how Romney botched the Mormon-Kennedy-speech issue by setting up impossible expectations, by consistently failing to identify opportunity and seize the initiative, and by allowing others to frame the debate

“ARLINGTON. Texas (Reuters) – Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney needs to assure evangelicals that his Mormon faith would not be his ultimate guide if he wants their support, an influential Southern Baptist official said on Tuesday,” writes the estimable and precise Ed Stoddard of Reuters in a story titled Baptist advice to Romney: follow JFK’s lead

“If Romney wants to get significant Southern Baptist and evangelical support he’s going to have to give a Kennedy-style speech,” said Richard Land, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

Land was referring to a speech by then-presidential candidate John F. Kennedy in Houston in 1960 in which he assured southern evangelicals he would not let his Catholic faith dictate his policies but defended the right of a Catholic to run for office … etc.

The problem for Land is this: how can he embrace Romney and not appear to endorse the Mormon Confession, which he cannot do and remain consistent with his tradition and his reading of the Apostolic kyregma? So what Land wants from Romney—if we read Land correctly—is a rationale similar to the rationale Kennedy offered the nation in Houston in 1960. Regard: Often in a negotiation to get a concession you need to offer a rationale that allows the conceding party to save face or to justify his or her new position. Otherwise the other party risks being perceived as inconsistent, weak, too easily swayed etc., or risks collapse altogether. (Instance: Say that management extracts too many concessions from labour negotiators without offering a rationale or rationale(s); the result will be collapse in the form of the labour negotiators themselves getting dismissed by their organization.)

We are indifferent to whether Romney chooses to issue Land and his coreligionists their rationale. That would be between Romney and Land, because we, for our part, could not possibly care less. But what does interest us is how badly Romney has played this issue—how, once again, Romney has ceded effective control to others—in this case, Land—how, once again, Romney has positioned himself such that whatever move he makes, he loses.

Observe:

“This weekend at a gathering in New Hampshire, former Gov. Mitt Romney was asked, yet again, whether he would give a speech outlining his religious beliefs,” writes Douglas W. Kmeic in a story titled There’s More To Romney Than Mormonism; National Review Online: GOP Hopeful Must Refocus Voters Away From Religion

He said he would be happy to do so, but that some of his advisers caution against doing so, since it would “draw too much attention to that issue alone.”

It’s too late – the governor and his faith have our attention … etc., etc.

Well, yes and no, Mr. Kmeic. Romney has had our attention, and has been publicly deliberating about a possible address on the issue, for months. See:

Romney’s fatal indecision (ii): Hamlet ponders his Mormism

Romney has concluded that to allow the issue to remain suspended in the twilight of an eternal filibuster—to feign a divided mind or a divided camp—is more useful to his candidacy than to decide the issue one way or the other.

“I have some folks who think I should do it soon, some say later, some say never, some say right away,” Romney said. “I’ll make the decision. But there’s no particular urgency because I’m making progress in the states where I’m campaigning,” or so says his imperious and aloof excellency, Willard Milton Romney himself as reported by Glen Johnson in an AP release titled Romney’s advisors’ say on speech.

No particular urgency!? What leadership. What courage. What commitment to principle—the principle of expedience. (This explains a lot about Romney’s decision making process and why his campaign seems to shamble from disaster to catastrophe like a reeling drunkard. The man simply does not think ahead, nor does he explore the consequences of his acts.) But derisive laughter aside, Romney’s dilatory filibuster is useful for any number of reasons beyond a simple lack of “urgency.” Here are a few:

(a) The issue compels not just press, but sympathetic press—does it not offend your sense of fair play when people are excluded because of their confession or participation in a faith community?

(b) The issue draws attention away from Romney himself, always useful if you happen to be Romney himself

(c) The issue serves as an effective alibi for the non-performance of the Romney campaign—do you oppose Romney?—well, you must be anti-Mormon

(d) Related to (c), the issue transfers the burden of proof for Team Romney’s non-performance on to the querent, as the querent is enjoined to account for how Romney can be opposed or dismissed on grounds other than his Mormon confession.

But here is the problem for Romney, and it is functionally the same problem that Romney faces in the early-primary states: Romney has botched expectations.

(a) Romney’s delays and deliberations on the issue license voices like President Land to issue calls for a decision and get lots of attention when they do so—had Romney acted decisively one way or the other he could have preempted this discussion. Are you a pastor without portfolio who craves media attention? Write a press release calling for Romney to deliver a Kennedy-esque speech. Or: make yourself available for interviews and promise to explain how Romney can reach out to Evangelicals etc.

(b) Romney, by means of his interminable delays and effectively meaningless filibusters, has transferred the initiative to claimants like Land. This means that Romney has allowed Land to both frame the issue and set the terms for the debate.

