Post by Rob T.
The website Mormon Dems has long piece laying out the reasons not to vote for Gov. Romney this November. I encourage you to read the whole thing here for the meat of the argument, but here are some key quotes:
"While I admire Romney’s dedicated unpaid service in my church as a bishop and stake president, believe that he is a good family man who also cares deeply about our country, and am thrilled by Romney’s ascension to the GOP nomination in this Mormon moment, I am confident that he is the wrong person for the job of President of the United States."
"I recognize that many politicians shift their positions from time to time, but cannot think of any politician as well-known as Governor Romney who has gone through such seismic political shifts. These shifts are disconcerting not only to me, but also to many GOP primary voters who wondered whether Romney was as “severely conservative” as he said he was. Governor Romney’s GOP Primary opponents were often frustrated by Romney’s flip-flops and had difficulty cornering him on any particular issue. How do we know how Romney would govern as President? While I suspect Governor Romney may not be as conservative as he appeared in order to clinch the nomination, no one really knows. This is why I do not find Romney to be trustworthy as a politician."
"While Governor Romney’s candidacy is exciting for Mormons and has done a tremendous service for our church by helping to bring it out of obscurity and to generate a national and global conversation about Mormonism, a Romney presidency would be wrong for our country in many ways. Even if Romney is more moderate than he seems, many of his party members in Congress are 'severely conservative' and would put tremendous pressure on him to pass right-wing legislation and appoint right-wing officials and judges. For these reasons and others, I cannot support Mitt Romney for President."
This video and the following post are from Odyssey Networks:
Mormon Democrats are a rarity in Utah. They represent just 7 percent of Mormons in the state, but came out full force Tuesday evening at an LDS Democrats event held in Charlotte, N.C. in and around the Democratic National Convention. LDS Democrats, many of whom were formerly Republican, say the Democratic party now best represents their core values, including caring for the most vulnerable in society. They are not monolithic in their beliefs however, as LDS Democrats range from feminists to anti-abortion.
Thank you to Odyessy Networks for this great video!
Post by Eric R -
In recent weeks I have been part of several discussions with conservative Mormons about how the proper role of government should intersect with Christ’s commandment to take care of one another. A common point that keeps coming up is “free agency”. More precisely, my friends object to the federal government requiring citizens to contribute to social programs, as they feel that it is a violation of their free agency to choose how they will (or will not) contribute to the temporal wellbeing of their brothers and sisters in need. Yes, we need to help take care of the sick and afflicted, they agree, but the government shouldn’t force us to do it, rather it should be a matter of individual initiative and obligation.
What I found most frustrating was the fact that I knew these people support the government restricting our individual agency in hundreds of other ways each and every day, because they recognize that it is for the public good, and often in support of a larger moral imperative. Speed limits, bans on indoor smoking, age limits for alcohol consumption, mandatory education for minors, and the list goes on and on (much to Ron Paul’s dismay, I’m sure). Most Republicans support these types of common-sense regulations that all have one thing in common: they restrict individuals’ free agency in the name of the common greater good.
And then there are more controversial restrictions of individual free agency that many conservative Mormons support: a ban on same-sex marriage; public decency laws limiting the display of pornography; keeping personal drug use illegal; and changing current law to make abortion illegal even in the case of “legitimate” rape. ‘Yes, these are restrictions to free agency,’ conservatives would agree, ‘but they are necessary on moral grounds!’
I understand the ‘moral imperative’ argument, and unlike many other liberals, I do believe that it is appropriate to acknowledge the role of personal morals when discussing public policy. What I cannot understand, however, is why so many conservative Mormons fail to see poverty, hunger and homelessness as being worthy of morally-anchored government action. For some reason many conservatives believe that it is appropriate to arrest an individual for using drugs in their own home (requiring tax payers to pay for their incarceration), but it is not appropriate to require citizens to contribute to poverty alleviation programs that address hunger and homelessness.
This selective defense of free agency by conservative Mormons is particularly baffling given what I know of our common faith. The scriptures commanding us to take care of one another are too numerous to mention. So why is taking care of each other less worthy of a government mandate than, say, not allowing two men to get married? Both are issues with a moral component, both are relevant to our larger society, both include an element of the government deciding what individuals may or may not do. It seems like many conservatives are only concerned about the government limiting our freedom to choose when it has to do with their wallets.
