Panelists on The Chris Matthews Show praised Mitt Romney's "Faith in America" speech, but none noted that Romney attacked unnamed people who "seek to remove from the public domain any acknowledgment of God," claiming: "It is as if they are intent on establishing a new religion in America -- the religion of secularism. They are wrong." Nor did they note Romney's claims that "[f]reedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom," and "[f]reedom and religion endure together, or perish alone."
On the December 9 broadcast of the NBC-syndicated Chris Matthews Show, syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker claimed former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's (R) December 6 "Faith in America" speech will help Romney's presidential campaign in New Hampshire because "New Englanders tend to respond to religion more in terms of liberty and tolerance than in terms of emotional responses." Host Chris Matthews called it "a great speech" and "the best speech of the campaign so far." However, neither Matthews nor his guests -- Parker, NBC chief White House correspondent David Gregory, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, and National Public Radio All Things Considered host Michele Norris -- noted that Romney attacked unnamed people who "seek to remove from the public domain any acknowledgment of God," claiming: "It's as if they are intent on establishing a new religion in America - the religion of secularism. They are wrong." Nor did they note Romney's claims that "[f]reedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom," and "[f]reedom and religion endure together, or perish alone."
During the segment, Gregory praised Romney for his "conviction" and "authenticity" in delivering the speech, adding: "The guy looked presidential, it was a speech that was bigger than sort of the politics of the moment." Washington Post columnist David Ignatius claimed: "I thought it was a good speech. I still felt that it was a careful speech. I didn't feel that I saw the inner man."
By contrast, as Media Matters for America noted, during the 10 a.m. ET hour of the December 6 edition of MSNBC Live, journalist Sally Quinn said of Romney's speech: "I'm really stunned because I think it was an obliteration of the idea of the separation of church and state. He eliminated anybody who was a doubter, an atheist, an agnostic, a seeker. It's like, if you believe in God or Christ, you're on my side. If not, you're not."
From Romney's December 6 speech :
ROMNEY: 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" he said, "was made [sic: only] 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.
Given our grand tradition of religious tolerance and liberty, some wonder whether there are any questions regarding an aspiring candidate's religion that are appropriate. I believe there are. And I will answer them today.
ROMNEY: It is important to recognize that while differences in theology exist between the churches in America, we share a common creed of moral convictions. And where the affairs of our nation are concerned, it's usually a sound rule to focus on the latter -- on the great moral principles that urge us all on a common course. Whether it was the cause of abolition, or civil rights, or the right to life itself, no movement of conscience can succeed in America that cannot speak to the convictions of religious people.
We separate church and state affairs in this country, and for good reason. No religion should dictate to the state nor should the state interfere with the free practice of religion. But in recent years, the notion of the separation of church and state has been taken by some well beyond its original meaning. They seek to remove from the public domain any acknowledgment of God. Religion is seen as merely a private affair with no place in public life. It's as if they are intent on establishing a new religion in America -- the religion of secularism. They are wrong.
The founders proscribed the establishment of a state religion, but they did not countenance the elimination of religion from the public square. We are a nation "Under God" and in God, we do indeed trust.
On the blog TPM Election Central, reporter-researcher Eric Kleefeld wrote in a December 7 post that Romney's campaign has "thus far" refused to say "whether Romney sees any positive role in America for atheists and other non-believers after Election Central inquired about the topic yesterday."
From the December 9 broadcast of the NBC-syndicated Chris Matthews Show:
MATTHEWS: Well, let me just tell you, that may be the sort of the cosmetic attitude people have, but there is this sectarian problem that Huckabee's exploiting against him. So, that speech this week, a lot of people thought it was a great speech. I thought it was a great speech. Do you think it's going to have a big impact on Iowa? Later in New Hampshire as his firewall, where he might do better? Or later on in the campaign when he has to run for president?
PARKER: I think it's going to help him most right now in New Hampshire because it is a speech about big ideas, and we know that New Englanders tend to respond to religion more in terms of liberty and tolerance than in terms of emotional responses. But I think in the general election it will also help him. I've just been following some of the threads online and people are saying that they have completely changed their position on Romney. That he has raised - you know, he's elevated in their eyes because of this speech. So I think it's had a strong effect. Whether it helps in Iowa, I don't know.
GREGORY: I think it's positive, Chris, primarily because he had conviction, he had authenticity, this is a subject he knows and believes in --
MATTHEWS: And he's not flipping on his religion.
GREGORY: And he's not flipping around. And that's his biggest problem, is that he's a flip-flopper and he's compromised -- that's how a lot of people see him. He did not appear compromised here. And, so, I think, you know, whether it helps him in Iowa or New Hampshire, I mean, voters are going to look at him and have a visceral reaction. The guy looked presidential, it was a speech that was bigger than sort of the politics of the moment.
MATTHEWS: He got verklempt there, you know, to use the Saturday Night Live term. I mean, he really got emotional when he talked about the patriotic meaning of the First Continental Congress and how everybody had a different religion and they got together on prayer. Well, it worked for a lot of us.
GREGORY: You can dissect this, but it still had a - it was still tactical, in that he was still trying to slow Huckabee down in Iowa.
NORRIS: I think that it will help him outside of Iowa. I'm not sure that -- when you're there you get the sense that they've -- voters have sort of turned the corner. Huckabee has picked up so much momentum in Iowa I think it's going to be difficult --
MATTHEWS: The Christian leader.
NORRIS: -- to slow his roll in Iowa. But, you know, Romney is also -- he's a manager. He always takes the long view. So I think in giving this speech he was looking beyond Iowa and looking at New Hampshire and beyond.
IGNATIUS: I thought it was a good speech. I still felt that it was a careful speech. I didn't feel that I saw the inner man. On a topic like this, you know, you really want to see into someone's heart, and I still felt that he was being cautious and careful. When Huckabee talks about religion, when Huckabee says immigrants are the children of God, you have a sense of the passion of the man, that I didn't feel even with this fine speech.
MATTHEWS: How much work went into this?
PARKER: A lot. This is not something that came up suddenly, this was not really timed for Huckabee, this sort of Huckabee wave just coincided with it. They really wanted to deliver this speech at Thanksgiving, but recognized that Americans don't really want to talk about politics when they're getting together for the family. But they've been working on this for months, he reached out to other denominations to get the words right and the ideas right. He really wanted to make a big ideas speech.
MATTHEWS: I thought it was the best speech of the campaign so far.
NORRIS: One thing some people were looking for is the sort of shame-on-you quality also for people who were questioning his faith, and if he had used some of Huckabee's rhetoric - "America's better than this" --
MATTHEWS: I - that --
NORRIS: -- it may have served --
MATTHEWS: In other words: Huckabee, back off. OK, we'll be right back.