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.