Do the freedoms that Republicans hold so dear include the freedom to pursue an education if you were brought to this country by your parents illegally as a child? Not so much. The freedom to have safe drinking water if you live in coal mining or natural gas country? Well, maybe not that. The freedom to worship in a mosque without being spied on by law enforcement, when no illegal behavior was ever detected, or even alleged? Now that is going too far!
The hypocrisy and selective nature of the freedoms and rights that Conservatives choose to idealize is mystifying. But alas, none of this is new, as the GOP has been at it for decades. It is just disheartening to see Romney and other conservative Mormons, with whom I share a common gospel centered on loving your neighbor, buying into it so wholeheartedly.
For those of you who are unaware, Mormons for Obama, LDS Dems, and the Scott Howell for Senate campaign all had a presence at the DNC. We had a fantastic gathering Tuesday afternoon, where we got to hear from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. (Crystal Young-Otterstrom, chair of LDS Dems, introduced him. Scott Howell also spoke, introduced by Dr. Greg Prince. I said a few words at the beginning.)
This was only the beginning of the LDS presence at the DNC. The Democratic Party has a robust faith outreach team, and they sponsored panels and gatherings throughout the week where we talked about how our faith influences our politics and policy preferences. The panels were moderated by Reverend Derrick Harkins, head of DNC Faith. (He also had a stern rebuttal to those who tried to make a story out of dropping of God from a turn-of-phrase in the Democratic platform.) I participated in a panel Wednesday morning, talking about how we Latter-day Saints care for the poor and needy. That afternoon, Scott Howell spoke to a room of hundreds about being our brother's and sister's keeper, including a quick overview of the Articles of Faith and quoting President Hinckley before closing out by bearing his testimony. (He concluded his talk with, "In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen." This man is running against Hatch. He's accomplished in private industry and government. You should check him out.)
After these discussions (and brunch with a Rabbi from Greensboro who had been on my panel that morning), it was very strange to get online and see the "controversy" over whether the Democratic Party had space for religion or people of faith.
Now this concern about secularism is working its way into the Governor's stump speech in various ways. The disconnect is bizarre. Ah well. There's campaigning to do, and a President to re-elect. As many speakers at DNC faith events quoted, "For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind."
PART ONE: THE LONG VIEW
I casually started watching Mitt Romney’s career over a decade before I ever heard of anyone named Barack Obama. My oldest brother was his son Tagg’s roommate at BYU, then a trip to Boston to work on his ‘94 Senate campaign connected him with his wife-to-be, then Mitt swooped into my native Utah to save our Winter Olympics, then another sister-in-law became his speech writer as governor in Boston. At first, circa 1993, it was cool to have these connections with someone so famous and, frankly, rich, and I suppose I was even a little proud to see a Mormon challenge a politician as powerful as Ted Kennedy. In a way Church members like Mitt made us feel like we’d arrived on the national scene.
By the time he gained the Massachusetts governorship, however, I myself had matured and I’d learned a lot more about Romney’s views, leaving me apathetic at best about his single term in the corner office—with the exception of the Massachusetts health care reform law, which I saw as a shining example of bipartisan cooperation to achieve a much needed goal, one that I thought needed to be repeated on the national stage—and that deeply reflected my religious beliefs. But after not even attempting a re-election, Romney started his gradual shift to the right and I became increasingly critical and frankly skeptical of his beliefs, which seemed to be changing with the whims of the extreme faction of his party. As he shifted so did I: I became embarrassed and ashamed then eventually a little bit angry. When people learn I’m LDS the last thing I want them to do is equate me with the far right agenda that Romney has worked hard to embrace.
The thing is, I think I hold Romney up to a higher standard than most politicians. I don’t mean to, I consciously try not to, but it’s hard when he’s one of us. He’s the most-recognized face of my religion and hence he’s a surrogate for each of us Mormons, a symbol, supposedly, of what we believe and stand for. I realize he shouldn’t be and that it’s not fair for us Latter-day Saints or the nation at large to put him in that position, and heaven knows he’s tried with all his might to disassociate himself from the Church. But that’s just where he is, and it would only increase exponentially were he to win the White House. So because he’s become this public face of Mormon belief yet I disagree so strongly with essentially all of his positions—and on religious grounds, at that—I’ve been searching around for ways to explain the difference between what I believe and, from what I can tell, what Mitt Romney believes. I’m grateful to Joseph here at Mormons for Obama to give me a little opportunity to do that.
