Romney also issued a challenge to embrace school choice as a civil-rights issue. One of President Obama’s more indefensible positions is reflected in his stubborn refusal to be an advocate for some of the poorest children in Washington, D.C., who are plagued by dismal, dangerous schools. Talking about the intolerable inequality that persists in educational opportunity, Romney quoted Frederick Douglass: “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” That’s a statement for our times, soul-reviving for our country and our culture.
It was one of several quality borrowed lines Romney offered. “Every good cause on this earth,” Romney said, “relies in the end on a plan bigger than ours. ‘Without dependence on God,’ as Dr. King said, ‘our efforts turn to ashes and our sunrises into darkest night.’ Unless his spirit pervades our lives, we find only what G. K. Chesterton called ‘cures that don’t cure, blessings that don’t bless, and solutions that don’t solve.’” This is a crucial part of the conservative proposition this November that Romney represents: that government is not our sole or even our primary hope, and it’s not our primary agent of transformational change.
His name may not be Marco, and he may have a Fifties-model button-down style, but he may just get to work on rebuilding something we’ve been undervaluing of late: freedom. Freedom to believe as we choose, even outside our places of worship. To have the dream of upward mobility. To have dreams again, period. At a time when our government is insisting that women’s fertility is a disease, that parents and individuals simply do not know best what they and their families need, invention and creativity and American exceptionalism all seem on the verge of becoming past tense.
When Mitt Romney was governor, he adamantly resisted efforts to fund human-cloning research. It wasn’t even good science, in addition to being an affront to human dignity. While detractors accuse him of being a front man for an imaginary “war on women,” he is actually the candidate who has a full-spectrum understanding of the human and civil-rights challenges that are strangling the soul of America.
And, because he belongs to a minority religion, one born in America, his election could represent a tale of tolerance, too.
The Romney campaign doesn’t need a vice-presidential gimmick. Mitt Romney just needs to be himself. That NAACP speech was a model and a turning point. “Take a look,” he said at his unleashing. If he keeps talking that way, whole new audiences might do just that.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is an editor-at-large of National Review Online. This column is available exclusively through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.