Saturday, December 8, 2007

Three examples of the rhetoric of religious identity in national politics: Smoot, Kennedy, and Romney.

Here's an interesting comparison and contrast. Three speeches addressed to similar concerns about how a candidate's religion will color his reception in the national political arena.

The first was given by Reed Smoot (Utahn Senator, LDS Apostle, and forerunner of Wilford Brimley, famous walrus impersonator) on the floor of the Senate in 1907. Several Senators had opposed Smoot sitting in the Senate charging that his religious obligations disqualified him from performing his civic obligations in the Senate. The speech is reprinted, with some background and commentary, in the Spring 2007 Issue of Utah Historical Quarterly (Click here for online version). The article starts on page 100, and the speech on 105.

The second is the famous JFK Speech given in 1960 to convince protestant ministers that his religious obligations would not interfere with his civic obligations as president. You can read, listen to, or watch the speech at NPR.

The third is the Romney speech given Wednesday to convince GOP voters in Iowa that his membership in the Mormon church does not disqualify him from being a good Republican candidate for President. I put up video and links to text and audio here on this blog the other day.

This being the middle of the finals cram, I'm not going to post an extensive exposition of my thoughts. But I find the similarities and differences interesting. What do the readers think?


The Shark said...

I don't have time right now to read the other two speeches, but would just like to say that my opinion of Reed Smoot is unjustly tainted by an actor who portrayed him in a documentary I recently edited for the new BYU Alumni building (it's on "permanent" display in its little theater). The actor was reenacting the period of Reed's life when he was a student at the Academy, specifically the point when the Academy's building burned to the ground. The problem is, he made Reed come off as a weenie.

I'm sure Reed was a pretty cool guy in real life, which is why casting for such roles should always be done carefully.

As a sidenote, his dad, Abraham O. Smoot, was also a studly man. He basically saved the Academy from financial ruin by selling all he had and donating every penny to the school, which was still just barely enough to keep it afloat. He went from riches to rags for a cause he believed in. All of us BYU grads are in debt to him, and so many others who struggled for decades to keep the school going in its early days.

JKC said...

A.O. Smoot was also my great-great great-(great-?)grandfather.

I understand that he was a slave owner (which is slightly embarrassing), but that he freed his slaves when he got to Utah (which makes me feel a little better).

Regardless, he did do a lot of good and I'm proud to call him family.

The Shark said...

A.O. grew a lot after coming to Utah. When Brigham Young first told him to come to Provo to help take care of the Academy, A.O. didn't want to. Brigham then gave him two options: "Brother Smoot, you can go to Provo, or you can go to Hell!"

It's awesome that he ended up caring so much for the academy that he gave everything he had to it, considering that he didn't want to come to Provo in the first place.

JKC said...

"Brother Smoot, you can go to Provo, or you can go to Hell!"

Tough choice. That's a pretty close call.