Mitt Romney’s “Symphony of Faith”

The speech is over and the reviews are pouring in. I thought I’d take a moment to give my own preliminary thoughts before launching into full-scale analysis.

First, some of my favorite lines:

In John Adams’ words: ‘We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Our constitution was made for a moral and religious people.’

****

I will put no doctrine of any church above the plain duties of the office and the sovereign authority of the law. . . .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.

****

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.

****

I am moved by the Lord’s words: ‘For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: naked, and ye clothed me.’

My faith is grounded on these truths. You can witness them in Ann and my marriage and in our family. We are a long way from perfect and we have surely stumbled along the way, but our aspirations, our values, are the self-same as those from the other faiths that stand upon this common foundation. And these convictions will indeed inform my presidency.

****

And the inspiring closing passage:

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. .

Recall the early days of the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia, during the fall of 1774. With Boston occupied by British troops, there were rumors of imminent hostilities and fears of an impending war. In this time of peril, someone suggested that they pray. But there were objections. ‘They were too divided in religious sentiments’, what with Episcopalians and Quakers, Anabaptists and Congregationalists, Presbyterians and Catholics.

Then Sam Adams rose, and said he would hear a prayer from anyone of piety and good character, as long as they were a patriot.

And so together they prayed, and together they fought, and together, by the grace of God. they founded this great nation.

In that spirit, let us give thanks to the divine ‘author of liberty.’ And together, let us pray that this land may always be blessed, ‘with freedom’s holy light.’

I thought this was a passionate, inspiring, even sometimes rousing speech. First and foremost, my main takeaway was the same I always come up with after hearing Mitt Romney speak at length: that regardless of the substance, this guy has serious presidential chops. As a communicator and a spokesman for big ideas, you can’t beat Mitt Romney. I think the biggest result of this speech will be that American media, and to a lesser extent American voters, got to see Mitt Romney at his impassioned best. Against that backdrop, the charge of plasticity is hard to maintain.

Second, I thought the content was pretty masterful, especially given that it was written almost exclusively by the candidate himself. It displayed a deep grasp of the American milieu, the interdependence of religion and public life, and respect for minority viewpoints. As a message directed at an audience, it struck the right tone of independence combined with conciliation.

I’ve already heard critiques that it wasn’t Mormon enough. It’s true, there was little specific Mormon content here, which the campaign has been prepping us for all week. Still, I think the Governor missed an opportunity when discussing some of the appealing distinctives of other faiths (which was very nice, by the way), to insert a paragraph about what makes Mormonism appealing. He also has a lot of material about Mormon patriotism and Liberalism that could have been used. (But slyly inserting Brigham Young into Roger Williams’ and Anne Hutchison’s club of venerable religious dissenters was brilliant.).  But Mormons recognized something very Mormon about this speech- the choking up.  That was an poignant convergence between the impassioned but stony mode of American public speaking and the more emotional, sometimes teary delivery of Mormon religious speakers.

In sum, this was a speech with many strong moments, and not one flat note that comes to mind. He handled the potentially divisive topic of empty European churches with grace, and came off strong against both secularism and jihadism.

Personally, I think he nailed it.