When I got married at the tender age of 22, I was politically informed, wanting to get more involved, and attracted to the good I saw in both major parties. Although I wanted something that fit with every single one of my Mormon values, I understood that both parties also had their drawbacks, and that the accomplishment of political good requires the building of diverse coalitions. My top priority: public policies that would help young people settle down and establish families. When I moved from Utah to Florida and the DMV asked for my party registration, I told them "Republican."
Being a Latter-day Saint in mid-00s, I watched the career of Governor Mitt Romney with great interest. And I was absolutely fascinated with MassCare. Using the power of the free market to help everyone get insurance while also guaranteeing a basic level of access to medical care, supported by Mitt Romney and Ted Kennedy? This will help families, not just those starting out, but all families. Go Governor Romney!
As the 2008 primaries got underway (in 2007...) I looked for someone on the Democrat side who looked like they would approach health care with the same pragmatism and grip on reality. I eventually settled on that new senator from Illinois with the funny name, and I sent off for the bumper stickers seen above: one on the right, and one on the left. (Much to the amused bewilderment of my neighbors and ward members for some time to come.)
Fast forward: Gov. Romney lost his primary. But that guy from Illinois won the general election, and then he did an interesting thing: he took the basic structure of Gov. Romney's plan (originally developed by the far-right Heritage Foundation) and turned it into a system for the whole nation. I was overjoyed: my wife and I would always, always be able to purchase health insurance, the options would be clearly laid out, and all plans would include basic care: all crucial things for families.
And like any policy proposal, the opposing side (in this case, the congressional Republicans) had issues with the law, but instead of working to make it better, they fought it, and continue to fight it. Despite all the campaign talk about strengthening and defending families, Republicans in Congress and in Washington are trying to break one of the biggest things that will help mothers and fathers raise their kids, work, and provide.
And then this week. Oh, boy. Top Republicans have unveiled their plans . . . not for campaigning against the law, or making it better, but doing what they can to make it fail. Reuters reports:
"With the Obama administration poised for a huge public education campaign on healthcare reform, Republicans and their allies are mobilizing a counter-offensive including town hall meetings, protests and media promotions to dissuade uninsured Americans from obtaining health coverage."
"Dissuade uninsured Americans from obtaining health coverage." Wow. I have issues with how health insurance is generally run, and the new law doesn't fix everything I see wrong, but to actively tell people not to buy the insurance that will help them stay healthy or recover when they're sick or injured . . . As a historian, it's easy for me to get cynical as so much of what happens is a repeat of things that have happened in the past, but this, this is a new one.
Men and women in their 20s hear a lot about how they need to settle down, marry, and have kids, and generally speaking, this is what many of them want to do. The main reason many of my fellow youngsters don't: jobs are tough to come by right now, by which I mean real jobs with benefits, ones where a parent can earn enough to support a family. This is a crisis for small-c conservatism, where family formation and the continuance of society into the next generation is (I'm pretty sure) priority number 1. So what's FreedomWorks, that bastion of right-wing activity doing?
"The group is designing a symbolic 'Obamacare card' that college students can burn during campus protests."
I ended my membership in the Republican Party a few years ago, and even though I'm chairing an organization called LDS Democrats of America, I still want our representatives and thinkers in both parties spending their time working on supporting families and individuals and making our communities stronger. I had some hope, with the Senate taking a commonsense approach to immigration a few weeks ago, that we were getting there. Looks like we've still got a ways to go.
The American people and press have been slapping the suffix “gate” on any real or pretend political scandal since the famous political burglary at the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C. That “second-rate” burglary was followed by obstruction of justice in several ways; the payment of cash money from illegal campaign funds to silence the burglars hired by Nixon campaign officials, the attempt to have the CIA cut off the FBI investigation by claiming it was a national security operation arising out of the conflicts with Cuba, the destruction of investigative records by high officials of the FBI, perjury, and various other political dirty tricks in support of Nixon’s reelection in 1972. This led to Nixon’s resignation while articles of impeachment were being prepared.
One of the less known fall-outs from the initial “gate,” was that Senator Frank Church, Democrat of Idaho, headed a committee to investigate the intelligence agencies of the United States. The Church Committee was wide-ranging and delved into and exposed such activities as attempts to poison Fidel Castro with his own cigars (like exploding cigars out of the Three Stooges) to the less humorous wire-tapping and letter-opening by FBI Director, J. Edgar Hoover who tried to link the Civil Rights Movement to a world-wide communist conspiracy. The Church Committee was certainly controversial in many respects but it was also bi-partisan and investigated abuses in both Democratic and Republican Administrations. There are legitimate doubts as to whether the current House Committee on Benghazi has the same bi-partisan interest or possibly represents the political and constitutional threats of Watergate itself.
