Very, very few people pen memorable speeches. It is becoming more difficult to do so because the national and international audience so rarely convenes to watch one these days. Peggy Noonan, who helped President Reagan comfort the country after the Challenger exploded before their eyes, is one of that very few. Thus her commentary on Mitt Romney’s speech interests me more than most offerings. Her conclusion is in her middle graphs:
Mr. Romney gave the speech Thursday morning. How did he do?
Very, very well. He made himself some history. The words he said will likely have a real and positive impact on his fortunes. The speech’s main and immediate achievement is that foes of his faith will now have to defend their thinking, in public. But what can they say to counter his high-minded arguments? “Mormons have cooties”?
Romney reintroduced himself to a distracted country–Who is that handsome man saying those nice things?–while defending principles we all, actually, hold close, and hold high.
His text was warmly cool. It covered a lot of ground briskly, in less than 25 minutes. His approach was calm, logical, with an emphasis on clarity. It wasn’t blowhardy, and it wasn’t fancy. The only groaner was, “We do not insist on a single strain of religion–rather, we welcome our nation’s symphony of faith.” It is a great tragedy that there is no replacement for that signal phrase of the 1980s, “Gag me with a spoon.”
Beyond that, the speech was marked by the simplicity that accompanies intellectual confidence.
At the start, Mr. Romney was nervous and rushed, his voice less full than usual. He settled down during the second applause, halfway though the text–“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.” From that moment he was himself.