Capitalism - Romney style
Matt Taibbi recently wrote an article for Rolling Stone magazine all about Mitt Romney and his time at Bain Capital. As has been well documented that Romney founded the private equity firm in 1984, and ended up making a fortune for his efforts. The article, Greed and Debt: The True Story of Bain Capital, gives some detail into how Bain operated, and sheds light on as to why even conservatives like Rick Perry referred to their business model as “vulture capitalism.” While Taibbi clearly does not provide an impartial analysis, the piece does provide some interesting insight.
So how did Romney and his friends at Bain make millions? I’ll try to explain it briefly, but bare with me, it is not only a little complicated, but mind-bogglingly crazy. Basically, Bain would put up some amount of their own money, say $5 million, and then borrow another $300 million or so from a bank to purchase a struggling company. The target company’s chief officers would receive large bonuses for selling, and Bain would get a controlling stake. The company, now saddled with the $300 million dollar debt (why that is fair I can’t tell you), would be forced to pay millions in management fees for Bain’s recommendations about how to dig out of the hole they now found themselves in – which usually involved ‘reducing costs’, aka, firing workers and cutting benefits.
Romney and friends would also make money by giving themselves bonuses paid for by the company. Termed “dividend recapitalization,” it basically amounted to giving your self a bonus with someone else’s credit card. For example, after buying KB Toys in 2000 with $18 of its own money, and $302 million in borrowed funds, Bain induced the company to redeem $121 million in stock and take out more than $66 million in bank loans – $83 million of which went directly into the pockets of Bain's owners and investors, including Romney. KB later went bankrupt and people who had worked there for decades didn’t even get one day of severance pay.
Not a bad deal. If the company rebounds Romney gets paid. If the company goes bust, Romney gets paid. And if that company went bust from the burden of a debt it didn’t create, and everyone who works there gets fired and looses their benefits, well that’s capitalism – Romney style.
Not mentioned in Taibbi’s piece, but also interesting, are Romney’s connections with investors who were directly linked to Salvadoran death squads in the 1980s. Having difficulty attracting sufficient initial investment capital, Romney traveled to Miami in 1984 to meet with Salvadoran exile families, a number of which had direct links to death squads committing atrocities during El Salvador’s brutal civil war. Bain received some 40% of its initial investments from the parties in question, which Romney/Bain now admit were linked to death squads. Romney’s defense is simply that Bain checked them out, but no red flags came up. But according to the U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador, Robert White, “The Salaverria family (which invested heavily in Bain) [were] very well-known as backers of D’Aubuisson. These guys were big-money contributors...They were total backers of D’Aubuisson and the extremist solution, including death squads."
Granted, it is impossible to know everything about the people you do business with, but when family members and close associates of your business partners are well-known in their home country for their ties to paramilitary groups, to suggest Bain carefully checked them out, or checked them out but found nothing, is suspicious at best.
Is any of this illegal? No it is not, just as stashing your fortune in off-shore bank accounts to avoid paying taxes is legal, which Romney also freely acknowledges he does. The question is not whether or not Romney committed crimes amassing his fortune; rather the question has to do with what these facts say about Romney’s character, as well as his views about what is or is not a moral way to make money.
Romney is shrewd, I will give him that. He found out how to make millions loading up companies with debt, paying off their executives, and letting others [the employees] deal with the consequences. But this election I am looking for something more than just clever. How about you?
What Romney Really Meant to Say...
Read this article on Yahoo News for a review of the event and Secretary Clinton's message.
Post by Eric R -
In recent weeks I have been part of several discussions with conservative Mormons about how the proper role of government should intersect with Christ’s commandment to take care of one another. A common point that keeps coming up is “free agency”. More precisely, my friends object to the federal government requiring citizens to contribute to social programs, as they feel that it is a violation of their free agency to choose how they will (or will not) contribute to the temporal wellbeing of their brothers and sisters in need. Yes, we need to help take care of the sick and afflicted, they agree, but the government shouldn’t force us to do it, rather it should be a matter of individual initiative and obligation.
What I found most frustrating was the fact that I knew these people support the government restricting our individual agency in hundreds of other ways each and every day, because they recognize that it is for the public good, and often in support of a larger moral imperative. Speed limits, bans on indoor smoking, age limits for alcohol consumption, mandatory education for minors, and the list goes on and on (much to Ron Paul’s dismay, I’m sure). Most Republicans support these types of common-sense regulations that all have one thing in common: they restrict individuals’ free agency in the name of the common greater good.
And then there are more controversial restrictions of individual free agency that many conservative Mormons support: a ban on same-sex marriage; public decency laws limiting the display of pornography; keeping personal drug use illegal; and changing current law to make abortion illegal even in the case of “legitimate” rape. ‘Yes, these are restrictions to free agency,’ conservatives would agree, ‘but they are necessary on moral grounds!’