"You will see the Constitution of the United States almost destroyed. It will hang like a thread as fine as a silk fiber.... I love the Constitution; it was made by the inspiration of God; and it will be preserved and saved…” – Attributed to Joseph Smith, May 1843
Across congregations of the Mormon Church the above quote has become a rallying cry among the conservative members. I have been approached by several wanting to discuss the destructive nature of the Constitution by our current administration. “Today the constitution hangs by a thread,” always concludes each episode as the definitive reason for their political posturing. Stepping aside from the fact that the bloody Civil War was on the horizon in 1843, which truly challenged the foundation of the Constitution, there is merit to this quote today.
The Framers designed the Constitution to equalize representative power across the states, strengthen the voice of the minority, and drive equality. The Senate functions as a contained democracy using majority rule, with equal representation across the states regardless of population. The House is designed to represent the people, equalizing votes across the collective population of our country. The House Representatives are “of the people” with short two year terms to align with the changing demands of the constituents they represent. The Framers designed our government with an inspired balance of power, representing the minority to a point, and using the legislative branch as a check for executive power.
Two changes in rules and actions threaten the balance of the Legislative Branch and the Constitution today. The filibuster changes the entire intent of the Senate and gerrymandering has removed the representative equality of the House. Our government has moved to an extreme representation of the minority which suffocates the will of the majority. In the Senate, Senators representing a mere 20 percent of the population can stop legislation and bring the chamber to a crawl. In the House, a populous minority retains control and abuses their influence to table popular legislation and misdirect funding.
The Senate filibuster is not found in the Constitution and was first used in 1837 exploiting a change in debating rules made in 1806. The filibuster was used just a handful of times until 1970, and as a last resort. Today it is part of the process on almost every bill or appointment. What the Framers intended to be a simple majority in the Senate has now become a 60 vote super-majority. Couple this with the already imperfect representative balance of the Senate, and it is easy to understand why gridlock has ensued.
Today Republicans use the filibuster to oppose legislation and bring the legislative process to a crawl. There have been several bills these past four years, that after receiving the 60 votes needed to end the filibuster, passed 99-0. One of the most egregious examples came last December when Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell filibustered his own bill wasting time and tax payer resources. The real problem with this obtuse Senate rule is 40 minority Senators can represent less than 20 percent of the US population. Eliminating the use of the filibuster still meets the intent of minority representation as 45 Republican Senators represent 30 percent of the population.
On the other side of the Legislative Branch the House has deviated from Constitutional intent due to progressive gerrymandering by Republican governors. As the majority of the states were controlled by Republicans after the 2010 census, a $30 million dollar redistricting action plan was executed further skewing the House’s representative characteristics. In 2012 there were 1.5 million more votes for Democrats yet there are 33 more Republican Representatives in the House. The US is 64 percent white but 4 percent of Republican Congressman are minorities. 51 percent of the population are women but only 8 percent of Republican Representatives. The abuse of redistricting is so widespread I see little chance of overturning House control even with a healthy voting majority in the near future.
Between the House and Senate actions by the minority party it’s easy to understand why the Constitution is being tread on. The American government has been hijacked by a party that relies on abusing rules and redistricting to push an unpopular agenda. Legislation like firearm background checks and immigration reform should be a slam dunk given the overwhelming support by the majority of the people, but the government has failed to perform even the most mundane functions. The Constitution is crippled and the balance of power upset because the minority party does not respect the Framer’s intent.
In Mormon congregations across the country my Republican friends are correct; Joseph Smith’s quote is just as applicable today as it was at the time of the Civil War. The Constitution hangs by a thread and they are the ones holding the scissors.
When Barack Obama was re-elected to the presidency last November, House Speaker John Boehner observed, "the American people have spoken. They have re-elected President Obama. And they have again elected a Republican majority in the House of Representatives." Republican House Minority Leader Mitch McConnell noted that the voters, "have simply given [Obama] more time to finish the job they asked him to do together with a Congress that restored balance to Washington after two years of one-party control." President Obama was re-elected with nearly 5 million more votes than Mitt Romney. Democrats deepened their grip on the Senate by capturing two additional seats. Democrats also gained 8 seats in the House, but were far from recapturing it.Read more
So I am going to put my own spin on this (mostly because I'm an optimist in all things liberal) and make a guess that "Not Affiliated" is the new code word for "Democrat" in the leadership of the Church. (Unless, as a friend of mine pointed out, it just means they are Libertarian.) Regardless, we really find no surprises in this article found in the Salt Lake Tribune. Many of the leaders of the Church are Republican, (even though I always fancied Elder Scott to be a Democrat. He does that whole thing in General Conference where he asks us to imagine he's talking personally to us, and it seems so caring and warm, I've always thought: "He has to be a Democrat!") And we also learn that all 15 voted in this past election, although Church spokesman Trotter points out, "Party affiliation does not necessarily indicate how an individual votes. As an institution, the church is politically neutral. The purpose of the church is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ."
