Most Americans claim they are tired of bitter partisanship and Congressional gridlock in Washington. The non-stop manufactured crises, including the show-downs over the federal budget and debt ceiling, the more than 40 House votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and the unprecedented use of the filibuster in the Senate to block even routine executive and judicial appointments, are just some of the ways politicians have log-jammed our democracy. Last October’s unpopular government shut down led to the furlough of nearly 1 million workers, while another million were compelled to work without pay. Any astute observer of American politics knows that one of the primary reasons for this Congressional dissonance is hyper-partisan redistricting, or gerrymandering.
Most Americans support raising the minimum wage, comprehensive immigration reform, and universal background checks on gun buyers. Americans do not want subsidies for oil companies and tax breaks for corporate jet owners. And Americans are in favor of balanced deficit reduction that includes both new revenues and spending cuts. Yet, partisan gerrymandering is why these and many other highly popular proposed reforms have no chance of passing in the current Congress.
The end of today's Republican Party is near. Just ask Bob Dole, previous Republican presidential nominee and Senate Majority Leader who’s recent appearance on Fox News has created a stir, “I think they ought to put a sign on the national committee doors that says ‘closed for repairs’ until New Year’s Day next year — and spend that time going over ideas and positive agendas.” When asked if he or President Reagan would be elected by today’s Republican Party he responded, “I doubt it. Reagan couldn’t have made it…we might have made it, but I doubt it.”
The Republican base continues to scream into an echo chamber fueled by the right wing media which dismisses any opposition as liberal propaganda. This rejection of differentiated thinking closes the window for compromise and collective understanding. Once the overreaching rhetoric is exposed without support from new ideas or strong leadership, the right is forced to change the rules to avoid irrelevance (ie. gerrymandering and filibusters).
The GOP has separated itself from every minority voting block. The Southern Strategy and Civil Rights opposition has carried through several decades with Black voters. Anti-immigration and over reaching border security rhetoric has dispelled the Hispanic vote. Pro-life heretics and insensitive comments by prominent Republicans leaders have alienated the woman vote. Venomous opposition to gun control, gay rights, and unapologetic military policies has lost the moderate vote. Voter registration continues to favor the left across the younger population which will lead to a healthy majority in the years to come.
Obamacare will be the final nail in the coffin of GOP relevance. The ideas for insurance mandates and exchanges were initially driven by Republican leaders and conservative think tanks opposing President Clinton’s universal healthcare legislation. With inclusion under Obamacare the right should have lined up with support. With early adapter states already demonstrating the positive power of market driven exchanges, its easy to understand why voting to repeal the law 37 times is a priority for the Republican controlled House. It also signifies the de facto strategy for the right; a lack of ideas drives the need to dismantle opposing ideas.
Bob Dole’s frustration with the Republican Party’s direction is not inconsistent with many tenured GOP activists. It is also very telling of the lack of leadership and recessive ideas that lead party members to oppose any hint of cooperation. Infighting between inter-party groups is dominating Capital Hill driven by extreme primary candidates elected under the pretense that compromise is akin to failure. It is under this environment that the GOP needs to reinvent itself, much like Clinton’s “New Democrats”, or face irrelevance.
In 1962, Reagan's defection from the Democratic Party didn't come as a surprise. "I didn't leave the Democratic Party," he explained. "The party left me." If Reagan was alive today he would say the same thing about the Republican Party. His support of the Brady Bill, balanced budgets that included tax increases, compromise to drive political progress, immigration, and amnesty support would leave him off the invitation for the next CPAC meeting. Reagan knew the power of political middle ground, which has been lost on today’s GOP.
The primary election process is the greatest cancer on our political landscape. They have become a moral issue, driving politicians to make choices based on survival instead of reasonable policy and personal conviction. Primaries have driven moderate thinking out of the mainstream, and created an environment where compromise is the new four letter word. Primaries are the breeding ground for ideologues who pander relentlessly to the small selection of voters showing up to the preliminary polls. The primary system trades strong candidates for weak ones, swaps reasonability with extremism, and switches compatibility for hostility.