What I hope to do is write a short series of posts about why my religious beliefs as a Mormon lead me to support the Democratic Party in general and President Obama in particular, and why they cause me to generally reject the Republican Party in general and Governor Romney in particular. I know it’s a fool’s errand to attempt to persuade my conservative LDS friends and family members to join me on the Light Side, but what I want to do, as has been stated many times on this website and by organizations like Utah’s LDS Democratic caucus, is to add my voice and give insight into why I, as a Latter-day Saint, disagree with a majority of my fellow Church members and choose to embrace a progressive political agenda; to help show there is a diversity of opinion within Mormonism that is only going to continue growing as converts keep coming from different walks of life.
In undertaking a task like this I’m obviously not alone. We’ve seen a real upswing of Mormon Democrats adding their voice to the national discourse over the past four or five years; as has been pointed out by people like Joanna Brooks, it's generally the progressive Mormons that the news media is turning to for explanations of the faith, and news coverage of last Tuesday’s meeting of Mormon Democrats in Charlotte shows that progressive Mormons are often more interesting to outsiders than their conservative counterparts. Since all these Mormon Democrats have discussed their political beliefs with eloquence and gusto, I’d like to take a slightly different tact and instead discuss my religious beliefs. My thesis, I suppose, comes from Harry Reid, who first said in a 2007 BYU forum address (a pdf), “My faith and political beliefs are deeply intertwined. I am a Democrat because I am a Mormon, not in spite of it,” an assertion he repeated this week in North Carolina.
I’m also a Democrat because I’m a Mormon, but what does that mean for me personally? On my mission I was fond of misquoting Marx to claim that politics is the opiate of the people. My thought was that people were too focused on the temporal and passing issues du jour—what Ecclesiastes repeatedly calls “divers vanities” (5:7), and which John Bunyan in his 1678 novel The Pilgrims Progress described as a “Vanity Fair,” a place where the faithful are tempted to leave the path of progress to dally in the passing issues of the world (heaven knows why anyone would name a magazine after such a fleshpot). Thus I thought the politically consumed were neglecting the weightier matters of the law, limiting their vision to a myopic moment in the spectrum of eternity. There’s still a lot of weight to that argument, I believe; after all, Neal A. Maxwell said the plan of salvation “is a most stunning example of the precious perspective of the gospel of Jesus Christ”; it widens your view to the things of eternity over the cares of the day. But after my mission I began to increasingly notice the claims that all truth can be brought together into one great whole and quotes like Brigham Young’s claim that “Mormonism . . . embraces every principle pertaining to life . . . no matter who has it. . . . There is no truth but what belongs to the Gospel.” Such truth would surely include political truth. I also became aware that if God, though above politics, was intimately interested in the intricacies of our lives, then how we govern our nations and communities would be included in that—D&C 134, Mosiah 29, and the common LDS belief that America’s founding fathers were divinely directed (i.e. 1 Nephi 13) evidenced that. So, even though I’d always been inclined toward the Democratic Party, as I allowed my political beliefs to solidify out of what I believe about God, Jesus Christ, the scriptures, and the plan of salvation, I found myself aligning firmly with that party. Not always, but usually.
The epic caveat to all this, of course, is that God is neither a Democrat nor a Republican, and he favors neither Democrats nor Republicans. God is not progressive or conservative; he’s not a monarchist or a socialist or a capitalist or a Marxist or a Tory or a Whig or a Bull Moose. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa. 55:8-9). The work of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent no matter who is king, chief judge, president, or prime minister. I think any discussion of Mormonism and politics needs to begin—and perhaps end—with Hugh Nibley’s 1973 speech “Beyond Politics.” I’d love to reprint the whole thing (please read it!), but here’s the most pertinent passage for what I’m talking about and what I hope to do in my subsequent posts:
“The wide difference, amounting to complete antithesis, between men's ways and God's ways should always be kept in mind. If we would remember that fact, it would save us from a pitfall that constantly lies before us—especially here at Brigham Young University. Nothing is easier than to identify one's own favorite political, economic, historical, and moral convictions with the gospel. That gives one a neat, convenient, but altogether too easy advantage over one's fellows. If my ideas are the true ones—and I certainly will not entertain them if I suspect for a moment that they are false!—then, all truth being one, they are also the gospel, and to oppose them is to play the role of Satan. This is simply insisting that our way is God's way, and therefore the only way. It is the height of impertinence. `There have been frauds and secret abominations and evil works of darkness going on [in the church], . . . all the time palming it off upon the Presidency, . . . practicing in the Church in their name.’ Do you think these people were not sincere? Yes, to the point of fanaticism—they wholly identified their crackpot schemes with the church and with the gospel. Some of the most learned theologians, such as Bossuet, have shown from every page of the scripture that God is an absolute monarchist, while others, equally learned and dedicated, have formed religious communities dedicated to the equally obvious scriptural proposition that the Saints are Communists. You can search through the scriptures and find support for any theory you want, and it is your privilege to attempt to convince yourself of any position you choose to take—but not to impose that opinion on others as the gospel. God certainly does not subscribe to our political creeds. The first issue of the Times and Seasons contained a lead editorial to the elders: ‘Be careful that you teach not for the word of God, the commandments of men, nor the doctrines of men nor the ordinances of men; . . . study the word of God and preach it, and not your opinions, for no man's opinion is worth a straw.’”
