Vigilantism's Return to America
Several weeks ago, George Zimmerman, the man acquitted of murder in the shooting death of an unarmed teenager, Trayvon Martin, made an appearance at a Florida gun show as the guest of honor. Zimmerman was invited by the gun show’s organizer, who had supported Zimmerman at his trial, to help promote the event by signing autographs. The appalling reaction of several of my right-wing acquaintances after I complained on Facebook about the celebration of Zimmerman as a hero prompted me to write this post.
These are the basic facts of the case as I understand them: Trayvon Martin was doing nothing wrong, walking home from a convenience store, when he was stalked by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman, who was suspicious that Martin could be a burglar. Rather than waiting for the police to handle the situation, as is the duty of a neighborhood watchman, and contrary to the directives of the 911 operator with whom Zimmerman spoke, Zimmerman got out of his car and confronted Martin. We may never know who threw the first punch, but it should not matter. Even if it was Martin, doesn’t an unarmed kid have the right to defend himself from a stalker? If George’s plea in his trial was that he shot Martin in self-defense, what about the right to self-defense for an unarmed teen who was stalked by an over-zealous neighborhood watchman, while walking home in the dark?
Censuring Arizona’s GOP
I personally want to thank Arizona’s Republican Party. From the removal of concealed-carry permits, to SB 1070, to radical border philosophy, to Sheriff Joe’s posse, and now the attacking of Senator John McCain, misguided legislators are alienating key voting demographics in the state. The Hispanic vote is growing leaps and bounds, doubling this past decade and edging close to 30% of the electorate. Moderates are regularly siding with Democrats over issues like gay rights and immigration reform causing key political strategists to take notice. Many have switched Arizona from red to purple going into 2016 and believe this transformation will continue for decades to come.
Current voter evolution is lost on our state leaders. Recently Arizona GOP legislators passed a resolution censuring McCain, a moderate favorite, for his “long and terrible record of drafting, co-sponsoring and voting for legislation best associated with liberal Democrats.” They also used the session to vote on a support measure for non-Arizonan Senators Ted Cruz and Mike Lee. You read that correctly – Arizona legislators wasted taxpayer resources to show support for Senators that do not represent their constituents. Of course, this misguided political theater is far from the truth as John McCain’s 90% party-line voting record stands on its own. Probably the most conservative vote of McCain’s career came in 2003 when he, and then-Congressman Jeff Flake, bucked their party voting against a massive prescription drug entitlement program. That single bill accounts for $17 trillion in unfunded liabilities today and one of the largest drivers of our national debt. In contrast that same bill passed with votes coming from Eric Cantor, John Boehner, Paul Ryan, Tom Delay, Jon Kyl, Rick Santorum, Pete Sessions, Darrell Issa and several current Tea Party darlings.
To be fair, Arizona’s divisional rhetoric mimics what we experience across our nation. Conservatism has been replaced with exclusionary politics that cast aside any politician that does not align with their platforms 100% of the time. Cloaked under the guise of the Constitution these political radicals are punishing any politician that steps across the aisle, ignoring the entire compromising fabric of our originating document. Such attitudes were on display earlier this year as the country witnessed the full Tea Party agenda as the government was held hostage by a misguided minority. Such extreme positions were also experienced at local levels as two Colorado State Senators were ousted for supporting the same common-sense gun legislation that Ronald Reagan would have endorsed.
Ironically, embattled Senator McCain’s approach to immigration is the only path that will save Arizona’s current Republican Party. The Hispanic community is a becoming a force and the Tea Party circus is motivating voters across the state. One of Arizona’s residents, a national political strategist for the GOP, commented that such extreme actions such as censuring Senator McCain are why “they (the nation) laugh at us.” I completely agree. Arizona’s intolerant primary voters will soon see the same phenomenon experienced in Nevada, Delaware, and other states where extreme candidates were traded for moderate Democrats, which I will applaud.
Government Shutdown - The Lincoln Analogy
Obamacare pales in comparison to the importance of freeing the Slaves. And shutting down the government is nothing at all like Civil War. But the principles are exactly the same.
President Obama came in inexperienced and made mistakes - so did President Lincoln. But they both promoted the overriding principle of Constitutional government of, by, and for the People - all of us People - not any particular faction, party, or philosophy, except for this: The Constitution is not some stale, old parchment perpetually framed in the National Archives and in the context of the 1700s. No, there is relevance today for the principles that "all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness." All our individual ideals and aspirations have value as we learn to work together within the framework for government that our Founders were inspired to construct. And those principles should last for the eternities.Read more
Today’s Founding Fathers
We all owe a debt of gratitude to our country’s Founding Fathers. Their drive and tenacity put into place the longest surviving constitutional republic in the world. The Constitution is nothing short of inspired; stitched together through compromise and collective experience. I do not believe it is chance that such an extraordinary group of individuals were able to set aside their vast differences and create a common document. I also believe that today’s presidents are equally inspired and have a deep commitment to the progress of our nation.Read more
Political Food Stamps
A great example of our nation’s partisan politics is the careless discussion of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or food stamps. Lately there have been several measures passed by the House of Representatives which feed on misinformation or play upon voter’s perceptions. As citizens we are left to dissect rampant talking points and blatant fabrications with little help from our media outlets. In general, misinformation has become a lucrative industry with talk show hosts, pundits, and politicians selling unsubstantiated data and twisted logic. This leads to conversations driven by 45 second sound bites, 140 character tweets, and out-of-context statements which are shallow and divisive.
