When I originally wrote the piece “Confronting the Myth of LGBT and LDS Dems” for the LDS Dems blog, I quoted a comment that I felt summed up the two core reasons many members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints feel there is an impasse between being an active, faithful member of the Church, and in supporting the Democratic party or, more broadly, progressive ideals. Again, here is the quote:Read more
Recently an over-zealous LDS bishop wrote an op-ed piece which sparked some debate in the Mormon progressive community. Given the man’s position and the use of political questions as a litmus test for temple worthiness, a discussion has emerged around the separation of politics and LDS Church doctrine. Instead of writing an unproductive response to the bishop calling into question conservative platforms that are blatantly anti-Christian, I am instead addressing one of the article’s attacks; Democrat’s pro-choice position. As a proud progressive, I also feel the discussion should center on facts, data, and historical significance, and not arrogantly challenging people’s religious worthiness due to disagreement. In defense of Democrat’s pro-choice position, here are some points to consider:Read more
U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) has recently staged a couple of old-fashioned filibusters and proposed others in the populist style of Jimmy Stewart in "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington." However, it was a Texas State Senator who won the respect and love of Democrats throughout the country Tuesday night when her filibuster delayed the vote on a restrictive abortion bill.
Abortion is a very challenging issue of the culture wars. While MormonDems bloggers support the LDS teaching that abortion is a serious moral issue, we also support the Church's provision for rare but sometimes necessary exceptions. These include rape, incest, “serious jeopardy” to the “life or health of the mother” and when “the fetus has serious defects that will not allow the baby to survive beyond birth.” These exceptions should only be considered after discussions with the woman's family, her doctor, and bishop or branch president. As this is a challenging personal and religious issue, the law should allow those consultations and decisions with the least amount of intrusion. It should be recognized that the Church takes no position with regard to any particular abortion legislation. You can find the Church's official statement at this link.
It has been my experience that the majority of mormons choose their political ideology based primarily upon one issue: Abortion. It is sad that this happens as I know many mormon liberals who consider themselves pro-life. Harry Reid, for example, pursues most of the Democratic agenda with the exception of abortion (he is pro-life). So I want to first say that one can be liberal without being pro-choice. In this post however, I want to present the case for pro-choice mormons. In my experience, most pro-life mormons' views on abortion are influenced by two things: 1) The view that a fetus is a full human being. 2) That the church is "officially against" abortion.Read more
As their name indicates, this is the elephant in the room for social conservatives. There’s a very large voting bloc that goes well beyond Mormonism for whom social issues, particularly perhaps abortion and now gay marriage, often take precedence over anything else. Described as “conservative family values,” these are often linked to family and framed within moral rhetoric—more than, say, economic or foreign policy issues—and tend, I think, to be the most discussed political topics in religious settings. They are therefore what often comes up when conservative Mormons discover that one of their friends is a liberal or a Democrat: “How can you support a party that supports abortion?” “How can you vote for Obama now that he’s come out in favor of gay marriage?” Etc.
It might not be possible to answer such questions satisfactorily, but I have two thoughts that move in that direction. First, taking a broad view helps. That, for instance, is why I’ve spent so much time in this series trying to establish that neither party is the party of God, neither has any more or less divine approbation than the other. As a peculiar people with our own set of beliefs we are going to agree with the Republicans sometimes, with the Democrats sometimes, and with neither party perhaps most of all. A nuanced view of an issue rarely falls inside a party platform. Second, we need a degree of pragmatism in the real world: I do not have to agree with a candidate on every issue in order to believe he or she will be the best candidate for that office; I actually doubt that I’ve ever found a candidate with whom I agree on everything—how could that even be possible? Thus it really comes down to prioritization, a little personal quid pro quo, although that doesn’t imply a surrender to cognitive dissonance or abandonment of our moral values: it just means that in our search for the greatest moral good in the real world of politics we all have to take what we can get, and some matters truly are weightier than others. Conservatives as well as liberals have to make these types of decisions.
Both of these thoughts get tied up in the question of what we’re really talking about with the rubric of “social issues.” I tend to take the broad view that they are any and all policy issues which deal with society. The gospel of the Latter-day Saints, of course, has a lot to say about building a proper society, more than any other Christian denomination I know of. Ultimately salvation is an interpersonal activity, structured vertically through generations of ancestors and descendents and horizontally through couples, families, and the community of Zion and its stakes. Joseph Smith was a highly social individual, and that concern has filtered down to us through his original teachings like that the “same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there [in heaven], only it will be coupled with eternal glory, which glory we do not now enjoy” (D&C 130:2) and beyond that to a very intricate Mormon social structure. I’m writing this in my ward meetinghouse as six or seven families have gathered to let our children play in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. We were here doing the same thing yesterday (Monday) as the storm grew close; we trick-or-treated here on Saturday; I’ll be back tomorrow morning for playgroup for my three-year-old, Thursday night for a community orchestra rehearsal, Friday night for Activity Days, and Sunday, finally, for church, not to return until the next Wednesday for another playgroup—the longest hiatus of our week. And activities at the meetinghouse, as any Church member knows, is just the beginning.
So Mormons are social people, especially among our own, and the doctrines and practices about family and society run deep in our theology. And it’s issues that touch on these doctrines and practices that the Church leadership has reserved the right to comment on in the political sphere. In its statement of political neutrality, the Church newsroom says that the Church “reserve[s] the right as an institution to address, in a nonpartisan way, issues that it believes have significant community or moral consequences or that directly affect the interests of the Church.” This could yield a rather broad purview—moral issues could be construed to include war, poverty, and education, for instance—but Church leadership tends to limit its activities to issues that directly affect the structure of families: issues of marriage and sexuality.
