an echo chamber. EVERY candidate could receive the same treatment if there were any intellectual honesty floating around. 16 years of Catholic education and I’ve heard clergy and nuns say some scary stuff. No, I did not stand up at the time and decry antisemitism, homophobia and lots of other sins. I’m not alone. From Hillary’s assistant to McCain’s wife to Obama’s real estate deals in Chicago to Thompson’s first wife: so what? No new ground is being plowed here. How about the constitutional impact of a four-term “co-President”? (Or is that less likely to make the Enquirer?)

  20. Anonymous

    anon5:05There is a big difference between “some Catholics said some bad stuff” and “the church taught that blacks were born to be slaves.”Your failure to speak out doesn’t make Romney’s failure to speak out acceptable. It just makes your comment weaker. Romney was already an Elder at 31. It’s not like he was some random citizen.

  21. mike_b1

    The difference, Anon 5:05, is that the rest of us matured and can now tell right from wrong. Mitt never did.

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