Mr. Romney needed to give THE SPEECH, regardless of whether he should have had to give it. Fortunately for America (and himself), he gave a magnificent speech.
Peggy Noonan promptly put Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney's magnificent "Faith in America" speech in helpful context as well as evaluated it.
The Wall Street Journal article in which Ms. Noonan did so is titled "Mormon in America" and subtitled "How Mitt Romney came to give The Speech--and how he did."
The title appears to be an allusion to the late President Reagan's famous "Morning in America" line, but, unfortunately, it puts a spotlight on Mr. Romney's particular faith instead of on Mr. Romney as an individual running for President.
Mormons are not of one mind on political issues, of course. The fact that Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid is also a Mormon demonstrates that beyond dispute.
Mr. Noonan: "Did Mitt Romney have to give a speech on religion? Yes. When you're in a race so close you could lose due to one issue, your Mormonism, you must address the issue of your Mormonism. The only question was timing: now, in the primaries, or later, as the nominee? But could he get to the general without The Speech? Apparently he judged not. (Mr. Romney's campaign must have some interesting internal polling about Republicans on the ground in Iowa and elsewhere.)"
Mormonism did not stop Mr. Romney's father, George Romney, from being elected Governor of Michigan and was not an issue when he ran for President in 1968. But Mormonism was made an issue in 2007 and it was better to address it sooner rather than later and to point out that what is important to America is not a candidate's particular faith but whether a candidate is a person of personal integrity who champions traditional American values.
Ms. Noonan: "But Mr. Romney had other needs, too. His candidacy needed a high-minded kick start. It needed an Act II. He's been around for a year, he's made his first impression, he needed to make it new again. He seized the opportunity to connect his candidacy to something larger and transcendent: the history of religious freedom in America. He made a virtue of necessity."
Absolutely! Mr. Romney confronted secular extremism courageously.
Ms. Noonan: "He had nothing to prove to me regarding his faith or his church, which apparently makes me your basic Catholic. Catholics are not his problem. His problem, a Romney aide told me, had more to do with a particular fundamentalist strain within evangelical Protestantism. Bill Buckley once said he'd rather be governed by the first thousand names in the Boston phone book than the Harvard faculty. I'd rather be governed by Donny and Marie than the Washington establishment. Mormons have been, in American history, hardworking, family-loving citizens whose civic impulses have tended toward the constructive. Good enough for me. He's running for president, not pastor. In any case his faith is one thing about Mr. Romney I haven't questioned."
Exactly right. America needs a person of faith, not a person of a particular faith, to be President.
Ms. Noonan: "It is true that some in his campaign thought a speech risky, but others saw it as an opportunity, and a first draft was ready last March. In certain ways Mr. Romney had felt a tugging resistance: I've been in public life--served as governor, run the Olympics, run a business. I have to do a speech saying my faith won't distort my leadership?"
YES! Mr. Romney needed to give THE SPEECH, regardless of whether he should have had to give it. Fortunately for America (and himself), he gave a magnificent speech.
Ms. Noonan: "In May he decided to do it, but timing was everything. His campaign wanted to do it when he was on the ascendancy, not defensively but from a position of strength. In October they decided to do the speech around Thanksgiving. Mr. Romney gathered together all the material and began to work in earnest. Then they decided it would get lost in the holiday clutter. They decided to go after Thanksgiving, but before Dec. 15. The rise of Mike Huckabee, according to this telling, didn't force this decision but complicated it."
Between Thanksgiving and Christmas was a propitious time. But Mr. Huckabee's rise was used to spin THE SPEECH as reactive or defensive. If the speech was less than magnificent that would have mattered. it doesn't matter.
Ms. Noonan: "The campaign fixed on Dec. 6, at the College Station, Texas, library of George H.W. Bush, with the former president introducing him, which would lend a certain imprimatur (and mute those who say his son's White House is pulling for Rudy Giuliani)."
Mr. Noonan: "It is called his JFK speech, but in many ways JFK had it easier than Mr. Romney does now. The Catholic Church was the single biggest Christian denomination in America, representing 30% of the population (Mormons: 2%, six million). Americans who had never met a Catholic in 1920 had by 1960 fought side by side with them in World War II and sat with them in college under the GI bill. JFK had always signaled that he held his faith lightly, not with furrow-browed earnestness. He had one great question to answer: Would he let the Vatican control him? As if. And although some would vote against him because he was Catholic, some would vote for him for the same reason, and they lived in the cities and suburbs of the industrial states."
