Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney gave the commencement speech at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University this past Saturday, May 12. When Romney was announced as the speaker, initially there was so much uproar that the University had to take down a Facebook page dedicated to the event.
However, Romney largely confounded the critics with a speech that was a polished, at times eloquent, statement of faith, and most importantly, grounded in conservative principles the late Dr. Falwell would have recognized and applauded.
Governor Romney set the direction of his remarks by noting historian David Landes' study of cultures throughout history, and observing that, “Culture makes all the difference. Not natural resources, not geography, but what people believe and value. Central to America’s rise to global leadership is our Judeo-Christian tradition, with its vision of the goodness and possibilities of every life.”
Governor Romney then brought the speech out of the academic realm and onto the front page of today’s newspapers by saying, without mentioning President Obama by name, “As fundamental as these principles are, they may become topics of democratic debate. So it is today with the enduring institution of marriage. Marriage is a relationship between one man and one woman.”
Romney was expected to use the speech to reach out to those who have questions about his Mormon faith, and in this regard the speech was also strong. Throughout his remarks he emphasized the values of service, hard work, faith, and most importantly family, that are shared between Evangelicals and Mormons.
While Governor Romney’s remarks will certainly not bridge the gap between Evangelicals and Mormons, they may have reassured many that, as Romney put it, “People of different faiths, like yours and mine, sometimes wonder where we can meet in common purpose, when there are so many differences in creed and theology. Surely the answer is that we can meet in service, in shared moral convictions about our nation stemming from a common worldview.”
In one of the more graceful passages in his remarks, Governor Romney paid tribute to the late Charles Colson. Lauding Colson’s decision to witness to carry God’s love into every life rather than accept worldly opportunities his friends offered him when he left prison after Watergate to “…set him up once again as an important man…” Romney concluded, Chuck Colson’s “choice at that crossroads would make him, instead, a great man.”
For those who were counting, Romney referenced God eight times, Christ three times, Rick Santorum once and he quoted C.S. Lewis and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., among others. Those elements of the speech were important to its structure, but where Governor Romney genuinely shone was in his remarks about family. Saying, “In this life, the commitments that come closest to forever are those of family…” time and again Romney returned to the theme of family and its importance to society and to him personally.
Conservatives who saw the speech or read it afterwards may now have more reason to warm to the Romney candidacy. Ultimately, however, to gain the conservative vote Governor Romney must translate those graceful words into deeds – commitments to nominate a conservative Vice President, appoint conservatives to key positions in his administration and govern as a small government constitutional conservative.
Anything less will tell conservatives Saturday’s remarks were fair words merely meant to be applauded and forgotten.