Romney’s Religion of Happiness vs. Gingrich’s Religion of Grievance

JACKSONVILLE, FL — In talking about the Declaration of Independence at a campaign rally this morning, Mitt Romney emphasized pursuit of happiness. Gingrich, on the other hand, has been emphasizing the “life, liberty” part—as in how the “secular left” wants to take yours away.

Romney wants you to be happy. Gingrich wants you to be aggrieved. Romney doesn’t mention religion. Gingrich wants you to think the “secular left” is robbing you of yours. The supposed deprivation of religious freedom is a central facet of Gingrich’s attempt to win the religious right vote.

Romney’s speech was all about the economy, and how you, like him, can be happy if the government just stays out of capitalism. He depicted Bain Capital as a not-fancy place that took a small amount of money ($5 or $10 million, he said) to launch a company like Staples. Gingrich earned $1.6 million lobbying for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, companies that contributed to the housing bubble. When he was launching Staples, said Romney, the headquarters was in the back of an old shopping mall, and he had to sit in second-hand naugahyde chairs (oh, the sacrifice!). Solyndra, on the other hand, was like a “huge Taj Mahal.” (Not just big and fancy, but foreign!) That, he added, “is what happens when the government practices capitalism.”

This led him up to the pursuit of happiness. Your happiness, said Romney, is not “based on the will of government,” but on the will of citizens “free to choose our path in life.” Not impeded by a “European-style social welfare state” which Romney insists Obama is aiming for.

At the presidential forum at Aloma Baptist Church on Saturday, Gingrich seemed to forget about happiness, focusing instead on the alleged sins of the “secular left.” Gingrich reiterated his support for a federal statute that would grant fertilized eggs equal protection rights under the 14th Amendment, and strip federal courts of jurisdiction to hear challenges to it. Such a law was proposed by Robert George of the American Principles Project, and author of the Manhattan Declaration, an iconic document for the religious right which maintains that the religious liberty of Christians under assault by LGBT and reproductive rights.

Gingrich has previously declared his support for such a law, and at Aloma Church he called George “an absolutely brilliant professor at Princeton who has been thinking very deeply about the question of religious liberty in America” and “one of the great intellectual leaders of our time.”

For Gingrich, fertilized eggs are entitled to life; anything short of the statute he proposes deprives them of that. He maintained that the support of the “secular left” for stem cell research was intended to “desensitize us to the fact that every one of us is endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights, among which are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and we have to reassert the sacredness of life as a gift of God.” (emphasis added).

Keith Mason, of Personhood USA, extrapolated from the recent Massachusetts case, in which a judge ordered a bipolar woman to undergo an abortion and sterilization, to claim that there is a “growing” eugenics movement in America. (The judge’s decision, it should be noted, was reversed, and has not, you might have noticed, blossomed into a growing eugenics movement.) Gingrich took the question quite seriously, though. He vowed, “we are prepared to take steps to defend ourselves from an aggressive judgeship who thinks he can dictate to us our very relationship with God.”

In the most recent Public Policy Polling survey, Gingrich is leading Romney among Florida evangelicals, 37-33%. But the evangelical makeup of the Republican electorate (38%) in Florida is virtually the reverse of South Carolina, where they comprised 65% of voters, and which is why, in part, Romney is headed toward victory here tomorrow.

At the Romney rally, the verdict on Gingrich was mixed. Liz Reiman, a Romney voter from Jacksonville, said she had been “intrigued” with Gingrich, whom she called “stunning and sometimes disturbing.” But, she concluded, he was “too volatile.” Catherine Baum, who said she was not an evangelical, dismissed the idea of pandering to religious voters. About the candidates, she said, “they don’t have to do that.”

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Front page image: Newt in New Orleans. Photo by Christopher Halloran via Shutterstock.com

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