I have been told I live in the field. I’m not talking about the mission field that is white already to harvest - Utah is actually rather cloudy and brown right now from all the fires, not to mention the raining ash. (Last days, anyone?) I’m talking about a unique field in which I’m a progressive liberal Mormon living in the heartland of conservative, Mormon majority, Republican Utah. I’m a sophomore Political Science major at BYU who works full time at the MTC, and every day I am reminded that I’m different (and not just because almost everything I own is plastered with Obama stickers and logos).
I wasn’t always so vocal about my political opinions here in Provo. During my first few months at BYU, I distanced myself from identifying with any party; I knew I was liberal, but I was hesitant to endorse a platform about which I felt under-informed. I feared the inevitable moment when some far more educated person would tear my opinions to shreds with their superior evidence and research. But the more I found myself making pro-Democratic comments in my small Honors American Heritage class (many thanks to my professor, Greg Taggart, for always giving me the floor to make the opposing point) and the more I studied the issues, the more I realized I needed to come out of the closet and simply embrace my affiliation with the Democratic Party.
Since then, I’ve become much more comfortable with identifying as a Democrat - not just because I can’t in good conscience endorse the alternative, but because I believe so strongly in the vision and commitments of the Democratic platform. While it’s annoying to frequently hear anti-liberal, pro-Fox News comments, and while I am in the political minority of students at BYU, living in Provo has forced me to be able to articulate exactly what I believe and why I believe. I’ll always be grateful for that.
I’m proud to say, and I say it at every opportunity I get, that the BYU College Democrats is the largest College Democrats chapter in Utah. I love the shocked expression people acquire when they hear that, because it emphasizes that Mormons are not a unified voting bloc, and that the youth and young adults of the LDS Church will become increasingly more diverse in their political views than ever before. We’ve seen already the groundswell of support for the LGBT community within the Church, and much of that support comes from young adults who did not grow up with the same biases and culture that older members of the Church may have.
Of all the challenges of being a liberal in Provo, the deepest and most hurtful will always be the questions of my faith. I don’t write about this to ask for your pity or to encourage you to be more loving to everyone. I write about this simply because it is the hardest thing for me about being a liberal in Provo. It’s not easy to be told that you have less faith, that the path you are on will likely lead you to become apostate, if not at least to leave the Church, and that then your future children will grow up outside of the gospel all because of your selfish choices. When I was quoted for an article about Pro-Obama Mormons back in May, the comments users added online questioning my standing in the Church were the most troublesome. When the ruling on the Affordable Care Act was announced, (I was eagerly listening to C-Span live with headphones on my computer at work,) I wanted to leap for joy and celebrate. But as my other coworkers at the MTC began to trickle in (this was 8:00 AM in Utah, being two hours behind D.C.), I could see their crestfallen faces. It was the only time I’ve been really glad that they all know I’m a Democrat - I did my best to hide my glee, and they shut the door so I could only hear muted expressions of their frustration and anger.
It’s this mutual agreement to leave each other space to celebrate our views that I appreciate the most, and at the same time it’s a cause of concern, given that it’s only July now and there’s still several months before the election. Because I am the field organizer for Obama’s campaign in Utah County, the Co-President of the BYU College Democrats, a volunteer for several local political campaigns, and because I hope to be more involved with Mormons for Obama efforts, I can sense that my political activity will lead to some kind of conflict sooner or later.
But despite all the tensions I’ve already experienced and expect to experience as a progressive Mormon, I know I can never go back. I’ll always feel a connection to that wonderful hymn-singing, nourish-and-strengthen-our-bodies praying, no-TV-on-Sunday, family-home-evening culture I was blessed to be raised in, but I will continue to study and seek after more knowledge about my questions without clinging to the conservatism that was also part of that culture. And with all its quirks and all my questions, I know my own journey of finding my way through this concentrated conservative field as a liberal Mormon will not be a walk in the park.
But we are all enlisted till the conflict is o’er, and that won’t just be November 2012. I look forward to the challenges in the hopes that I can convince even just one soul to understand why I believe what I do. Who knows, maybe I can plant some seeds in this field.
As I anxiously look forward to the delivery of our first summer CSA box this week, I can’t help but think about how inspirational Michelle Obama has been promoting healthy food and living. One aspect of her dedication to health that I’d like to highlight in this post has been the White House Kitchen Garden.
In addition to it just being really cool that there the White House now grows its own food and donates most of it to charity, Michelle Obama uses it as an outreach opportunity to inner city elementary school kids. She worked with local elementary school kids to plant the food garden in March 2009. Urban-living children are invited to the White House each year to plant and harvest the vegetables as a way to learn and get excited about fresh, healthy, local food.