I understand the ‘moral imperative’ argument, and unlike many other liberals, I do believe that it is appropriate to acknowledge the role of personal morals when discussing public policy. What I cannot understand, however, is why so many conservative Mormons fail to see poverty, hunger and homelessness as being worthy of morally-anchored government action. For some reason many conservatives believe that it is appropriate to arrest an individual for using drugs in their own home (requiring tax payers to pay for their incarceration), but it is not appropriate to require citizens to contribute to poverty alleviation programs that address hunger and homelessness.
This selective defense of free agency by conservative Mormons is particularly baffling given what I know of our common faith. The scriptures commanding us to take care of one another are too numerous to mention. So why is taking care of each other less worthy of a government mandate than, say, not allowing two men to get married? Both are issues with a moral component, both are relevant to our larger society, both include an element of the government deciding what individuals may or may not do. It seems like many conservatives are only concerned about the government limiting our freedom to choose when it has to do with their wallets.
Do the freedoms that Republicans hold so dear include the freedom to pursue an education if you were brought to this country by your parents illegally as a child? Not so much. The freedom to have safe drinking water if you live in coal mining or natural gas country? Well, maybe not that. The freedom to worship in a mosque without being spied on by law enforcement, when no illegal behavior was ever detected, or even alleged? Now that is going too far!
The hypocrisy and selective nature of the freedoms and rights that Conservatives choose to idealize is mystifying. But alas, none of this is new, as the GOP has been at it for decades. It is just disheartening to see Romney and other conservative Mormons, with whom I share a common gospel centered on loving your neighbor, buying into it so wholeheartedly.
On Faith and Politics at the DNC
For those of you who are unaware, Mormons for Obama, LDS Dems, and the Scott Howell for Senate campaign all had a presence at the DNC. We had a fantastic gathering Tuesday afternoon, where we got to hear from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. (Crystal Young-Otterstrom, chair of LDS Dems, introduced him. Scott Howell also spoke, introduced by Dr. Greg Prince. I said a few words at the beginning.)
This was only the beginning of the LDS presence at the DNC. The Democratic Party has a robust faith outreach team, and they sponsored panels and gatherings throughout the week where we talked about how our faith influences our politics and policy preferences. The panels were moderated by Reverend Derrick Harkins, head of DNC Faith. (He also had a stern rebuttal to those who tried to make a story out of dropping of God from a turn-of-phrase in the Democratic platform.) I participated in a panel Wednesday morning, talking about how we Latter-day Saints care for the poor and needy. That afternoon, Scott Howell spoke to a room of hundreds about being our brother's and sister's keeper, including a quick overview of the Articles of Faith and quoting President Hinckley before closing out by bearing his testimony. (He concluded his talk with, "In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen." This man is running against Hatch. He's accomplished in private industry and government. You should check him out.)
After these discussions (and brunch with a Rabbi from Greensboro who had been on my panel that morning), it was very strange to get online and see the "controversy" over whether the Democratic Party had space for religion or people of faith.
Now this concern about secularism is working its way into the Governor's stump speech in various ways. The disconnect is bizarre. Ah well. There's campaigning to do, and a President to re-elect. As many speakers at DNC faith events quoted, "For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind."
Why I'm a Mormon and Support President Obama, Part 1/6: The Long View
PART ONE: THE LONG VIEW
I casually started watching Mitt Romney’s career over a decade before I ever heard of anyone named Barack Obama. My oldest brother was his son Tagg’s roommate at BYU, then a trip to Boston to work on his ‘94 Senate campaign connected him with his wife-to-be, then Mitt swooped into my native Utah to save our Winter Olympics, then another sister-in-law became his speech writer as governor in Boston. At first, circa 1993, it was cool to have these connections with someone so famous and, frankly, rich, and I suppose I was even a little proud to see a Mormon challenge a politician as powerful as Ted Kennedy. In a way Church members like Mitt made us feel like we’d arrived on the national scene.
By the time he gained the Massachusetts governorship, however, I myself had matured and I’d learned a lot more about Romney’s views, leaving me apathetic at best about his single term in the corner office—with the exception of the Massachusetts health care reform law, which I saw as a shining example of bipartisan cooperation to achieve a much needed goal, one that I thought needed to be repeated on the national stage—and that deeply reflected my religious beliefs. But after not even attempting a re-election, Romney started his gradual shift to the right and I became increasingly critical and frankly skeptical of his beliefs, which seemed to be changing with the whims of the extreme faction of his party. As he shifted so did I: I became embarrassed and ashamed then eventually a little bit angry. When people learn I’m LDS the last thing I want them to do is equate me with the far right agenda that Romney has worked hard to embrace.
The thing is, I think I hold Romney up to a higher standard than most politicians. I don’t mean to, I consciously try not to, but it’s hard when he’s one of us. He’s the most-recognized face of my religion and hence he’s a surrogate for each of us Mormons, a symbol, supposedly, of what we believe and stand for. I realize he shouldn’t be and that it’s not fair for us Latter-day Saints or the nation at large to put him in that position, and heaven knows he’s tried with all his might to disassociate himself from the Church. But that’s just where he is, and it would only increase exponentially were he to win the White House. So because he’s become this public face of Mormon belief yet I disagree so strongly with essentially all of his positions—and on religious grounds, at that—I’ve been searching around for ways to explain the difference between what I believe and, from what I can tell, what Mitt Romney believes. I’m grateful to Joseph here at Mormons for Obama to give me a little opportunity to do that.
