"If Mitt Romney wins the Republican nomination, it will be due in large measure to his splendid and moving defense of his faith and beliefs delivered today at the George Bush Presidential Library. The address was courageous in a way John F. Kennedy's speech to the Baptist ministers was not."
"If this costs me the presidency, said Romney, so be it. That is the kind of defiance this country can never hear enough of. What Romney was saying was: If you so dislike or resent my faith you will not vote for me if I stay true to it, don't vote for me. But that may say more about you than it does about me."
"This was a tour de force, and it was delivered before perhaps the largest audience Romney will have for any speech before the January caucuses and primaries. It will be the subject of editorials and columns in
coming weeks. And it is hard to see how Romney does not benefit hugely from what was a quintessentially 'American' address."
"If Romney gets the nomination, this is the moment that lifted him above the others and made him a plausible and pluralistic leader. ... For the first time in his richly endowed quest, he rose above the day-to-day jabs on the campaign trail to deliver a speech that inspires."
"It's ironic that Romney, arguably the most robotic of the candidates, is the one to give an inspirational speech that places religious thought in a broader social frame of activism."
"Editorial page writers can debate whether religion is essential to liberty and freedom, as Romney asserted, or whether he should have amended the line to include the freedom not to worship. Either way, Rush Limbaugh, the high priest of the right wing, seemed satisfied, playing and replaying sound bites from Romney's speech. In Republican politics that's an A-plus."
"... there was absolutely nothing in his speech that told us what he would bring from his Mormon faith to benefit his responsibilities as president. None of the other candidates, Democrat or Republican, has been good at answering that question either. But why promise what you do not intend to deliver?"
"Romney hit evangelical pay dirt when he included 'the right to life itself' with abolition and civil rights in his short list of 'movement(s) of conscience.' And he hit it again by denouncing 'the religion of secularism.'"
"This was a speech to a Republican choir but one aimed at moving pew sitters far away in primary states. And until their votes are cast we won't know if any of them were listening."
"Mitt Romney gave a tactically astute speech yesterday about the importance of religion in American life, but he addressed it to a particular audience: those who believe in evangelical Christianity as deeply as he holds to the tenets of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. He left out a significant number of Americans, including those who accept no religion or are less than fervid in their faith. They believe just as strongly in freedom and tolerance as their fellow citizens who go to church every Sunday."
"Someone with ambitions to lead all the people in a pluralistic society should not identity so closely with any religion or religious figure, even one as revered as Jesus. When Kennedy addressed the Protestant ministers in Houston, he was careful not to engage in this kind of discussion. He drew attention to what he said were more important issues in 1960: "War and hunger and ignorance and despair know no religious barrier." The same holds true today, and the building of a just country and world, not religious fervor, should be the focus of the 2008 presidential campaign."
"Still, there was no escaping the reality of the moment. Mr. Romney was not there to defend freedom of religion, or to champion the indisputable notion that belief in God and religious observance are longstanding parts of American life. He was trying to persuade Christian fundamentalists in the Republican Party, who do want to impose their faith on the Oval Office, that he is sufficiently Christian for them to support his bid for the Republican nomination. No matter how dignified he looked, and how many times he quoted the founding fathers, he could not disguise that sad fact."
"... he courted the most religiously intolerant sector of American political life by buying into the myths at the heart of the cultural war, so eagerly embraced by the extreme right."
"It is not always easy to blend an argument for religious liberty with an argument for religious assertiveness, but Romney did it well. Yesterday, I called around to many of Americas serious religious thinkers including moderates like Richard Bushman of Columbia, and conservatives like Neuhaus and Robert George of Princeton. Everyone I spoke with was enthusiastic about the speech, some of them wildly so."
"Before yesterday, most pundits thought Romney was making a mistake in giving the speech now. But in retrospect, it clearly was not a mistake. Romney didnt say anything that the Baptist minister Mike Huckabee couldnt say, and so this one address will not hold off the Huckabee surge in Iowa. But Romney underlined the values he shares with social conservatives, and will have eased their concerns. Among Mormons, the speech may go down as a historic event."
