I used to think that the reason people couldn’t have constructive disagreements was that they talked past each other.  You know, not addressing each other’s concerns, not using the same “language,” misunderstandings, blah blah.  This morning I was visiting one of the big Mormon blogs and read a comment that I disagreed with, and I was going to respond to it, but then the only words I could come up with were, “How do you not see what a sanctimonious p**** you are?”  And I don’t even use the word “p****,” which made it all the more disconcerting. 

Take-home message:  the reason people don’t have constructive disagreements is that so few of them think like me.  Is this the end of the innocence?

I feel obligated to comment on Mitt Romney’s Big Speech that took place yesterday.  I wouldn’t, except that so many other people have commented, and so many of those comments have been dumb.  Maybe I don’t want to comment on the speech itself but only some of the comments.  Actually, I don’t have much to say about the speech, except that it was definitely the most compelling thing I’ve ever heard come out of Mitt Romney’s mouth.  Well, technically I didn’t hear it come out of his mouth.  I only read the transcript.  And having heard a lot of Mormons speak in my day, I felt as though I could recreate the delivery pretty accurately in my mind (accounting for the fact that Mitt Romney speaks twice as fast as the average Mormon–must be an east-of-the-Rockies thing). 

Anyway, generally I liked it.  Granted, my expectations were low, because frankly I didn’t see how such a speech could do anyone any good, least of all Mitt Romney, whom I don’t support as a candidate (yet), but as a fellow human being, I had my concerns.  (Okay, as a fellow Republican I had concerns.  I really don’t worry too much about Ted Kennedy screwing up a speech and destroying his career.  That’s probably because Ted Kennedy’s career was born covered in a thick layer of asbestos.  I seem to be picking on Ted Kennedy a lot lately.  That’s probably because I’m hoping that if I stop mentioning John Edwards, he will eventually go away.  So far it isn’t working.  But I’m a patient woman.)

Originally I was in that camp that said the speech was pointless because if he was trying to appease people who had misgivings about his religion, he was fighting a losing battle.  It’s possible to overcome one’s misgivings about a religion–happens more often than you’d think, actually–but such developments usually require divine intervention, or a psychotic break with reality, depending on your point of view.  Anyway, a speech doesn’t usually do the trick, no matter how nice it is.  It’s far more realistic to dispel people’s misgivings about individuals, including individuals who happen to be Mormons, but I thought that Mitt had had plenty of time to dispel people’s misgivings about him personally, and if he hadn’t dispelled mine yet, the likelihood that he would dispel those of people who were hung up on his religion was vanishingly small. 

While the speech wasn’t perfect, I was still impressed.  I could nitpick if I were so inclined, but I confess that I’m moved to view the weaker passages charitably.  (As a fellow Republican and all.  I was going to say fellow Mormon–I’m not above a little denominational cronyism–but then I realized I don’t really care if Harry Reid screws up a speech either.)  Also, I’m a sucker for that God Bless America stuff.  For the first time during Romney’s long campaign I felt a scintilla of enthusiasm for the man.  (If you’ll excuse me getting caught up in the moment there–we Mormons are emotional types.)  

So there you have it.  It doesn’t bother me that other people didn’t like the speech as much as I did, or that they’re less inclined to view the weaker passages charitably–especially if those people aren’t religious people because, really, there was not much there for Americans who are confirmed secularists, and there were a couple lines that I would not expect to sit well with non-believers (unless they were possessed of a superhuman maturity or, possibly, apathy).  “Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom” is one such line.  That was clumsily written, possibly ill-considered, but on the scale of offensiveness, it probably ranks higher than it ought to.  (I respect your right to respectfully disagree.) 

And I concede that as long as he was praising other faiths, it would have been nice to throw a bone to some eastern religions–but only if he’d been Mike Huckabee.  When it comes to religions with polytheistic pantheons, a Mormon politician really can’t afford to go there.  (You probably have to be a Christian to understand why.  But if you’re a Christian, you’re probably not lamenting how often Buddhism gets overlooked, either.)  Also, it’s very possible Mitt doesn’t know the first thing about eastern religions, which should be forgivable, as a large percentage of Westerners don’t know the first thing about western religions, and certainly not about Mormonism.

