"[L]et's just say that not everybody has achieved as much in these last four years as you have."
That was Mitt Romney early in his address to Liberty University graduates on Saturday, the lightest of touches on the heaviest burden President Obama carries into the election season: the president's utter failure to get the economy growing again at anything resembling the rate that historically attends a recovery after a recession.
It was a good line, deftly delivered, so it was no wonder most media coverage of the speech led with that jab.
It was also an extraordinary occasion, one that has passed without much comment, as no one would have predicted a century ago that a Mormon would be addressing a gathering of graduates at a Southern Baptist college at the opening of his campaign for the presidency. It is a triumph of religious liberty that such a speech could be given by such a candidate on such a campus.
Even most of the journalists who commented on the significance of the occasion missed, however, the key paragraph in the address.
"Today, thanks to what you have gained here, you leave Liberty with conviction and confidence as your armor," Romney told the graduates and their families. "You know what you believe. You know who you are. And you know Whom you will serve. Not all colleges instill that kind of confidence, but it will be among the most prized qualities from your education here. Moral certainty, clear standards and a commitment to spiritual ideals will set you apart in a world that searches for meaning."
In the prepared text that Romney' staff distributed, the "W" in "Whom" was capitalized. That's what some linguists would call a "signifier," and what people of faith would call a sign.
Romney's theology doesn't match with that of Liberty's founder, Jerry Falwell. But their worldviews aligned and they were friends. Both men agreed there is a God in heaven who is not neutral on the actions of men and women on Earth.
My friend and radio colleague Dennis Prager is the author of a wonderful new book, "Still the Best Hope," and also of many extraordinary observations.
One of those grew out of a debate he had some years ago with Alan Dershowitz during which Dennis pointed out to the crowd that the big debate wasn't over whether there was a God. Ninety-five-plus percent of people, Dennis asserted, believed in God.
The big debate was whether God had conveyed instructions to humankind that he intended be followed and that were fairly easy to discover, discern and obey.
Romney's use of the capital "W" underscored his shared conviction with the vast majority of Americans that there is a God, and with the strong majority who believe God has communicated quite clearly on matters of right and wrong. "Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God" is the shortest summary of that set of directions.
The debate over how those directions ought to be worked out in civil society and a democratic republic goes on every day, and the large debate over the definition of marriage is one part of that back-and-forth. So too is the question of how long we ought to stay in Afghanistan, how much support we ought to give to our democratic ally Israel against the totalitarian regimes that threaten it, and how much money it is right to take from hardworking people to support those who do not work and special interests that want their projects paid for at taxpayers' expense.
Complicated questions, every one of them, and the stuff for a long and contentious campaign.
Mitt Romney communicated Saturday to his audience in Lynchburg and a much, much larger one across the country, that his approach is deeply rooted in values that transcend party, time and even country.
A great deal can be conveyed in a single sentence, even a solitary word, and sometimes in one letter, lower or upper case.
Examiner Columnist Hugh Hewitt is a law professor at Chapman University Law School and a nationally syndicated radio talk show host who blogs daily at HughHewitt.com.
Social Media Training - Eagle Forum's Executive Director Ruth Reynolds leading social media training at Eagle Council in St. Louis.
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