In my lifetime, America has not nominated a man like Mitt Romney for the presidency. Yes, like all save one, he is a white man. And yes, like of the others, he is a man of some means – though perhaps more substantial wealth than most of the others. But Mitt Romney is different in that he is not primarily a politician – he is a businessman – and he has also served for a time in a pastoral role. Those things make him stand out among others who have sought the presidency as major party nominees over the last half century.
Nothing made this more clear than the cluster of speeches from those who knew Romney from his work as a local leader in the LDS Church. When else have we heard a story like this one from Ted and Pat Oparowski?
Explaining that they are a family of “modest means” firefighter Ted Oparowski spoke of meeting the Romneys and the son, David, the Oparowskis lost over 30 years ago with the Romneys by their side — “America deserves to hear it” he exclaimed.
“You cannot measure a man’s character based on words he utters before adoring crowds during happy times,” he said. “The true measure of a man is revealed in his actions during times of trouble. The quiet hospital room of a dying boy, with no cameras and no reporters — that is the time to make an assessment.”
Pat Oparowski detailed how son, David, at age 14 was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma and the way in with Romney helped David and the family — including helping young David write his will.
“On another visit, David, knowing Mitt had gone to law school at Harvard, asked Mitt if he would help him write a will. He had some prized possessions he wanted to make sure were given to his closest friends and family,” she detailed. “The next time Mitt went to the hospital, he was equipped with his yellow legal pad and pen. Together, they made David’s will. That is a task that no child should ever have to do. But it gave David peace of mind.”
She posed the question: “How many men do you know would take the time out of their busy lives to visit a terminally ill 14 year old and help him settle his affairs?”
And of what other modern candidate would we have heard a story akin to this one from Pam Finlayson about her seriously ill newborn?
Her lungs not yet ready to breathe, her heart unstable, and after suffering a severe brain hemorrhage at three days old, she was teetering on the very edge of life.
As I sat with her in intensive care, consumed with a mother’s worry and fear, dear Mitt came to visit and pray with me.
As our clergy, he was one of few visitors allowed.
I will never forget that when he looked down tenderly at my daughter, his eyes filled with tears, and he reached out gently and stroked her tiny back.
I could tell immediately that he didn’t just see a tangle of plastic and tubes; he saw our beautiful little girl, and he was clearly overcome with compassion for her.
During the many months Kate was hospitalized, the Romneys often cared for our two-year old son, Peter. They treated him like one of their own, even welcoming him to stay the night when needed.
I don’t mean to suggest that no candidate who came before him would have shown kindness and compassion for others – each of them, from Kennedy and Nixon to Obama and McCain, would undoubtedly have shown human kindness in such situations. But if elected, Romney’s experience would put him in a small category among American presidents – only James A. Garfield was a minister, and Romney’s pastoral work was in some ways more extensive than Garfield’s. Yet what they share in common is a certain humility about the work they did in the name of their religion.
That may be why, listening to Romney last night, I heard a speech that struck me as quite humble in tone. As I re-read it I am struck by how it follows one of the rules for preaching that I learned in seminary – for most of the speech, when Romney included deeply personal stories they were there to point to something greater and more significant than himself. While the preacher in the pulpit points towards Christ, candidate Romney pointed towards the greatness of America and what makes our country great. Consider his conclusion.
The America we all know has been a story of the many becoming one, uniting to preserve liberty, uniting to build the greatest economy in the world, uniting to save the world from unspeakable darkness.
Everywhere I go in America, there are monuments that list those who have given their lives for America. There is no mention of their race, their party affiliation, or what they did for a living. They lived and died under a single flag, fighting for a single purpose. They pledged allegiance to the UNITED States of America.
That America, that united America, can unleash an economy that will put Americans back to work, that will once again lead the world with innovation and productivity, and that will restore every father and mother's confidence that their children's future is brighter even than the past.
That America, that united America, will preserve a military that is so strong, no nation would ever dare to test it.
That America, that united America, will uphold the constellation of rights that were endowed by our Creator, and codified in our Constitution.
That united America will care for the poor and the sick, will honor and respect the elderly, and will give a helping hand to those in need.
That America is the best within each of us. That America we want for our children.
If I am elected President of these United States, I will work with all my energy and soul to restore that America, to lift our eyes to a better future. That future is our destiny. That future is out there. It is waiting for us. Our children deserve it, our nation depends upon it, the peace and freedom of the world require it. And with your help we will deliver it. Let us begin that future together tonight.
Yes, Mitt Romney is a different kind of candidate with a different sort of background from that which we are accustomed to. He is the evangelist of an American vision that is both traditional and modern at the same time. As such, he points away from himself and towards that vision that he wants us to share, in the hope that his fellow Americans will be swayed to that call to a secular salvation of freedom and prosperity. It is to be hoped that Americans respond.