Yesterday’s speech by Mitt Romney on religion was big news. Forced, like JFK was decades ago, to explain his religion to voters in order to dispel any alienation they might feel, the Mormon candidate made a heartfelt speech mimicking the one made by his Catholic predecessor in 1960. In Texas, he delivered “Faith in America,” a sermon he says he wrote himself. Naturally, when we opened today’s papers, we were interested to see New York’s take on a speech that was so plainly not directed at voters here. The reviews were nearly unanimously positive. “Romney created the most presidential 20 minutes of his campaign,” reported Tom DeFrank in the Daily News. “He demonstrated the courage of controversial convictions by refusing to equivocate about his beliefs. Simultaneously, he struck a Kennedy-esque chord.”
“Some seemed to expect him to address the meaning and purpose of human existence,” wrote the Journal in a staff editorial. “He didn’t, and the speech was all the more politically admirable and instructive as a result.” In the Post, columnist (and Romney skeptic) Rich Lowry explained, “The undertow on Romney has been doubts about his authenticity and Mormon faith. In The Speech yesterday … Romney helped himself on both fronts, perhaps the former even more than the latter.” Later, Lowry added, “For this moment at least, the shrewd politician was replaced by the simple, unadorned patriot.” The New York Sun lauded Romney, too, offering up a lesson in history and patriotism.
But then we got to the Times. “Even by the low standards of this campaign,” the editorial staff groaned, “it was a distressing moment and just what the nation’s founders wanted to head off with the immortal words of the First Amendment.” No matter how wise or impassioned he may have appeared, it was a sad day for Romney and America. “He was trying to persuade Christian fundamentalists in the Republican Party, who do want to impose their faith on the Oval Office, that he is sufficiently Christian for them to support his bid for the Republican nomination,” they moaned. “No matter how dignified he looked, and how many times he quoted the founding fathers, he could not disguise that sad fact.” The candidate, they intoned, “did not come close” to emulating JFK’s speech.
Not to argue with the Times editorial board, but their entire disdainful story was about how objectionable was the fact that Romney’s speech actually took place. Even for them, it seemed a little bit transparent. Are they really that allergic to recognizing when a Republican does something honest that people get excited about? What are they, 8? Though we can’t get on too high of a horse. This is a city where every newspaper ignored it when the Red Sox won the World Series this year.