Romney's voice was much improved over the high-pitched piping I've heard in the debates. Is it the one-on-one setting, the special TV microphones and computer processing, or is someone giving him lessons in how to sound like Ronald Reagan? I was multitasking so most of the time I was listening and not looking, and I thought he sounded really Reaganesque — the tone, the pauses, the personal warmth.
Warmth? From Romney?
I'm not kidding. Russert questioned him about his Mormonism. How could he accept a religion that did not abandon discrimination against black people until he was well into adulthood (age 31)? Romney carefully avoided saying anything negative about Mormons and instead concentrated on his family. His father, George Romney, walked out on the Republican convention in 1964 because of Barry Goldwater's position on civil rights. This chimes nicely with his repeated use of the phrase "faith of my father" or "faith of our fathers" when talking about his religion.
(Like most people, he's in the religion he's in, most likely, because it was his parents' religion. He doesn't come out and say: Oh, come on, don't needle me about the details of Mormonism; I'm just following a family tradition. But I think most of us understand that's how religion works, and that's why we don't bully people about why they believe (or "believe") the various odd doctrines of their sect.)
At this point in his story, he says that he still remembers when he heard that the Mormon church announced that it was abandoning its belief in discrimination. He was driving his car, he says. I am moved to tears. He then says, after I've started to cry, that he pulled over to the side of the road and wept. Now, that was well done. I felt the emotion in the story and cried before he says he cried. I don't normally cry at anything a politician says. I tend to laugh at anything sentimental, especially when it's at all self-aggrandizing. So I'm going to say he showed some fine — Reaganesque — skill.
Russert began the hour by asking Romney about his Mormon speech and focused in particular on the statement that "Freedom requires religion." Romney said a lot of things at this point that were designed to appeal to religious conservatives, but he finally got around to saying atheists and agnostics have their place in America too and that the key is to judge everyone as an individual. In his elaborate response, he kept invoking John Adams and George Washington, and I don't think most listeners understand the classic debate about religion and government that this refers to (which had James Madison and Thomas Jefferson on the other side). So it may have either sounded garbled or impressively grounded in history — perhaps depending on whether you like a good dose of religion in your government. It's the old debate about whether, generally, people need religion to be good citizens. Romney is trying to strongly ground himself in religion, while avoiding saying anything terribly offensive to those who think religion belongs in a separate realm from politics. Some of this felt a little off to me, but I understand what he was trying to do and that it's an immensely difficult task, so I still give him high marks as a candidate (for his party).
On abortion and health care, Romney relied heavily on federalism. He was especially persuasive talking about relying on the states to experiment with different solutions on health insurance. Here, he was able to confirm his belief in the value of the mandatory approach he instituted in Massachusetts, without saying he's ready to impose it nationwide. Conditions in Texas are different, but in the end, he hoped we might learn that what he did in Massachusetts was best. This was nicely moderate.
On abortion, he was clear that he wanted Roe v. Wade overturned, and this says a lot about the kind of Justice he would appoint to the Supreme Court. Russert tormented him with questions about his change of position on abortion, and he clearly conceded that he'd changed. He has a huge problem dealing with this issue, but I thought he handled it well, under tough questioning. I don't agree with him on this issue (as he presents himself now), so I'm only talking about his skill as a candidate here. I think it is very strong.
An excellent performance.
ADDED: Here's the transcript. Here's the key passage with the phrase "faith of my fathers" and the story of his family's commitment to civil rights:
I'm very proud of my faith, and it's the faith of my fathers, and I certainly believe that it is a, a faith--well, it's true and I love my faith. And I'm not going to distance myself in any way from my faith.What went through his mind here? He's got a commitment not to criticize his church. But he's said enough for it to mean: I have criticisms and I could voice them, but part of my religion is not to voice them. Or part of my political strategy is to behave as if I'm taking the higher ground by leaving my sect uncriticized.
But you can see what I believed and what my family believed by looking at, at our lives. My dad marched with Martin Luther King. My mm [sic] was a tireless crusader for civil rights. You may recall that my dad walked out of the Republican convention in 1964 in San Francisco in part because Barry Goldwater, in his speech, gave my dad the impression that he was someone who was going to be weak on civil rights. So my dad's reputation, my mom's and my own has always been one of reaching out to people and not discriminating based upon race or anything else. And so those are my fundamental core beliefs, and I was anxious to see a change in, in my church.Rotary.
I can remember when, when I heard about the change being made. I was driving home from, I think, it was law school, but I was driving home, going through the Fresh Pond rotary in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
I heard it on the radio, and I pulled over and...Here's where I am moved to tears.
... and literally wept. Even at this day it's emotional, and so it's very deep and fundamental in my, in my life and my most core beliefs that all people are children of God. My faith has always told me that. My faith has also always told me that, in the eyes of God, every individual was, was merited the, the fullest degree of happiness in the hereafter, and I, and I had no question in my mind that African-Americans and, and blacks generally, would have every right and every benefit in the hereafter that anyone else had and that God is no respecter of persons.Russert asks a near-perfect follow-up: "But it was wrong for your faith to exclude it for as long as it did." Answer:
I've told you exactly where I stand. My view is that there--there's, there's no discrimination in the eyes of God, and I could not have been more pleased than to see the change that occurred.Again, we see that commitment not to criticize his religion.
ADDED: "Tears have always been viewed as non-presidential."