Although both parties are faced with the primary gauntlet, the Republican Party seems to be disproportionately impacted. Over the last two elections Republicans have given up potential control of the Senate, two presidencies, and the potential ousting of Majority Leader Harry Reid due to Tea Party meddling. There have been five different Senate seats that have either flipped or maintained Democrat control due to weaker Republican candidates beating stronger, more electable, Republican candidates in the primaries. For example, in the race for the presidency, both McCain and Romney had to move away from their moderate rhetoric seeking party election, which crippled their electability in the general election. Romney specifically moved from a being a “compromising moderate” to "severely conservative".
The Media National Journal has tracked conservative and liberal members across parties for several decades. In 1982 the Senate had significant overlap in their political leaning. The eleventh most liberal member of the chamber was a Republican, Lowell Weicker. The thirty-first most conservative member of the chamber was a Democrat, Edward Zorinsky. In between these two men fell fifty-eight Democrats and Republicans, each committed to their party and to their constituents. The House of Representatives shared a very similar markup, with over 60% of the members falling between the most conservative Democrat and the most liberal Republican. It was under this environment that President Reagan found significant compromise with Speaker Tip O’Neill passing tax laws and social reform.
Today there is significant polarization in political representation which accentuates gridlock and divides government. Political representatives know that any give and take will be fodder for the next primary, and grounds for unemployment. One idea to cure Washington’s curious dysfunctional behavior is opening up primary elections to independents. We should also consider California’s primary system where the top two vote-getters run against each other in the general election. Whatever the solution, we voters need to line up at the polls in the summer like we do in the fall. We need to elect candidates that will be reasonable and thoughtful government representatives, beholden only to those that elected them, rather than a proscribed ideology.
I was asked a series of questions about Mormonism and the progressive wing of American politics by a UK periodical. I typically try to separate religion and politics in my essays, but given this election and the nature of our blog, I thought these responses should be shared.
Written to Denis Campbell, Editor in Chief, UK Progressive
Denis -- Answers to your questions are below. Before I begin, I need to add the caveat that these responses are not official church answers, but are based on my opinions and experiences with the church. Official church statements can be found on lds.org and mormon.org. Several of these questions do not have official church positions, so I will give you my best interpretation.
Knowing what you know today, could you support Mitt Romney for President ( why or why not?)
I could support Mr. Romney as a person, but disagree with his policies and beliefs about role of government. I do not get sucked into the personal attacks of politicking. American politics tries to demonize the character of both sides of the aisle, but that's politics. President Obama is a good man, who cares about this country, and loves his family. I would say the same for Mr. Romney.
And how does your shared faith influence this decision?
As a strong member of the Mormon Church I love seeing LDS political leaders. However, this is not the sole criteria for my support. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is a practicing Mormon and is more aligned with how I think about the role of government.
What causes fundamentalist Christians and LW pundits like Bill Maher to label the LDS church a cult?
Define cult. Cult can really apply to any religious organization, or any group with rites of passage. It has a negative connotation so opposition likes to use the word as a label. This is similar to Republicans calling everything they disagree with "liberal" or "socialist", perverting the actual definition of the word, just to solicit a negative response. Fundamentalist Christians try to discredit the church with such slang, as Mormons are viewed outside of fundamental Christian doctrine (or lack of - Mormons can answer many more questions around afterlife, pre-earth life, purpose of life using the Book of Mormon and Bible together).
From a political perspective there is a bit of strategy from Bill Maher. To Democrats the Mormon religion is really a non-issue. Democrats and Liberals are made of several splinter groups with all sorts of religious beliefs from atheism, to agnostic, to Christian. When pundits from the left make comments about Mormonism, I personally believe they are trying to influence the Christian Right who are turned off by anything that is relate to the LDS church. This should keep more of the religious right home on election day. Although this might seem trivial when thinking of numbers; Ohio, Florida, and Virginia will all be decided by very small increments, as these three states will determine the next president.
There are a number of issues many point to when ‘dissing’ Mormonism. Would you please share your impressions, what is most important for lay people to understand, about:
- The Book of Mormon
A second witness of Jesus Christ. A historical book believed to track ancestors of the American Indians. This book was written by several prophets that lived through biblical times on the American continent. After Jesus Christ was resurrected he spent 40 days teaching in the middle east (as recorded by the Bible), and then spend time teaching his followers in the Americas.