All true. But Mr. Romney gave a better speech. He too assured voters that he was not a tool of the clerics of his faith, but he did so without pandering to secular extremists by embracing absolute separation of church and state and actually warned against secular extremism.
"Mr. Romney gave the speech Thursday morning. How did he do?
"Very, very well. He made himself some history. The words he said will likely have a real and positive impact on his fortunes. The speech's main and immediate achievement is that foes of his faith will now have to defend their thinking, in public. But what can they say to counter his high-minded arguments? 'Mormons have cooties'?"
Undoubtedly, there will be some who babble such inanities and more who think them. But Mr. Romney's refusal to reject even part of his faith for perceived political advantage will serve him well with the bulk of Americans and dispel suspicion that the evolution of some of his political views was strategic.
Ms. Noonan: "Romney reintroduced himself to a distracted country--Who is that handsome man saying those nice things?--while defending principles we all, actually, hold close, and hold high."
Mr. Romney made the case for a person running for President who is a Mormon, not Mormonism. He promoted traditional American values shared by people of different faiths instead of promoting his faith and pledged not to be a spokesperson for his faith as President.
Ms. Noonan: "His text was warmly cool. It covered a lot of ground briskly, in less than 25 minutes. His approach was calm, logical, with an emphasis on clarity. It wasn't blowhardy, and it wasn't fancy. The only groaner was, 'We do not insist on a single strain of religion--rather, we welcome our nation's symphony of faith.' It is a great tragedy that there is no replacement for that signal phrase of the 1980s, 'Gag me with a spoon.'"
I liked that line!
Ms. Noonan: "Beyond that, the speech was marked by the simplicity that accompanies intellectual confidence."
Yes. It was readily understandable.
Ms. Noonan: "At the start, Mr. Romney was nervous and rushed, his voice less full than usual. He settled down during the second applause, halfway though the text--'No candidate should become the spokesman for his faith. For if he becomes president he will need the prayers of the people of all faiths.' From that moment he was himself."
Pat Buchanan noticed that too.
Ms. Noonan: "He started with a full JFK: 'I am an American running for president. I do not define my candidacy by my religion. A person should not be elected because of his faith, nor should he be rejected because of his faith.' No 'authorities of my church' or any church, will 'ever exert influence' on presidential decisions. 'Their authority is theirs,' within the province of the church, and it ends 'where the affairs of the nation begin.' 'I will put no doctrine of any church above the plain duties of the office and the sovereign authority of the law.' He pledged to serve 'no one religion, no one group, no one cause, and no one interest.' He will not disavow his religion. 'My faith is the faith of my fathers. I will be true to them and to my beliefs.'"
Nothing wrong with any of that!
Ms. Noonan: " Bracingly: 'Some believe that such a confession of my faith will sink my candidacy. If they are right, so be it.' Whatever our faith, the things we value--equality, obligation, commitment to liberty--unite us. In a passage his advisers debated over until the night before the speech, Mr. Romney declared: 'I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of mankind.' He made the call. Why? I asked the aide. 'Because it's what he thinks.'"
Then he was right to say it!
Ms. Noonan: "At the end, he told a story he had inserted just before Thanksgiving. During the dark days of the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia, someone suggested the delegates pray. But there were objections: They all held different faiths. 'Then Sam Adams rose, and said he would hear a prayer from anyone of piety and good character, as long as they were a patriot. And so together they prayed.' At this point in Mr. Romney's speech, the roused audience stood and applauded, and the candidate looked moved."
Mr. Romney wisely quoted both John Adams and Sam Adams in THE SPEECH. He might have also quoted Gouvernor Morris, on of the Framers of the Constitution, on what the people who founded America believed and expected: "Religion is the only solid Base of morals and Morals are the only possible Support of free governments," and education should "teach the precepts of religion, and the duties of man to God." America was the product of a "symphony" of different faiths, not atheism or agnosticism.