With that warning in mind and before jumping in (in my subsequent posts) to how the scriptures have led me to believe what I believe politically, let me just add with a few thoughts about how I see Mormonism as positioned between conservatism and progressivism (so hopefully we can all get along!).
Taking the long view, I think it’s helpful to remember where our political terminology comes from. I remember learning in high school that the terms right and left are simply relics of the French Revolution, when members of the National Assembly randomly divided themselves on the right (monarchist) and left (revolutionary) sides of the room in order to hear themselves over their opponents’ shouts. I like the terms conservative and progressive (rather than liberal) because they better connote the desires of people who thus self-identify. Conservatives want to conserve, they want to retain what they or their country had in the past: traditional values, traditional ways of doing things. They look back to a lost time when life was better, people were happier, and their beliefs were not under attack from new ideas. Their goal is to deliver society out of its contemporary morass by making the future more like the past. Progressives, on the other hand, look forward; they want to progress. They see the past with all its warts and want to create a future that is more just, pleasant, and egalitarian than anything we’ve seen before. Conservatives look back to a paradise lost, progressives forward to a coming utopia.
Where do Latter-day Saints sit? I think the tenth Article of Faith puts us right in the middle: “We believe in the literal gathering of Israel and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes; that Zion (the New Jerusalem) will be built upon the American continent; that Christ will reign personally upon the earth; and, that the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory.” We look back to Adam and Eve and the earth before the fall, Israel before its apostasy, Zion before it was taken to heaven, and we want to regain that state; we believe that Christ’s atonement was specifically planned before the earth’s creation to achieve that. But we also look forward to Christ’s second coming, when the glories of the new Jerusalem will surpass those of the old—or even of Enoch’s city—and the renewing of the earth as it fulfills the measure of its law and transforms into the Celestial Kingdom. We look back to the prophets but forward to their prophecies’ fulfillment. We trace back our ancestors and our priesthood authority, but do it to bless our children and those who come after us. Our past physical bodies, a great gift, will be renewed and perfected in the resurrection.We will go back into God's presence but with the new stature as exalted beings ourselves. Basically, we want to conserve all that the gospel has given us as we progress toward the millennium. Remembering this can help us see beyond immigration policy to the greater vision Elder Maxwell was talking about.
But we still live here in mortality, it’s still a fallen world, and immigration policy still needs to be addressed. I’m grateful to live in a country that guarantees me the right to freely exercise my religion and to belong to a church that allows all men the same privilege, to worship how, where, or what they may—and encourages me to exercise my franchise and be involved in my community and the political process. I greatly appreciate Church leaders’ oft-repeated declarations of political neutrality and, like I said, I’m gratified that one result of Mitt Romney’s campaign has been to shine a light on the breadth of Mormon political belief.
But why are so many American Latter-day Saints, especially multi-generational Latter-day Saints, politically conservative? (74% compared to 17% liberal, according to this year’s much-discussed Pew Forum survey.) We should let them speak for themselves, of course, but I think I understand some of the causes.