In an earlier post I linked to a Mormon Matters podcast on the Church’s political history that discusses in depth how this happened, and that entire conversation is definitely worth hearing. Philip Barlow also implied the limitation during an interview for a New Hampshire Public Radio article:
“‘Joseph Smith taught that salvation, or exaltation, is a relational thing. And the relations that we’re talking about are most intimately marriage, and then nuclear family, and then the extended family, and then the wider community.’ So, Barlow says, when the 1960s saw the rise of casual sex and drug use, and the 1970s brought the Roe vs. Wade decision, many Mormons saw traditional family structures as being under threat . . . The Mormon theology of salvation and the family also explains how Church leaders openly pushed for Proposition 8 in California, which banned gay marriage. To non-Mormons, that appears to be a clear-cut political issue. ‘That’s different in the thinking of Church leaders,’ from endorsing a candidate, Barlow says, versus ‘when there’s a moral point at stake with some law or another. That’s how they officially construed Proposition 8. Mormon thinking construes damage to the family as a fundamental threat in society, and a fundamental threat for the well-being of human beings,’ Barlow says.”
Many people would assert there’s “a moral point at stake” with laws that seek equal pay for women or a higher minimum wage or more stringent inspections of food processing facilities, but it seems that the Church has determined those issues to not immediately influence family stability and therefore to not become involved with them. What’s unclear, as discussed in Mormon Matters, is whether that direction is coming from Church officials like the First Presidency and apostles, grassroots self-reinforcement through cultural norms among the general membership, or some sort of combination of both. But with rhetoric both over the pulpit and the dinner table focusing more on issues like gay marriage than, say, poverty, the former for better or worse tends to get the lion’s share of attention when Church members go to the ballot box.
I wanted to bring all of this into the conversation because I think it illustrates how for better or worse a few social issues have taken precedence in the thought of most Church members, even though there’s no fiat saying that these are or even should be the only social issues about which members should be concerned. My earlier point that we all have to prioritize which issues we most fervently support is validated by this conversation: for many members of the Church the social issues on which they’ve chosen to focus are abortion, heterosexual marriage, and other issues that revolve around sexual morality, like regulations on pornography or prostitution or even the display of sexually explicit media and entertainment. Because of this they support “socially conservative” politicians who share their beliefs on these core issues. Now, these issues certainly remain important for other Church members, but they may choose to emphasize them less than alleviating poverty or providing affordable medical care to all members of our society, so they will support politicians who support their views on those core issues regardless of what they think about the others. And that’s the way it should work, because who could ever find a politician that matched his opinions on every conceivable issue?
I don’t have much to say personally about gay marriage, for instance. I believe the Proclamation on the Family that says “marriage between a man and woman is essential to [God’s] eternal plan” and I agree with President Monson and other general authorities who have counseled us to oppose same-sex marriage. I believe I would oppose it regardless of any explicit statements from Church leaders just because of what I believe about the purpose of marriage in the plan of salvation, the importance for children of two-parent families with a father and a mother, and the complex moral position of homosexuality. I have similar opinions about premarital sex, marital infidelity, divorce, and abuse.
(That’s not to say, by the way, that I believe there should be no conversation about homosexuality within the Church. I’ve been quite pleased, for instance, by last April’s “It Gets Better” video by and for gay BYU students, and I’ve been excited to watch the progress of the Far Between movement and documentary that promotes understanding between gay and straight members of the Church.)
But I don’t see myself as “favoring traditional marriage” or “against gay rights,” the labels that would normally be attached to the position I just outlined. Those are labels that are insufficient, myopic. If I had to label myself I would say I’m “pro-family.” What that means is I cannot stop at just saying, “I think laws that would allow same-sex marriages should not be passed.” It’s much bigger than that, coming from the Proclamation’s last sentence: “We call upon responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society.” This is a call to actively promote measures that not only maintain traditional family structures like heterosexual monogamy, but that seek to strengthen families in myriad other ways. We must implement programs that help marriages stay together. We must do what we can to help children belong to a married “father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity.” We must fight poverty, disease, crime, ignorance, and any other societal ills that contribute to the breaking down of extended and nuclear families. Simply protecting traditional marriage is only the tip of the iceberg.
So I choose to evaluate my pro-family position against a large network of issues and programs, weighing some points more heavily than others. If I’m presented with a candidate—or an entire party platform—that supports legalizing same-sex marriage but also supports strong measures for reducing poverty, then I’m prone to support that candidate or party because I believe that poverty is a greater danger to marriage and childrearing than gay marriage. I regret that promoting gay marriage remains part of that candidate’s or party’s agenda (realizing, of course, that many Church members support gay marriage), but I believe that the overall result will be beneficial for families and society, a stance I don’t see as being cognitively dissonant or dishonest in any way because it achieves the greater moral good. Of course, if I were able to find a candidate who supports both heterosexual marriage and complete socialization of the health care industry, for example, then that candidate would have my unreserved support. Barring such an unlikely possibility (because it straddles the extremes of our country’s two parties), I will take what I can get, emphasizing the candidate who I think can do the most good.
In my last two points on foreign affairs and economic policy I’ve emphasized that I think one of the most fundamental purposes of government is to eradicate poverty and inequality wherever it may exist; this is in accordance with my self-identification as “pro-family,” though I could add the labels “pro-community” and “pro-life” to myself as well. This last term, in fact, which is normally associated only with opponents of abortion, was brilliantly reified and explained by Thomas Friedman in his Times editorial last weekend. Forgive my quoting him rather extensively:
In my world, you don’t get to call yourself “pro-life” and be against common-sense gun control — like banning public access to the kind of semiautomatic assault rifle, designed for warfare, that was used recently in a Colorado theater. You don’t get to call yourself “pro-life” and want to shut down the Environmental Protection Agency, which ensures clean air and clean water, prevents childhood asthma, preserves biodiversity and combats climate change that could disrupt every life on the planet. You don’t get to call yourself “pro-life” and oppose programs like Head Start that provide basic education, health and nutrition for the most disadvantaged children. You can call yourself a “pro-conception-to-birth, indifferent-to-life conservative.” I will never refer to someone who pickets Planned Parenthood but lobbies against common-sense gun laws as “pro-life.”