Just a little bit about the garden. The White House Kitchen Garden is 1,500 square feet, and produced over a ton of food in the first two years. The garden is completely organic. It includes special vegetables planted from seeds from Thomas Jefferson’s Montecello. The last time there was a food garden on the White House grounds was the Victory Garden, which was established by Eleanor Roosevelt during World War II. It started a trend and by the end of the war more than 20 million home gardens were supplying 40% of the produce consumed in America. You can watch more about the White House Kitchen Garden here you can also tour the garden.
During last year’s planting season, Michelle Obama went through the different vegetables that they were planting that day like swiss chard, leeks, and beets, and said, “uh-oh, the President doesn’t like beets. But it’s okay. We’re an equal opportunity garden.” Many of the kids had never eaten swiss chard or leeks before. Her reply was, “So that’s going to be the fun part, is trying some new things.”
In 2008, Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and In Defense of Food, wrote a letter to President Elect, which was published in the New York Times, called Farmer In Chief.
In his letter, Pollan discusses that whoever the future president is, the focus should be on reforming food in the US. It’s a great article. He recommended all sort of things to the future president, like food stamp debit cards should double in value when swiped at a farmer’s market, creating a federal definition of “Food”, and that WIC should be expanded to include food vouchers to farmer’s markets.
Included in his recommendations was the suggestion to begin a White House food garden. “I don’t need to tell you that ripping out even a section of the White House lawn will be controversial: Americans love their lawns, and the South Lawn is one of the most beautiful in the country. But imagine all the energy, water and petrochemicals it takes to make it that way. (Even for the purposes of this memo, the White House would not disclose its lawn-care regimen.) Yet as deeply as Americans feel about their lawns, the agrarian ideal runs deeper still, and making this particular plot of American land productive, especially if the First Family gets out there and pulls weeds now and again, will provide an image even more stirring than that of a pretty lawn: the image of stewardship of the land, of self-reliance and of making the most of local sunlight to feed one’s family and community.”
Wow. Stewardship, self-reliance, with a focus on family and community is what Michelle Obama is bringing to the White House through this garden and her incredible example.
From Michelle Obama in her speech at the Democratic National Convention:
"And in my own life, in my own small way, I've tried to give back to this country that has given me so much. That's why I left a job at a law firm for a career in public service, working to empower young people to volunteer in their communities. Because I believe that each of us--no matter what our age or background or walk of life--each of us has something to contribute to the life of this nation."
I’m a Mormon for Michelle Obama.
I was talking to a friend a few months back, before Romney had the Republican nomination locked up, and he relayed a thought he'd had while listening to Romney harshly criticize President Obama during a campaign stop. He thought to himself, "I hope President Obama doesn't think that all us Mormons are like this..."
I sometimes wonder this myself. Does President Obama somehow think that Romney is representative of Mormons in America? Or even more specifically: do the American voters think that Romney is somehow representative of Mormons? I swear my jokes are better than his, and I would never put a dog on top of my car for a cross-country trip. Additionally, I have a job.
But in the end, maybe we are okay, and maybe we won't be mistaken for a Mitt-Romney-Mormon. Let me explain: we all know that Mormons can identify other Mormons by looking at their countenance. I was reminded of this again today while studying Alma chapter 5 in Sunday School. Our teacher told a story of how a cashier at a grocery store asked her if she was a member of the Church. "Yes," was her answer, to which the cashier explained, "I could tell because of your countenance." (Our Sunday School teacher also explained that this happened at Smith's in Provo, to which I thought, "uh... everyone in Provo is Mormon; this makes it not even a lucky guess, but a statistical certainty.")
That said, even I have seen this countenance principle in action: I was with a friend at a gas station just east of the Cascade Mountain Range, and she approached a man and a woman pumping gas next to us and boldly asked, "are you LDS?" (Who does that???)
"Yes - we are," came the response.
"I thought so! You just had this glow about you!" I am not lying. This really did happen - and a study exists that backs it up. Here is a link to it, and here is a blog post about the study. Mormons can tell other Mormons just by looking at their faces. We have a glow, a countenance, a halo rather than horns. We have received his image thereupon, and this isn't just Mormon myth-making or Sunday School speculation. This is scientific statistical fact (complete with t-tests, r-tests, x-factors, or whatever... I didn't do too well in that class.) I'm not certain what makes one look Mormon, but this must be a good thing, right? (I mean, it is definitely better than those pictures of meth-users in Oregon; I mean, everyone can tell what they are by their pictures as well.) So ultimately, Mormons do have a glow that shines independent of whatever Governor Romney may do to our image. However, this whole thing is somewhat ironic considering the "I'm a Mormon" campaign was designed at least in part to show that Mormons look just like everyone else.