Reason #1: Agency. Conventional wisdom is that early Mormon converts, often New Englanders transplanted to the antebellum frontier, tended to vote in a bloc—hence the Gallatin Election Day Battle in 1838, for instance—and that nearly all Mormons in nineteenth-century Utah supported the People’s Party, essentially an arm of the Church itself. When this was disbanded during the Great Accommodation of the 1890s and Church members were encouraged—and often assigned—to join the two national parties, there was a great amount of resistance to Mormons becoming Republicans; it had, after all, been the Republican Party that had spearheaded the campaign against polygamy and refused Utah statehood for so many decades. But I can also see how the Republican platform would appeal to Utahns from that time, particularly in its evolving emphasis on states’ rights over a strong federal authority: local self-determination had, after all, been the rallying cry of Mormons since the first mobs pushed them out of their homes in the east—and it certainly reflected how they felt about anti-polygamy legislation and Washington-appointed governors and judges in Utah territory. In other words, in all of this, the distant federal authorities were seeking to restrict the populace’s God-given agency, a right they saw as guaranteed in both scripture and the Constitution. If they chose to live polygamously, or follow a prophet over a legislature, or work communally instead of individually, then the government had no right to limit their belief or religious practices, just like it couldn’t for Abinadi, Alma the Elder, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, or Abednego. Political self-determination merely protects individual agency, and if the anti-polygamy raid didn’t cement this belief, by the Cold War it was easy for Mormons to see any government that limited agency as either wrongheaded or inherently evil. Communist countries exemplified this, making it easy for Mormons to gradually migrate to the right.
Reason #2: Fiscal self-sufficiency. Mormons’ nineteenth-century collectivism was, by the Great Depression, replaced by a sense of fiscal propriety, of living within one’s means. The Church’s welfare program, launched as something of a response to the New Deal, still included the value of caring for one’s neighbor, but it also emphasized maintaining a house of fiscal propriety free from debt or speculation. Financially strained Church members were to rely on family first, Church second, and government welfare only as a last resort. Work was “to be re-enthroned as the ruling principle” of Mormons’ lives. “But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.” (1 Tim. 5:8) There were at least two results from this: first, reliance upon government assistance for any reason became a sign of weakness or infidelity—or at least poor judgment—and, second, Church members extrapolated the Church’s advice on personal finance, specifically to avoid borrowing and deficit spending, to government finance as well.
Reason #3: Social issues. My friend Boyd Peterson, whose 2009 article “Why I’m a Mormon Democrat” is another must-read, summarized this well on NPR’s Tell Me More on Thursday. After talking about Utah’s pluralistic political atmosphere of the 1960s and 70s (with a Democratic governor and congressmen) he said, “It’s interesting that we’ve [since] become so closely identified to the Republican Party. I think a lot of that has to do with the social issues that have come to the floor recently that have been so divisive, from the women’s rights movement of the 70s on through abortion and now gay marriage. I think those kinds of issues have polarized the electorate and the two parties in ways that have kind of influenced the way the Church members have seen it.” It was difficult for Mormons to affiliate with a party that supported the Equal Rights Amendment, for instance, when their church so strongly opposed it.
There’s more to it than that, of course, but those three reasons help me as a progressive understand how so many of my friends support a political party that I otherwise find so foreign to my beliefs. But there’s a flip side to the coin. While Mormons were developing their vehement dislike of government authority in the 1800s, so too grew their belief in centrally organized communal industry under the leadership of Brigham Young and John Taylor. The Great Basin Kingdom that Leonard Arrington describes so intricately in his 1958 book was, he believed, the predecessor and model of the New Deal. As he says in the preface, “[This book] may be said to suggest the positive role which a government, whether secular or theocratic, if sufficiently strong, can play in the building of a commonwealth.” Or, as LDS historian Ronald Walker says in his new introduction, “During a time of New Deal and Fair Deal reform, the Mormon Kingdom was a concrete, practical example of what government central planning could be” (p. xx). It persevered as the last manifestation of Jacksonian democratic ideals while the rest of the nation fell under the spell of capitalist industrialists and robber barons. (My friend Roger Terry wrote an interesting comparison to early Americans’ view of private corporations in Thursday’s Deseret News.) Indeed, Arrington's book shows it wasn’t polygamy but rather this centralized planning and communal social safety net that Americans rejected most strongly in the 1800s, and it would have to be overcome before Utah could gain statehood. Great Basin Kingdom reads like an autopsy of the early progressive Mormon ideals; as their communal industries died out one by one, the stage was set for capitalist expansion in Utah, through mining and other industries, akin to the rest of the country. For better or worse, Deseret—symbolized by the communal hive—disappeared as Utah joined the Union.