“Pro-life” can mean only one thing: “respect for the sanctity of life.” And there is no way that respect for the sanctity of life can mean we are obligated to protect every fertilized egg in a woman’s body, no matter how that egg got fertilized, but we are not obligated to protect every living person from being shot with a concealed automatic weapon. I have no respect for someone who relies on voodoo science to declare that a woman’s body can distinguish a “legitimate” rape, but then declares — when 99 percent of all climate scientists conclude that climate change poses a danger to the sanctity of all life on the planet — that global warming is just a hoax.
The term “pro-life” should be a shorthand for respect for the sanctity of life. But I will not let that label apply to people for whom sanctity for life begins at conception and ends at birth. What about the rest of life? Respect for the sanctity of life, if you believe that it begins at conception, cannot end at birth. That radical narrowing of our concern for the sanctity of life is leading to terrible distortions in our society.
Respect for life has to include respect for how that life is lived, enhanced and protected — not only at the moment of conception but afterward, in the course of that life. That’s why, for me, the most “pro-life” politician in America is New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. While he supports a woman’s right to choose, he has also used his position to promote a whole set of policies that enhance everyone’s quality of life — from his ban on smoking in bars and city parks to reduce cancer, to his ban on the sale in New York City of giant sugary drinks to combat obesity and diabetes, to his requirement for posting calorie counts on menus in chain restaurants, to his push to reinstate the expired federal ban on assault weapons and other forms of common-sense gun control, to his support for early childhood education, to his support for mitigating disruptive climate change.
Now that is what I call “pro-life.”
I’m a New Yorker and haven’t been thrilled with everything Mayor Bloomberg’s done, particularly with education policy and his unprecedented pursuit of a third term, but this description is incredibly apt—it groups together many of Bloomberg’s achievements that otherwise look haphazard and dictatorial (and which run into the same counter arguments I discussed last time: a few weeks ago I saw a PepsiCo delivery truck emblazoned with the slogan, “Don’t let government bureaucrats take away your right to choose your beverage”). If we see all of Mayor Bloomberg’s policies as pro-life, a pattern emerges that goes deeper and embraces more areas than we normally ever even think about with this terminology, and we can even include the city’s new bike lanes and the closure of Broadway to vehicles around Times Square. The mayor’s only position I would differ from is the first one about a woman’s right to choose, because I believe that abortion should only be considered when the life of the baby or the mother is at stake or when pregnancy is a result of rape, abuse, or incest. Though I arrived and that independently it is, by the way, also the Church’s position, a middle road between being either pro-choice or pro-life that therefore brings us grief from both sides: hence the perennial pro-life protesters with graphic placards outside every general conference. My point here is that it is possible to really be “pro-life” by supporting the life of the unborn baby, the life of the mother—including her quality of life when the pregnancy results from trauma—and the life of the child and family after birth. (And that policy is in harmony with Church leaders’ teachings that we don’t really know at what point a premortal spirit enters its physical body, as in page 354 of Man: His Origin and Destiny in which the First Presidency says, “The body of man enters upon its career as a tiny germ or embryo, which becomes an infant, quickened at a certain stage by the spirit whose tabernacle it is, and the child, after being born, develops into a man.” See also Journal of Discourses 17:143, Doctrines of Salvation 2:280-281, and even Mormon Doctrine 768.)
I also believe that people who are pro-life and really want to minimize the number of abortions in this country will give women all the tools they can to avoid unwanted pregnancy. Teaching the law of chastity obviously comes at the top of that list, but it’s obviously unrealistic to expect all American women (and men) to quickly adopt that standard. Therefore, making contraception available becomes the next biggest factor, and a study published October 4 in Obstetrics & Gynecology (and discussed here) showed that having free access to birth control, as provided under the Affordable Care Act, reduces abortion rates from 20 per 1,000 sexually active women to 4.4-7.5 per 1,000 women. The birth rate among teen girls was almost six times lower than the national average, and 75% of all women chose to receive IUDs or implants, the most effective—but, previous to the health care reform law, expensive—forms of reversible contraception. What this means is that the Affordable Care Act has the potential to significantly lower the rate of unwanted pregnancies and abortions throughout the country, which is a very positive thing for anyone who wants to reduce abortion rates. The same is true of Planned Parenthood.
My positions on issues like gun control and immigration are similar to this. I’m pro-life and believe the Lord doesn’t want us to kill anything unnecessarily, and since guns are used essentially exclusively for the taking of life—whether animal or human—my religious and moral position makes me essentially oppose the ownership of guns for any reason. I understand the original motivation for the Second Amendment, but today it’s out of date and out of sync with scriptures like Genesis 9:10-13 JST (which includes a commandment against killing animals unless faced with starvation) and Mormon 7:4. We don’t need to jettison the entire Second Amendment, but as society becomes increasingly urban some serious reform will help make us safer and more in-line with basic Judeo-Christian-Muslim law about the sanctity of life—and acknowledge the fact that many, many, many guns are used for crime rather than hunting or self-defense.
