Mitt Romney made his long awaited speech today on religion. He had hoped to defuse the questions surrounding his Mormonism in a way reminiscent of JFK's speech to the Houston Protestant Pastors in 1960.
I read the speech and saw part of it on the Internet today. It was a good, heartfelt speech. In the gym tonight, I was watching on t.v. while one bunch of pundits (from different sides of the aisle) seemed to think it was a great speech. Then on Oberman, well, Oberman was Oberman (I had a testy e-mail exchange with him once when he was still a sportscaster, so I really don't like him).
I had two problems with the speech.
First, I thought he seemed to insinuate that non-religious people cannot be good Americans. Considering that most of the Founders were "nonconformists" on the question of religion, and some were outright heretics, that is just wrong to say. I went through an atheist phase about 10 years ago -- was I less American for it?
Second, though, just from an overall standpoint, and as a Catholic, I am annoyed we even have to be having this conversation. Three years ago, John Kerry could run for president and no one asked about his Catholicism. No one seems very concerned about Rudy Giuliani’s lapsed Catholicism. 7 years ago, an Orthodox Jew could get nominated for vice president. No one really batted an eyelash. 47 years ago, a Catholic could get elected president but was forced to head off the Catholic issue. And even there (and in 1928 with Al Smith), the issue was whether Catholics would have to submit to the Pope.
The issue with Romney, and why it is so annoying, is not one of independence but rather simply theology. Some, especially on the Evangelical right, seem hung up not on Romney's ideology but rather on the teachings of Mormonism. This was not raised when his father ran for president in 1968 (though when Mo Udall ran for the democratic nomination in 1976, Colman Young, an ally of Carter did raise the Mormon issue).
I hoped we were past this as a country. I hope I am not wrong.