SNAP has expanded rapidly under the Obama administration making it a popular talking point with right-wing pundits. The guilty-by-association rhetoric leaves out critical information needed to understand the trends, and focuses entirely on the “what” and not the “why”. Republicans are correct to point out food stamp participants have grown 65 percent since 2008 increasing spending to an all time high of $74B (2 percent of budget), but when asked the cause they fall into the trap of popular propaganda. They do not know that 50 percent of food stamp recipients are under the age of 18, or 15 percent are elderly. They do not understand that 20 percent of food stamp households support the disabled. They incorrectly believe that President Obama has passed legislation that enables the expansion of the program or incentivizes participation.
In addition, Republican's association of food stamps with left-leaning blue states lacks credible data. The highest SNAP participating state is Mississippi with 22.5 percent of their residents receiving assistance. 7 of the 10 highest SNAP participating states are red and primarily in the South. The state with the most people on food stamps is Texas, which is surprising given California has 12 million more residents. Even the reddest of states, Utah, has seen participation double in the last five years (from 5 percent to 10 percent). Regardless of state targeted data, food stamps are distributed somewhat evenly. Currently 16.8 percent of red state residents are receiving food stamps compared with 14.3 percent of blue state residents.
The solitary driving force behind the expansion of SNAP was the rapid unemployment spike from 2008 - 2010 which led to more households applying for assistance. In the final year of President Bush’s administration unemployment jumped from 4.9 percent to 8.7 percent and continued to 9.8 percent under President Obama. The doubling of the unemployment rate corresponds with the doubling of food stamp participants under President Obama’s tenure. As families were left without employment they turned to the government for support.
It is not fair or reasonable to hold the Obama Administration accountable for SNAP participation increases. It is fair to hold the Obama Administration accountable for households leaving the program now that unemployment is improving (7.8 percent). Moving people off of government assistance is a sign of progress and should be the desire of every Democrat who understands the bridging role of social programs. However, decreasing participation needs to be persuaded, not forced, as any mandated cut in SNAP will disproportionately impact the elderly, disabled, and children.
Food stamp talking points, like all issues, need to be challenged and understood. Focusing too quickly on the “what” will lead us into a partisan spin zone and dull our problem solving ability. We need to ask the right questions, understand the impact of our choices, and weigh the impact to our fellow citizens. Accepting popular talking points to support an ideology is not only disingenuous, but undermines the need for solution-oriented conversations to tackle our country’s major challenges.
Are Church Leaders' Political Opinions Doctrine?
In past decades, there have been a few General Authorities of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who have been outspoken on American politics. Some Church members frequently quote from these politically outspoken former General Authorities in order to justify certain right-wing political views, often implying a doctrinal quality to such views, and, on occasion, attempt to question the faithfulness of members who disagree.Read more
True (and Are We Really Still Asking this Question?)
Dan Spindle from some Fox News affiliate in Phoenix, Arizona has an article/news piece, entitled, "Can a true Mormon vote for Obama?" (The video is attached to the article, but don't bother to click on it; it doesn't seem to be working at the present.)
But seriously? My first issue is that this whole topic has already run its course in the news cycle. To borrow President Obama's joke from this past debate (which he borrowed from some frat guy): Hello, Dan? March 2012 called and wants their junior-college essay on "Wow there are Mormon Liberals!" back. Apparently this writer missed the flurry of news stories about Mormon Democrats that appeared online throughout the Democratic National Convention.
But honestly, that isn't my real issue this piece - because I wasn't bothered in the least when the KSL covered Mormon Democrats in a news story a few weeks back - and in fact, it featured Hannah and Ben from BYU Democrats and we wrote about it here on Mormons for Obama. My true issue is Dan Spindle's use of the word "true" in posing his titular question. He follows it up with, "Can a faithful Mormon be a Democrat? We wanted to find out." He proceeds with his investigation by interviewing several Mormon Democrats, and he cites the examples of Harry Reid and a general authority who used to be a Democratic state congressman. Ultimately he ends by quoting the Church's position on neutrality, and he also includes a quotation from Jill Henrichsen, a Mormon Dem. She says, ""For a church that tries to teach the gospel to others, of course all these people are going to come from different backgrounds and have different beliefs and there absolutely has to be room for that, and more tolerance."
