Friday, December 7, 2007

The Mormon/"Faith in America" Speech

Romney talk has certainly generated a lot of discussion. The general consensus seems to be that the speech was a success, as Marc Ambinder points out:

Let's pause and take a moment to appreciate what Mitt Romney has done today for his campaign. Looking presidential, speaking at a lectern with the presidential seal on it, speaking before the largest press corps ever assembled to hear him speak, speaking just 28 days before the Iowa caucuses, speaking -- reading -- a text that he wrote, giving a complex and nuanced argument about faith in America -- he may accomplished the improbable: giving a speech that actually moves hearts and moves, a speech that actually persuades, a speech that may have succeeded in moving the public's perception of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints from outside the circle of "normal" to a few lengths inside it.

With this speech, Romney may have mainstreamed Mormonism and injected a fresh dollop of energy into his presidential campaign.

Others (like Alex Massie and Michael Weiss) have not been so sanguine.

While the content of the speech can be debated until Judgment Day, it's hard to deny that the presentation was top notch. Nevertheless, I still don't know what this does to "mainstream" a religion people are still highly suspicious of. What it does do is take away attention from the Huckabee insurgency and casts Romney in a very positive light.

All in all, it was a win for for the Romney campaign. There were more than a few commentators who are already calling this the best speech of the election cycle -- but let's not get carried away. One of the things that detracted from the speech was it's lack of subtle religiosity. I don't think anyone was looking for a PowerPoint primer on Mormon theology, but by attempting to almost sterilize his church's influence from his speech Romney simultaneously deprived himself of some of the beautiful and moving rhetorical power of religious imagery, which was all but absent from the speech.

Contrast Romney's speech yesterday with Barack Obama's speech in Selma, Alabama earlier this year. Obama's speech was overtly religious, constructed almost entirely around an Old Testament metaphor, and was eloquent in a way a treatise on religious freedom simply can't be and has the stronger claim to the best speech from a presidential candidate given this year.

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