"Romneys job yesterday was to unite social conservatives behind him. If he succeeded, he did it in two ways. He asked people to rally around the best traditions of Americas civic religion. He also asked people to submerge their religious convictions for the sake of solidarity in a culture war without end."
"It's hard not to be impressed with the speech former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney gave Thursday on faith and religion. He displayed a deep, intuitive understanding of the proper role of religion in public life, while dispelling the notion that his Mormon beliefs are somehow aberrant."
"Frankly, the speech we would like to hear from Romney is not about his religious convictions but his political ones. More than any other candidate, his positions on issues ranging from abortion to gay rights to health insurance mandates have shifted dramatically as he transitioned from an office holder in relatively liberal Massachusetts to a candidate courting conservative votes for the Republican presidential nomination."
"Romney's speech at the George H.W. Bush library in Texas was by turns brilliant and frustrating, inspiring yet also transparently political in its effort to find the precise balance that would satisfy Republican primary voters."
"... it was a neck-snapping moment when Romney declared: "What do I believe about Jesus Christ? I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of mankind. With those words, Romney legitimized the most fundamental test being imposed upon him in some evangelical Christian quarters. He was telling them he deserved an A on the religious exam they cared about most."
"And Romney's knock on the "religion of secularism" was pure pandering to the religious right."
"... apart from his assertion that 'A person should not be ... rejected because of his faith,' Romney's speech reversed Kennedy's ringing affirmation of the American traditions of religious tolerance and the separation of church and state."
"Beyond first invoking and later contradicting Kennedy, Romney simply offered a series of paragraphs that, while well-phrased, led to no coherent conclusion."
"But, mostly, he offered a caricature of Clintonian triangulation. On the 'liberal' side, Romney endorsed the separation of church and state, supported the tolerance of those with different beliefs, and found something to admire in Catholicism ('the profound ceremony'), Lutheranism ('confident independence'), Judaism ('ancient traditions'), and Islam ('frequent prayer'). On the 'conservative' side, he proclaimed that 'secularism' is a religion, decried the un-churching of Western Europe, and declared that 'freedom requires religion.'"
"Why then did Romney deliver a speech that described some but not all of his most personal beliefs and defended the role of religion in public life without specifying where, how, or by whom it is being threatened? The answer, simply, is that Romney wants to stand on several sides of the church/state debates of the past half century."
(David Kusnet was chief speechwriter for former President Bill Clinton from 1992 through 1994.)
"Mr. Romney gave the speech Thursday morning. How did he do? Very, very well. He made himself some history. The words he said will likely have a real and positive impact on his fortunes. The speech's main and immediate achievement is that foes of his faith will now have to defend their thinking, in public. But what can they say to counter his high-minded arguments? 'Mormons have cooties'?"
"There was one significant mistake in the speech. I do not know why Romney did not include nonbelievers in his moving portrait of the great American family. We were founded by believing Christians, but soon enough Jeremiah Johnson, and the old proud agnostic mountain men, and the village atheist, and the Brahmin doubter, were there, and they too are part of us, part of this wonderful thing we have. Why did Mr. Romney not do the obvious thing and include them? My guess: It would have been reported, and some idiots would have seen it and been offended that this Romney character likes to laud atheists. And he would have lost the idiot vote."
"He persuasively contended that on important moral and political questions, his faith convictions are well within the mainstream of American history. In so doing, a passionate Mr. Romney delivered one of the clearest articulations of our civic religion by any presidential candidate in recent memory."
"Mr. Romney contrasted the American genius for accommodating religion in public life with Europe's history state religion, followed by sterile secularism and the Islamic world, where a totalist creed often persecutes dissenters."
"That may be the most valuable result of Romney's speech. He raised the bar by focusing on broad principles of religious freedom, rather than on the small details of doctrinal differences. In the process, he elevated everyone even those not-so-deserving."
"Romney's clear attempt to assuage evangelical Christians that he and they are on the same page, if not always on the same scripture, may not satisfy some in the born-again camp. But those who resist Romney's higher calling to true religious liberty might profit from a moment of introspection."
"Perhaps it took someone more recently persecuted for his beliefs to remind us that 'religious tolerance would be a shallow principle indeed if it were reserved only for faiths with which we agree.' Indeed. Or, as they say, amen."