What I hope to do is write a short series of posts about why my religious beliefs as a Mormon lead me to support the Democratic Party in general and President Obama in particular, and why they cause me to generally reject the Republican Party in general and Governor Romney in particular. I know it’s a fool’s errand to attempt to persuade my conservative LDS friends and family members to join me on the Light Side, but what I want to do, as has been stated many times on this website and by organizations like Utah’s LDS Democratic caucus, is to add my voice and give insight into why I, as a Latter-day Saint, disagree with a majority of my fellow Church members and choose to embrace a progressive political agenda; to help show there is a diversity of opinion within Mormonism that is only going to continue growing as converts keep coming from different walks of life.
In undertaking a task like this I’m obviously not alone. We’ve seen a real upswing of Mormon Democrats adding their voice to the national discourse over the past four or five years; as has been pointed out by people like Joanna Brooks, it's generally the progressive Mormons that the news media is turning to for explanations of the faith, and news coverage of last Tuesday’s meeting of Mormon Democrats in Charlotte shows that progressive Mormons are often more interesting to outsiders than their conservative counterparts. Since all these Mormon Democrats have discussed their political beliefs with eloquence and gusto, I’d like to take a slightly different tact and instead discuss my religious beliefs. My thesis, I suppose, comes from Harry Reid, who first said in a 2007 BYU forum address (a pdf), “My faith and political beliefs are deeply intertwined. I am a Democrat because I am a Mormon, not in spite of it,” an assertion he repeated this week in North Carolina.
I’m also a Democrat because I’m a Mormon, but what does that mean for me personally? On my mission I was fond of misquoting Marx to claim that politics is the opiate of the people. My thought was that people were too focused on the temporal and passing issues du jour—what Ecclesiastes repeatedly calls “divers vanities” (5:7), and which John Bunyan in his 1678 novel The Pilgrims Progress described as a “Vanity Fair,” a place where the faithful are tempted to leave the path of progress to dally in the passing issues of the world (heaven knows why anyone would name a magazine after such a fleshpot). Thus I thought the politically consumed were neglecting the weightier matters of the law, limiting their vision to a myopic moment in the spectrum of eternity. There’s still a lot of weight to that argument, I believe; after all, Neal A. Maxwell said the plan of salvation “is a most stunning example of the precious perspective of the gospel of Jesus Christ”; it widens your view to the things of eternity over the cares of the day. But after my mission I began to increasingly notice the claims that all truth can be brought together into one great whole and quotes like Brigham Young’s claim that “Mormonism . . . embraces every principle pertaining to life . . . no matter who has it. . . . There is no truth but what belongs to the Gospel.” Such truth would surely include political truth. I also became aware that if God, though above politics, was intimately interested in the intricacies of our lives, then how we govern our nations and communities would be included in that—D&C 134, Mosiah 29, and the common LDS belief that America’s founding fathers were divinely directed (i.e. 1 Nephi 13) evidenced that. So, even though I’d always been inclined toward the Democratic Party, as I allowed my political beliefs to solidify out of what I believe about God, Jesus Christ, the scriptures, and the plan of salvation, I found myself aligning firmly with that party. Not always, but usually.
The epic caveat to all this, of course, is that God is neither a Democrat nor a Republican, and he favors neither Democrats nor Republicans. God is not progressive or conservative; he’s not a monarchist or a socialist or a capitalist or a Marxist or a Tory or a Whig or a Bull Moose. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa. 55:8-9). The work of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent no matter who is king, chief judge, president, or prime minister. I think any discussion of Mormonism and politics needs to begin—and perhaps end—with Hugh Nibley’s 1973 speech “Beyond Politics.” I’d love to reprint the whole thing (please read it!), but here’s the most pertinent passage for what I’m talking about and what I hope to do in my subsequent posts:
“The wide difference, amounting to complete antithesis, between men's ways and God's ways should always be kept in mind. If we would remember that fact, it would save us from a pitfall that constantly lies before us—especially here at Brigham Young University. Nothing is easier than to identify one's own favorite political, economic, historical, and moral convictions with the gospel. That gives one a neat, convenient, but altogether too easy advantage over one's fellows. If my ideas are the true ones—and I certainly will not entertain them if I suspect for a moment that they are false!—then, all truth being one, they are also the gospel, and to oppose them is to play the role of Satan. This is simply insisting that our way is God's way, and therefore the only way. It is the height of impertinence. `There have been frauds and secret abominations and evil works of darkness going on [in the church], . . . all the time palming it off upon the Presidency, . . . practicing in the Church in their name.’ Do you think these people were not sincere? Yes, to the point of fanaticism—they wholly identified their crackpot schemes with the church and with the gospel. Some of the most learned theologians, such as Bossuet, have shown from every page of the scripture that God is an absolute monarchist, while others, equally learned and dedicated, have formed religious communities dedicated to the equally obvious scriptural proposition that the Saints are Communists. You can search through the scriptures and find support for any theory you want, and it is your privilege to attempt to convince yourself of any position you choose to take—but not to impose that opinion on others as the gospel. God certainly does not subscribe to our political creeds. The first issue of the Times and Seasons contained a lead editorial to the elders: ‘Be careful that you teach not for the word of God, the commandments of men, nor the doctrines of men nor the ordinances of men; . . . study the word of God and preach it, and not your opinions, for no man's opinion is worth a straw.’”