But for Mormons who retained a memory of this isolated period, Christ’s call to be our brothers’ keeper trumped any qualms about a large activist government, federal authority, or deficit spending. This is exactly what prominent Mormon Democrat James H. Moyle, an assistant Cabinet member for both Presidents Wilson and Roosevelt, said in a memo on Mormonism requested by FDR in the 1930s (as reported by a young Gordon B. Hinckley in his 1951 biography of Moyle). More recently, at the meeting in Charlotte this week, Robert Cooper said, “I feel there’s a big-tent approach, helping those who are disadvantaged. If you look at economics, Mormons take good care of themselves. We give ten percent of our income to the Church, in addition to a monthly donation. So a lot of Mormons say that’s not the role of government. But not everyone has that support structure. That’s one of the roles of government, to help those who don’t have that support structure. A lot of people don’t have what we have.”
I’ll explore these issues in greater depth, but Cooper's statement is a cogent summary of why many Mormons support the Democratic platform despite its obvious flaws. Along with churches, charities, and individuals, government can often be part of the solution to society’s problems; in fact, because the federal government is as large as it is and has the authority it has, it can almost universally be a greater part of the solution than any other organization. The Church is amazing in its humanitarian programs, disaster relief, and myriad other efforts—and I’ve been a grateful beneficiary of it—but it cannot revitalize infrastructure, ensure healthcare, repair environmental disasters, regulate industry, protect our food supply, deliver our mail, run our public schools, provide police and national defense, care for the poor, or do most of the other things the government does to the extent that government can do it. With all the problems facing us today, there is room for both. Next I hope to get into some more specifics about President Obama and Governor Romney as individuals and why I think the former remains the better leader for our country.
I am not a Republican.
I believe in marriage between a man and a woman. I am a gun owner. I am a senior manager in the middle of corporate America. I detested the Occupy Wall Street movement. I believe unions stifle business growth and drive productivity out of the marketplace. My car is powered by a gas guzzling V-8 engine and I do not cringe every time I fill up the tank. I have read Atlas Shrugged. I liked it so much I read it again. I am a staunch and practicing Mormon. I believe in conservative fiscal policy and am very worried about the near $100 trillion in unfunded liabilities this country faces in the next 75 years. I am a big fan of Reagan. I don’t believe CEOs are paid too much money. I am pro-life.
I am still not a Republican.
I have been called many names by my Republican friends and twitter followers. Socialist. Communist. Liar. Ideologue. Big government. I am none of these. The uses of such phrases do not make me upset because it helps identify a more disparaging element; the Republican Party has lost their identity and justify their positions with disingenuous arguments and logical fallacies. That’s not to say that Democrats are innocent in this regard; it’s just the tolerance for differentiated thinking is so far rooted out of the mainstream GOP. Republicans try to use the same type of litmus behavior to identify Democrats, which is challenging given the diversity of the party. Even worse, there are high levels of justification for twisting facts, leveraging blatant dishonesty, and unethical practices with the belief that the end justifies the means.
Let me provide an example. Currently there are several court cases being pushed through the justice branch of government involving ID cards to stop voter fraud. This sounds reasonable on the surface. However, when you dive into the drivers and sponsors of the legislation you realize the extensive partisan backing and maligning of facts. There have only been 2,068 reported cases in which 10 have been found guilty of alleged in-person voter impersonation since 2000. Yes, you read that correctly, 10. Yet the Republican Party has sponsored a dynamic effort to pass voter laws which by all accounts make it tougher for the poor, students, and minorities to vote; all key demographics of the Democratic Party. Faced with questions around the ethics of their actions a typical response includes, “well, these are only the cases we know of…Who knows how many there actually are.” Uh huh, Right.
Let me provide another example. I watched the vast majority of the Republican National Convention this past week. Although I fully intended to hear weak arguments and faulty logic (I expect the same thing next week at the DNC), I was leveled by the blatant disregard for statements that even remotely looked anything factual. It became so bad that even Fox News wrote an article calling Paul Ryan out for his deceptive spin. Mr. Ryan blamed President Obama’s policies for closing an auto factory that was actually closed under Bush. He blamed President Obama for not implementing the same Simpson-Bowles budget recommendations that he led the charge to kill. He called out President Obama for seeking $716 billion in Medicare cuts that were also built into his budget. He also charged President Obama for our credit rating drop which was due to congressional Republicans using the debt limit as a bargaining chip.
