My pal Barnett, who operates under the persistent mistaken impression that HA has some kind of major influence, heard Rush go off on this live and thought he was addressing my post. He was, in fact, responding to Ramesh and Jonah, of course. But close enough:

I’m telling you, as far as I’m concerned, I think he was inspiring. I think he set exactly the right tone in this speech. But back to the people criticizing him and what he said. They really ought to look at themselves in the mirror, because what they really seem to be saying when they say he didn’t reach out to the agnostics and the atheists and the Hindus, what I think they really seem to be saying is, if you don’t share my religion, not my beliefs, but my religion, then you’re not qualified to be president. What they’re saying is, you can never say enough, you can never say the right thing because you’re not of my religion, and therefore you’re not qualified to be president. Atheism is a religion, whether they want to believe it or not. Agnosticism is too. If you want to say that he didn’t reach out to them or the Hindus then he’s not qualified because he didn’t acknowledge them, what kind of analysis is that?

This is poison, this kind of analysis, coming from conservatives on reputable websites. When I saw it, I was distressed by it. I expect it from liberals; I expect that kind of reaction. He didn’t address the atheists and the agnostics? He didn’t really explain his religion? He really didn’t explain why he should be nominated and so forth? All of this that people are saying reveals partisan thinking, the thinking of those who support another candidate, not seriously thinking about the nature of the process here and what Romney was trying to do with the speech. They’re looking at this strictly within the confines of a political speech, and I think it went beyond those bounds. The critics — I guess it’s quite natural — they put their own agenda into this speech.He didn’t talk about taxes, they’re saying, he didn’t talk about electability. This wasn’t a speech about taxes. This wasn’t a speech about electability. It wasn’t a speech about policy. It was a speech about American values, what binds us together as a people and as a nation and what will continue to bind us together in the future as a nation.

The key there is “I think it went beyond those bounds.” I don’t, and I find it amazing given the timing that anyone could seriously claim otherwise. As I said, I don’t mind Mitt not mentioning atheists because I recognize the speech for what it is — a pander to Christians, and, as such, not one that would soothe any frayed evangelical nerves if it included a tender moment with the godless. Rush is treating it as a cri de coeur that transcends anything so mean as polls, but does anyone believe Mitt would have given this speech now, or at all, if he was 30 points up in Iowa and New Hampshire? It’s only if you take him seriously, like Rush, that you should have a problem with him omitting atheists and agnostics from a tribute to freedom of conscience, particularly when he went out of his way to mention other faiths by name and particularly since, with the exception of Jews, there’s probably no group in the religious vein that’s benefited more from America’s culture of tolerance.

As it is, here’s a question from Hitch’s new piece — and answer honestly: “If an atheist was running against him, would Romney make nothing of the fact?” So much for freedom of conscience.

I’m mystified by the other boldfaced parts. It sounds at first like Rush is lamenting the fact that Ramesh and Jonah were playing identity politics with the speech, focusing on the people who weren’t “included” instead of Mitt’s point about a common American morality. But then what’s that business where he suggests some selfish motive (“what I think they really seem to be saying is, if you don’t share my religion, not my beliefs, but my religion, then you’re not qualified to be president”)? That’s especially egregious since, unless I’m misreading badly, Ramesh and Jonah were trying to articulate an even grander notion of American morality than Mitt himself was. They’re talking about freedom of conscience, he’s talking about freedom of religious conscience. How you circumscribe that value depends partly on your politics, which, again, puts the lie to the speech being some sort of disinterested statement of universal principle.

Elsewhere tonight, James Dobson has gone ahead and done what all “private citizens” do after watching a big speech: He’s issued a press release. His verdict confirms that he can and will continue to be trusted as an analyst. Let’s see how he circumscribes the value:

“Gov. Romney’s speech was a magnificent reminder of the role religious faith must play in government and public policy. His delivery was passionate and his message was inspirational. Whether it will answer all the questions and concerns of Evangelical Christian voters is yet to be determined, but the governor is to be commended for articulating the importance of our religious heritage as it relates to today.

“Many in the media have been busily crafting the obituaries of ‘values voters’ in recent months. David Kirkpatrick of The New York Times, along with Tom Brokaw, Frank Rich and other liberal journalists, have been predicting a dramatic ‘Evangelical crackup’. They are dead wrong. Religion has already played a major role in this election cycle, and will continue to be evident through ’08. The sanctity of human life, the institution of marriage and the care and nurturing of children will be important issues to people of faith as they choose a new generation of leaders. You can take it to the bank.

“Again, Gov. Romney’s speech served as a reminder that religion has always played a significant role in electoral politics. Candidates who disregard the spiritual heritage of this great nation and its viability today will do so at their peril.”

Note well that last line, how it’s framed explicitly as a threat. He knows the speech was a pander. One which he still has the clout to make happen.