I mentioned immigration when discussing foreign policy, specifically how most of it, at least from Latin America, is a result of failed, oppressive, or exploitative U.S. policies south of the Rio Grande. My opinions about this really solidified on my Spanish-speaking mission in Atlanta where I dealt with undocumented immigrants every day, including nearly all the Latter-day Saints I met. My most profound religious belief affecting this topic is that we are all children of the same God, regardless of race, language, religion, or nationality (2 Ne. 26:33; 29:7). If we all share our divine origin and potential to become like God then any law or policy that institutionalizes discrimination is ill-founded at best, and any language that considers another person, not an activity, as “illegal” is simply unconscionable. Second to this is my belief that all of the Americas—not just the United States—are the free and promised land spoken of time and again in the Book of Mormon. This does not diminish the importance of the U.S. Constitution as an inspired document or the role the U.S. has played and will play in the Restoration and world’s affairs. But there’s no limitation on the Lord’s blessings and the combination of the Nephites’ repetition of these promises and application to themselves long before 1776, the inclusionary language of verses like Doctrine & Covenants 10:49-51 (which emphasizes the plurality of the nations included in the Lord’s promise), the history of Latin America in achieving independence from European monarchy (2 Ne. 10:11), and my own experiences in seeing how the Lord has blessed and inspired some undocumented immigrants in remaining in the United States has shown me that the hand of God stretches from the Yukon to Patagonia, and that his desire is to bless everyone who lives upon these shores.
Combining all that with my stance of being pro-life means I think we should do everything we can to improve the lives of everyone, regardless of birthplace, who has struggled and sacrificed to live among us and build up our society. Combining it with being pro-family means I believe that nuclear families should be kept physically together as much as possible and laws should not threaten their peace of mind or lifestyle (compare Arizona’s strict immigration law, written by a fellow-Church member, with the anti-polygamy legislation of the 1800s). Being pro-community means I recognize the positive economic effect and long-term stability that immigrants bring to the American economy and that we should actually encourage more immigration, not less. I also believe that the United States has some atoning to do for its negligent behavior in Latin America (check out the book and film of Harvest of Empire for more about that) and that, as part of that, anyone who wants to come here should have an opportunity to do so; once here they should be protected the way the Nephites protected the Ammonite immigrants in the land of Jershon. Any laws that encourage the persecution or even marginalization of a portion of the population are economically ill-conceived and morally dubious; they damage families, basically, and I am trying to find ways the government can protect and nurture families.
Governor Romney’s positions on immigration, from advocating “self-deportation” to supporting spreading the Arizona law to other states, regardless of its dubious constitutionality, will terrorize immigrant families, who have come here at great sacrifice to provide a better life for their children than was available in their homelands, and who already work incredibly hard to contribute to our economy and society. Except for a few Native Americans, we are all descendents of immigrants, so it should be easy to put ourselves in the shoes of today’s immigrants and ask what could have motivated them to tear up everything and come here and what, now here, can most help them in building up their families and our shared society. We should follow the Proclamation in seeking that the government “promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family,” regardless of origin. I agree with Harry Reid’s assessment of the Arizona law: “Laws that legalize discrimination are not compatible with our nation’s ideals and traditions of equal rights, and the idea that such an unconstitutional law should serve as a ‘model’ for national reform is far outside the American mainstream.” And I’m pleased with President Obama’s progress in making the U.S. more hospitable to Hispanic immigrants, though there's much more left to do.
The scriptures are replete with stories of immigrants—some welcomed in their new lands, some not—who journeyed to obey the promptings of the Lord and find a better life for their families—including Joseph, Mary, and the infant Jesus who fled into Egypt the same way many parents from Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Mexico, and elsewhere have fled here. We should treat these families with the same deference we would want ourselves or our Lord to be treated, for “inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matt. 25:40).
I’d like to close this post by looking at what I consider to be the biggest social issue and moral dilemma facing our country today, which is the accessibility and affordability of health care; improving it is the reason I voted for Mr. Obama in the primary and general election in 2008 and the main reason I will vote against Mr. Romney, who has promised to repeal the Affordable Care Act, next week. If in the midst of all the material blessings we have received as a country we are unable to care for our sick, then I fear, a bit like the prophets of old, that the Spirit of the Lord will no longer preserve us and we’ll be left to our own devices (as in Hel. 4:24).
I don’t think I need to spend any time proving that the Lord has commanded us to care for the sick. No LDS reader is going to seriously suggest that the Lord wants the sick to care for themselves. The question, then, is whether the government or an unregulated private industry can best accomplish that. Proponents of the latter say that competition between health care providers fosters innovation that drives medical techniques and keeps down costs. They say that being able to choose between doctors, or no doctor at all, is a right and any attempt to limit that choice or require them to purchase health insurance is a violation of their agency. The federal government should not have the authority to involve itself that deeply into their personal affairs, they say, and no one can constitutionally be required to purchase anything.
The legal arguments against these positions have been presented plentifully by the Justice Department and others, and they rest upon the concept of a community contract that I presented last time which limits choice in order to improve the general good: when one person gets sick, the entire community has to pay for it, so it is therefore within Congress’s power to require the purchase of a product to mitigate that. (I disagree with Justice Roberts’ evaluation of the law as a tax and hope that can leave the door open for further movement toward a truly nationalized system.) But I’d like to take the same step back I’ve been trying to take throughout this post and just look at the Affordable Care Act through the lens of being pro-family or pro-life. If we are in favor of saving lives and families then we will favor any measure that will protect and nurture them, whether we see it as curtailing a little bit of our freedom or not.
So will the Affordable Care Act protect families? I’ve already talked about how it’s improved prenatal care and diminished abortions. It already is making health care available to more Americans than ever before. In September we saw that the number of uninsured Americans dropped—by 1.3 million—for the first time in three years (due to both young people remaining on their parents’ insurance and more people enrolling in Medicaid and Medicare). That’s a great improvement over those excluded under the system of private insurance, but it still leaves around 48-49 million Americans without recourse to standard medical care (and remember how proud we Mormons often are to have achieved a mere 12 million Church members).