Well, this complicated puzzle of facial characteristics doesn't end there. Studies also show that Republicans and Democrats have a certain distinguishing characteristics also, and that they're able to be differentiated in photo line-ups. Apparently, Republicans seem powerful, and Democrats appear more warm. Here is the link to a description of the study. But this really isn't too surprising; think of Newt Gingrich and Michelle Bachman - nothing about them denotes warmth, and Newt's greasy forehead cannot be mistaken for a "glow."
But let's not stop there, for all these studies prompt the inevitable follow-up question: if Mormons are identifiable by their countenances and Democrats appear warm, what does that say about a Mormon Democrat? I've been thinking about this, and clearly we must really have an amazing luster. I don't know if it's on par with the likes of the transfigured Moses, but maybe Edward from Twilight as he's standing shirtless in the sun? Just watch the people pull out their sunglasses as you walk by... and when they tell you that they sense something is different about you, or that they are drawn to you somehow, you can explain that this is because you're a Mormon and because you're voting for Obama.
Just think of Harry Reid - the supreme example of Liberal Mormondom - (I have his action figure on my desk at work) - and tell me if he doesn't have a glow like a gleaming lighthouse? He fights the good fight, shines like a sunbeam, and literally comes from Searchlight, Nevada. I know what the Primary Hymn instructs, (Trying to be Like Jesus,) but in case that is too high of a bar for me right now, I've decided that at the very least I am trying to be like Harry... and we'll call it good at that.
I wish I could see an Excel sheet printout that enumerated all the going-ons during the many Sunday School lessons taught this past Sunday (of which Mosiah 29 was discussed.) I read a couple of comments on the Mormons for Obama Facebook group and heard a few things from some friends, and apparently this is a nearly impossible lesson to present without it getting political - although from a distance, it is somewhat difficult to see why. (But then again, from a distance, we all have enough and no one is in need either.) Mosiah 29 is about righteous government which is something we all can agree on, but invariably someone makes a comment that alienates or isolates another. Of course, we'd assume that since we are all Mormons we could find common ground, but alas...
I suppose that some of our conservative Mormon brothers and sisters think that Obama is leading the country down to hell (King Noah-style), and some of our liberal LDS friends think that Romney will serve a similar function. Thus, our Sunday School teachers must pull out the proverbial cattle prod and steer their students in the paths of political neutrality. (But really we should just stagger the study material by one year. Why is it that we have to study this chapter during the presidential election cycle?) Interestingly, while most Mormons tense up when political topics are broached at church, other Christians relish in it. (Jeremiah Wright?) I read an article once that quoted Larry King, (who sometimes attends church with his LDS wife,) saying that Mormon sacrament meetings were so far-removed from politics and current social issues that they were boring. Well, maybe he didn't say that exact quotation, but according to this report on the Cougarboard, he became so frustrated during one testimony meeting, he swore and threw his hands up in disapproval.
But ultimately, discussing politics is not the end goal of church attendance; our hope is to learn to be more like our Saviour. However, in our attempts to be better Mormons, we sometimes forget the importance of being a good Latter-day Saint. We have received several emails that express appreciation for the site - for the connection people feel in finding other Mormons who share their political beliefs. I've also read similar comments on the Mormons for Obama Facebook group, and I believe that this comes from a sense of being alone in the (ward) world. While we should feel a kinship with our fellow saints, sometimes the side comments, questions, and accusations can set us apart.
Here is a part of one email we receieved: "Before a general priesthood meeting our ward met for a party, and it was tough to hear (one of the leaders in the ward) complain about Obama 'always talking about feeding the poor - feeding the poor!' I just couldn't bring myself to point out the irony of the statement just before we heard Apostles of the Lord tell us that we are our brother's keeper."
Another email said this: "Most of the time I feel like I'm in hiding about my "true" self in my small (a little blue dot in a red state) town. I feel I can't really be myself without being ostracized for my political beliefs. They're just a few of us in this town, and we've vowed (behind the scenes) to stick together. But mostly in silence...I don't want to fight and bicker and lose friends, so I just keep my mouth shut."
Seriously. We shouldn't feel alone at church. And this type of thing is the exact opposite of Alma's invitation to the Nephites to be baptized in the Waters of Mormon (Mosiah 18:8-10). So I guess the point is something like this: conservative Mormons, don't forget that you have liberal Latter-day Saints in your midst! And liberal Latter-day Saints: let's show love for those Fox-News-watching, Rush-Limbaugh-listening, Ann-Coulter-book-reading, Glen-Beck-loving Mormons on our home and visiting teaching lists!
