Well, Mitt Romney’s decided to cross that religious Rubicon. As I noted a couple days ago, he’s been under some pressure to make a JFK-style speech about religion as some skeptical voters continue to look askance at his Mormon faith and wonder. . . now, okay, was it some kind of golden cow that Joseph Smith found in Yonkers or somewhere? Or–no, wait, there were some angels in a big salt cave, I think, and you gotta wear these special underwear that may be lined with gold, or covered with salt, or…
Just as JFK had to dispel fears that the Pope would have a Holiness Hotline into the White House, Romney and his advisors see they’ve got some ‘splaining to do about this variant or offshoot or rogue cousin of Christianity, depending on your point of view. They’ll get their chance Thursday at the Bush Presidential Library in College Station. I guess there’s some rule that these religio-political apologia have to go down in Texas.
Prediction: Romney will stick to a plea for general niceness and tolerance, eschewing any attempt to clarify or justify any of Mormonism’s specific tenets, which would 1) alienate many, 2) almost surely fail, and 3) sound like proselytizing, which is the last thing he wants and which would subvert the very purpose of the speech. If he gets specific at all, it will be to show the good things Mormonism has in common with standard-brand Christianity.
The idea will be to show that while his religion is very, very important in informing his life, shaping his values, enhancing his steadfastness and fealty as a husband and father, etc., it is at the same time utterly irrelevant to anything he might do as president.
No doubt Romney’s staffers have already pored over the speech Kennedy made in Houston back in 1960 and discovered a key fact: Contrary to popular belief, the speech actually wasn’t about Kennedy’s religion, or what he thought about Catholicism; it was about the very subordinate role that any flavor of religion should play in the life of a chief executive of a country that largely insists on separation of church and state. Part of the speech was devoted to reminding voters that JFK was “American” enough to fight in World War II, as was his brother Joe, who was killed in Europe. As for Romney. . . uh. . .okay, he did save the Salt Lake City Olympics, which is pretty important, too.
Kennedy wisely avoided any chat about the importance of Mary, celibate priests, Papal infallibility, and all this stuff about eating fish on Friday. Read it here if you like.