On October 10 Mitt Romney claimed that the existing private system of emergency room care was sufficient for the uninsured (something he’s said before), and that through that system nobody ever dies because they’re uninsured. “We don’t have a setting across this country where if you don’t have insurance, we just say to you, ‘Tough luck, you’re going to die when you have your heart attack. No, you go to the hospital, you get treated, you get care, and it’s paid for, either by charity, the government or by the hospital.’” He apparently received some pushback on that comment because the next day he doubled down, saying that “people will always receive the treatment they need, and do not die or suffer because they cannot pay for care.” I myself, having spent many years uninsured, even while working, can disavow this last claim that the uninsured don’t suffer; both my wife and I have dealt with chronic but not life-threatening issues for which we haven’t been able to access treatment, and the financial and mental suffering is another matter altogether. But more distressing than these quality of life issues is the estimate that roughly 26,000 Americans do actually die each year from conditions that could have been treated had they been insured. It does not matter how advanced a country’s medical care is if 15% of its population cannot access it; that’s why in the WHO’s 2000 rankings of countries’ medical systems the United States ranked 37th, between Costa Rica and Slovenia. Critics have said that the rankings were biased toward countries with socialized systems, but I believe that’s exactly the point because it reflects the fact that inaccessible care is worse than bureaucratically inefficient care or technologically out-of-date care. If we are truly our brothers’ keepers and want to promote life, health, and happiness for all the citizens of our country, then we will devise a system where everyone can actually access health care, and not just for heart attacks. I don’t care how advanced the treatments are for the 85% if 15% have no way to receive it. I’d rather be a bit less scientifically advanced but a bit more inclusive, and that, to me, is an infinitely better system.
I really appreciated this essay, nearly a year old now, in which the author describes how she was opposed to the Affordable Care Act but then was diagnosed with cancer and had her life saved because of the law’s pre-existing conditions provision. Without that she couldn’t have received medical insurance, and good luck trying to treat cancer by walking into an emergency room every other week.
But also note the financial information in her story. That brings me to my second and final point about government aid in health care: that healthcare is unreasonably expensive and dealing with it is a major burden on families and individuals. So yes, the Affordable Care Act represents a redistribution of wealth, whether you want to call it a tax or a regulation of interstate commerce. I won’t get into all of its funding systems here—that’s the subject for another blog—but it does in a way require funds from the well-to-do to pay for those who cannot pay for themselves. That sounds a lot like a nationalized system—which in fact I believe that would be a much more efficient and just way to go, just like essentially every other developed nation has decided—but it also sounds like one big insurance pool (but one where no one’s excluded for being sick). However you look at it, it is set to relieve a great deal of financial strain throughout middle- and lower class America.
As Latter-day Saints we want to protect the family. We focus on social issues that do this and foster families’ growth. “We call upon responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society.” We’re willing to fight, at great cost, to stop legislation allowing same-sex couples to marry, but we tend to forget the very damaging things to the families that already exist. Consider that financial problems are the leading cause of disagreements and divorce in marriage. Even back in 1975, Marvin J. Ashton, in his classic piece of familial financial advice “One for the Money,” said, “the American Bar Association recently indicated that 89 percent of all divorces could be traced to quarrels and accusations over money. Others have estimated that 75 percent of all divorces result from clashes over finances. Some professional counselors indicated that four out of five families are strapped with serious money problems.” Now consider that the leading cause of personal bankruptcies—studies indicate between 42% and 62% of them, in fact—are caused by medical bills. 78% of those who filed had insurance, by the way, meaning it did not save them from being buried under their medical bills. So it stands to reason that one of the most important things we can do is to eliminate or at minimum mitigate medical bills as a negative factor in family finances. These numbers are the result of decades of the free market determining costs and private insurance companies’ practices. By allowing the Affordable Care Act to reach full effect in 2014 we will protect tens of thousands of families from these dangers.
This has been true in my own family. We’ve spent about half of our thirteen-year marriage uninsured; it’s effected our medical care, of course, but also our career choices as we’ve repeatedly been forced to seek full-time employment that provides medical benefits but didn’t advance our professional goals or long-term ability to increase our earning power. We’ve twice paid nearly all our life savings for medical bills, and we’ve thrice been denied Medicaid because our assets were too high. Obviously all of this has been incredibly stressful, even when fully insured and considering career changes. In fact, the only time we’ve had true peace of mind was the two years we lived in England and used the National Health Service to give birth to our first daughter and treat other conditions. When our second daughter developed a retropharyngeal abscess when she was a few months old, it was only the fact that we were on Medicaid that saved us financially; even if we had private insurance all the payments would have easily sunk us, let alone what would have happened had we been uninsured.
So, I’ve tried to give some examples of government programs and policies that can strengthen families and protect them from the vicissitudes of the world or even the active buffeting of Satan. I truly believe that we need to look at the big pictures of social issues: what will most help families, like the Proclamation says, and where can we have the most influence (focusing on an issue like abortion that has little chance of changing could prove an ineffective use of energy). I don’t support everything that President Obama has done, but I do believe he is involving the government in the right way to mitigate the exigencies of the free market to protect families and individuals. Governor Romney has proposed measures that protect certain aspects of society, but at a greater holistic cost than benefit. And for that I support President Obama’s re-election.
Next I’ll look at how we need to protect the most vulnerable thing of all: the earth.
I am constantly criticized by my Republicans friends about the apparent contradictory position of being a pro-life Democrat. To them this position is contradictory and dishonest. To me voting with this political platform is irrelevant and insignificant. Why? Because whether or not someone is pro-life is a moral argument, and these kind of arguments are mainly used to divide the masses. They are also nearly impossible to legislate. Republicans go to the polls to elect pro-life candidates and what they get in return is the Republican agenda: tax subsidies for corporations, increased military spending, tax breaks for the wealthy, and pork spending for major donors that funded the campaigns. What doesn't happen is any major change in the moral issues that were instrumental in driving voter turnout.
Let me give a couple examples. From 2002 - 2006 the GOP controlled the House, Senate, Presidency, Governorships, and appointed 7 of 9 Supreme Court seats. In 2006 they attempted to pass a gay marriage amendment that did not even garner enough Republican support to make it out of the Senate. They did not challenge Roe v. Wade or push though any lower court case giving the Supreme Court a chance to rule on abortion (they did however find a way to deliver the Affordable Health Care Act to the high court). In four years of total control the only moral law the GOP passed was the 2003 partial-birth abortion bill, which was a minor feat given the overwhelming bi-partisan support.
