This election season, people have wondered how the GOP candidates for President should strike the proper balance when speaking about social and faith issues. Nicole wrote a piece describing how former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney’s faith informs his character and leadership. It made me think of what Gov. Palin wrote about Gov. Romney in her book, America by Heart: Reflections on Family, Faith, Flag.
Given the old media’s rabid attack on Rick Santorum for saying he wanted to “throw up” when President John F. Kennedy gave a speech proclaiming he “believed in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute”, I found it fascinating how Gov. Palin was spot on even in 2010 when she wrote her book:
“…Kennedy’s 1960 campaign for president in which his status as a Roman Catholic subjected him to smears and religious bigotry. It seems incredible today that this was even an issue, but it was highly controversial at the time. Catholicism had long been held in suspicion by the Protestant majority, who feared that a Catholic president would secretly take orders from the Pope. Even in 1960 many people didn’t believe that a Catholic could–and many didn’t believe a Cahtolic should–be elected president.
JFK gave a famous speech in Houston trying to put the issue to rest. I remember being taught that Kennedy’s speech succeeded in the best possible way: it reconciled public service and religion without compromising either. All candidates had to do, the conventional wisdom now dictated, was what Kennedy did. They could hold fast to their religion and not worry about the press or the voters.
But what was it, exactly, that JFK did? As an adult I’ve revisited Kennedy’s famous speech and have discovered that it is actually quite different from the way it is often described. Instead of reconciling his religious identity with his role in public life, Kennedy entirely separated the two. ‘I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute,’ he said unequivocally. In the best American tradition, he nobly defended religious tolerance and condemned official governmental preference of any faith over any other. But his language was more defensive than is portrayed today, in tone and content. Instead of telling the country how his faith had enriched him, he dismissed it as a private matter meaningful only to him. And rather than spelling out how faith groups had provided life-changing services and education to millions of Americans, he repeatedly objected to any government assistance to religious schools….
Still, his vaunted speech didn’t represent a sucessful reconciliation of faith and public office, but an articulate and unequivocal divorce of the two.”
Gov. Palin then related this to Gov. Romney, praising him for his handling of the situation that some may try to use as a wedge:
“Claiming that many would be reluctant to pull the lever for a person of his beliefs, some pundits and political advisors urged [Gov. Romney] to ‘do a JFK.’ Just give a speech, they told him, and reassure the voters that your faith will have nothing to do with your presidency. To his credit, Mitt refrained from ‘doing a JFK’. Instead, he gave a thoughtful speech that eloquently and correctly described the role of faith in American public life.
Unlike JFK, who essentially declared religion to be such a private matter that it was irrelevant to the kind of country we are, Romney declared that our religious liberty is ‘fundamental to America’s greatness.’ And he spoke openly of ‘how my faith would inform my presidency, if elected.’
Like Kennedy, Mitt praised all Americans’ freedom to worship as they choose. Like Kennedy, he also declared that ‘no authority of my church, or of any other church, for that matter, will ever exert influence on presidential decisions.’ But unlike Kennedy, he spoke out strongly for America’s religious heritage, and how it continues to define us as a nation:
“America faces a new generation of challenges. Radical violent Islam seeks to destroy us. An emerging China endeavors to surpass our economic leadership. And we are troubled at home by government overspending, overuse of foreign oil, and the breakdown of the family…
There are some who may feel that religion is not a matter to be seriously considered in the context of the weighty threats that face us. If so, they are at odds with the nation’s founders, for they, when our nation faced its greatest peril, sought the blessings of the Creator. And further, they discovered the essential connection between the survival of a free land and the protection of religious freedom. In John Adams’ words: ‘We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion…Our Constitution was made for a moral and religious people.’
Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom. Freedom opens the windows of the soul so that man can discover his most profound beliefs and commune with God. Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone.”
Mitt went straight back to the words of the Declaration of Independence–that we are all men who ‘are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights’–to describe a ‘great moral inheritance’ we all share that is not unique to any religion or denomination.”
Gov. Palin further quotes Gov. Romney:
“‘Americans acknowledge that liberty is a gift of God, not an indulgence of government. No people in the history of the world have sacrificed as much for liberty.’
The difference is striking: where Kennedy seemed to want to run away from religion, Mitt forthrightly embraced it…For in America, faith has been central to a strikingly different result: the most prosperous, generous, peace-loving, and free nation in history. We fail to acknowledge this profound historical truth at our peril, and that of future generations. For as Mitt correctly said, “Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone.”
Some in the comment threads after Nicole Coulter’s article have asked if there were anything in Gov. Romney’s leadership as Chief Executive of Massachusetts that is praiseworthy. Well, yes there is. Over the weekend, the Republicans in the statehouse of Massachusetts released a letter supporting the Governor for President. A portion of their letter outlines their support:
Over the course of this election season, we members of the Massachusetts Republican Legislative Caucus, have watched and listened as our former Governor’s record has been scrutinized by his rivals and by the national media. Now it is our turn to speak.
Republicans in Massachusetts never had a stronger leader, a greater defender, or a better friend in the State House than Mitt Romney.
Let’s start with the economy. When Mitt was elected Governor, Massachusetts was on the verge of financial disaster. Workers across the state were being laid off at the rate of thousands a month.
Our state budget was bleeding red ink, and Democratic politicians were proclaiming that only tax increases could fill the gap. Raising taxes, of course, was not Governor Romney’s way. Quite the opposite. With the same energy and intelligence he brings to every challenge he faces, he brought efficiency to our state government. He streamlined our budget and cut unneeded programs.
Without raising taxes—indeed, he cut taxes nineteen times—he balanced the budget every year of his term. By the end of four years, he had turned a $3 billion deficit into a $2 billion rainy-day fund. With the state government’s finances in order, the economy picked up steam. Unemployment at the end of Mitt’s term was 4.7 percent, a rate the state envies now.
But the economy was not the only realm where Mitt was a leader. He cracked down on illegal immigration by vetoing an in-state tuition bill and by authorizing state troopers to detain people who had entered the country illegally. When Democrats caved to the teachers unions and sought to impose a one-year moratorium on publicly-funded charter schools, Mitt successfully turned back their efforts.
Every one of these steps required leadership and courage. Massachusetts is the cradle of liberalism and Mitt was willing to say “No” to the liberal agenda. When conservatives in Massachusetts needed someone to fight for them, Mitt stood up and did the fighting. He didn’t shrink from unpopular positions that drew heat in the liberal media. He didn’t shrink from using his veto power to block Democratic initiatives. Indeed, he exercised his veto power more than 800 times.
Washington D.C. could sorely use a leader of Mitt’s uncommon fortitude. So could the Republican Party. Mitt governed as a conservative in a heavily Democratic Massachusetts. And let’s not forget that he garnered enough independent votes to be elected in the first place. He’s got a track record that shows he can defeat Barack Obama.
If Mitt gets to the White House and has a chance to do for the country what he did for Massachusetts, we will see a turnaround in this country unlike any we have seen before. America can get back on the path to strong economic growth and full employment.