For nearly a year MSMers have been demanding Mitt Romney give a speech about his religion.
Now the former Massachusetts governor announces he will give a speech about religious liberty –five days before absentee ballots are available in New Hampshire, and days before the country tunes out politics for carols, family, turkey and football– and the big media turn on cue and begin to focus everything on the Bush Library and the speech.
Romney will walk on to a stage with a thousand reporters and hundreds of thousands of voters watching and give a speech on —religious liberty. He will be surrounded by his wonderful family in front of an appreciative audience at a setting that is as presidential as they come outside of the White House, and the MSM has no choice but to cover it because they have demanded it.
The Romney plan continues to roll out. Even the Huckabee pop has helped by lowering Romney’s expectations in Iowa, even as Rudy has to fight off bad headlines and a McCain Campaign buoyed by the Manchester Union Leader’s endorsement. (Rudy needs the last few McCainiacs to throw in with him.)
When I talk to groups about Romney’s appeal to business leaders, one of the aspects of his past success which I stress is the years he spent buying, improving and selling companies, and how that required an ability not just to understand the company he was investing in, but the ability to predict what the market landscape would look a year or two or three down the road. Even the best management team couldn’t have made a buggy whip company turnaround as the automobile came online. Similarly, the turnaround of the Olympics required Romney to look far beyond the meltdown he inherited to the long range possibilities of recovery for a great brand in a great setting.
When he set out to run for president, he knew the anti-Mormon fanatics would be there every step of the way, and that religious bigotry on the left and right would be a handicap. We won’t know until after the campaign is over, but I suspect in the headquarters of Team Romney there is a timeline drafted long ago that has on it an entry –“a week before the first absentees are cast, give speech on religious liberty.” I will be surprised if the speech Romney gives on Thursday will have much to do with theology, but I expect it will have a great do to do with political theory.
The ability to anticipate events and especially difficulties is among the greatest attributes of leadership. Romney has it. Giuliani has it. I don’t see it anywhere else in the field on either side of the aisle.
I had some noisy anti-Mormon callers today, and they will continue through November. Though they are deeply sincere in their convictions, they are far outside the mainstream of American political tradition which explicitly prohibits governmental religious tests for office and which implicitly rebukes private religious bigotry though not vigorous disagreement about theology. The louder these voices become, the greater the reaction against them.
UPDATE 2: E-mailers are accusing me of changing my mind about whether Romney should give “the speech.” They are, I suspect, Pittsburgh Steelers fans who refuse to learn. So I have gone back and bolded the words “religious liberty” in the post above. A speech about “religious liberty” is not a speech about theology. Is that really so hard to grasp?
UPDATE 3: Byron York grabs an exchange between Romney and NPR that glimpses what is ahead. Romney is absolutely correct to drill this interviewer, and 75% or more of America will agree with Romney that this line of questioning is unacceptable:
Romney Takes the NPR Religious Test [Byron York]
Mitt Romney was interviewed on NPR today, where host Robert Siegel was quite interested in Romney’s views on the Bible. The exchange gives us an idea of Romney’s frame of mind as he approaches his speech in Texas Thursday:
SIEGEL: One last point: In the CNN-You Tube debate, there was a moment when one of the people who submitted a question asked all the candidates whether they believed in every word of the Bible, and two of your rivals-Mayor [Rudolph] Giuliani and Gov. [Mike] Huckabee-both made a point of saying, “Well, in some parts it’s allegorical, in some parts it should be interpreted, but yet, I believe in the Bible.” And you seemed-if I read you right-to make a point of saying it’s the word of God, and even when considering some modification, you backed up, said, “No, I’ll just stick with that. It’s the word of God.” [That] left the impression-and I want to ask you-do you hold a literal belief, say, in the Genesis version of creation?
ROMNEY: You know, I find it hard to believe that NPR is going to inquire on people’s beliefs about various parts of the Bible in evaluating presidential candidates, and actually, I don’t know that that’s where America has come to -that you want to have us describing our particular beliefs with regards to Genesis and the Book of Revelations, so –
SIEGEL: I raise Genesis only because creationism is a national issue in a variety of ways, and-
ROMNEY: Well, but then you could ask me a question and say, “Do you believe that we should teach creationism in our schools, in our science classes and so forth?” and I’m happy to give you an answer to that. But I don’t know that going through books of the Bible and asking, “Well, do you believe this book? And do you believe these words?”, that that’s terribly productive. Particularly when we face global jihad, when we have 47 million people without health insurance, when we have runaway costs in our entitlements, to be asking presidential candidates about their specific beliefs of books of the Bible is, in my view, something which really isn’t part of the process which we should be using to select presidents. My point is the Bible is the word of God, and I try and live by it.