“If there ever was a time for great Americans, great and good Americans, Americans who are willing to cross into the deep waters of life, it is now. . . . I am optimistic about the future of America because I have seen the spirit and heart of the American people.”
Mitt Romney delivered these remarks in a commencement address to an evangelical audience in Virginia during the heat of a presidential campaign. A speech that many said was critical for Romney to make his case to evangelical voters to rally them around his campaign.
Almost exactly five years later, it’s déjà vu all over again. Or is it?
The first speech was on the campus of Regent University in Virginia Beach, Va., on May 5, 2007 (view it here). We were both in attendance that day at our alma mater as Mitt Romney delivered what many regard as one of his best speeches of the 2008 campaign.
Now, as Romney prepares to deliver a commencement address at Liberty University in Lynchburg this weekend, the media would have you believe that the stakes are just as high.
Headlines like “Is Romney Going to Make Peace With Evangelicals in Liberty Commencement Speech?”and lines like “the former Massachusetts governor is laboring to consolidate the conservative base” permeate the news.
But is this really the case?
Unlike five years ago, Romney has all but secured the Republican Party’s nomination for president. Since mid-March – when it became abundantly clear that Romney was going to get the nomination – President Obama has lost support among Protestants and Catholics.
In fact, among the critical voting block that Romney is supposedly “laboring” to consolidate support, evangelicals, a recent poll shows him with a 73 to 20 percent advantage over Obama. This is hardly a failure to rally support. Among Catholics, another critical voting block, one some have said will determine the election, Romney has already amassed a 20 point lead, 57 percent to 37 percent,over Obama.
There is no doubt that this speech is an important one for Romney, but not for the reasons that the media is saying.
It is an opportunity to return to the Reaganesque rhetoric of his speech five years ago at Regent.
It was an inspiring story, a personal story, as Romney challenged and encouraged graduating students to dive into the deep end of life. His charge was to avoid the temptation to stay in the shallows. It was a speech laced with the ideals, the hopes, and the dreams we hold dear as Americans.
We listened as Romney eloquently stated:
”Over the years, I have watched a number of people live out their lives in shallow water. In the shallows, life is all about yourself – your job, your money, your rights, your needs, your ideas, your comforts.
“In the deeper waters, life is about others – spouse, family, friends, faith, community, country. In the deep waters, there are challenging ideas, opposing opinions, protracted battles of consequence.
. . . .
“Almost every dimension of your life can be held to the shallows or it can be taken into the deeper waters. Your spouse, your family, your career, your involvement in your community, your politics, your faith each can be narrowly focused on your own personal convenience and comfort. Or instead, it can draw you out of yourself, into concern for others, into service and sacrifice, into selflessness.”
It’s a speech that we haven’t forgotten and often think about in our own lives. It’s a speech that America needs to hear again, applicable never more so than today. To leave the shallows of bondage to an out-of-control national debt, stop apologizing for American exceptionalism, and focus on getting America back to work again.
This is not just the speech that America needs to hear; it’s the action we need from our president to truly move “forward,” out of the shallows and into deep water.
Jordan Sekulow is Executive Director of the American Center for Law & Justice and writes for On Faith’s blogging network at the Washington Post. Matthew Clark is an attorney for the ACLJ. Both are graduates of the Regent University School of Law, and in 2008, Sekulow worked as a consultant for Romney in youth outreach.