The common touch.
Ronald Reagan had it. Richard Nixon did not.
Bill Clinton has it. Hillary doesn't.
I think the common touch is a big reason George W. Bush beat both Al Gore and John Kerry. It's the difference between Jimmy Carter and Michael Dukakis.
As I listened to Mitt Romney's "Faith in America" speech Thursday, I listened for that common touch. I listened not only to what he said but how he said it. And what he had to say was high-minded, polished and intelligent almost regal at times.
But it left me wanting more. And I knew, in a political speech, I would never get it.
Romney, I'm convinced, can show that personal touch. But I think it probably only comes out in heartfelt, spiritual moments. And that means it seldom comes out in the political arena. In his speech he spoke in bursts of language and seemed ill at ease talking about faith in a political speech. People should feel ill at ease about that, I think.
Some listeners were hoping for a spiritual speech about politics, not a political speech about the spirit.
But that wasn't going to happen.
Politics and the spirit have never been friends. In politics, a person must be in control, self-assured and undaunted. In matters of the spirit, vulnerability, submission and meekness are the watchwords.
The two sides seldom meet.
I suspect they were never meant to.
"Render therefore unto Caesar that which is Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's," a wise, apolitical leader once said. That way Caesar is happy and the kingdom of God doesn't become contaminated.
And so Mitt Romney seemed a bit aloof and distant. His common touch probably surfaces in private moments in family prayer and times of grief things candidates simply can't showcase. I suspect if we saw Mitt Romney in a prayerful moment, we'd see a kindred spirit. The "spirit" is the great equalizer. When people seek spiritual things they also find equal footing. The mighty find their softened hearts, and the downtrodden find their dignity. The spirit speaks in equal tones to the heart of the venture capitalist as well as the Venture Scout.
And politics is often an enemy of the spirit.
In politics, the opposite of "polished" is "slipshod."
In the spiritual world, the opposite of "polished" is "human" and "natural."
In politics, "control" looks like "power."
In spiritual matters, "control" looks like "pride."
Romney couldn't take people to that spiritual world in a political speech. The game of politics has certain rules, and tearful confessions and meekness can be deadly.
For that reason, I was pleased he made the point that his religious leaders would not be allowed to trump his decisions or veto his choices as a politician.
That was good for his politics, but even better it was good for his religion. Now people will have to vote for Mitt Romney because of his political views, not his spiritual views.That is how it should be. And it should be that way not to keep politics pure but to keep religion pure.
E-mail: [email protected]