And here’s where the dumb criticisms come in.  One particular quibble was that Romney was supposed to be addressing the issue of his own faith, but he only mentioned the word “Mormon” once.  (Contrast this with JFK’s famous speech, wherein he used the word “Catholic” twenty times.)  My reaction?  Um…whatev.  Yeah, not even worth a whole “whatever.”  And I never shorten “whatever,” so you know I really mean it.  I think lots of people may have been expecting Romney to talk more about Mormonism per se, but those people were expecting a speech that Romney was wise not to give.  Also, here’s a little secret:  as a general rule, Mormons don’t say the word “Mormon” nearly as much as Not-Mormons do.  I say the word “Mormon” a lot, but I say it with self-conscious irony, usually when I’m making fun of us.  (Yes, I know, I’m a subtle one.  We all are, but that’s another secret I won’t explicate at this time.)  Walk into one of our church meetings, where we–hold onto your hats–talk about our religion a lot, and we still don’t use the word “Mormon” all that much. 

Maybe this is a product of twentieth-century assimilation, but I actually think it’s because our religion isn’t actually Mormon-centric.  Yes, Mormon is the name of a person–or alleged person, if you prefer, and he compiled a group of holy writings that eventually became the book that bears his name.  But we never intended to name the religion after him, mainly because we’ve always labored under the delusion that we worship God.  As I’ve written here before, Mormons have an uneasy history with their third-party-imposed moniker and what with people getting all huffy about us calling ourselves “Christians,” frankly we’re not sure what we should call ourselves, even among ourselves.  Hence the relative infrequency of “Mormon” in our speech.  Not that we’re hung up on it.  We’re far too busy with the whole food-storage thing.  (Or in my case, the lack of food-storage thing.)  That’s why this criticism is so curious.  It would never occur to me to expect Mitt Romney to say the word “Mormon” a lot in a speech given to anyone, let alone an audience of diverse religious preference, and I’d be astonished to learn that Mitt’s underuse of the word was pre-meditated.  (And I believe very little of what Mitt Romney does is not pre-meditated–surely a strength in his professional career, but perhaps not in his political one.)

Another criticism is that he didn’t talk about specific Mormon beliefs.  As though that would be reassuring for anyone.  Yes, that’s a recipe for unifying a party:  focus on our differences.  Oh, wait, that’s a different recipe.  I forget what for…doesn’t matter.  Bill Bennett said it was a fine speech, but that it could have been given by any one of the candidates.  True enough, but as several others have pointed out, Romney was the only candidate who had to give such a speech.  (Arguably, Rudy Giuliani might have had to give a similar speech at some point, but probably not, as JFK did the heavy lifting on the Catholic front, and Bill Clinton did the heavy lifting on the “that’s between us and our God” front.  No, I’m not fishing for Lewinsky jokes here.  Save them.)  And if the purpose was to allay people’s fears of creeping Mormonism, getting into Mormon theology–which is complex and not altogether settled–would have been counterproductive.  Because who really cares about Mormon theology, other than Mormons?  No one.  Sure, others might be curious, but you don’t elect a President who can satisfy your curiosity; you elect one who can lead.  And people who waste time explaining the inexplicable to people who don’t care make very poor leaders.  In my opinion.  Take that for what it’s worth. 

And now the final criticism, that Mitt Romney’s given in and made his religion an issue and now has no right to expect the media (and voters) to leave it alone:  I can only say, for God’s sake, give it a rest, people.  (That is a politesse spin on “Why are you such a sanctimonious p****?”)

I didn’t even address the myriad of MoCriticisms of the speech, but in other Mormon news: 

In an interview Tuesday Harry Reid declined to give Brother Romney any advice on his Mormon speech, but that doesn’t mean he himself was speechless:

“Well,” Mr. Reid said, “I believe Mitt Romney, who’s a man I’ve never met — don’t particularly want to — a man I’ve never met, that I would hope that his running for president would be determined on his politics and not his religion.” (emphasis added)

You know, Mitt Romney may be a lot of things, a Mormon and a flipping phony among them–but at least he’s not small.  I’ll give him that.