This type of dishonest debate has emerged as the center piece of almost all of my interactions with the right. I have a family member that rails on the parasitic nature of the poor, yet their life was extended through the saving grace of Medicare curing 10 years of unchecked cancer at a ridiculous cost to taxpayers. I know of several Republican Congressmen who blasted the pet projects of President Obama’s stimulus package, yet showed up at the ribbon cuttings to take full credit. Almost every Republican I have spoken with derides socialism yet supports the military, the biggest socialist program in the US. These same individuals also drive on public roads, send their children to public schools, visit national parks, and support the police and fire departments. The mind-numbing-repetitive-labeling of any opposing idea as liberal or socialist completely disregards the meanings of the word and enshrines the speaker in a cloud of ignorance.
Republicans attack welfare for the poor but support bailouts for the rich. They sit on the pedestal of pro-life which diminishes once the embryo takes their first breath. They hide behind a shield of fiscal conservatism but have no idea what is driving the federal budget. They also live in Utopian world of problem solving. Yes I agree, cutting off welfare might entice the poor to work, but it will also drive up crime and promote Darwinism consequences. This type of theoretical thinking is why I do not support Ron Paul – I love his ideas – but his concepts are too drastic to be reasonable.
What annoys me most about the Republican rhetoric is the demonizing (not the opposition) of President Obama. The right’s frustration with President Obama has little to do with what he has not done, but more with what he has. In 2008 President Obama campaigned on single payer healthcare reform, student loan reform, housing reform, stimulus spending, and reduction in the annual deficit. He did not follow through on a secret agenda after election but passed the exact legislation campaigned on. Where President Obama fell short had more to his compromising spirit than his polarizing agenda. He passed healthcare reform, but instead of single payer, he contracted private insurance companies similar to Romneycare. He did not cut the deficit in half because he extended the Bush tax cuts, a broken campaign promise. Instead of trillion dollars of stimulus spending he scaled back the package to include $300 billion of tax cuts. Each of these changes favored the right, but you would never know by their posturing.
Now I am sure several Republicans will read my arguments and cry foul; that I am engaging in the exact same stereotyping I am calling out. Fair enough. However, the levels are not even in the same ballpark. The last two years of congressional leadership is an embarrassment to American politics. The House floor has voted 31 times to repeal Obamacare knowing the bill would never leave the chamber. The Senate has filibustered even the most contrite votes including lower court judge appointments. Yet this is an unethical strategic advantage for the Republicans. Republicans hide behind the smaller-government-works-better mantra driven by legislative inefficiencies that they create.
It’s not that I am fundamentally opposed to the ideas shared by Republicans; it’s more that I am opposed to the way they share. Even within party, dissension from core platforms brands the iconic label of RINO (Republican In Name Only) which is the scarlet “A” of the Republican party. Such weeding out of centrist ideas fundamentally shifts the political balance and swings the pendulum too far to the right. This type of political rhetoric will continue to cost the Republicans seats in Congress, much like the last election (NV and DE). Of course any opposition to Republican ideas always results in the same typical hyperbole -- liberal, socialist, or even a liar -- which I never take personally.
Just don’t call me a Republican.
When Mitt Romney takes the stage in Tampa this week to accept the nomination of the Republican Party, it will be an historic moment for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Perhaps not as historic in the grand sense as the first Catholic nominee was, or African-American nominee was, or female nominee will be, but anticipated and relished nonetheless.
As a rabid fan of science fiction, comic books, and most everything else in the nerdosphere, one of my favorite tropes or concepts is that of the parallel or alternate universe. This is the idea that somewhere there exists an identical earth except some things are radically different. This was explored in the 1990's tv show Sliders, numerous episodes of Star Trek, the Futurama episode "The Farnsworth Parabox," and countless other tv shows, serials, comic books, etc.
I'd like to explore one such universe today-- the one where in 1976, but for the votes of a few thousand people in Wisconsin, our first LDS President was actually elected over 35 years ago.
As Craig Janis of South Jordan points out in the SL Tribune article, "It’s pretty important that the image our state and our church projects is not just the conservative Mitt Romney image. I would love for our image as LDS people and as Utahns more generally to be such that there is no political association with it."
I would add that some members of our faith go along with the Republican Mormon majority because it seems the "thing to do," or because they have strong influences in their families or congregations; however, a simple conversation about the platform of the Democratic Party and how it fits with Mormon ideals and faith can sometimes break through many of the assumptions about what it means to be a Mormon Democrat. Hopefully, the media attention to events like these can further break the stereotype that all (good) Mormons vote Republican.