When King James put together the bible, he chose from over 200 manuscripts to compile what is today’s book. The additional books of scripture not used were left behind and are rarely discussed as God’s word. There are hundreds of additional authors of scripture that are looked over when talking about biblical teachings. I find it interesting that little thought is given concerning the Book of Mormon writings based off of the argument that the Bible is the only word of God. There is no scriptural backing for this claim, and how does one believe God is omnipotent yet declare his word has been closed up?
- Angel Moroni
An angelic messenger. Much like Angel Gabriel or any other angelic figure believed by Christian faith. It was Moroni’s mission to preserve the teachings of the earlier prophets of the Americas contained in the Book of Mormon.
- Planetary travel
This is doctrine not taught or embraced by the mainstream church. Its speculative doctrine that is not found in any book of LDS scripture. With that being said, the teachings by early apostles and prophets talk more about God being the creator of all things, including galaxies – we would argue that God, or his messengers, could engage in planetary travel (what kind of God would he be if he had limitations, right?)
- Sealing marriage in the temple
Mormons believe that Marriage in the Temple will last for eternity (sealing). It is predicated upon the belief that husband and wife create a unifying bond that serves a purpose in the life to come. The purpose is somewhat unknown except to say that marriage is an eternal commitment and sanctioned by God.
- Temple entrance barred to non-members
The requirements to enter the temple are not mysterious or subjective. There are 14 or so questions, the same questions asked for as long as I can remember, which include chaste living, word of wisdom (no alcohol, tobacco, tea, coffee, drugs), belief in Jesus Christ, respect for the Prophet and apostles, tithing, belief in the Book of Mormon, etc. Each question is answered by the individual and it is based on an honour code. The temple teaches doctrine that coincides with both the Bible and the Book of Mormon, so why attend if you do not believe? The temple is open to the public for a period of time after construction is complete, before it begins full time use.
Temple ceremonies are believed to be sacred, not secret, although explaining the two from an outside perspective would appear challenging.
A fantastic experience for any young man. Two years are required by unmarried young men ages 19-26. The program sends missionaries all over the world. There are no politics or persuasion that are used to influence where a person will serve, but is based on a questionnaire and individual needs. Missionaries like to believe that their placement is influenced by the spirit of God, and every missionary will tell you, where they served is the best place in the world.
What is most intriguing is the sacrifice by these young men. There is no dating or flirting, every day’s schedule is very regimented, there is no communicating with family members back home except for letters and emails, no discussion of politics or current events, reading is confined to a standard library including the Bible, Book of Mormon, and additional study manuals (and language instruction if missionaries are foreign), and no music. Missionaries are expected to proselyte 70+ hours a week, with one day given as a rest day in which laundry, letter writing, or activities (sports, tourism, etc) are allowed.
- Tithing, Is it 10% of net, gross, pre- or post-tax?
Mormons believe tithing is 10% of increase as taught by the bible. There is no official statement on whether this is net, gross, pre tax or post tax. Tithing is 10% and it is up to the member to interpret what this means. Tithing can also be paid weekly, monthly, or annually, again all determined by the person paying.
- Race relations prior to 1978
The official church doctrine can be found in the Doctrine and Covenants in one of the last couple pages of the book – this and the ending of plural marriage are the two proclamations included in Mormon scripture. Why this proclamation was released in 1978 is not really known save belief that this was God’s intention. I will say that this coincides with the back end timing of the civil rights movement, which many members have speculated would have been an even greater challenge to the church, given the constant persecution the church historically faced. As a note, race never prohibited any individual from being baptized or being members of congregations and there are records of black members all the way back to the early church.
I know this is a sticky point with many outsiders, but this position was in line with many other churches at the time. Even today in pockets of the South there are still segregated churches and establishments. We living in the South, we used to get asked whether our church “was a white church or a black church?” Segregation was a part of US culture for centuries, and the civil rights movement changed how churches included members of different races.
The religion has known polygamous history and indeed some splinter cells still practice it. When and how did the main LDS church denounce this practice and why?