So I guess that means the answer is yes, a true Mormon can vote for Obama?
Well, the answer is clearly yes for the many of us who have (or will) cast our vote for President Obama on November 6th and then turn right around and sit in sacrament meeting on Sunday, November 11th with our conservative Mormon brothers and sisters (regardless of who wins). Of course we'll all breathe a sigh of relief that it's not fast and testimony meeting, because that might force a few of us out into the foyer.
But the real question is what does Dan Spindle mean by "true Mormon?" Because I think true might also mean that if you say one thing during the Republican primaries, you would say the same thing now. Or true could also mean that if you promoted a health care plan that extended coverage for most of the citizens of your state (and did so with an eye to running for president with that plan tucked under your arm,) that you would continue to support that plan regardless of its political expediency in the present. Or true would also mean that if you spent hours upon hours (and a good amount of your own money) serving others while Bishop (pastor?) or Stake President, that you would also support public policy that benefitted those same people you'd privately helped. And true should also mean that if you are going to constantly talk about the 23 million people in America who are out of work, you would not then malign these same people by inferring that they're irresponsible and lazy while speaking privately in front of your super-wealthy homies at a fundraiser.
Contrary to my better judgement, and Marianne's advice, I have worn a bit sensitive to the questioning of my faith because I support President Obama. So journalists out there: please don't even ask the question about who is a true Mormon and who is not. Leave it to us Mormons to argue about that among ourselves; also you can rest assured that we will be certain to include our friend and fellow Mormon, Mitt Romney, in the debate as well. (And Dr. Gregory Prince has already gotten this started for us.)
Well... unless Dan, you are Mormon yourself... (And you just might be, considering you are from Phoenix, Arizona, which is like baby Provo, and you have a BYU/GAP haircut, and you called the Church by its correct name, and you knew where to find all those Mormon temples.) If you are LDS, then just forget I wrote any of this, and nice tie by the way.
A Civil War
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.
Marianne Monson is a freelance writer and children's author and currently lives in Portland Oregon.
This is wonderful advice from Joanna Brooks - I also am amazed by the emails and comments that we receive on the Mormons for Obama website using similar condemnatory language. Of course, for us here this kind of thing may be a little easier to deal with because the emails are coming from strangers rather than our "friends" on Facebook. So I appreciate Joanna's comments and admonition that we try to understand Mormon Republicans and where they are coming from, and also that this goes both ways. So let each of us speak gently with our Mormon brothers and sisters during this political season, and we ask the same thing of them as well. We hope that no one would feel "out of place" in their ward congregations because of political divisiveness or something that we said, and thus we must remember to have compassion and understanding for those who may believe differently than us.
Admittedly, I am also very excited to see a picture of my car on Joanna Brooks' website. This makes my car more famous than my car ever dreamed it would be.
In Which I Share Some Thoughts
Post by Hannah Wheelwright -
Today is September 1st. There are 66 days left until the United States of America elects its 45th president.
This past week, I have had more conversations than ever about the prevalence of religion in this historic election. We see pitted against each other, more dramatically than ever before, the two dominant political parties; for the first time ever, the Republican platform does not allow for exceptions of rape or incest in regards to abortion (differing slightly from the stance of the LDS Church), and it takes a hard line anti-same sex marriage stance, whereas the Democratic platform is poised to remain pro-choice and to add an explicit statement of support for same-sex marriage. These hot-button social issues of our day will be battled out on the national stage, leaving many voters to feel conflicted and uncomfortable. To what extent can you support a party which boasts support or opposition to causes for which you hold the opposite view? In such a volatile time, how should these disagreements affect our relationships with our loved ones who differ from us? Will this election determine more than just which economic and foreign policies the next president will advocate- will it also go down in history as the election where America set herself on a definitive social policy course?
I find myself somewhat conflicted, not because I am unsure of which social course I personally want America to be on, but because I find that using my religion to gain a voice for my political views is the same method I oftentimes criticize Governor Romney for using. Being in the minority in my religious community has both caused me to question many things and to discover many connections I would never have enjoyed had I not been so vocal about my support for President Obama.
I see beauty in members reaching out to one another in spite of our divisions and offering comfort and support to those who identify with both or neither political parties as we all try to do what is best for our nation. I believe that there is no right or wrong with politics- only differences in priorities. I respect the opinions of those who disagree with me, and I do not intend to put them down for their beliefs.
But I will continue to identify myself publicly as a Mormon for Obama. His policies, his character, and his vision for America resonate with me in a way that Mitt Romney’s reticent, robotic nature and shifting policy views never have. I will not be defined by the majority, and neither will I stand by while press outlets and media organizations inaccurately portray my faith. My support for Barack Obama does not affect my temple recommend status, and I will continue to support him in every way I can until the last ballot is cast on November 6th.