With that warning in mind and before jumping in (in my subsequent posts) to how the scriptures have led me to believe what I believe politically, let me just add with a few thoughts about how I see Mormonism as positioned between conservatism and progressivism (so hopefully we can all get along!).
Taking the long view, I think it’s helpful to remember where our political terminology comes from. I remember learning in high school that the terms right and left are simply relics of the French Revolution, when members of the National Assembly randomly divided themselves on the right (monarchist) and left (revolutionary) sides of the room in order to hear themselves over their opponents’ shouts. I like the terms conservative and progressive (rather than liberal) because they better connote the desires of people who thus self-identify. Conservatives want to conserve, they want to retain what they or their country had in the past: traditional values, traditional ways of doing things. They look back to a lost time when life was better, people were happier, and their beliefs were not under attack from new ideas. Their goal is to deliver society out of its contemporary morass by making the future more like the past. Progressives, on the other hand, look forward; they want to progress. They see the past with all its warts and want to create a future that is more just, pleasant, and egalitarian than anything we’ve seen before. Conservatives look back to a paradise lost, progressives forward to a coming utopia.
Where do Latter-day Saints sit? I think the tenth Article of Faith puts us right in the middle: “We believe in the literal gathering of Israel and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes; that Zion (the New Jerusalem) will be built upon the American continent; that Christ will reign personally upon the earth; and, that the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory.” We look back to Adam and Eve and the earth before the fall, Israel before its apostasy, Zion before it was taken to heaven, and we want to regain that state; we believe that Christ’s atonement was specifically planned before the earth’s creation to achieve that. But we also look forward to Christ’s second coming, when the glories of the new Jerusalem will surpass those of the old—or even of Enoch’s city—and the renewing of the earth as it fulfills the measure of its law and transforms into the Celestial Kingdom. We look back to the prophets but forward to their prophecies’ fulfillment. We trace back our ancestors and our priesthood authority, but do it to bless our children and those who come after us. Our past physical bodies, a great gift, will be renewed and perfected in the resurrection.We will go back into God's presence but with the new stature as exalted beings ourselves. Basically, we want to conserve all that the gospel has given us as we progress toward the millennium. Remembering this can help us see beyond immigration policy to the greater vision Elder Maxwell was talking about.
But we still live here in mortality, it’s still a fallen world, and immigration policy still needs to be addressed. I’m grateful to live in a country that guarantees me the right to freely exercise my religion and to belong to a church that allows all men the same privilege, to worship how, where, or what they may—and encourages me to exercise my franchise and be involved in my community and the political process. I greatly appreciate Church leaders’ oft-repeated declarations of political neutrality and, like I said, I’m gratified that one result of Mitt Romney’s campaign has been to shine a light on the breadth of Mormon political belief.
But why are so many American Latter-day Saints, especially multi-generational Latter-day Saints, politically conservative? (74% compared to 17% liberal, according to this year’s much-discussed Pew Forum survey.) We should let them speak for themselves, of course, but I think I understand some of the causes.
Reason #1: Agency. Conventional wisdom is that early Mormon converts, often New Englanders transplanted to the antebellum frontier, tended to vote in a bloc—hence the Gallatin Election Day Battle in 1838, for instance—and that nearly all Mormons in nineteenth-century Utah supported the People’s Party, essentially an arm of the Church itself. When this was disbanded during the Great Accommodation of the 1890s and Church members were encouraged—and often assigned—to join the two national parties, there was a great amount of resistance to Mormons becoming Republicans; it had, after all, been the Republican Party that had spearheaded the campaign against polygamy and refused Utah statehood for so many decades. But I can also see how the Republican platform would appeal to Utahns from that time, particularly in its evolving emphasis on states’ rights over a strong federal authority: local self-determination had, after all, been the rallying cry of Mormons since the first mobs pushed them out of their homes in the east—and it certainly reflected how they felt about anti-polygamy legislation and Washington-appointed governors and judges in Utah territory. In other words, in all of this, the distant federal authorities were seeking to restrict the populace’s God-given agency, a right they saw as guaranteed in both scripture and the Constitution. If they chose to live polygamously, or follow a prophet over a legislature, or work communally instead of individually, then the government had no right to limit their belief or religious practices, just like it couldn’t for Abinadi, Alma the Elder, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, or Abednego. Political self-determination merely protects individual agency, and if the anti-polygamy raid didn’t cement this belief, by the Cold War it was easy for Mormons to see any government that limited agency as either wrongheaded or inherently evil. Communist countries exemplified this, making it easy for Mormons to gradually migrate to the right.
