Romney’s Non-Mormon Speech

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Just left a Romney town hall here in Manchester; Romney’s campaign refers to town halls as “Ask Mitt Anything” events. There was much joking among the press corps before the event started about whether or not “anything” would include trivia about the Mormon church, what with the campaign admitting — we thought — it was a legitimate issue.

Romney did get asked about his religion, and almost as important as the way he answered it was the the way the gentleman in mostly sympathetic crowd asked about it (paraphrasing from my notes):

I understand you’re going to give a speech about your Mormon religion. Could you shed a little bit of light on what put you in a position to do that? The last time I can remember that a presidential candidate had to do that was Kennedy.

That supporters believe that Mitt has somehow been forced to talk about his religion illustrates the canniness of this announcement and its timing.

Romney’s response (again, from notes):

JFK really did give the definitive speech on politics and religion… I don’t have anything to add to what he did, so I’m speaking on a different but related topic… on faith and America… I’m worried that faith has disappeared in many respects from the public square.

There are a few different ways one can respond to bigotry about your religion in this country. JFK’s speech, whose example which Romney happily accepts as an apparent model*, argued that his religion didn’t matter when it came to politics because no one’s religion matters in American politics:

I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute–where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote–where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference–and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.

Romney, on the other hand, appears to suggest he’s going to respond to bigotry about his religion this way: He’s going to argue that his religion doesn’t matter because… religion is so important in American politics.

What’s especially weird is that I think it’s going to work — with some segment of the base, at least. Talking to Rotarians (that’s what they call themselves!) afterwards, everyone expressed dismay that Romney should even have to answer questions about his religion. Typical was this woman’s response: “I do not feel that his religious affiliation should be a part of this campaign. That people should bring it up is appalling.”

To which I responded, “So what do you think about the topic of his speech, that there should be more religious presence in American society?”

Answered the Rotarian: “I think that’s exactly right, there should be more religion in American life.”

Excuse me, I’m going to go try to keep my head from exploding.

* Thanks for the corrections. I am nothing without you.

UPDATE: Geez! Thank you, nickzi, Thank you, goldencrumpet. (mmmmm golden crumpet….)

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