The church (there are no accepted splinter cells – we are one body with one leader) reversed doctrine in 1890 when pushed by the US to deny statehood, and polygamy was banned by law. Mormons are law abiding citizens and the doctrine of plural marriage was reversed upon gaining statehood. Any person practicing polygamy is kicked out of the church, or excommunicated. In considering the history of the world, polygamy is a long supported idea. Even throughout Christ’s time polygamy was practiced by Pharisees and Sadducees and Christ never condemned the practiced. The Old Testament has multiple examples of prophetic leaders engaging in the practice, yet there is little opposition from the Christian community around historical prophet’s relationship with God.
It has been said that Mitt Romney’s grandfather comes from a polygamous sect in Mexico, how does that shape his background and life?
Minimal. Mr. Romney’s father was the Governor of Michigan – if Mr. Romney Sr. was able to shake loose the connection, Mr. Romney will be no different. I’m sure somewhere in my history there is some polygamous splinter as my mother’s side dates back to the Mormon pioneers. In reality we all have polygamous ancestors as most of our ancestry dates back to Abraham (a stretch I admit). I also think it’s hard to understand the choice of plural marriage using today’s frame and filter. I know that there were hundreds of thousands of widows after the Civil War where half of a million men were killed. I also know that the early women in the church were treated with respect and dignity largely due to the Mormon doctrine of woman’s equality with men.
Mormon men are not used to confrontation their word is all that is needed and we have seen frustration on the campaign trail and a culture of secrecy around the candidate, how does that affect one’s ability to govern from the most scrutinized position in the world?
Highly disagree with this statement. I don’t believe this statement is fact based. Mormon men are just like every other man – we all like to be right and do not enjoy being challenged. How is this any different than President Bush standing up after the second election stating, “I am the decider. I have won political capital in this last election and I intend to use it”. Men, in general, seek out authority and command and I think President Obama, PM David Cameron, or Mr. Romney are no different.
Mitt Romney was a lay bishop in Massachusetts. What does that mean? Please explain the church’s hierarchy.
Bishops are the leaders of a local congregation of 300 or so. Mr. Romney was also a Stake President, which governs the 7-8 local Bishops. As you can tell a Bishop in the Mormon Church has a much different meaning than Bishops of the Catholic faith. Bishops are the lowest level of leadership and the position is not political. There is no campaigning and the personality of a Bishop can be incredibly diverse. My last bishop was a scientist for a local company. I once had a bishop who was a roofer that worked 17 hours a day. No clergy is paid in the Mormon church, so being a Bishop equates a time dedication of roughly 20-25 hours a week of unpaid service. Stake presidents are roughly 25-30 hours a week on top of their regular work schedule. The upper echelons of the church are typically retired , and receive a stipend for living expenses (think General Authorities – which are the Prophets, Apostles, and Quorums of the 70). Now, there are paid jobs for the church for administration and infrastructure, but they are modest. People who work for the church do so with the understanding that they will never be extremely wealthy.
In 1960 John F Kennedy was questioned on whether or not he would take cues from the Pope. Mitt Romney is on record saying the church is VERY important in his life. Would he take his cues from church elders? Why or Why not?
Being a Mormon I don’t worry too much about this. Mr. Romney’s faith already deeply influences his choices. Besides, the checks and balances this country has in place would stop any blatant issue. Faith does not trump laws, especially Mormon faith. Remember, the vast majority of the Republicans in Congress are elected by Christian Fundamentalists which is a massive check for any religious grandstanding on Romney’s part. Anyone who thinks that Romney will be able to ram a religious agenda through probably does not understand US political demographics.
Thank you for letting me input. Feel free to ask any follow up questions.
(We do not tolerate any slanderous posts or derogatory comments - they will be blocked and the poster will be banned)
With November right around the corner our country is bracing for a barrage of political attacks, skewed data, and faulty logic. It is our job as citizens to vet these political distortions and hold our politicians accountable. Forwarding emails, trolling on Facebook, or posting links from partisan blogs does little to support positions and creates a wider divide. Taking a “good versus evil” stance is unproductive and should remain clear of our civil debates.
How did we get here?