And also from the Times article: "LDS Church spokesman Scott Trotter says party affiliation and voting are personal matters for individuals, even church leaders, and he warned people not to read too much into the voting-registration records."
Regardless of what many Republican Mormons might say, (i.e., how can we follow the prophet if we don't vote like the prophet!?!) I'm not swayed in my political leanings. I am a Democrat. It is part of my soul. But I try not to confuse my politics with the gospel. This can be difficult for me at times because politics is much more provocative and immediate, while a Sunday School lesson might feel more repetitive and uninteresting. But I do feel strongly that while being a Democrat reflects my belief in the gospel, I know it's not the same thing as my faith and testimony. It is much more complex than that - and surely it is much more complex than this graphic might be understood to imply:
Right now I cannot honestly say I am proud to be an American. This is an extreme statement, particularly from someone who always votes, pays taxes, and inevitably chokes up a bit during the national anthem. But after reading the online comments posted in response to a CNN article about the most recent Presidential debates, I was left with an intensely bitter taste in my mouth: I believe it is disgust.
The banter in the comments went back and forth, soon deteriorating into a mud slinging, name calling, swearing mess wherein attacks were launched at the other person’s: political party, intelligence, religion, state of origin, mother, or all of the above. The chanting, all caps, and exclamation marks recalled the songs of high school cheerleaders: “OBAMA OBAMA OooooooooBAMA!!!!!!”
Last night on national television I watched two grown men behaving like testosterone-saturated teens, circling each other as they sparred, contradicted, blamed, and condemned each other as liars. At several points I watched with the same sick sensation you feel during an episode of Jerry Springer, when you know it’s going to get a bit revolting, but you can’t quite drag your eyes away.
This debate followed last week’s vice-presidential debate where the best question of the whole election was tidily sidestepped and ignored. Moderator Martha Raddatz quoted a soldier who said this presidential campaign has focused on tearing the opponent down rather than building up the nation. She asked: “At the end of the day, are you ever embarrassed by the tone?”
Biden responded marginally to the question, acknowledging that “some” sources in the election may have overstepped their bounds, before hastily reverting back to the topic of the economy, while Ryan blamed Obama for all the blaming that has gone on (ironic a tad?) and then promptly returned to slandering Obama’s economic policies to fill the remainder of his time.
But the ignored question is perhaps the most pertinent of all. Should we as Americans feel embarrassed by the tone of these elections? Is it possible, when so much power and money and prestige is on the line, to even entertain the idea that such a discussion could happen respectfully? Would it be inconceivable that we might have an honest conversation about the best course of action for our country, without turning the whole thing into a sporting event where the other “team” is characterized as ridiculous, malicious, and even evil?
This has been a unique election for me personally. I was raised Mormon in a politically conservative household and my father worked with Mitt Romney for several years. My father has tremendous respect for Romney both as a person and as a businessman and feels his financial expertise would serve our country well at this time. On the other hand, I remain undecided. I voted for Obama four years ago and feel that in many ways he has done a fantastic job. He is an inspiring, articulate leader who moves me deeply and represents us well on the international stage. For the first time since I have been able to vote, I feel both options have genuine advantages. I also have close friends and colleagues on both sides of the political spectrum, and I guess this is precisely why the bitter, accusatory tone of these elections has been so hard to swallow.
Years ago I spent six months living in east Jerusalem. As an American student, I was able to travel freely between Israel and occupied Palestine. I came to know and admire both cultures, forming meaningful friendships on both sides. And the thing that distressed me most, was that every time I travelled between the two areas I was warned by both: “Be careful over there. Those people are_____.” You can fill in the blank. “They are dangerous. They are evil. They are dirty. They are dishonest. They will steal from you. Hurt you. Take advantage of you. They are not good or kind or friendly. Like we are.”
What is it about human nature that must find someone else to categorize as “other?” –as separate and distinct from oneself and therefore less? I am sick of Republicans calling Democrats crazy liberals who care more about polar bears than babies. And I’m equally sick of Democrats calling Republicans deluded religious fanatics who want to abandon the poor.
