March 28, 2008 - Lead balloons don’t fly just because reporters say they do. In this presidential cycle we have now witnessed two such spectacles – Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. Both gave speeches at critical campaign junctures, both were met with enraptured media applause, both patterned their deliveries after historical precedents, and both failed.
For Mitt it was JFK, and for Barack , MLK. Their three-lettered mentors probably feel let down, because neither protégé rose to the occasion. If Willard Mitt Romney and Barack Hussein Obama’s clutch-play opportunities connected, they may have become exalted and joined the ranks of those known merely by initials. But alas, it is not to be WMR or BHO.
The short and sweet of it is that neither Mitt nor Barack answered the question being asked. In Mitt’s case it was, “Why is Mormonism not a cult?” and, for Barack, “Do you support Jeremiah Wright’s hate-mongering?” If they had, things would look a lot different today. Mitt would be the Republican nominee, and Barack would have buried Hillary. But no, Mitt’s failure paved the path for Mac, and Barack may have handed it to Hill.
The reason that JFK’s “Don’t worry about my Catholicism,” and MLK’s “I have a Dream” speeches were so successful, is that they directly addressed the concerns of the day along with rising to rhetorical excellence.
With JFK the nation needed to be reassured that he would not be a pawn of the Vatican. For MLK the challenge was for Americans to be told that there was something more important than the color of a person’s skin.
On September 12, 1960, John F. Kennedy made the following points:
“I believe in an America where. . . no Catholic prelate would tell the president . . . how to act. . . I do not speak for my church on public matters, and the church does not speak for me.”
Kennedy took the issue on directly, answered the question and put it to rest. That is why he succeeded. Concerns about Romney had nothing to do with the Mormon Church directing the presidency. No one was concerned about Romney’s patriotism, divided loyalties, or that he would be directed by Salt Lake City, rather they were concerned that his church was a cult.
Romney gave his speech on December 6, 2007, kicking it off with a memorable line, "Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom.”
Compared his situation to Kennedy’s, "Almost 50 years ago another candidate from Massachusetts. . . ”
Played a straw man gambit, "Let me assure you that no authorities of my church. . . will ever exert influence on presidential decisions.”
Laid the groundwork for addressing the big concern, “. . . I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of mankind. My church's beliefs about Christ may not all be the same as those of other faiths.”
Then dodged the question in an indignant manner, "There are some who would have a presidential candidate describe and explain his church's distinctive doctrines. To do so would enable the very religious test the founders prohibited in the Constitution.”
And finally wrapped things up with some trademark pandering, "I believe that every faith I have encountered draws its adherents closer to God. And in every faith I have come to know, there are features I wish were in my own: I love the profound ceremony of the Catholic Mass, the approachability of God in the prayers of the Evangelicals, the tenderness of spirit among the Pentecostals, the confident independence of the Lutherans, the ancient traditions of the Jews, unchanged through the ages, and the commitment to frequent prayer of the Muslims.”
No wonder he failed.
On August 28, 1963 Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his most memorable address. His appeal was for equality and it was delivered in a day when that commodity was sadly lacking. Everyone at the time needed to be reminded of what our country stood for, and MLK rose to the occasion magnificently.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
If he had lived he probably would have seen it all come true. Unfortunately he was murdered and his torch passed to less reputable clergymen, such as Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and Jeremiah Wright.
Since Obama sat under Wright’s tutelage for 20 years it made perfect sense to ask the question, “Do you support your pastors’ hate-mongering?” And so on March 18, 2008 Barack Obama responded.
He started off on the right track. “I have already condemned, in unequivocal terms, the statements of Reverend Wright that have caused such controversy.”
If he would have stopped there and offered some tangible solutions the day would have been won. Instead he refused to do what wasn’t being asked, and threw in a false moral equivalency just for fun. . . “I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother.”
Which laid the groundwork for justifying the Reverend’s remarks. . . “For the men and women of Reverend Wright’s generation, the memories of humiliation and doubt and fear have not gone away; nor has the anger and the bitterness of those years.”
And finally shifted the blame in vintage liberal fashion. . . “Just as black anger often proved counterproductive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle class squeeze – a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed. . .”
It is too bad that MLK was not around to advise Barack, and JFK not available for Mitt. If they had, or if Obama and Romney gave more than lip service to their mentors’ speeches, the playing field would look a lot different today.