December 6, 2007

Did Romney Score With The Speech?

People sometimes underestimate Mitt Romney's persuasive speaking style and genuine warmth on the dais, and that made some difference today with his speech, "Faith in America". Before its delivery, it appeared to hold no promise for Romney's standing with voters, but would present many risks for him in legitimizing religion for political debate. Those risks remain and their potential remains to be seen. However, I believe the speech will be a net positive for Romney and his campaign.

Adroitly, Romney avoided apologetics except on the nature of Jesus Christ. He then specifically denounced calls for apologetics on any faith being part of a political campaign, whether willingly or compelled. Romney went out of his way to talk about the common nature of America's "symphony of faith," calling on America to focus on our shared values than on less-meaningful differences of practice. He warned that state religions did no good for communities of faith in Europe, where grand cathedrals serve mostly as postcard backdrops -- and even less good in the theocracies of Islam.

Will this suffice to reduce anti-Mormon sentiment? Probably not, although I'm certain that it's been wildly overstated. The speech probably did serve to make evangelicals more comfortable with Mitt's approach. Mitt specifically mentioned how his father marched with Martin Luther King for civil rights, a reproach to those who continue to talk about the historical racism of the Mormon church. Rather than focus on being defensive, Romney talked expansively about our best traditions in ecumenical faith, perhaps only souring those who profess no faith at all -- and who likely wouldn't support Mitt anyway.

All in all, Romney gave a good performance -- and thanks to the hype, it will be seen by a wide audience. Whether he opened Pandora's Box will be judged by later events.


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