Mitt Romney was received politely, though not quite enthusiastically, when he spoke at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University Monday. It wasn't through lack of trying. In a performance that Lawrence O'Donnell on The Last Word Monday derided as "Christian chest-thumping at its worst," Romney, a Mormon, pulled out all the stops to pander to the crowd, telling his audience: "There is no greater force for good in the nation than Christian conscience in action."
O'Donnell asked why Romney didn't recognize the existence of Americans who belong to other faiths, or to none. And he contrasted the performance with two speeches to religious audiences given by politicians from an earlier era.
In 1983, O'Donnell explained, Ted Kennedy spoke at the very same Liberty University. Said O'Donnell: "Here is what Christians sound like when they are not timid:"
In short, I hope for an America in which neither fundamentalist nor humanist will be a dirty word, but a fair description of the different ways in which people of good will look at life and into their own souls. I hope for an America where no president, no public official, no individual, will ever be deemed a greater or lesser American because of religious doubt or religious belief.
O'Donnell followed that up with an excerpt from a 1984 speech given by then New York governor Mario Cuomo at the University of Notre Dame.
"I protect my right to be a Catholic," Cuomo told the crowd, "by preserving your right to be a Jew or a Protestant, or a nonbeliever, or anything you choose."
Said O'Donnell: "Mitt Romney would never dare speak that sentence to any audience anywhere. But the Cuomo position is the true American position."