All the controversy over Romney’s speech was fresh to me when I checked in the Corner. I’m on the road at present in Spain where the Spanish translation of my book — still available in English on Amazon and at all good bookstores, an ideal Christmas present, entitled The President, the Pope and the Prime Minister for those with short memories — is to be published next Monday. I read the criticisms on “The Corner” before the speech. So when I read Romney’s actual words, I was perhaps more impressed than I might have been by coming upon them cold.
They seemed to me to be strong, eloquent, and basically correct. The passage about Europe’s splendid but empty cathedrals hit home to me as it would to most tourists visiting Europe. Many of the large cathedrals are treated essentially as museums, the smaller churches as concert halls for chamber music. To be sure there has been some revival in the last year or two — Poles are rejuvenating the Catholic Church in Britain; West Indians are filling new vast Protestant churches. Some Christian activity is taking place in homes, small study circles, and outside the public view. But the mainstream Protestant churches and the Catholic Church very often cringe before a secularist establishment in those countries whose culture they essentially created. And one reason among several for this is that the churches had become used to relying on the secular power for their influence (and in Germany, money) and are disabled now that the secular power is hostile to them.
When I turned to the criticisms of Romney, including those in the Corner, they seemed forced and slightly odd. He hadn’t reached out to atheists and agnostics? Was there some irony here I hadn’t detected?
He hadn’t reached out to Episcopalians either — do you think either group will be really put out by this? When did conservatives think that a speech had to tick off every box in an anti-discrimination ledger? This was a speech on religious belief and politics and it mentioned what needed to be mentioned. (The idea of reaching out to Hitch is particularly daft. Hitch has made perfectly clear that he regards all religions as superstitious relics of mankind’s adolescence. Any religious person who reached out to him is likely to be told that he will be a welcome ally when he has abandoned his irrationality. Give Hitch an olive branch and he’s quite likely to beat you about the head with it.) Even the editors, God bless them, while generally praising Romney, have reservations about his his statement that “freedom requires religion.” No, he didn’t flesh it out with arguments and illustrations. He probably thought he didn’t need to since this is a point made by almost every conservative writer from Burke onwards. One example: Tom Bethell argued years ago that socialism (i.e., systematic unfreedom) is what fills the vacuum left by the decay of belief in God and country. You can work out why for yourself quite easily.
So I am glad to see that the wider world — as reported in later posts — seems to have a higher and less jaundiced view of the Romney performance. Since I’ve only read the speech and not seen how it was delivered, I can’t really judge whether it has given his general presidential prospects a strong boost. But it should have disposed of the idea that Romney’s Mormonism is a bar to the office.