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Michael Medved’s reaction to the Mitt Romney speech

Friday, December 7, 2007

HH: I begin with my colleague and my friend from the Salem Radio Network, the author of Right Turns, Michael Medved. Michael, how are you?

MM: I’m doing great, Hugh, and great to talk to you today. What a busy news day, huh?

HH: Oh, I dare say. I want to begin by saying Shabbat Shalom, and Happy Hanukkah to you. I hope you have a great celebration tonight and this weekend.

MM: Well, thank you. I’m just rushing on my way home, and I appreciate your accommodating me to be able to get in this important conversation right before sunset and the beginning of our Sabbath.

HH: Now I’m glad that you could join us. Thanks for making time. Now Michael, I haven’t seen your blog post, yet. Duane just told me about it, so I’ll go over there. I did hear some of your take driving down to San Diego yesterday, so I knew you were favorably impressed yesterday with Romney’s speech. After 24 hours, what say you today?

MM: I can’t believe that anyone would not be favorably impressed. This is not just the best speech of this campaign so far, it’s one of the best campaign themed speeches I can remember. It’s vastly better than the John Kennedy speech to which it has been compared. Now I’ve been critical of Mitt Romney on a number of issues.

HH: Yup.

MM: I’m not necessarily a Romney fan. I’m not yet a Romney supporter. But I will tell you what impressed me about his handling this speech is how beautifully, how masterfully he handled what looked to be contradictory messages. Message number one was hey, don’t judge me based on my religion, don’t get my religion too much involved in politics. And message number two was we want a general involvement of religion in politics. And yet by affirming our common values, our civic religion, what Lincoln called our political religion, Mitt Romney hit a home run, it seems to me.

HH: Now Michael, I was watching it from a studio, or a remote studio, because I appeared afterwards on CNN International to give commentary. And I think one of the reasons I was so passionate, and am so passionately enthusiastic about the speech is it’s one that I thought presented America to the world, and its history to the world in one of the best lights and deserving lights. You always close your show by saying God’s greatest country on God’s green Earth. And you know, to a certain extent, that was Romney’s argument yesterday.

MM: It was exactly. And he not only, he not only looked and sounded like a president when he gave this speech, he looked and sounded like a great president. Now I’ve got to give it to him. And see, Hugh, this is something that I find almost heartbreaking, because this speech was so remarkable for its courage, its clarity, its consistency. I wish that Mitt Romney could apply himself to all other issues with comparable conservative clarity and consistency. Then, he’ll be our nominee, and then he’d win in a landslide.

HH: I think you’re right, and I think that’s a message…that which succeeds is repeated. And the high risk…by the way, I was talking to some of my Giuliani friends today, saying the Mayor’s got to do the same kind of thing now. Now the bar’s been raised. I don’t know what Governor Huckabee can do in this regard, if he can make the same sort of speech, say, about Dumond or someone. How does it effect the election cycle, Michael?

MM: Well, it seems to me, as I said yesterday right after I heard this speech, that it’s very, very important for Mike Huckabee to go very public and say Mitt Romney gave a great speech. I agree with every single word in the speech, every single syllable in it. And this should remove any taint. And again, I think that our liberals, people who are no friends of the Republicans at all, are trying to suggest that the only reason that Mike Huckabee was surging in Iowa was because of anti-Mormon prejudice. It’s very important that Mike Huckabee defeat that by saying that this is not about prejudice, because I agree with Mitt Romney about our common religious values, and the importance of those values, at the same time that I agree with him that he shouldn’t be ruled out because of his Mormon faith.

HH: Did you read Charles Krauthammer’s column this morning?

MM: I did, and I thought that Krauthammer was a little bit unfair to Huckabee.

HH: Why?

MM: Because Huckabee repeatedly, when he’s asked things about, when he has been asked about is Mormonism a cult, what he said is he said look, I don’t want to talk about items of doctrine or theology. And when he’s asked does he believe Mormons are Christians…and I think, by the way, he was asked the same question yesterday, he was asked does he think that women should be pastors, which is a tough question for Mike Huckabee.

HH: Very tough question, yup.

