The problem with Mitt is not his religion; it is his overeager policy shape-shifting. He did not give a brave speech, but a pandering one. Disguised as a courageous, Kennedyesque statement of principle, the talk was really just an attempt to compete with the evolution-disdaining, religion-baiting Huckabee and get Baptists to concede that Mormons are Christians.
“J.F.K.’s speech was to reassure Americans that he wasn’t a religious fanatic,” Mr. Krakauer agreed. “Mitt’s was to tell evangelical Christians, ‘I’m a religious fanatic just like you.’”
The backdrop, he said, is “the wickedly fierce competition between Mormons and Southern evangelicals to convert people.”
The world is globalizing, nuclear weapons are proliferating, the Middle East is seething, but Republicans are still arguing the Scopes trial.
Count on Dowd to accuse someone of "shape-shifting" and "pandering" while doing a little "topic-shifting" and "pandering" herself. Hey, the world is globalizing, nuclear weapons are proliferating, the Middle East is seething, and Maureen Dowd is making catty, cleverness-challenged comments about...the Scopes trial? Thankfully, some serious, intelligent, and informed commentators did examine the JFK-Romney comparison. For instance, George Weigel:
According to the shared wisdom of the punditocracy and the blogosphere, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney badly needed a "JFK moment" when he flew into College Station, Texas, to deliver a Dec. 6 speech on religious conviction and American democracy at the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library. But what, precisely, do we mean by a "JFK moment" on matters of church and state?
John F. Kennedy's speech to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association was a rhetorical and political success, in that it successfully defused the "Catholic issue" in the 1960 presidential sweepstakes. Yet no serious student of the centuries-long American debate on church and state regards the Kennedy speech as a significant substantive contribution to our national reflection on the endlessly interesting, endlessly complicated question of how religious conviction can (or should) shape a politician's public action. At Houston, JFK declared his faith a private matter which had had no public consequences on his legislative career and would have no impact on his performance as president. At Houston, John F. Kennedy won by changing the subject.
It remains to be seen whether Mitt Romney's speech is as politically effective as JFK's. But at College Station, Romney displayed a greater seriousness about the questions at issue than Kennedy did at Houston. And in doing that, Romney may actually have advanced the national conversation on religious conviction and public life. In a campaign season that all too typically involves the political manipulation of consumer passions by means of sound-bites and advertising, that would be no mean accomplishment.
• Baptists encourage Mormon candidate to be more like a Catholic (Nov. 13, 2007)