Thursday, December 06, 2007

What's Offensive Is Romney's Religiosity

He has painted himself into a corner and, no matter where Mitt Romney goes in tonight's speech on religion, he is going to leave messy footprints.

Even the locale is a mistake. Meant to evoke a parallel with John F. Kennedy's deft defense of his Catholicism in 1960, it only underscores how much the role of religion has changed in American politics and, in the Bush era, for the worse.

In Kennedy's time, separation of church and state was an article of faith for mainstream politicians of both parties. Until then, Presidents had all been white Protestant men. Kennedy, in trying to broaden the definition to white Protestant or Catholic men, was arguing that religious belief may be a reflection of a President's principles but is not substantively involved in how he governs.

"I believe," he told Protestant ministers in Houston, "in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish...where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials, and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all...

"I believe in a President whose views on religion are his own private affair, neither imposed upon him by the nation, nor imposed by the nation upon him as a condition to holding that office."

Voters agreed and, in Gore Vidal’s 1960 play, “The Best Man,” as a former President recalls the old days when politicians “had to pour God over everything like ketchup,” audiences laughed at the anachronism.

Nobody is laughing now. George W. Bush has erased the line between church and state to the point where Romney, as a candidate, has been pandering to the Religious Right to win the nomination. It is that religiosity, not his religion, that is offensive.

Now Romney, still holding the ketchup bottle, will try to persuade voters that as President he would "maintain our religious heritage in this country," as he recently put it, but that his own particular religious beliefs are beside the point.

Romney is essentially a salesman (in amassing millions, associates say he was the "presenter") who has tailored his pitch on many issues this year to what voters want to hear. If he can sell this one, maybe he deserves to be President and use his skills to persuade the world to stop hating us.

No comments: