[With the author's permission, we republish here in its entirety this December 6, 2007 post from Article VI Blog. In the photo at left you can see David Nerenberg at the far right, wearing a yarmulke and prayer shawl. More about David in the post below.]
I just got back from College Station. Here's what I came up with on the plane ride home.
This was not a good day for Mike Huckabee and others who may hope to use religious faith as a weapon in the 2008 campaign. Right after the speech I was wandering around the front of the Bush Library auditorium and witnessed the following exchange between a wire reporter and a senior Romney aide.
The Romney aide was looking at his Blackberry and said, "The response is amazing. I can't believe who I am getting e-mails from."
Reporter (with a twinkle in his eye): "Is there one from the Huckabee campaign?"
Romney aide (laughing): "No, but what would they be saying right now?"
They both laughed. Both knew Romney had accomplished something important this morning.
The Key Statements
For those interested in The Question, and in the issues we cover here [at Article VI Blog], I think the following are the most important killer paragraphs of Mitt Romney's speech today. I cannot excerpt these sentences and still do justice to them. They appear together in one section of the address:
As a young man, Lincoln described what he called America's "political religion" - the commitment to defend the rule of law and the Constitution. When I place my hand on the Bible and take the oath of office, that oath becomes my highest promise to God. If I am fortunate to become your president, I will serve no one religion, no one group, no one cause, and no one interest. A President must serve only the common cause of the people of the United States.
There are some for whom these commitments are not enough. They would prefer it if I would simply distance myself from my religion, say that it is more tradition than my personal conviction, or disavow one or another of its precepts. That I will not do. I believe in my Mormon faith and I endeavor to live by it. My faith is the faith of my fathers - I will be true to them and to my beliefs.
Some believe that such a confession of faith will sink my candidacy. If they are right, so be it. But I think they underestimate the American people. Americans do not respect believers of convenience. Americans tire of those who would jettison their beliefs, even to gain the world.
There is one fundamental question about which I am often asked. What do I believe about Jesus Christ? I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of mankind. My church's beliefs about Christ may not all be the same as those of other faiths. Each religion has its own unique doctrines and history. These are not bases for criticism but rather a test for tolerance. Religious tolerance would be a shallow principle indeed if it were reserved only for faiths with which we agree.
There are some who would have a presidential candidate describe and explain his church's distinctive doctrines. To do so would enable the very religious test the founders prohibited in the Constitution. 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.
Those last two sentences were the first applause lines of the speech.
Some Observations from The Scene
This was a day full of gems, and there were too many to share in one post. Here are just a few, from the perspective of this Romney supporter and Mormon observer of this discussion over the last 18 months:
This speech, as John has already noted, was really a presidential address in tone. Mitt Romney was speaking to the country the way a president does: calling the nation to higher ground, reminding us all what the nation is all about so far as religion, government, and our culture are concerned.
After the speech we ran into Carl Cameron of Fox News. We introduced ourselves, and Cameron asked me: "So what did you think?" I said, "I think he sounded presidential." "You're right," Cameron responded, as he walked away. "You're exactly right." We'll see if he reports it that way.
No one who is prejudiced against Romney because of his faith could honestly listen to or read Romney's speech without a prick of conscience.
No one who is concerned about Romney's faith, either because of unfamiliarity or deep doctrinal differences with it, could listen to or read Romney's speech without being favorably impressed.
No one who was undecided, prior to the speech, about which candidate to support could listen to or read Romney's speech without being moved Romney's direction at least a little.
(A side note: Romney wrote this speech himself. He writes all his speeches himself. That alone is amazing. If you want to know what Romney himself thinks and feels, you can simply read his speeches.)
As I noted in our earlier post today, I had a chance to see Romney interact with a room full of supporters shortly before he spoke. It was clear that he was enthused about the speech and eager to give it. I had wondered about that, and whether he would be visibly affected by the pressure. Not so. He was charged up.
So what does all this mean? Without the benefit of time, it's hard to say. We need to see how the speech will be spun, and I am on an airplane as I write this, sealed off from the likes of CNN and Fox News and the Internet. Some will carp about Romney describing radical islamists in harsh terms. Others will object to his mention of Brigham Young in the same breath as Ann Hutchinson and Roger Williams. Still others will complain about his quotation from the King James version of the Bible, which is the one Mormons use. (I'm not kidding.)
But the people with those objections are not the people Romney hoped to persuade that his faith does not matter; they will probably never be persuaded.
No, the undecided, the open-minded and the open-hearted are the people to whom Mitt Romney was speaking, and I think they will hear his words and feel them.
I'm talking about people like David Nerenberg, a Romney backer who spoke to the group of supporters just before Romney entered the room. David, who is Jewish, said, "If Mitt Romney is not enough of a Christian to be President, then where does that leave me?"
Then David told us he had a yarmulke that his great-great grandfather had brought with him from Germany in 1848, and a prayer shawl another grandfather had brought from Belarus in 1920. He said, "When I enter the sanctuary [that's what he called the auditorium at the Bush Library], I will be wearing that yarmulke and that prayer shawl." David reminded everyone that "this is an important day for America."
David Nerenberg is a successful and prominent businessman in Washington State. An hour later, as I sat in the Library auditorium during the event and watched David, adorned with the sacred symbols of his faith and heritage and celebrating Governor Romney's speech, I was so very proud to be a part of this moment in history.
Near the end of his address, Romney tied together his themes:
In such a world, we can be deeply thankful that we live in a land where reason and religion are friends and allies in the cause of liberty, joined against the evils and dangers of the day. And you can be certain of this: Any believer in religious freedom, and person who has knelt in prayer to the Almighty, has a friend and ally in me. And so it is for hundreds of millions of our countrymen: we do not insist on a single strain of religion - rather, we welcome our nation's symphony of faith.
Soaring and worthy words from a man who may well be the next President of the United States. Amen and amen.