(c) Note precisely what Land has called for: a speech like Kennedy’s—say what?!-–that’s a high standard, wouldn’t you say?—could Romney ever in his life deliver a speech like Kennedy’s?—answer: no. Neither could we. Neither could anyone. So why allow someone to set such a standard for you?

(d) Now, no matter what Romney decides, or when he decides it, or if he never decides the issue, he loses.

Were Romney to decide to forgo a Kennedy speech, he provides Land and his coreligionists the rationale to not vote for Romney and not be perceived as anti-Mormon. Why?—because Land has shifted the burden of proof—he and others have asked for their rationale and never got it. Nor did they ever get a clear and well supported ‘no’. Hence they may conclude on presumptive grounds that (a) their case had merit on the simple grounds that it was not dismissed out of hand, and (b) since their concerns went unanswered, those must have merit too. Perhaps to embrace Romney really is to embrace the Mormon confession—Romney himself could never bring himself to oppose the claim according to the terms that Land has demanded—Land enjoys the benefit of reasonable doubt, does he not?

-or-

Were Romney to decide to issue his Kennedy speech, he loses on several grounds. (a) Understand: In a sense, what Land demands is not a Kennedy speech, but the antithesis of the Kennedy speech. What made the Kennedy speech effective was that it was an instance of Kennedy seizing the initiative to set the terms of the debate in advance. What Land demands is not initiative as an expression of independence but its opposite: compliance. Romney is incapable of delivering the Kennedy speech as he ceded effective control of the issue months ago. Romney, alas, can only comply or not-comply. (b) The expectations for such a speech are by this time so high that whatever noise Romney emits, by whatever force of eloquence or strength of argument, will fall well short of the mark. Romney is not Kennedy. But even if Romney were Kennedy, or had Kennedy’s leadership or eloquence, the historical moment will not support such a speech—this is not 1960! (c) So: Whatever Romney does now—after having waited for so long—will be perceived as a concession or a sign of weakness. (d) Related to (c), were Romney to issue this concession in the form of a speech, he will find himself confronted by further calls for further concessions, clarifications, and explanations on the issue of his Mormon confession—because Romney failed to act decisively at a time when he could frame the debate, other players will do it for him, and their demands will only escalate.

Question: How can Romney scratch, claw, kick, and thrash himself free from this box he willfully, deliberately nailed himself into? We haven’t got a clue. An experienced or effective communicator would never get himself or herself trapped like this. And: This is not an aberration for Romney. Setting up impossible expectations, consistently failing to identify opportunity or seize the initiative, and allowing others to frame the debate is how Romney has botched his whole campaign. See:

Chris Cillizza provides further evidence against the success of the Romney von Schieffln plan

Oh, but by all means, let us make this ineffective counter-of-office-receipts our president! He is super-rich, after all.

yours &c.
dr. g.d.

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  1. 1 an investigation of Romney’s reasons for NOT delivering his Kennedy-Mormon speech, as articulated only 10 days ago « who is willard milton romney?

    […] was Romney’s line up until a few days ago. As we described it elsewhere: … Romney ha[d] concluded [at the time] hat to allow the issue to remain suspended in the […]

  2. 2 about “the speech”: Evangelicals want clear divisions, Romney wants to blur distinctions, and none of it matters anyway because Romney allowed the moment when he could have profitably addressed the so-called Mormon issue pass him by months ago

    […] NOTA: What Romney proposes is the precise opposite of what Brody advises—Brody wants distinctions, and Romney wants to claim that all sects and their sectaries are parts and equal partners in a  grand mosaic of sectarian unity-in-diversity, our so-called “great moral heritage,” whatever that means. But the point is moot. No matter what solution to the problem Romney chooses, he loses. He missed the moment and has allowed others—like Brody—to frame the debate and to specify its terms. The time to address this issue was last summer, or perhaps even as late as the Value Voters Summit. See: how Romney botched the Mormon-Kennedy-speech issue by setting up impossible expectations, by consist… […]

  3. 3 Nicholas and Wellsten: “that Romney and Clinton would shake up the playbook with the caucus just a month away underscores the worry in both camps” « who is willard milton romney?

    […] Kuo’s theme of missed opportunity anticipates our own analysis how Romney botched the Mormon-Kennedy-speech issue by setting up impossible expectations, by consist… […]

  4. 4 Wolfe: “Kennedy’s approach would not be a strong model for Romney because many Republican voters, particularly Christian conservatives, bristle at the notion of separation of church and state and want religion to be a guiding principle for the

    […] Kairos, Romney. Timing. It’s all about timing. See: how Romney botched the Mormon-Kennedy-speech issue by setting up impossible expectations, by consist… […]




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