Thursday, December 6, 2007

Romney, Religion, and the Speech

If you follow the presidential election campaign it would be hard not to know that Mitt Romney gave a speech today about religion. It would be almost as hard not to know that John F. Kennedy gave a (some would say) similar speech on September 12, 1960. You probably know that they both gave their speech in Texas.

Why Texas? The Romney campaign is trying to win Iowa. So why not give the speech in Iowa. My guess is that Texas was chosen as a way of increasing the number of parallels that could be drawn between the two Massachusetts politicians, Romney and Kennedy.

Both men are from the same state. Except that Kennedy was born and raised in Massachusetts and Romney is from Michigan and moved to Massachusetts at the age of 24 to attend Harvard. If Harvard had been in Providence, Romney might have ended up as governor of Rhode Island.

Both men ran for president. The candidacy of both men faced or faces opposition because of their religion. Both men gave a speech about religion, in Texas.

The parallels end there. However much Romney would like to acquire some sort of "glory by association" from President Kennedy on this issue, Mitt did not give the Kennedy speech - not by a long shot...

As a small example, take this quote from the John F. Kennedy's speech:
Finally, I believe in an America where religious intolerance will someday end; where all men and all churches are treated as equal; where every man has the same right to attend or not attend the church of his choice; where there is no Catholic vote, no anti-Catholic vote, no bloc voting of any kind...
Romney seems to agree with the pragmatic issue of the Kennedy speech. Romeny said this: "A person should not be elected because of his faith nor should he be rejected because of his faith." But compare Kennedy's larger vision to Romney's speech:
There are some who may feel that religion is not a matter to be seriously considered in the context of the weighty threats that face us. If so, they are at odds with the nation's founders, for they, when our nation faced its greatest peril, sought the blessings of the Creator...
As Romney's philosophy on the relationship between religion and government is fleshed out he makes the statement that "Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom." For Kennedy, we are free and we have religion; the two do not need to be connected. For Romney, it seems as though we are free because we have religion and we keep our religion because we are free. Many in the Republican Party would agree with him.

The most insightful quote from Romney's speech is this: "It's important to recognize that while differences in theology exist between the churches in America, we share a common creed of moral convictions." Emphasis added. Romney is talking to churches and their members; he is trying to associate himself with the Religious Right by reassuring them that he shares their values even if their theologies differ on minor details (like the incarnation or the nature of God.)

Kennedy sought to decrease the influence of religion in politics; Romney wants to promote it. It's just that, with the people who are already doing that Mitt has to convince them that he's one of them. I doubt he accomplished that.

Mitt Romney did prove a couple of things today. He proved he can give a great speech. And he proved that he is not JFK.

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