09 December 2007

My take on "the Speech"

I'm not dead, just in the middle of my next-to-last semester of exams. I did make time, however, on Thursday to watch "the Speech." More complete reviews and commentaries on Romney's speech are up at the other major venues in the Bloggernacle and I left comments on several of those. I will add only some brief thoughts here and point you to my able colleagues at other blogs.

Mostly, my concerns echo those expressed elsewhere. I found the bit about the oath of office being potentially Romney's highest covenant with God a little troubling. I guess I don't seem to be as troubled by it as some because I don't think he really believes it, but that is troubling in its own right. I think that he knew that he had to say that, or something like it, in order to mitigate evangelical hostility towards his candidacy. For someone who claims that he will not distance himself from his religion in order to win the election, I think the early signs should be worrying. Romney may be never renounce his Mormonism, but he is presenting himself as a a believer in a watered-down, Protestantized Mormonism with no controversial theologies and no historical issues.

As far as the speech's purpose, I cannot say with surety what Romney hoped to achieve. I do not think he achieved any great victory with the speech other than to present himself as a fine orator with an important knowledge about the history of religion in America. As far as I can tell, what troubles many Americans about Romney is not his views on religion as part of American public life, but his views, particularly a personal belief, on a particular religion, namely Mormonism. It would seem to me that the best antidote for that kind of feeling is disclosure and more information, since I think most people merely hate out of ignorance and fear. However, the tack he seems to be taking is to ask people to simply not look at it. I also think that he wants people to focus on it so little that he only mentioned being Mormon once and the rest of the time talked about "my faith" or "my beliefs."

The other part of the speech that seems to rile people up a lot is his emphasis on the necessity of religion for freedom and an apparent vision of an America with no use for atheists or the impious. I guess I don't find this particularly controversial because I could envision it coming out of the mouths of any of the other major Republican nominees, with the exception maybe of Giuliani.

Generally, I thought the speech was pretty vanilla. I was disappointed he did not talk more about what it meant to him to be Mormon, but I realize that others (most prominently Richard Bushman) believe that he should have steered clear of too much mention of his Mormonism. I am certainly no more likely to vote for him after seeing the speech, but then again there is very little he could have said to change my vote in the first place. I think that I acquired even further distaste for Romney after reading the profile of his mission years in France a couple of weeks ago in the NYT. He just seems like someone with a great deal of charisma, flash, style, and a great sloganeer and cheerleader, or in other words, the perfect businessman, but who lacks substance or conviction behind his words.


  1. He just seems like someone with a great deal of charisma, flash, style, and a great sloganeer and cheerleader, or in other words, the perfect businessman, but who lacks substance or conviction behind his words.

    It just blows my mind when people say things like this. Of all the frontrunners, on both sides (with the exception of Guiliani), Romney is the only one with any semblence of a resume. He has actually made a difference in the projects he's been involved with: business, the olympics, deficeit spending, education, healthcare, etc. I think it's simply mind-boggling to say that he lacks substance.

    Talk is cheap in Washington, but Romney is clearly one of the rare politicians that can walk the walk.

  2. Count me among those generally unimpressed with the speech. I'm glad he gave it though. He can now hopefully move on to other issues. While I'm not impressed with Romney as an orator, I think his competence is a much bigger qualifier.

  3. Let me make some clarifying remarks. I am glad that Romney made the speech too, so we can all move on from worrying about it. I hear a lot of Mormons talking about how historic this moment was. It was historic only because Romney had an occasion to give it, not because of anything he said. I still believe that 90-95% of what he said could have come out of the mouths of any of the other candidates and we would not even be having this conversation. The only value-added here is that Romney happens to be Mormon.

    To address aeschylus' comment, I am not questioning whether Romney is smart, competent, or successful. He is plainly all of those things, and compared with the governance we currently have in place, he has it in spades. I may have made a poor choice of words by alleging that he lacks substance, but I think my fundamental point is sound. When the initial reports came out regarding his "flip-flopping" I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. I generally think we place too much emphasis on a candidate or politician's consistency of belief. Just like anyone else, they should have room to grow and mature and change their opinions based on the evidence and facts that are presented to them. I mean we currently have a President who won't let the facts get in the way of his "truth" and won't change his mind about anything and that is clearly worse in my mind than a flip-flopper. I think on some issues (ex. abortion) Romney had just such a legitimate shift in his thinking. But after following his campaign a little more and listening to this speech, I think he has a pandering problem. I think he molds his beliefs and statements to fit the views of a certain portion of the electorate. Now all politicians do this to some extent, but I expected a little better from Mitt. As I pointed out, I think that the statement about his oath of office being his highest covenant with God is a good example. I don't actually think he believes it, but he knows that some Christian/evangelicals need to hear it.

  4. "oath of office being his highest covenant with God.... he knows that some Christian/evangelicals need to hear it."

    I would be surprised to hear any religious person who really believed that.

    I didn't elaborate much in my comment, but I thought a lot of the same things you clarified in your last comment. Knowing that this was supposed to be a landmark speech, I was pretty disappointed that it was so... generic.

    You mention that you're holding Romney to a higher standard because you expect better of him. I've been doing the same thing with some of the other GOP candidates as well. I'm wondering if that is fair. I'm still trying to decide.