Abortion rates have been declining over the past thirty years. Directly following the passing of Roe v. Wade, 30 of every 1000 women were having abortions. Today that number has fallen to 19. What's even more interesting is the abortion rate experienced its sharpest decline during the Clinton Administration (from 25 to 20 abortions per thousand) and has been relatively flat ever since. Data suggests abortion rates correlate to the economic conditions of the US (and not who is president). When the economy is tough, the abortion rate rises as couples rethink their choices about having children, given the financial pressures that raising children bring.
Improving economic conditions is not the only lever to drive down abortion cases. In 2006 Governor Romney passed a statewide health reform that contracted private insurance companies to provide care for the state's uninsured. Directly following the implementation of the law, the state's abortion rate declined. The thinking behind this is that expanding healthcare led to greater doctor access, who then could deliver education and access to contraceptives. Brian Fung of The Atlantic wrote extensively about the Massachusetts findings and made the same argument for the Affordable Health Care Act.
I am quite aware of President Obama's pro-choice stance, but like his Republican counterparts, his position is empty rhetoric. President Obama has not signed one piece of legislation or a solitary executive order that expands access to abortion in the US. In fact, the only abortion-related executive order he has signed denied using federal funds to pay for abortions. President Obama has passed a significant healthcare bill that makes access to doctors easier for millions of Americans.
When my Republican friends come and lecture me why I should support their pro-life candidates due to moral obligations, I quickly ask what impact will the candidates have on legislating abortion? Until a reasonable response is articulated, I will continue to vote for the man who made access to contraceptives and doctors available for 20 million additional women.
As this year's political race between Obama and Romney gains traction in the media, on social networks, in churches, and elsewhere, there are Mormons who, while having nothing against Romney personally or religiously, have decided to vote for Obama. The following is from a Mormon (not me) who supports Obama and the reasons why:
I am voting for Obama. I voted for him in 2008, and I believe that he was the best candidate at that time. In my opinion, he is again the best candidate for president this year. Here are my key reasons:
In my opinion, Obama has been the greatest foreign policy president we have had since Ronald Reagan. He has largely shifted America's foreign policy focus to Asia where it rightly belongs, reduced resources in Iraq, plotted an escape route out of Afghanistan, managed the Arab Spring revolutions better than I ever though possible, strengthened international resolve towards Iran, reduced tensions along the Mexican border, corralled India in a tighter alliance, and done all of this with fewer resources. Oh, and he killed Osama in an incredibly daring but brilliant operation. How could anyone even compete with that?
Much of the success belongs to Obama's excellent Cabinet choices. Secretary Clinton has been a fantastic Secretary of State, the best we've had since Colin Powell. Gates was so impressive as Defense secretary (I have mixed feelings about Panetta) and even Mullen as Joint Chiefs has demonstrated an excellent ability to think outside the box and also confront his own bureaucracy. But Obama is the one who assembled the team from rivals (Clinton) and the other political party (Gates). And he is the one who has ultimately made the right decisions at the right times.
Even his supposed failures in foreign policy reflect good thinking in my mind. Liberals are upset over his inability to close Guantanamo, but that issue is way more complicated than most people realize. And Obama is willing to recognize reality, even in the face of his unrealistic campaign promises. Others have criticized him for his response to Libya, but again, I think he struck the exact right balance of intervention without U.S. commitment. And it was a good chance for Europe to step up to the plate and work out its defense arrangements a little bit more.
Foreign policy is largely controlled within the executive branch of government, so I hold the President more accountable on this count than most others. And I think because Obama has a freer hand in this policy realm, we have seen more of his true colors in this respect. Plus, his rhetorical gifts are so needed and so effective in the international arena. Words matter there, and Obama has the ability to really influence things by what he says. Speeches in Russia and in Egypt prior to the uprisings had a dramatic regional impact.
Those who want Ron Paul's version of foreign policy are living in historical fiction, though I empathize with their aspirations. It was Woodrow Wilson, nearly 100 years ago, who presided over the transition of America from an isolated, waterlocked, largely agrarian society to the global economic and military power it is today. That transition, while not irreversible, has been so comprehensive as to make the costs of returning to isolationism far higher than any benefits. We are a global power, our military is a crucial international asset used to secure shipping lanes, reduce transaction costs, and save lives abroad, and our role in international fora cannot be replicated.
I actually think Romney wouldn't be too bad in the foreign policy realm. He certainly wouldn't be as bad as Bush or Carter were. But I worry about his Cabinet choices, about too much focus on domestic issues, about his inability to connect with Americans let alone foreign countries. And Obama has a clear track record in this realm. Absent some compelling flaw in the President's foreign policy or some remarkable asset in Romney, I am certainly not willing to change presidents after only four years.
