If, as some have said, conservatism is a second language for Mitt Romney, his commencement address at Liberty University yesterday demonstrated how rapidly the governor is developing fluency.
From press reports and excerpts of the address released to the media in advance, I was expecting a traditional commencement address filled with personal anecdotes and life advice from a successful corporate CEO-turned-politician. While Gov. Romney certainly hit on those themes, discussed his role in resuscitating the 2002 Winter Olympics and included a joke by former Rep. Dick Armey (shout out to FreedomWorks?), the remainder of his address was an exposition that would’ve been more expected from Newt Gingrich—the great Republican historian and cultural observer—than a wonky technocrat with an MBA.
“You enter a world with civilizations and economies that are far from equal. …Culture makes all the difference. Not natural resources, not geography, but what people believe and value….
The American culture promotes personal responsibility, the dignity of work, the value of education, the merit of service, devotion to a purpose greater than self, and, at the foundation, the pre-eminence of the family.”
At once poetic and passionate, Gov. Romney launched into a vigorous, unapologetic defense of the role of faith—Christianity, in particular—in American public life.
“But from the beginning, this nation trusted in God, not man. Religious liberty is the first freedom in our Constitution. And whether the cause is justice for the persecuted, compassion for the needy and the sick, or mercy for the child waiting to be born, there is no greater force for good in the nation than Christian conscience in action.”
After a week filled with anti-Christian invective from the “tolerant” Left following Tuesday’s election results in North Carolina, it was good for Americans to be reminded of the important contributions Christians have made to American greatness. Gov. Romney also warned listeners that though the Christian’s work is vital, it won’t be easy:
“…[Y]our values will not always be the object of public admiration. In fact, the more you live by your beliefs, the more you will endure the censure of the world. Christianity is not the faith of the complacent, the comfortable or the timid. It demands and creates heroic souls….”
Gov. Romney also threw some veiled punches at President Obama, reaffirming his support for traditional marriage—without issuing any specific call to action—and observing how “odd” it is that freedom of conscience is treated as a problem: “Perhaps religious conscience upsets the designs of those who feel that the highest wisdom and authority comes from government.”
Prior to commencement, the media, both locally and nationally, noted that many Liberty University students were upset by the university’s decision to invite a Mormon to speak at graduation. Perhaps their reports were hyped, because judging from the response Gov. Romney received from the assembly, he was among friends. His speech yesterday should’ve buoyed evangelical Christian voters as Gov. Romney deftly reminded them that despite whatever theological issues might divide them, they share an important set of values.
Gov. Romney came across as a man of deep faith and core values without appearing to be a religious fanatic. By planting himself firmly in this mainstream of contemporary, American conservatism, he demonstrated that he can talk passionately about his faith in a way that won’t alienate less-devout voters. That’s going to be critical to maintaining the GOP’s Christian conservative base while also reaching out to swing voters. Both groups are essential to Republican victory in November and if yesterday’s speech was any indication, Gov. Romney is more than capable of the task.