Republican vs. Democratic Mormons - Another View

In a recent well-written blog post, Mormon Republicans vs. Mormon Democrats, Kate Ensign-Lewis wrote a thoughtful analysis that concluded Mormons who highly value agency as a gospel principle tended to lean Republican and those who value love lean Democrat.

I don’t want to criticize Sister Lewis in any way; I think she was eloquent and concise in her analysis. And she has an obvious point. We LDS Democrats appreciate her standing up for our devotion to our faith. However, I’d like to propose another way of looking at the problem. (Disclaimer: The ideas presented here are certainly not original with me, but are based on the insights of others.)

One problem with the agency vs. love analysis is this: Except for the rare libertarian like Ron Paul, the stated ideal of conservatism for limited government conflicts with how conservatives actually govern. In Utah, we have “Zion Curtains” in restaurants to prevent the unwary soul from perhaps laying eyes on a bottle of booze. There’s the trampling of our constitutional right to privacy under the Patriot Act, and of course, the repeated attempts to legislate morality. I could go on, but you get the idea. The power and reach of the federal government, including spending, expanded at a greater rate under George W. Bush than any time since World War II.

The other problem is this: If the choice among Mormons was between love and agency, the Democrats would be in the majority. Christ said the first and greatest commandment was to love the Lord with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself. Call me an optimist, but unless it’s a deep, subconscious thing, I would argue most Mormon Republicans would not hesitate for a moment in proclaiming love as the first commandment.

So what’s the alternative? I think there is another way of characterizing the conservative mindset. Their core value is not limited government. Conservatives believe in authority. They value strong principles more than pragmatism. They’re the classic strict father type.

Ask a conservative what they admire about Ronald Reagan, and the gut reaction won’t be his policies. Instead, they will say he was a strong leader who stood up for his principles. Ask the same conservative why they dislike Jimmy Carter, and the gut reaction will be: He was a weak, vacillating leader. It will be a rare conservative who would be able to cite one thing about Carter’s actual policies that they disagreed with.

I think this mindset is behind the oft-repeated phrase by conservatives: America isn’t a democracy, it’s a republic. Translation: The “mob” can’t be trusted to rule our country; we need to entrust the government to authoritarian figures. And I think we can understand the underlying attitude of conservatives towards the poor by picturing the strict, authoritarian father who boots his 25-year old son out of the house so he will learn responsibility. Listen closely and there is a paternalistic undercurrent behind proclamations by conservatives that unemployment insurance encourages laziness.

So, as a counterpoint, what are Democrats? Maybe the best analogy is the nurturing parent type, who works to give her children the life’s lessons they need and a firm foundation to stand on, but encourages them to think for themselves and choose their own path in life. She is the one who truly believes in free agency. The nurturing parent wouldn’t have a problem with that 25 year-old kid living at home, as long as they were working towards a goal they were passionate about. As much as this nurturing mom loves her own children, she would cringe at the idea that someone else’s child should suffer or not have a chance to grow up and achieve their dreams; hence, the nurturing mom’s passion for communitarian responsibility, or “the village”, as Hillary Clinton put it.

This model explains the difference between women and men in party affiliation; women tend more to the nurturing parent side. It also explains the greater tolerance of progressive parents toward children who perhaps don’t follow the exact path their parents wished them to follow.

Mainly, I think this explains the preference of active Latter-day Saints for the Republican Party. We’re conditioned to have respect for authority and to have strong beliefs in basic principles. The problem: This mindset is meant only to apply to the Gospel. We’re not supposed to give the same reverence to the philosophies of men that we give to the word of God. That’s idolatry. The Gospel provides a solid foundation for us to stand on while we think and act for ourselves on other issues. The Brethren could not have been more clear on this over the years, but the mindset of the average Latter-day Saint has a hard time dealing with the truth that the Lord actually wants us to think and act for ourselves on political issues.

Convincing good Latter-day Saints to give progressive politics a chance is a challenge; I’m hoping there are a few kernels of insight here that might help us in the battle.



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