This is the second most important issue for me, but I suspect it will be the number-one issue for most Americans. The economy is whimpering along, barely making much of a recovery with major structural problems at every level. My perspective is surely influenced by the fact that I have a job and that I am doing OK financially. If I didn’t have a job, or if my future prospects didn’t look bright, I would probably be looking for a change somewhere. In the Book of Mormon, Lehi murmured against the Lord only when he couldn’t feed his family, so I fully respect those who want a change of leadership given the lack of recent improvements. But a couple of thoughts:
Investment is the key to growth, and we are not making the right types of investments. If you think about your own life, you made significant investments in education, maybe a home, other capital. You likely took out loans to pay for these things (I sure did) with the understanding that your investment will yield returns later on. The problem with the U.S. right now is we had to take out loans just to survive for the past few years. It’s like we were living on credit card debt. Now the gut reaction once things start improving is to pay off the credit card debt right away. We all hate debt and hate watching how much interest eats up our paychecks. But the counterintuitive right course (in my opinion) is to take out more loans for the right type of investments first and then start paying off the credit card debt. Domestic infrastructure, education, state and local government, and energy development all desperately need significant investments right now. Waiting until our nation’s credit card bill is paid will be too late and only result in a lower rate of growth in the future. Accordingly,
The Republican’s prescription is the wrong one. What they are proposing is the equivalent of a doctor ordering chemotherapy for broken legs. Everyone is focused on debt right now, thinking paying down our debt will somehow cause the economy to come back. Again, think about it from an individual’s perspective. Does paying off debt make you any richer? Insofar as you get to keep the money you were using to pay interest, yes. But that is really a very small amount in the grand scheme of things. Things that actually make us richer—such as getting more education, getting a promotion, finding a new job, coming up with a new invention—come from investments, from risks, from innovation. Somehow, we are not focusing on that at all; instead, we are bickering about how we have mortgaged our children’s future. That cliché is driving me nuts. Of course we mortgage their future! That’s how we hope to finance a better world that they can then easily pay off with their spaceship explorations to planets made of gold and unobtainium.
In all seriousness though, the Republicans and Mitt Romney would have a valid argument if U.S. interest rates were going up and if inflation were a concern. But that’s the thing: inflation rates are at historic lows, and the world is more than happy to lend us as much money as we want. (See my first point on foreign policy; in a way, this is the reward for all our global expenditures.) Which leads me to the final point on economics:
The current public debate is not looking at the big picture. The U.S. economy is so closely tied into the world’s economy now that it is silly to try to separate them or focus on domestic reasons for our malaise. China’s economy depends on U.S. debt as much as we depend on it. Europe’s problems make our issues look childish in comparison. Brazil, China, and India are practically begging the U.S. to spend their money in our country on our goods and with our workforce. We are missing all these issues in our angry, navel-gazing rhetoric about who destroyed which job. And I think those global issues will ultimately have much more bearing on the domestic economy than nearly anything the executive branch will do.
There may be one exception to this point, however. In periods of panic and serious economic volatility, the President does have real power: rhetorical power and the ability to act quickly to stabilize the market through emergency liquidity measures, etc. Romney and Republicans have all but eschewed such tools, however, saying it is not the government’s role to take such action. And that denial of governmental responsibility in the face of economic crises is frightening. The last presidents to believe this were Herbert Hoover and Calvin Coolidge, who together helped precipitate (but not cause) the Great Depression.
Just to summarize the economic issue:
· Investments, not deleveraging national debt, is the key to growth.
· Republicans have made paying off debt their Holy Grail, creating a myopic and misdirected economic policy.
· International economic policy matters far more than Republicans acknowledge.
· At the end of the day, the President has very little influence on economic issues, except in crises. And it is such power that the Republican party has said should not be wielded by the government.
Looking at Romney individually, I think he is actually very intelligent when it comes to economic issues. I suspect he understands all these points, and I even suspect he may agree with me. But his party has demonstrated no willingness to compromise or acknowledge any complexity on the issue, and I fear Romney would face a revolt from his own party if he suggested increasing spending on anything. So even if Romney really knows how to handle our economic challenges (although his current rhetoric suggests otherwise) his party would never allow it.
Domestic Policy and Entitlement Reform
As the words Obamacare and socialism ring through the air, I think this is the arena where the public debate has gotten out of hand. To be fair, the rhetoric on foreign policy issues was ridiculous when George Bush was president. Whereas Obama is depicted as a Keynian socialist who hates America and wants to decide when senior citizens are killed, Bush was depicted as a bumbling, warmongering puppet controlled by Dick Cheney who wanted to torture foreigners. Neither caricature is particularly helpful, except to put “rage in the hearts” (2 Nephi 28:20) of people. I suspect most Americans were not in either of these two rhetorical camps, but their rational thoughts are getting drowned out.
Obamacare—By far, the strangest thing about this entire debate is that Obamacare will not be truly implemented until 2014! We haven’t even seen what Obamacare will do, but listening to people you would think it single-handedly brought down the economy even before it was passed. The individual mandate hasn’t been implemented, insurance competition provisions remain unenforced, and the whole thing is in limbo before the Supreme Court (and I think a constitutional examination is warranted in this case). My point is, how could you possibly judge a law on its merits when it hasn’t even been implemented? One of the only truly substantive components of the law that has been implemented is the mandate that insurance companies cover dependents until they are 26 (reflecting the fact that children are in school and deferring marriage until later). And I think that has been a great success—I have family members who would not have insurance were it not for this provision.
Medicare—This is the real elephant in the room, and the part where I agree with the Republicans the most. Medicare costs are the fundamental driver of increasing health care costs, and Obamacare’s great flaw is its failure to reign in Medicare costs. The economic reality is that it is inevitable that Medicare benefits will be cut and there will be some type of provisioning of those benefits, aka death panels. Because promising essentially unlimited medical expenditures for the most expensive patients while refusing to raise additional revenue from the healthy patients is unsustainable. Given this reality, however, I think reform is actually more likely with a Democrat as president. He would have the best ability to convince his own party of the need for reform. Remember, Bill Clinton was president when welfare reform was passed. Right now the Democrats are quite intransigent on this issue, but I think economic realities and appropriate pressure from Republicans in Congress could help them come around, provided a Democrat is president. If a Republican is president, there would be too much opposition from Democrats and too much partisan gloating from Republicans to really push anything rational through.
Social Security—See my previous point. Social security as currently constituted is unsustainable, benefits will need to be cut, and I believe Obama is able and willing to compromise on this point.
Women’s and Family Issues—I have no idea what is going on with the Republican party or why they think targeting contraceptives or abortion is going to win the election. But I believe their rhetoric is harmful and counterproductive. Roe v. Wade is a reality, so let’s start talking about how we can reduce the number of abortions through education, contraceptive use, and strengthening families. This war on women and the family is phony, pathetic, and a political red herring.