The honest truth is that there are genuinely good people on every side of every line you can draw on this earth. And perhaps the most dangerous, divisive weapon humanity holds is an inclination to define a group of people as “other,” and thereby justify treating them as less. That spirit of divisiveness is almost always the true culprit behind war and poverty and genocide, wielded by dictators and bullies alike. It negatively impacts this nation by forcing us to choose between “camps” rather than among complex positions. If we have to define ourselves as either Democrats or Republicans, we collectively lose the opportunity to choose between the best of both political spheres, subjugating the moderate majority to more extreme elements.
Even more disturbingly, divisiveness renders problem solving impossible because issues become so polarizing that friends and family, who care deeply about each other, no longer feel they can actually talk about the most pressing issues with those whose opinions matter the most.
There are crucial difficulties facing this nation today. Resolving them is going to require immense effort from both sides of every line that divides us. If we can’t put party politics aside and come together as Americans at the coffee shops and kitchen tables and campuses of this country, then how can we possibly expect our politicians to do what we cannot?
If we really want a bi-partisan America, then let it begin in the streets and on the blogs, and let it begin with a desire to see “others” as part of the whole, part of humanity, and part of this country—deeply connected to ourselves and our future, and yes, perhaps worthy of a little respect.
When President Barack Obama took the oath of office on January 20, 2009, the U.S. economy was in free fall. During the preceding year and half, some of the nation’s largest and most important financial institutions went bankrupt, including Bear Stearns, Countrywide, and Lehman Brothers, as risky loans and other investments failed. Many other large banks were on the verge of collapse. The downfall of the financial sector had been preceded by a spectacular end to a massive speculative housing bubble that almost instantly wiped out trillions of dollars of Americans’ net worth. When Lehman Brothers and AIG went into bankruptcy during the same weekend in September 2008, panic ensued all across the economy. It felt like 1929 all over again. The Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), which was signed into law by President George W. Bush and was implemented by President Obama, stopped the bleeding in the financial sector, but the damage to the broader economy had already been done as other sectors of the economy continued to rapidly deteriorate. The stock markets plummeted, losing more than half of their peak market capitalization just six weeks after Obama took office. Many retirees and workers nearing retirement saw their investment portfolio lose much of its value. Millions of people lost their jobs due to no fault of their own after the U.S. entered a recession in December 2007. Over 1.2 million Americans were laid off between the election and Obama’s inauguration. All told, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that 8.7 million jobs were lost due to the Great Recession. No president since Franklin D. Roosevelt has begun their tenure in the White House under such dire circumstances. An evaluation of each segment of the economy around the time Obama took office compared to now shows that we are definitely better off four years later.Read more
For those of you who read my posts on a regular basis you know I have a deep respect for President Reagan. Not the Reagan fantasized by the Tea Party today but the real Reagan that negotiated with the left instead of holding them hostage, was liberal on social platforms, and used religion only as a tool in the Cold War. Last night I was taking my wife through 30 years of unemployment (yes, I am a boring husband) and was startled by a very remarkable similarity. With yesterday's unemployment rate announcement, President Obama's and President Reagan's first term curves are basically identical.
Both presidents inherited skyrocketing unemployment rates and both, through different measures, were able to start moving the economy again and experienced significant job gains the back half of their first terms. Both presidents inherited 8% employment rates, watched them climb to 10%+, and then fall again to high 7%. Reagan's dramatic direction change came behind Paul Volcker's handling of the Federal Funds Rate, which dropped from 19% in 1981 to 8.5% in 1982 freeing up cash and driving significant capital investment. President Obama also has help from the Fed through quantitative easing and driving demand through deficit spending.
What shouldn't be overlooked, is with the national unemployment rate falling below 8%, almost every economic metric is now better than when President Obama took office. GDP is growing again after watching significant drop in production. The Dow is back to pre-bubble levels and has climbed dramatically in the last three years largely due to record corporate profits. Now the only argument the right has is the skyrocketing national debt, but as I demonstrated here this has very little to do with President Obama's legislation.
If some of your older Republican friends have a problem with the unemployment curve under President Obama, ask them if they voted for Reagan in 1984. If any of your friends ask if we are better off now than four years ago, feel free to engage in that conversation.
The Dow, which is a good measure of corporate profits and productivity, has climbed back to it's pre-bubble level. This increased productivity frees up capital which allows companies to expand their workforce. Jobs are a lagging economic indicator, and are being driven by the returns from private industry we are seeing today.
The dramatic decline in GDP productivity came the final year of President Bush's second term. The GDP decline bottomed out halfway into President Obama's first year and has experienced positive growth since. Although they are not quite to the growth levels of the mid 2000's, we are also not leveraging our home equity to pay for big screen TVs.
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.
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.