Reason #2: Fiscal self-sufficiency. Mormons’ nineteenth-century collectivism was, by the Great Depression, replaced by a sense of fiscal propriety, of living within one’s means. The Church’s welfare program, launched as something of a response to the New Deal, still included the value of caring for one’s neighbor, but it also emphasized maintaining a house of fiscal propriety free from debt or speculation. Financially strained Church members were to rely on family first, Church second, and government welfare only as a last resort. Work was “to be re-enthroned as the ruling principle” of Mormons’ lives. “But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.” (1 Tim. 5:8) There were at least two results from this: first, reliance upon government assistance for any reason became a sign of weakness or infidelity—or at least poor judgment—and, second, Church members extrapolated the Church’s advice on personal finance, specifically to avoid borrowing and deficit spending, to government finance as well.
Reason #3: Social issues. My friend Boyd Peterson, whose 2009 article “Why I’m a Mormon Democrat” is another must-read, summarized this well on NPR’s Tell Me More on Thursday. After talking about Utah’s pluralistic political atmosphere of the 1960s and 70s (with a Democratic governor and congressmen) he said, “It’s interesting that we’ve [since] become so closely identified to the Republican Party. I think a lot of that has to do with the social issues that have come to the floor recently that have been so divisive, from the women’s rights movement of the 70s on through abortion and now gay marriage. I think those kinds of issues have polarized the electorate and the two parties in ways that have kind of influenced the way the Church members have seen it.” It was difficult for Mormons to affiliate with a party that supported the Equal Rights Amendment, for instance, when their church so strongly opposed it.
There’s more to it than that, of course, but those three reasons help me as a progressive understand how so many of my friends support a political party that I otherwise find so foreign to my beliefs. But there’s a flip side to the coin. While Mormons were developing their vehement dislike of government authority in the 1800s, so too grew their belief in centrally organized communal industry under the leadership of Brigham Young and John Taylor. The Great Basin Kingdom that Leonard Arrington describes so intricately in his 1958 book was, he believed, the predecessor and model of the New Deal. As he says in the preface, “[This book] may be said to suggest the positive role which a government, whether secular or theocratic, if sufficiently strong, can play in the building of a commonwealth.” Or, as LDS historian Ronald Walker says in his new introduction, “During a time of New Deal and Fair Deal reform, the Mormon Kingdom was a concrete, practical example of what government central planning could be” (p. xx). It persevered as the last manifestation of Jacksonian democratic ideals while the rest of the nation fell under the spell of capitalist industrialists and robber barons. (My friend Roger Terry wrote an interesting comparison to early Americans’ view of private corporations in Thursday’s Deseret News.) Indeed, Arrington's book shows it wasn’t polygamy but rather this centralized planning and communal social safety net that Americans rejected most strongly in the 1800s, and it would have to be overcome before Utah could gain statehood. Great Basin Kingdom reads like an autopsy of the early progressive Mormon ideals; as their communal industries died out one by one, the stage was set for capitalist expansion in Utah, through mining and other industries, akin to the rest of the country. For better or worse, Deseret—symbolized by the communal hive—disappeared as Utah joined the Union.
But for Mormons who retained a memory of this isolated period, Christ’s call to be our brothers’ keeper trumped any qualms about a large activist government, federal authority, or deficit spending. This is exactly what prominent Mormon Democrat James H. Moyle, an assistant Cabinet member for both Presidents Wilson and Roosevelt, said in a memo on Mormonism requested by FDR in the 1930s (as reported by a young Gordon B. Hinckley in his 1951 biography of Moyle). More recently, at the meeting in Charlotte this week, Robert Cooper said, “I feel there’s a big-tent approach, helping those who are disadvantaged. If you look at economics, Mormons take good care of themselves. We give ten percent of our income to the Church, in addition to a monthly donation. So a lot of Mormons say that’s not the role of government. But not everyone has that support structure. That’s one of the roles of government, to help those who don’t have that support structure. A lot of people don’t have what we have.”
I’ll explore these issues in greater depth, but Cooper's statement is a cogent summary of why many Mormons support the Democratic platform despite its obvious flaws. Along with churches, charities, and individuals, government can often be part of the solution to society’s problems; in fact, because the federal government is as large as it is and has the authority it has, it can almost universally be a greater part of the solution than any other organization. The Church is amazing in its humanitarian programs, disaster relief, and myriad other efforts—and I’ve been a grateful beneficiary of it—but it cannot revitalize infrastructure, ensure healthcare, repair environmental disasters, regulate industry, protect our food supply, deliver our mail, run our public schools, provide police and national defense, care for the poor, or do most of the other things the government does to the extent that government can do it. With all the problems facing us today, there is room for both. Next I hope to get into some more specifics about President Obama and Governor Romney as individuals and why I think the former remains the better leader for our country.