Of course, I am not happy with everything that Obama has done. I generally like solid conservatives on the Supreme Court who have a more traditionalist interpretation of the Constitution. Obama will most certainly not do that. Obama’s leadership style is frequently too detached to really enact substantive change. Despite his rhetoric, Obama does not have the gift of a Reagan or Clinton to reach across the aisle and really work with the opposition party. And I am concerned with growing consolidation of authority at the federal level at the expense of state and local government.
In these policy matters, I feel Obama is on the wrong side of the issue. But democracy is all about choosing the least bad alternative. I am concerned that Romney is not the master of his own fate. Too many political forces within his own party have compelled him to change into something and someone that he is not. I really liked the Romney who was governor of Massachusetts: a compromiser, able to deal with the political realities at hand, and eminently pragmatic. If that Romney resurfaces, I would be incredibly happy. My concern though is that the Republican party has been captured by a mix of libertarian, Conservative with a capital C (ie., pre-1932), and isolationist groups that have a skewed historical perspective. I am extremely uncomfortable with the rhetoric of Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin, and other pundits from this camp, and Romney has been far too willing to pander to these groups. True leadership would occur if he stood up against those in his own party. But he hasn’t done that.
Of course it is neat that Romney is Mormon, but I actually feel that has very little bearing in this year’s election. It will make for some very interesting attack ads and quite a spotlight on the church, but I haven’t really seen how it will influence his policy choices. Has Romney ever suggested his Mormon faith has influenced his political positions? So that puts me squarely in a very small minority of Mormons for Obama.
This year’s election is not the “once in a lifetime” election I have been hearing about. Yes, there are important issues and yes, it is valuable to be civically engaged. But I have too much faith in the American system to believe that one presidential term could ever fundamentally alter the American way of life, either for good or bad. Presidents are leaders more than they are actors. What I mean by that is they set the rhetorical tone that compels others to action. But no matter who is president, there will be good people in the U.S. doing much good of their own free will.
The Constitution is an incredible document with such flexibility that I believe we can definitely tackle the pressing issues our country faces. I have tremendous appreciation for our country’s commitment to the rule of law and respect for minority opinion. I honestly believe that the U.S. has one of the greatest political systems in the world, if not the greatest ever created. It may look really messy at times, but believe me, we could do much, much worse. Nowhere else in the world is there such a large and diverse population able to live in freedom and peace. As the ridiculous rhetoric heats up on both sides, it is good to keep that in mind.
Since the Supreme Court case of Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973, there have been an estimated 50 million abortions. This number is greater than the current population of any state, including California. This number is greater than the populations of major countries such as Spain, Canada, and England. While it is true that legalizing abortion caused this number to expand, had abortion remained illegal 50 million additional children would have been born to parents that did not want them, could not care for them, or lacked the emotional or financial means to provide for them. Even assuming that a small percentage could have been adopted by good families, and women with financial means were able to have abortions (as there will always be doctors willing to perform the practice at a certain price), there would still be millions of unwanted children that would need our support. When discussing the issue of abortion, the ramifications of illegality are rarely discussed, and thus the debates remain short-sighted.
I am pro-life. I believe that abortion should be avoided, with the exception of rape or when the mother’s life is in jeopardy. I understand the emotion behind this issue, and many of you may be listing five different reasons why I am out of touch or why this position might be inferred to disrespect women. Let me further explain my point of view.
I am pro-life in a larger context. For many on the right side of the political spectrum, a pro-life stance drives discussion around the sanctity of the embryo. Typically there is little discussion around what happens to that unborn child once it arrives in the world. What I find most alarming about the issue is the intensity of the right to fight for the child’s existence but somehow that same intensity disappears after that miraculous organism draws their first breath. I believe that the rights of the embryo do not stop after birth, but should instead be supported by society in the best manner possible. To disagree might indicate the use of the embryo merely as a prop to support an ideological position.
Over the past several decades there have been many laws passed by the government that support children. From after-school programs to educational grants, children’s health insurance, and food stamps, the government has stepped in to support underprivileged children. Most of these programs have passed with near partisan support, primarily driven by Democrats. Presidents Obama and Clinton have driven more legislation that assists underprivileged children than any other presidents since FDR. For those who understand the childhood history of these two presidents, their passion and understanding of what is necessary to help bridge the resource gap is not surprising. As we debate laws and legislation that affect children, we need to recognize that government can be a solution.
Many will say that pro-life refers only to the unborn child, but to me this concept stretches further. Christ said “But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.” If we truly are pro-life and fight to halt the onerous practice of abortion, we need to remember that the birth of a child is not the end, but the beginning.
Have you ever come across someone who vehemently supports the criminalization of most or all forms of abortion? Chances are that person opposed with equal fervor President Obama's health care reform bill and most, if not all forms of public assistance to those in need. It is also quite likely that that person supported the Iraq War, which we waged on a nation that had never attacked us and was not a significant threat to us. That person probably also whole-heartedly embraces the death penalty the way it is applied today in our criminal justice system. I find it incredibly disturbing when so many conservatives claim that they value the sanctity of life, yet show no concern for the living.Read more
Tea Party extraordinaire and Nevada Republican candidate for US Senate Sharron Angle recently told a reporter that she thinks teenage rape victims should make "a lemon situation into lemonade" by carrying their pregnancies to term. This radical does not think that there should be a legal abortion exception for rape or incest. Instead, she thinks these situations should be left solely to Divine Providence.
Questioner: What do you say then to a young girl... when a young girl is raped by her father, let's say, and she is pregnant. How do you explain this to her in terms of wanting her to go through the process of having the baby?Read more
Angle: I think that two wrongs don't make a right. And I have been in the situation of counseling young girls, not 13 but 15, who have had very at risk, difficult pregnancies. And my counsel was to look for some alternatives, which they did. And they found that they had made what was really a lemon situation into lemonade.