Ramesh Ponnuru, Jonah Goldberg, and the Hammer all note a curious omission from his paean to tolerance. Or not so curious: I think it’s perfectly appropriate to omit atheists from a speech that was, after all, a pander, if an unusually lyrical one, since he doesn’t need to pander to us. We’ve been voting for believers for years and we’ll keep on doing so, even though Americans almost certainly would never return the favor. The grand irony in his message of religious harmony and mutual abiding respect is that he probably wouldn’t have delivered this speech at all if he wasn’t suddenly getting beat in Iowa by a left-ish candidate with no money whose main selling point to a large swath of the population is that he fits the traditional definition of Christian and Mitt Romney doesn’t. Will this change that and impress upon those evangelicals our common heritage of free exercise? He’d better hope so because the lefty’s suddenly exploding in South Carolina, too. The most memorable line in the speech isn’t any having to do with the Founding Fathers, it’s his declaration that if being a Mormon means the end of his candidacy, “so be it” — a poignant reminder of the facts on the ground, whatever his other rhetoric may be.

Still, well written and delivered if perhaps not quite magnificent, although feel free henceforth to regard me as someone “not to be trusted as an analyst” per that assessment. Oh — and for the record, Mitt did include atheists at one point, although not by name: “Any believer in religious freedom … has a friend and ally in me.”

Update: I was just thinking about this but David Frum — another analyst “not to be trusted,” evidently — beat me to it. The whole point of the speech, ostensibly, was to take the particularities of various religions’ doctrines off the table and focus on America’s common moral heritage. But in that case, what was up with this?

“There is one fundamental question about which I often am asked. What do I believe about Jesus Christ? I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of mankind. My church’s beliefs about Christ may not all be the same as those of other faiths. Each religion has its own unique doctrines and history. These are not bases for criticism but rather a test of our tolerance.”

By reassuring Christians that he’s a Christian he’s suggesting that doctrine does matter. So remind me again, why can’t we ask him about, say, the Garden of Eden?