Democratic National Convention, Day 3
The DNC is over; it is like saying goodbye to a good friend. But before I say how much I love and respect President Obama, and how inspired I felt listening to him speak Thursday night - "like General Conference come early," (if I can be egotistical enough to quote my own tweet,) and how I felt like his speech renewed hope for America and brushed aside the RNC's mockery and derisive comments of Obama's call for change, like chaff driven before the wind - before I say all of that, I have a couple of complaints to make.
But don't close your browser - it is not what you think. I realize that some might have found the tone of the DNC to be too harsh and critical, like this blogger at 1MormonDemocrat, but that's not what I'm complaining about. (I took a bit of a drubbing for my "I like Mitt" post from several days back, so I have no interest in being "nice" and getting more feedback like that.) My problem with the DNC is: WHAT WAS WRONG WITH THE CAMERAMEN? Did anyone noticed how the side view cameras started shaking anytime they panned back from the speaker? It felt like one of the Bourne films, or even worse, that some Republican-leaning small business was trying to sabotage the DNC. Additionally, the camera seemed to find their audience pan shots at the most inopportune times: when a woman was rubbing her nose, or a child was biting his nails, or Michelle was talking to the Castro Wonder Twins, not paying attention at all. And some of the cuts to the audience were so quick, I was constantly wondering if there wasn't some subliminal advertising in there. That said, they seemed to have it figured out by President Obama's speech on Thursday night.
But back to the other speakers: John Kerry and Joe Biden unleashed a flurry of attacks on Mitt Romney and the Republicans. (Ask Osama Bin Laden if he is better off now than four years ago!) and (I found it fascinating last week — when Governor Romney said, that as President, he’d take a jobs tour. Well with all his support for outsourcing — it’s going to have to be a foreign trip.)
But the prize of the night was hearing our President spell out what four more years would look like. And I dare not comment too much on his near perfect oratory excellence. Instead, I will just be lazy and post the whole thing here:
In a post script to Thurdsday night, we all woke up Friday morning to some stagnant job numbers; this proved a brisk cup of coffee for the Romney campaign: "If last night was the party, this morning is the hangover." (He probably should have said "this morning is the withdrawal," because we are all missing the DNC a lot.) Regardless, I love it when we Mormons make drinking analogies - I mean, it's the one thing we know so much about. Romney might also have been rumored to say, "Obama's jobs plan is about as effective as giving a cup of sacramental wine to an inebriate," and "the Obama stimulus had money bouncing wildly around the country like a game of beer pong," and finally, "what was in that glass anyway?" And so the campaign continues.
President Obama may get a bump in the polls after three days of great speeches (that actually talked about the President, rather than one's self,) but at this point America is just sitting around waiting for the debates: the two men together on stage with no pesky barriers between them - having to answer each other's claims face to face - without Twitter, Fox News, or Cutter and Priebus to answer for them. (And based on Thursday night, I think Obama is going to do just fine.)
Democratic National Convention, Day 2
Post by Joseph M -
Bill Clinton spoke truth this evening; the mists of darkness that covered the land have dispersed and scattered, and America's collective memory of last week's confusion and half-truths (and even lies) at the RNC has cleared. Clinton solidly reviewed and dismissed the misinformation from the RNC speakers, and he highlighted Obama's record in so many areas. View the speech or read the transcript, if you have not already. By the way, the pundits keep referring to policy wonk, and they're saying that Clinton's speech was full of it. Can I admit that I am already tired of the word, "wonk?" When Romney or Ryan say wonk or wonky, it seems like a desperate attempt to sound cool, but it's completely uncool instead. However, Bill Clinton took cool into the 21st century: he had swag. Paul Adams tweeted: "Usually they tell you not to cram in too many statistics. Different rules apply to Bill Clinton. He makes them sing."
But beyond the wonk or the wonky, Bill Clinton gave us inspiration like this:
"Now -- but he has -- he has laid the foundations for a new, modern, successful economy of shared prosperity. And if you will renew the president’s contract, you will feel it. You will feel it. Folks, whether the American people believe what I just said or not may be the whole election. I just want you to know that I believe it. With all my heart, I believe it."
This doesn't bode well for Romney and Ryan. President Clinton has given President Obama a load of talking points to take to the debates and every campaign rally from here until November. (And FINALLY we even heard about the proposed cuts to Medicaid!) Having watched three days of the RNC, I am surprised by the tepid drone of the Republican speakers compared to what I have seen in just two days of the DNC. (I am biased here?) I don't think so - check out this article from Smart Politics that reports that Michelle Obama's DNC speech was seven grade levels higher than Ann Romney's. This also is fascinating because Michelle Obama's speech was "written at a higher grade level than all but 11 of the 70 orally delivered State of the Union addresses delivered since 1934." Of course, the Democrats have an advantage because their convention was held a week after the RNC, but more than that: they have the lucky benefit that Truth is back in style and trending on Twitter this week.