So if you are in the area, (or if you can get a plane ticket there,) get your tickets by going to http://ldsdems.eventbrite.com/
Also, visit the Utah Democratic Party website for more information!
I have been told I live in the field. I’m not talking about the mission field that is white already to harvest - Utah is actually rather cloudy and brown right now from all the fires, not to mention the raining ash. (Last days, anyone?) I’m talking about a unique field in which I’m a progressive liberal Mormon living in the heartland of conservative, Mormon majority, Republican Utah. I’m a sophomore Political Science major at BYU who works full time at the MTC, and every day I am reminded that I’m different (and not just because almost everything I own is plastered with Obama stickers and logos).
I wasn’t always so vocal about my political opinions here in Provo. During my first few months at BYU, I distanced myself from identifying with any party; I knew I was liberal, but I was hesitant to endorse a platform about which I felt under-informed. I feared the inevitable moment when some far more educated person would tear my opinions to shreds with their superior evidence and research. But the more I found myself making pro-Democratic comments in my small Honors American Heritage class (many thanks to my professor, Greg Taggart, for always giving me the floor to make the opposing point) and the more I studied the issues, the more I realized I needed to come out of the closet and simply embrace my affiliation with the Democratic Party.
Since then, I’ve become much more comfortable with identifying as a Democrat - not just because I can’t in good conscience endorse the alternative, but because I believe so strongly in the vision and commitments of the Democratic platform. While it’s annoying to frequently hear anti-liberal, pro-Fox News comments, and while I am in the political minority of students at BYU, living in Provo has forced me to be able to articulate exactly what I believe and why I believe. I’ll always be grateful for that.
I’m proud to say, and I say it at every opportunity I get, that the BYU College Democrats is the largest College Democrats chapter in Utah. I love the shocked expression people acquire when they hear that, because it emphasizes that Mormons are not a unified voting bloc, and that the youth and young adults of the LDS Church will become increasingly more diverse in their political views than ever before. We’ve seen already the groundswell of support for the LGBT community within the Church, and much of that support comes from young adults who did not grow up with the same biases and culture that older members of the Church may have.
Of all the challenges of being a liberal in Provo, the deepest and most hurtful will always be the questions of my faith. I don’t write about this to ask for your pity or to encourage you to be more loving to everyone. I write about this simply because it is the hardest thing for me about being a liberal in Provo. It’s not easy to be told that you have less faith, that the path you are on will likely lead you to become apostate, if not at least to leave the Church, and that then your future children will grow up outside of the gospel all because of your selfish choices. When I was quoted for an article about Pro-Obama Mormons back in May, the comments users added online questioning my standing in the Church were the most troublesome. When the ruling on the Affordable Care Act was announced, (I was eagerly listening to C-Span live with headphones on my computer at work,) I wanted to leap for joy and celebrate. But as my other coworkers at the MTC began to trickle in (this was 8:00 AM in Utah, being two hours behind D.C.), I could see their crestfallen faces. It was the only time I’ve been really glad that they all know I’m a Democrat - I did my best to hide my glee, and they shut the door so I could only hear muted expressions of their frustration and anger.
It’s this mutual agreement to leave each other space to celebrate our views that I appreciate the most, and at the same time it’s a cause of concern, given that it’s only July now and there’s still several months before the election. Because I am the field organizer for Obama’s campaign in Utah County, the Co-President of the BYU College Democrats, a volunteer for several local political campaigns, and because I hope to be more involved with Mormons for Obama efforts, I can sense that my political activity will lead to some kind of conflict sooner or later.
But despite all the tensions I’ve already experienced and expect to experience as a progressive Mormon, I know I can never go back. I’ll always feel a connection to that wonderful hymn-singing, nourish-and-strengthen-our-bodies praying, no-TV-on-Sunday, family-home-evening culture I was blessed to be raised in, but I will continue to study and seek after more knowledge about my questions without clinging to the conservatism that was also part of that culture. And with all its quirks and all my questions, I know my own journey of finding my way through this concentrated conservative field as a liberal Mormon will not be a walk in the park.
But we are all enlisted till the conflict is o’er, and that won’t just be November 2012. I look forward to the challenges in the hopes that I can convince even just one soul to understand why I believe what I do. Who knows, maybe I can plant some seeds in this field.