Guest blogged by Jon Ponder, Pensito Review.
On KCRW's "Left, Right and Center" political chat show last Friday, Tony Blankley, of all people, the former chief of staff for Newt Gingrich and editor of the Washington Times, the rightwing newspaper owned by cult leader Sun Yung Moon, joined Arianna Huffington and Matt Miller in tearing apart the speech on religion Mitt Romney delivered last week:
(Laughter among the co-hosts.)
MATT MILLER: What about Christianity and the Romans?
HUFFINGTON: You wonder, how was that allowed to stay for the final draft. I mean, what does it even mean?
TONY BLANKLEY: It was a wonderfully drafted phrase, even though it was historical nonsense.
HUFFINGTON: Historic nonsense and current nonsense. Also the fact that he mentioned the name, the word "Mormon" once compared to the number of times JFK mentioned [Catholicism] was a real indicator that he was still not entirely clear that this was not going to have some definite public relations disadvantages for him.
BLANKLEY: I've just got to say that Arianna picked on exactly the right phrase. It was such ahistoric nonsense. Not only does Christianity thrive under the repression of the Roman emperors but the whole history of Judaism --- you know, this little religion has thrived over, what, 5,000 and a half years, and they have rarely ever experienced any freedom. The idea that you can't --- that religion has to exist only in freedom is just historic nonsense. It's just silly.
Exception should be taken to Romney's corollary statement that freedom requires religion, as well. At least three of our Founding Fathers --- Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine --- were irreligious, and there is ample evidence they understood freedom fairly well (leaving aside the very large matter of Jefferson's dependence on slavery). In any case, they and others did not "require" religion in order to lay the groundwork for America's experiment with personal liberty.
Mainly, however, Huffington is right: How did an assertion as facile and easily disputed as "religion requires freedom and freedom requires religion" remain in the speech through the final draft? It appears to be more evidence that Romney's political judgments are faulty in the extreme (as evidenced by a string of 180-degree flipflops) and a growing perception that he is possibly even less intelligent than George W. Bush.
On the other hand, it could well be that Romney meant to be deliberately anti-factual. His speech wasn't directed at egghead elites like the co-hosts of "Left, Right and Center" (or especially at non-believing non-elites like yours truly). It was targeted at Christian nationalist voters, most of whom probably found profundity in Romney's bizarre bumpersticker formulation.
Never mind that their own Old Testament is filled with stories of the Jews remaining devoted to their religion while they lived in slavery and oppression --- or especially the fact that one of the most notable features of modern Christianity is that it has carefully preserved its persecution complex 1,900 years after Romans fed its forebears to the lions and 700 years or more after it became the predominant religious and political force on earth.