And we Mormons are taking to the internet, (Twitter and Facebook), our phones, and even to the streets (of Charlotte NC!) to make clear our message: we are Mormons, and we are voting for Barack Obama for a second term. (See our previous post for links to news articles about the Mormon Democrat gathering in Charlotte.) This article from the Las Vegas Sun may have misunderstood a portion of our purpose when it wrote, "having a Mormon candidate at the top of the Republican ticket will only make it that much more difficult for Democrats hoping to win over the Mormon vote this year. But some felt that even if winning over LDS voters was a longshot, the political circumstances make it worth trying."
You see, Mormons have voted for the Republican ticket in high numbers for some time, and having a LDS candidate doesn't necessarily change that. Besides, change, as Bill Clinton aptly pointed out tonight, is a "long, hard road," and each of us will find our own way. (I haven't always voted Democrat, and neither have many Mormon Obama supporters.) So our goals are beyond convincing other Mormons to vote for Obama - (seriously now) - but we aim to add our unique voices to the wealth of diversity of those supporting President Obama; we understand that we are breaking from the expected, the norm, or even the stereotype. However, this also is part of why we hope to make ourselves heard - and to find strength from one another, because we are "all in this together," and we are not "on (our) own."
With so many reasons to vote for Obama this November, (and thank you Pres. Clinton for spelling it out so clearly,) we Mormons also feel to press forward and do what we can to get him that second term. In this regard, Bill Clinton asked this question during his address: "Are you willing to work for it?" We answer with the delegates at the Charlotte convention: "Four more years!"
Read Hannah's post here to find out how you can get involved.
This Mormon Moment: Mitt Romney at the RNC
The DNC will begin tomorrow, and President Obama will have his moment on the stage to highlight his accomplishments of the past four years and his plan for the next four. But I would like to reflect back on Mitt Romney's acceptance speech; a lot has been made of this "Mormon moment," and Thursday night at the RNC in Tampa finally visited the source of this attention on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Because without Mitt Romney, the Church would not be in the spotlight as much as we've seen in the past year. (A day hasn't gone by without a new articles appearing about Mormons, their faith, their practices, their doctrines, and even their unauthorized Broadway musicals.)
So the Romney team finally decided to focus on the governor's service in church by featuring, as speakers, one of his counselors and three members of his Massachusetts ward while he was Bishop. The RNC delegates were clearly moved by their talks, and the panning cameras caught more than a few people shedding tears. Of course, this led David Brooks and Mark Shields, who have been co-hosting the RNC with Judy Woodruff and Gwen Ifill for the PBS Newshour, to ponder as to why we haven't seen these folks on campaign ads for months now. They went on to declare this a missed opportunity for the Romney campaign and termed it, "campaign malpractice."
I was also deeply moved by their talks and what these "character witnesses" had to say. They reminded me of the difficulty of the calling of a bishop, and the number of bishops who have personally blessed my life in the past. I am grateful for the countless opportunities for service within the Church, and the resulting blessings that come from the work of the gospel. Additionally, I feel confident that Mitt Romney was a great bishop, and I acknowledge that he is a man of compassion and faith. President Obama said,“I think he takes his faith very seriously. And as somebody who takes my Christian faith seriously, I appreciate that he seems to walk the walk and not just be talking the talk when it comes to his participation in his church.”
So Mitt Romney addressed the convention, and he returned to the themes of the week: job creation, a strong military, help for the middle class, and he continued to push the message of Obama's leadership as faded hope and glory and a series of broken promises. He also continued the work of telling his story - relating the history of his father's rise to politics, his time at Bain, and his experience of serving in his church community. As he ended his speech, the crowd took to their feet, the balloons and confetti dropped, and his and Paul Ryan's families joined them on stage - and I sat back and thought, "they look so Mormon!" (And trust me, this was a good thing!)
While I do not agree with Romney, and I will be voting for Obama this November, I do pause and reflect on the magnitude of this Morment moment. Of course, I would rather us Mormons not receive all of this exposure; I love my church, and I find it hard to hear some of the negativity that has come our way during this election cycle. However, with Mitt Romney receiving the Republican nomination, many in America have now heard our collective Mormon voices. And I hope that our small efforts at this website, the Facebook group, and national organizing might also have been a portion of this. We Mormons are a part of the American story; we believe in Christ, and we believe strongly.
When we first had the idea of creating this website to represent Mormons who support Obama, I spoke to a friend about it, and he commented, "that is a big responsibility." This increased my anxiety for what we were setting out to do. And so much more for any man that runs for president: he represents this country and will be linked to our national identity. In that same vein, Governor Romney, whether we like it or not, has been the face of our church for some months now, and he will also be forever connected with the nation's view of Mormonism. For that, I honor and respect him and his family. Whether he wins or loses in 2012, I wish him success, and I trust that he will honorably serve (whether his community, nation, or church,) and for this I am thankful.
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.
