What the Press Wanted From 'The Speech'

Mary Katharine Ham
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Posted: Dec 07, 2007 1:00 PM
The risk of making 'The Speech' was always that, by talking about his faith even without specifics, Romney would get others talking about the specifics of his faith instead of the specifics of his speech.

Jonathan Martin reports that's happening in Iowa, where the Des Moines Register said, "you offered no specifics about Mormonism, so we'll do it for you."
"Romney takes risk with talk on faith," read the headline above David Lightman's syndicated story. The piece included significant skepticism about the political impact of Romney's speech. But worse for Mitt's camp, it included this key right under the story ended on page one: "Learn more about Mormonism" (yes, it was in bold).

On the back of the front section was a list of bullet points under "Beliefs of the Mormon Church." Naturally, included were all the key differences between the LDS church and mainline Christianity.
Chris Cillizza named a lack of specifics about Mormonism under "what didn't work" in his post on the speech:
Romney's aides have said for months that if he did give a speech addressing his faith, he would not under any circumstances get into the specifics of what he believes. And, he didn't. "There are some who would have a presidential candidate describe and explain his church's distinctive doctrines," Romney said. "To do so would enable the very religious test the founders prohibited in the Constitution. No candidate should become the spokesman for his faith." The problem with that logic is that it leaves him open to the sort of under the radar whisper campaigns that have already begun to crop up in early states like Iowa and South Carolina. The less the average voter knows about the specific tenets of Mormonism, the more susceptible they will be to misleading and false allegations about what Romney believes.
By his logic, the same people who would be convinced not to vote for a man they otherwise would have based on a whisper campaign about the tenets of his religion would have been inoculated by Romney explicitly laying out the tenets of his faith? Somehow I doubt it. If an anti-Mormon whisper campaign would sway you, I'm not convinced Mitt's Mormon apologetics, no matter how learned, would save you.

And, if Mitt's "Faith in America" speech had become an overt defense of his religion, and Cillizza thinks it needed to, what does that say about the voters of this country? Talk about a religious test. Mitt expressed more confidence in people, appealing to their consciences with this section of the speech instead of overtly defending his faith.
Some believe that such a confession of my faith will sink my candidacy. If they are right, so be it. But I think they underestimate the American people. Americans do not respect believers of convenience.

Americans tire of those who would jettison their beliefs, even to gain the world.
The NYT also leads with the absence of Mormonism:
Mitt Romney asked the nation on Thursday not to reject his presidential candidacy because of his religion, assuring evangelical Christians and other religious voters that his values matched theirs in a speech that used the word “Mormon” only once.
My, my, the secular press is more anxious to talk about Mormonism than a 20-year-old on his mission. When the folks in the press say the lack of specifics "didn't work for them," they really mean it didn't work for "them." They knew they weren't gonna get specifics, as we all did, but I reckon they were jonesin' for another religion to characterize shallowly in column-width info boxes.

But you gotta wonder if the good reviews of bloggers and columnists and the message of the speech itself will be heard by regular voters over the din of the media's Mormon-centric repackaging of the speech. Mitt calculated it would.