Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Romney's "Anti-JFK" Speech

I'm going out of town for a few days, but wanted to dash off a quick post based on my comment to Buck's post today on Romney's speech. Buck rightly noted that Christian fundamentalists aren't liable to be won over by it. However, the AP story and video excerpts give the misleading impression that Romney is a champion of the separation of church and state, when he's anything but.

You can read the text of Romney's speech here, or if you prefer, read and listen to it at NPR here. Crooks and Liars has the video, and John Amato's post also features several superb links well worth checking out.

One of them, to People for the American Way, links the video and transcript of JFK's speech on his Catholicism. I'd also recommend Digby's post yesterday on JFK's speech.

TS at Instaputz notes Jonah Goldberg and Kathryn Jean Lopez' reaction to the speech, and certainly "It's a sad day indeed when Ramesh Ponnuru is the voice of reason." However, contrary to Goldberg and Ponnuru's take, the failure to mention agnostics and atheists was not an "oversight." This speech was extremely calculated, and agnostics and atheists were referred to, albeit obliquely. It's just that Romney was attacking them.

Romney had two aims here, allaying fears of the general public by invoking the separation of church and state (as the AP account runs with) and pandering to the religious right. But he overtly and implicitly attacks non-believers throughout the speech, as someone who was actually defending the separation of church and state would not do. As Steve Benen notes, it's "the anti-JFK speech." Check out Romney's speech and compare it to Kennedy's. Kennedy speaks about the separation of church and state as well as bigotry. In sharp contrast, Romney says (after his initial blather about the evils of Communism and how "Radical violent Islam seeks to destroy us") that:

Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom. Freedom opens the windows of the soul so that man can discover his most profound beliefs and commune with God. Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone.

This is utter bullshit, and I highly doubt he doesn't know that. There's nothing wrong with being religious, but morality and freedom are anything but dependent on religion (which as practiced, has often assaulted both morality and freedom). Romney's assertion falls into a category of statements I hold that no sane, intelligent honest person could actually believe. A casual glance over history, philosophy and human nature shows it's just not so. There's nothing wrong with holding that religion makes you personally a better person, but how cloistered or zealous would you have to be to actually believe Romney's claim?

It's a pander. Joe Lieberman, Bush and other politicians have done the same, but it's telling religious people that they're better than people who aren't. National political leaders never pander to non-believers in the same way, but many feel safe and encouraged to spew this crap, because they think it plays, and the media rarely objects. This second but more important aim of Romney's speech is about pandering to the evangelical religious right, and pandering to religious folks in general. He "will need the prayers of the people of all faiths." Read the whole speech; if you're a non-believer, you're shit out of luck. The problem with Europe, he suggests, is that they're not religious enough. His speech also calls into question his words about "serving the law and answering to the Constitution" in Massachusetts. Perhaps Mass' state constitution is worded differently, but the United States Constitution, and certainly the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom devised by Jefferson and Madison that was later widely adopted elsewhere (JFK references it), are in opposition to what Romney's shilling. Romney also says:

It is as if they are intent on establishing a new religion in America – the religion of secularism. They are wrong. The founders proscribed the establishment of a state religion, but they did not countenance the elimination of religion from the public square.

This is a tired false equivalency combined with a straw man argument. Secularism is not a religion, nor is atheism (nor are they the same). I've got much more on these issues in this older post, and Talk to Action remains one of the best sites on such subjects (they have one post up on Romney already, and I'm sure more will follow). Romney is directly invoking the same arguments and rhetoric as Christian Dominionists and other religious authoritarians, and that's no accident. He's invoking righty stereotypes about godless, European-loving liberals, and saying he'll fight them, dagummit. He's trying to stake out the right-wing position on what they view as a "culture war." A few lines about the "common cause of the people" don't erase that – even if you believe he's telling the truth about that.

Of course, this is also a man so dishonest, gutless and craven he won't say waterboarding is torture, won't say if he's a Biblical literalist, and literally tells different audiences diametrically opposed positions in subsequent weeks. He invokes the compassion of Jesus in this speech, but he's elsewhere bragged about not granting pardons (even to highly deserving war vets), and says we should "double Guantanamo." Giuliani is more of an authoritarian, but Romney is a snake oil salesman and may be the bigger scoundrel.

Romney's got a few lines suggesting he believes in the separation of church and state in this speech, and at least some of the press, eager to hail this as a new Kennedy speech, will likely run with that. One objective perhaps achieved, never mind that defending the separation of church and state is incompatible with bashing non-believers for their non-belief, no matter how slickly or obliquely. His other objective is to woo religious conservatives. As Buck notes, Romney isn't likely to win over the hardcore fundamentalists, but he must know that. He's trying to sell the larger righty crowd on the idea that, as a man of faith, regardless of the faith, he's their guy for the White House. We'll see how he does with that.

I wrote more about Romney earlier in "Hogwash." Harper's Scott Horton wrote a great post on him, "Mitt's Muslim Problem," and also recommended a good piece on the Romney campaign by his colleague Ken Silverstein, "Making Mitt Romney: Fabricating a Conservative."

I was happy to hear Barry Lynn of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State raise the troubling nature of Romney's rhetoric on NPR show To the Point today. All Things Considered featured a good discussion with Notre Dame professor David Campbell, who picked up on the same issues and how markedly Romney differed from Kennedy. We'll see if other media outlets are as sharp as NPR, because as Questiongirl and others have noted, Romney is certainly no Jack Kennedy.

Lastly, I did want to recommend Steve Benen's posts, "Mitt Romney: The anti-JFK," "Romney, religion, and ‘the public square,’" and John Amato at Crooks and Liars once again both for his post and the splendid pieces he links. From Melissa at Shakesville, there's Blitzer discussing Romney's speech with Glenn Beck with slightly less than the usual obtuseness those two can muster (I had not known Beck converted to Mormonism, which makes this a rare incident where he's kinda-sorta qualified to speak, but check out Melissa's comment on the key element they skip). Oh, and also from Melissa, Huckabee implies God wants him to win. Our cup runneth over.

More on these issues is sure to come!

(Cross-posted at The Blue Herald)

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