I am often asked how we arrived to such a polarizing environment dripping with angry partisan rhetoric. My response? Look in the mirror. We have stopped holding our streams of information accountable. We respond to 30 second sound bites. We repeat talking points instead of questioning them. Our media is selling propaganda rather than vetting it. We now view compromise as political weakness, and “flip-flopping” as a sign of indecision instead of solution building.
With that being said, it’s hard to walk away from Newt Giengrich’s “Contract with America” as a contributing driver of a political downward spiral. During the 1980’s, Ronald Reagan did a remarkable job uniting our country through compromise and leadership. Watching 49 states unite in the 1984 election was magical. This Reagan compromising spirit Newt perceived as weakness and drove the creation of the “Contract with America”. Newt sold the public on a political agenda in 1994 leading to a remarkable 54 seat swing and Republican control of the house. Newt then tried to ram legislation through the floor within the first 100 days knowing the Senate would object, creating wide distrust between the parties. Newt’s rhetoric was so polarizing it led to a government shutdown and eventual loss of the Republican House, and the ripples continue to grow.
What can I do to stop the partisanship?
Turn off the tube. If your main source of news comes from a 24 hour news cycle which uses irrational conclusions and skewed data to fill their time void, your reasoning skills are declining. Take a quick gut check – Do you think Fox News is fair and balanced? Do you view CNN or MSNBC as fact based reporting? Answering yes to either of these questions indicates an addiction to a mind numbing drug called repetition.
Use the shock test. If you read an email or watch an ad and become “shocked”, take a step back and do some basic fact checking. It’s amazing what you might learn when challenging a statement you badly want to believe. No, Obama is not a communist. No, Romney does not want to fire half of America. No, illegal immigration is not causing bankruptcy. No, pro-choice does not mean pro-abortion. No, the NRA does not want anarchy. No, Liberals do not hate America (my favorite). And Yes, Republicans do care about the poor. If what you are reading does not sound right, chances are it’s not. A great piece of advice is to vet all of your email forwards through sites like Snopes, Politifact, or Factcheck which have spent considerable resources documenting data based claims (or lack of). I have little tolerance for friends and family who send me blatantly obvious pieces of political fabrications. I have been known to “reply to all” with the fact checking information (this usually gets me removed from their lists).
Stop being a troll! If you use blanket statements while confronting differences of opinion, you're probably trolling. Trolls talk in emotional charged opinionated responses. Trolls also use labels to degrade differences of opinions. Just because someone disagrees with you doesn’t automatically make them a (fill in the blank). Terms like RINO, liberal, and conservative are all trolling labels. Instead of calling President Obama a socialist for Obamacare, why not discuss points of the law you disagree with. Since Trolls do not bother with data or use fact based dialogue they are tough to pin down and add little value to conversations.
Ask questions! There will be times when we engage in a heated political discussion. When debating from absolute positions we become more polarizing and miss persuasive opportunities which can flip opposing arguments. Recently I started a conversation with a government employee who hated socialism. After a series of questions about his stated position it was clear the conundrum he was engaged in. The most persuasive individuals help others reach a conclusion through logic and reasoning primarily driven through questioning. Nobody likes to be told why they are wrong.
My final thought is making sure we always respect those we love. Politics is not worth sacrificing friendships for. I have made it a point to move political conversations to mediums that do not interfere with relationships. I have not forwarded a political email in several years, I do not post politics on my Facebook page, and I do not start political conversations (but always happy to engage once started). To some this might seem timid or cowardly, to me its common respect. Election cycles happen every other year, but families are forever.
“If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country.” - E. M. Forster
As former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has recently become the latest fad in the never-ending search for an 'un-Romney' in the GOP Presidential Primary race, I think it is important to reflect on a matter of character. Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles noted in an interview a few years ago that while the Church is politically neutral, it teaches its members to "seek out and find good, honest men and women of value, with values and virtue and honesty and integrity and encourage them to run for office, and then to use their agency to vote for whomever they choose." (I was pleased to see that Elder Ballard mentioned we should seek out good men and women. As one might expect, earlier statements from Church leaders, particularly from earlier generations, typically only mentioned men, tacitly but perhaps unintentionally leading members to believe that women had no place in running for office.)Read more