The Many Uses of "America the Beautiful"

CAPE CANAVERAL, FLORIDA—Presidential campaigns are often rote affairs. This fact is shielded from the majority of the voters, who tune into the debates and perhaps attend one town hall. The candidates strive to present their stump speeches as organic conversations delivered extemporaneously, not the finely tuned scripts they truly are. But it's obvious to journalists who tag along with the traveling press corps—you hear the same boring anecdote delivered hour after hour, day after day.

The candidates continually make minor shifts in their message, but one tale typically defines the course of the overall campaign. They're usually folksy tales rather than lengthy explications of policy. In 2008, John Edwards had James Lowe, the man who didn't have the money to fix his cleft palate. Or Barack Obama, who would rally the troops with a stirring rendition of "fired up, ready to go."

In 2012, it's been Mitt Romney's singular commitment to rediscovering the lyrics to "America the Beautiful." At each and every single campaign stop he recites several verses from the song—including the ones he terms obscure—pausing to redirect the words' meaning to some form of his campaign message. He turns "Oh beautiful for heroes" into a chance to honor any veterans in his audience for example.

It's also been an awkward attempt to jokingly pander to every state he visits. When he campaigned in Iowa, Romney suggested that the "amber waves of grain" section was a reference to corn, the state's main cash crop. In New Hampshire he pulled out "Purple mountains majesty," and said "certainly the White Mountains qualify!"

He added a brand new interpretation when I saw him speak at a private space firm on Friday. "Spacious skies," he said. "I think that refers to the Space Coast, don't you?"