Republican National Convection, Day 2
Post by Joseph M -
Sadly, I must put Condoleezza Rice's excellent speech to the side and take aim at Congressman Paul Ryan's 30-minute roller-coaster ride of soaring platitudes, sharp condemnations, and sad flat metaphors. I like metaphors; I like to use them, read them, and hear them, but Paul Ryan proved to be a very poor man's Neal A. Maxwell when it came to spinning a yarn and using a metaphor. (Seriously, his "ships sailing" line came straight out of a worn-out Barry Manilow song.)
That said, the RNC loved the guy. The cheering and woo-hooing at his speech caused a few light-emitting diodes on my flat-screen TV to blow out. But really, if we Mormons had any question about Ryan, he settled it with his admission that his iPod playlist "starts with AC/DC, and ends with Zeppelin." Ever since we attended youth conference in the 1970s, we've all known that AC/DC stands for "Knights in Satan's Service," and that the song, Stairway to Heaven, has backmasking - (For proof, I tried to play it backwards on YouTube, but I couldn't find the reverse button.)
But in short, Paul Ryan's speech was mean-spirited and nasty. I guess this is the standard operating procedure: the VP nominee is supposed to be the bulldog, while the P nominee is the nice one. But Ryan's sarcasm and coloring of Obama's message of hope and change as "fading" and "tired" grated on me and affirmed what I already knew: I will not be voting for Paul Ryan when he runs in 2016. He even took a stab at the youthful electorate who came out en mass to vote for Obama in 2008: “College graduates should not have to live out their 20s in their childhood bedrooms, staring up at fading Obama posters and wondering when they can move out and get going with life.” He also stated that "you have not failed, your leaders have failed you." But these lines do not acknowledge the deception that Romney and Ryan have nothing in their bag of Trix to assist young graduates beyond cutting taxes for the wealthy and slashing government programs that help the poor.
Ryan went on to state that, "none of us have to settle for the best this administration offers – a dull, adventureless journey from one entitlement to the next, a government-planned life, a country where everything is free but us." In saying this, he denigrated the real experience of people in poverty; he somehow believes that utilizing the safety net leads to a decrease in freedom rather than a decrease in suffering for families and children. Ryan demonstrates this disdain for the poor with his proposed $1.4 trillion cuts in Medicaid. And to clarify, Medicaid is the insurance for children in poverty and adults with disabilities. Thus, Ryan and Romney hope to diminish the already-lacking health care program for people in poverty. Apparently ending Obama's healthcare expansion is not enough for them - he said that Obamacare has "no place in a free country," and I suppose this exposes what Republicans think of our northern neighbors: Canadians, with their socialized medicine, are all lazy slaves under the fetters of a government intrusion in their lives.
So here is my problem with the whole speech: Paul Ryan lies. I am getting tired of this. The stories continue about Obama raiding Medicare; I don't even remember hearing this line of attack before Romney picked Ryan, the real Medicare cutter. But it is a cunning move; if you are weak in an area, then attack your opponent in this same area to cover your own backside. The $716 billion is an actual cut to Medicare recipients under the Ryan plan, but it consists of cuts to medical providers under the Obama plan. So now Paul Ryan presents himself as the defender of Medicare, and he even enlisted his "role model" mother as the Floridian face of his plan to save old people. But in reality, he is devising a plan to usher in a new era for our seniors: Vouchercare.
And I am tired of all the "you did build that." This obfuscates the meaning behind President Obama's original statement, and it pushes American individualism (every man for himself!) to the extremes of ugliness.
The deception doesn't stop there: Ryan used the example of the closure of a GM plant in Wisconsin to illustrate the failure of Obama's policies; he even related how Obama spoke at the plant in 2008 and pledged to work to keep it open. The part that Ryan did not mention: the plant closed in December of 2008, a full month before Obama's term began. How can this anecdotal evidence be interpreted as anything but deception when Obama cannot possibly be held responsible for a plant's closure that happened before he took office?
The following are a few more quotations from the VP nominee that float precariously on top of a half-truth or a full-blown lie:
"(Obama's presidency) began with a perfect Triple-A credit rating for the United States; it ends with a downgraded America." What Ryan fails to acknowledge is his party's and his own obstructionism in getting work done in congress to have prevented this downgrade.
"(His presidency) began with a housing crisis they alone didn’t cause; it ends with a housing crisis they didn’t correct." The housing market continues to improve; it is being corrected, and for Ryan to state otherwise is false.
"He created a bipartisan debt commission. They came back with an urgent report. He thanked them, sent them on their way, and then did exactly nothing." This is misleading because Ryan himself opposed Bowles-Simpson’s report.
Read this report from the Washington Post about the falsehoods in Ryan's speech. I need to sleep.
But in closing: Paul Ryan posed this question - "Without a change in leadership, why would the next four years be any different from the last four years?" What Ryan doesn't understand is that we asked for this. America voted for Obama because he promised us Obamacare. Obama did exactly what he said he would do, and his has been a presidency of fulfilled commitments. We don't want Ryan's kind of change, we want the change that Obama promised and has delivered on. Four years later, it may sound trite, tired, or faded to Ryan, but for us, it is still change we can believe in.