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Romney's speech at Liberty University value-laden and heartfelt

Published: Saturday, May 12 2012 6:44 p.m. MDT

The speech achieved a rare seamless connection between the speaker and the words. Whoever wrote it knows his or her man. Romney may be no Reagan, but here he bumped up against that standard of soaring ideals grounded in personal authenticity. The authenticity is most evident in the video or audio, where it is clear that Romney owns and feels every word.

The speech was frankly Christian in outlook, and it clearly expressed Romney’s own personal perspective. By tradition, presidents and presidential candidates generally avow their own Christianity, but then step back to a more vague and ecumenical position in their public statements.

Such detachment would likely not have served Romney here, as he needs to shore up his party’s Christian base, which remains suspicious of his unorthodox beliefs. A delicate balance was required. Somehow he struck it. He overtly asserted Christian values without sounding pandering or forced, and in fact appeared to be more natural and at ease with himself than he has been probably since before the 2008 campaign.

One reason the speech worked is that he was not leveraging Christian values to make policy claims. Instead, he downplayed the public sphere, asserting instead the primacy of personal and familial faith. In doing so, he convincingly expressed his own inner core.

"There is no greater force for good in the world than Christian conscience in action," he said. “The great drama of Christianity is not a crowd shot,” he said, but rather it is “always in the personal, individual, unfolding in one’s life."

“So many things compete for our attention and devotion. We are all prone to treat the trivial things as all important, and the all important things as trivial, and little by little lose sight of the one thing that endures forever.

“These things may occupy our attention but they do not define us. Each of them is subject to the vagaries and the serendipities of life. Our relationship with our Maker, however, depends on none of that. It’s entirely in our control. For he is always at the door, and knocks for us.”

By downplaying the public sphere and emphasizing family and personal faith, Romney subtly reinforced his wife’s position as a traditional mother in the Mommy Wars fiasco of late last month. “My dad was a CEO, a governor and a member of the president’s cabinet,” he noted, but when his wife asked George Romney what his greatest accomplishment was, “without a pause he said, ‘raising our four kids.’”

“Among the things in life that can be put off, being there when it matters most is not one of them,” Romney said. He cited C.S. Lewis’ statement that “the home is the ultimate career. All the careers exist for one purpose and that is to support the ultimate career.”

Romney also reached outside the public sphere to emphasize the role of private faith in driving people to service and finding shared values in doing so. “People of different faiths like yours and mine sometimes wonder where we can meet in common purpose when there are so many differences in creed and theology. Surely the answer is that we can meet in service, in shared moral convictions about our nation, stemming from a common worldview.”

To support that answer, Romney pointed to Chuck Colson’s prison ministry, and his determination to “carry God’s love into every life.” After Colson was released from his Watergate scandal prison term, Romney said, friends approached him with offers to help him recover his fortunes and again become an “important man.” But Colson turned them down, launched his prison ministry, and instead, Romney said, “became a a great man.” The “call to service is a fundamental element of our national character and culture,” he added.

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