MM: And he said look, I’m not running for president of a theological school. I’m running for president of the United States. And I don’t want to address those questions, and I don’t think I should be made to. And I do think that both Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee, they’re the only two who are being made to confront these very specific doctrinal questions, and I thought that Mitt led the way, and Huckabee should follow in saying that no, we’re not going to go there. That’s not what this election is about.

HH: Now I want to run down some of the criticisms that have emerged from the speech. The most vociferous one being, and I didn’t get to hear your conversation with Barry Lynn, and I was really angry, but I had to do some pre-taping, and one is that Romney left the atheists out. If it wasn’t so ludicrous, I wouldn’t even bring it up, but it’s an astonishing criticism, really.

MM: It is, and I played for Barry Lynn of Americans United For Separation of Church and State, I played for him the section of Mitt’s speech where he said we live in a country where reason and religion have common cause in the defense of liberty, and where he included, he said any person who supports religious freedom, or goes down on his knees to the Almighty in prayer, will find a friend in me.

HH: Oh, you’re absolutely right. I had forgotten that, Michael. So it’s an unfair criticism.

MM: It’s totally unfair. He clearly included anyone who supports religious liberty. So he included atheists, as long as they support religious liberty, including the liberty of religious believers to practice our faith.

HH: All right, the second criticism has come from some people who would never have been satisfied, but I raise it anyway, which is he did not discuss specific Mormon doctrines. What do you think?

MM: I think it’s absurd. Look, when Joe Lieberman was a candidate for vice president, Joe Lieberman and I are both orthodox Jews. They, thank God, did not ask Joe Lieberman well, what is your position on what it says in the…they didn’t ask specifics of religious doctrine, because there’s an understanding that every religion looks a little bit weird to outsiders. And that’s true. We do. We all do. My religion does, Mitt’s does, yours does to outsiders.

HH: Yup, yup. Good points.

MM: It’s just not fair to push Mike Huckabee on this, to push Mitt Romney on this. Here’s what’s incredible to me. Has anybody asked this kind of specific religious questions of Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama? They don’t, because there’s a general understanding that they don’t really take religion seriously.

HH: Oh, interesting, as opposed to that which they do take seriously, we don’t want them to be forced to do…and I don’t want that to happen, by the way. I think you agree with me, I don’t want Barack Obama quizzed on his brand of Christianity, I don’t want Hillary quizzed on why she’s a Methodist. I hate this stuff. It tears at the fabric of the country. But do you think it’s behind us?

MM: I do, and I think that what Mitt did is he did the country a great service, because here’s the real question, and this is what Mitt was saying in his speech, is the real division isn’t between Mormons and Evangelicals, or between Christians and Jews. The real division is between those of us who believe that religion should have a bigger influence in America, and those who believe that we have too much religious influence, and we need less. That’s a real fight, and that’s a real debate, and now the debate can be joined.

HH: I also note, and I had a very extended conversation with Christopher Hitchens on Wednesday, in which, by the way, he attacked Hanukkah because of the triumph…I don’t know enough about Hanukkah to understand why it upsets Hitchens, but you know, the rise of the anti-religious party in America is sudden, and I think disturbing, Michael. Your thought?

MM: I agree with you. And by the way, Hitchens would be right to attack Hanukkah in one sense. Hanukkah is not a festival of tolerance. Hanukkah means dedication. It means purification. And look, it’s a festival of cleansing. Now the one key thing is the Jewish people on the theme of Hanukkah have never attempted to impose our religion on others.

HH: Right.

MM: But in terms of the way we practice our religion, Hanukkah celebrates zealots and fundamentalists of 163 BC.

HH: That’s what he said, he said the triumph of them over the Greek Jews who would never have allowed Christianity to rise. Of course, he doesn’t believe Christianity is Divinely inspired, so he thinks it’s all a set up. But I’ll tell you, it’s going to be a wild season. Michael, we’re out of time. Thanks for spending extra time with me today, a Happy Hanukkah to you and your family, and I look forward to talking to you next week.

MM: Thank you, what a pleasure, and look, I feel so much better this week because of a great speech pointing us in the right direction.

HH: And I feel better because you feel better. And Right Turns is Michael’s great book for the holiday season.

End of interview.

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