Ms. Noonan: "There was one significant mistake in the speech. I do not know why Romney did not include nonbelievers in his moving portrait of the great American family. We were founded by believing Christians, but soon enough Jeremiah Johnson, and the old proud agnostic mountain men, and the village atheist, and the Brahmin doubter, were there, and they too are part of us, part of this wonderful thing we have. Why did Mr. Romney not do the obvious thing and include them? My guess: It would have been reported, and some idiots would have seen it and been offended that this Romney character likes to laud atheists. And he would have lost the idiot vote."
I disagree. Mr. Romney did not criticize atheists and agnostics of good will in THE SPEECH. He spoke as a person of faith about faith in America, as the title of THE SPEECH indicates. Yes, there are believers who consider atheism idiotic and atheists who consider belief idiotic. But America's problem is not that it disrespects the private right of conscience and forces atheists and agnostics to practice religion. America respects their freedom of choice not to believe or to worship, as does Mr. Romney. America's problem is that a tiny minority of atheists and agnostics were given a veto power by a Supreme Court decision that government must be neutral between religion and irreligion issued two years after World War II ended and some atheists and agnostics are determined to make secular extremism the de facto national religion. Atheist Michael Newdow is working hard to have "under God" removed from "The Pledge of Allegiance" and "In God We Trust' from America's currency and coin. If he succeeds, he probably will try to have "Laus Deos" (Praise God, in Latin) removed from the top of the Washington Monument and try again to stop the next President from saying "So help me God" when taking the presidential oath of office.
Allowing atheists to veto any governmental acknowledge of God is what is idiotic. Mr. Romney smartly let the people know that he embraces America's religious heritage and will not pander to the secular extremists who want to ban God and religion from the public square.
Ms. Noonan: "My feeling is we've bowed too far to the idiots. This is true in politics, journalism, and just about everything else."
Lauding atheism strikes at least some of us believers as idiotic. The courts and other governmental entities bowing to the personal preferences of the non-religion is idiotic. I heartily applaud Mr. Romney for saying: "We should acknowledge the Creator as did the Founders – in ceremony and word. He should remain on our currency, in our pledge, in the teaching of our history, and during the holiday season, nativity scenes and menorahs should be welcome in our public places. Our greatness would not long endure without judges who respect the foundation of faith upon which our constitution rests. I will take care to separate the affairs of government from any religion, but I will not separate us from 'the God who gave us liberty.'" Anything less would be...idiotic.
Michael J. Gaynor has been practicing law in New York since 1973. A former partner at Fulton, Duncombe & Rowe and Gaynor & Bass, he is a solo practitioner admitted to practice in New York state and federal courts and an Association of the Bar of the City of New York member.
Gaynor graduated magna cum laude, with Honors in Social Science, from Hofstra University's New College, and received his J.D. degree from St. John's Law School, where he won the American Jurisprudence Award in Evidence and served as an editor of the Law Review and the St. Thomas More Institute for Legal Research. He wrote on the Pentagon Papers case for the Review and obscenity law for The Catholic Lawyer and edited the Law Review's commentary on significant developments in New York law.
The day after graduating, Gaynor joined the Fulton firm, where he focused on litigation and corporate law. In 1997 Gaynor and Emily Bass formed Gaynor & Bass and then conducted a general legal practice, emphasizing litigation, and represented corporations, individuals and a New York City labor union. Notably, Gaynor & Bass prevailed in the Second Circuit in a seminal copyright infringement case, Tasini v. New York Times, against newspaper and magazine publishers and Lexis-Nexis. The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed, 7 to 2, holding that the copyrights of freelance writers had been infringed when their work was put online without permission or compensation.
Gaynor currently contributes regularly to www.MichNews.com, www.RenewAmerica.com, www.WebCommentary.com, www.PostChronicle.com and www.therealitycheck.org and has contributed to many other websites. He has written extensively on political and religious issues, notably the Terry Schiavo case, the Duke "no rape" case, ACORN and canon law, and appeared as a guest on television and radio. He was acknowledged in Until Proven Innocent, by Stuart Taylor and KC Johnson, and Culture of Corruption, by Michelle Malkin. He appeared on "Your World With Cavuto" to promote an eBay boycott that he initiated and "The World Over With Raymond Arroyo" (EWTN) to discuss the legal implications of the Schiavo case. On October 22, 2008, Gaynor was the first to report that The New York Times had killed an Obama/ACORN expose on which a Times reporter had been working with ACORN whistleblower Anita MonCrief.