Friday, May 09, 2008

More Bigotry from My Man Mitt

Mitt Romney annoys me. Professionally. Ideologically, I suppose my biggest enemy of all the Republican candidates was Mike Huckabee (though that would be mitigated quite a bit if I could believe he was serious about the Fair Tax). But some people just rub you the wrong way, and for me that was Romney. I just can't stand the guy. Of all the Republican candidates, he struck me as easily the most arrogant and insincere.

One of the things I especially don't like about him is his smarmy, snake-oil salesman approach to religion. I have written before about how contradictory I find the opinion that "any religion is better than no religion." Proponents of it like to call it "siding with a conscience of faith." It is, I suppose, the majority opinion on morality in America that you have to have a religion to have it. And, frankly, one of the main reasons I despise Mitt Romney is that he tries to pander to this opinion with a silver tongue.

National Review is busy reprising its lovefest with him on exactly this point. They've published in full a speech he made articulating exactly this "argument" yesterday at the Beckett Fund for Religious Liberty.

Let's listen to Mitt talk trash while pretending to be broad-minded.

Of course he talks mostly about his "Big Speech," you know, the one where he tried to tell us that "better me the Mormon than some atheist" - as if any atheist could possibly win a major party nomination in this day and age.

In the days that followed, my remarks drew a considerable amount of congratulatory comment - and some criticism as well.

Funny - I remember that almost exactly the other way around. There was lots of criticism - and some congratulatory comment as well. But Romney was never one to sell himself even.

He then responds to exactly one of these criticisms - namely the one that says you can't purport to represent the whole of the American people if you systematically ignore non-believers - who George Will helpfully points out number just between the populations of California and Texas.

At first, I brushed this off - after all this was a speech about faith in America, not non-faith in America. Besides, I had not enumerated the contributions of believers - why should non-believers get special treatment?

Oh, gee, I dunno - maybe because if you're offering as a selling point for your candidacy that your "conscience of faith" is an indispensable qualification, any listener with an average IQ picks up on the unmistakeable implication that you believe non-believers can have no moral consciences (or at the very least deficient ones)? Sorry, kiddo, but if you're going to insult a swathe of the lisening public larger than the state of Texas, even if only by implication, people are gonna notice.

He then goes on to say that he "missed an opportunity" to remind everyone that non-believers have as much a stake in religious liberty as believers. Speaking as a non-believer myself, I would just like to say that that's not quite true, and Romney's general attitude is a convenient illustration why. Non-believers have a stake in religious liberty only if it is extended to include the right not to worship. People will say I'm splitting hairs, but I'm not at all. Clearly I'm not if in fact the attitude prevails - and Romney's "Big Speech" is a sterling example of it - that a religious conscience, any religious conscience, is preferable to a non-religious one. Romney clearly makes the distinction himself when he says his "faith speech" was about "faith in America, not non-faith in America." Someone who can say that a simple speech about the politics of faith in America ipso facto excludes the faith-less would, one imagines, have little trouble turning around later and saying that religious liberty doesn't apply to them either.

But the real howler in this speech is the point he goes on to "make:" that religion is indispensable for liberty.

Oh really?

Anyone with even a passing knowledge of history can rattle off ten examples of nation-states that oppressed people in the name of religion in a quarter as many seconds. In fact, one of the major grievances that led to the foundation of the Republic of which Romney wanted to be president was exactly that: religious repression.

But don't worry. Romney's got his bases covered. He wasn't talking about the kind of faith that oppresses people.

History abounds with examples where religion has been imposed by the state upon a people - from the Greek city-state to the dictatorship of the Taliban. But that is not the faith of which I speak.

Of course it isn't. Because why address an issue when you can define it away? This is an old habit of Romney's, in fact.

Would America and the freedom she inaugurated here and across the world survive - over centuries - if we were to abandon our faith in God?


I do not believe so.

This is hardly a novel view. Nor is it divisive.

How, one wonders, is this anything other than divisive? The man just said as clearly as he possibly could that atheists have nothing to contribute to the preservation of freedom - that it's a project they couldn't manage on their own. That's about as divisive a thing as one can say on this subject.

Next come a couple of selective quotes from the Founders purporting to affirm Romney's belief that religion is a sine qua non. The one from Adams I'll have to grant him. But this one from Jefferson?

"Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure," Jefferson once asked, "when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are a gift of God?"

Clearly, Romney has misunderstood the implication. It isn't important that the rights come from some ghost, but merely that they are independent of government consent.

Next, apparently religious people love freedom more than anyone else:

Nor can we overlook that people of faith have a unique appreciation for freedom. Because the practice of religion requires freedom, liberty is especially precious to people of faith. They are willing to sacrifice much to protect it.

COME ON! This applies to anyone who values their right. He might as well have said "the pursuit of an education requires freedom" and concluded from it that intellectuals have a unique appreciation for freedom. Or that participating in a market requires freedom, so businessmen do. Etc. etc. ad inifinitum. NO doubt Romney would say "yes, each of these people have their own unique appreciation of freedom." But that, of course, exposes this for the sideshow it is.

Here, though, is the real clincher:

I love how plainly that thought was put by John Adams: "Without religion, this world would be something not fit to be mentioned in polite company, I mean Hell."

And that puts the lie to everything that Romney said before about including non-believers. He starts off by telling us that we have a stake in the liberty he wants for the faithful, and then turns around and says - in as many words - that atheists have no role to play in sustaining American freedom, and that, indeed, life would be absolute Hell if everyone were a non-believer - which is to say, that the religious are the only reason this world is habitable at all.

What a load of bigoted bile.


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