And of course this is true even amongst Obama supporters; we have some huge differences in our thoughts and interpretations. This was evident as we tried to address the issues of marriage equality; after reviewing our posts, one reader of the website felt alienated by the articles supporting Obama's position. So I am trying to remember: regardless of how far apart I might feel from the gun-toting, SUV-driving, Romney-voting Mormon sitting next to me in Elder's Quorum, he is my brother in the gospel, and we have more that knits us together than that which divides.
Romney has fought hard to keep the campaign about the issues (or issue in his case: the economy,) and he's fighting again; he quickly slammed attempts by a Super PAC to produce an anti-Obama ad that focused on racially charged comments made by Rev. Jeremiah Wright - see Yahoo News story.
Romney stated, "I want to make it very clear, I repudiate that effort. I think it's the wrong course for a PAC or a campaign. I hope that our campaigns can respectively be about the futures and about issues and about a vision for America."
Good for Romney, and good for all of us. The last thing we need is for the Mormon Republican nominee to call for open season on the shooting range of religious affiliation. Obama is also trying to stick to the issue(s) by making coordinated attacks against Romney's record as a "job creator" at Bain Capital. But regardless, social issues have been creeping around the edges of this campaign - like President Obama's admission of support for marriage equality last week (more on that in a later post,) or during the divisive campaign to choose a Republican nominee. However, even though Romney and Obama are attempting to steer the campaign away from these so-called social issues, enquiring minds still want to know that their Presidential candidate is just like them in every way possible (which is why we only have two viable political parties in the USA?) They want to know that their president supports/doesn't support abortion, is against/for marriage equality, loves/hates poor people, embodies righteousness/evil.
The two-party system has always had its drawbacks. How can you fit 350 million Americans under two umbrellas of political belief when their cultural, spiritual, and religious perspectives literally fill the whole world? (And also when half of them don't even vote?) This must be where the so-called "independents" come into play. Who are these people anyway? (I have yet to meet one... although I do have faith that they exist.)
But where does all of this leave us Mormons? With our belief in the reality of righteousness and sin, the existence of God and Satan, and polarity of good and evil, it might make sense to some Latter-day Saints that the Democratic and Republican parties would fit into the same dichotomous structure. And this leaves very little room in the middle for fence-sitting (or even for those of us that still insist on sitting on the back row of Elder's Quorum so we can play Draw Something on our smart phones.)
2 Nephi 2:15 explains that this dichotomy has existed since the beginning: After (the Lord) created our first parents...it must needs be that there is an opposition: even the forbidden fruit in opposition to the tree of life; the one being sweet and the other bitter. But while we believe that there is opposition in all things, at what point does this leave the realm of individual practice and personal decision and leap into the world of political affiliation as well?
This might be confusing for some LDS when it comes to choosing a political party or candidate, (i.e., Republicans are pro-life, anti-gay marriage, and advocate self-reliance, so they must be righteous. Democrats promote abortions, don't let children pray in school, and like to elect Muslims for president, so they must be Satan.) But forcing the two political parties into a good vs. evil scenario seems to presuppose that God Himself is at the helm of one of these (Republican?) political parties. It ignores the fact that when we vote, we are participating in an imperfect, earth-bound, and very American political system.
We received a comment on the website that basically asked the question, how could a Mormon support Democrats or Obama when their platform supports abortion? This question speaks to the simplistic reasoning that some people struggle with and that is encouraged by the two-party system. Robert Fantina wrote a well-nuanced response on MormonsforObama.org to explain that all is not so simple:
The Democratic platform does support abortion, but the Republicans do nothing to prevent abortions. They will not countenance sex education, and are now making it more difficult for women to obtain contraceptives. And they appear not to care at all about babies once they are born: they will do everything possible to deprive them of health care, Head Start programs, etc...When (George W.) Bush was president, he stopped funding for Marie Slopes International (I think that’s the name of the organization), because they provided family planning, although not abortion, services. MSI estimated that, due to this funding cut, approximately 200,000 women in their serving area who didn’t want to get pregnant, would, and of those, approximately 60,000 would have abortions. So how was he a pro-life president?
Thanks to Robert for the comment and also for the link to his article on Pacific Free Press: What Makes a Romney Win Scary? (Hint: It Ain't Religion)
In short, the issues in this 2012 election are much more complex and nuanced than the few minutes of time it will take to fill out a mail-in ballot would leave one to believe. However, I recognize that most people understand this. I have conversations with my Mormon friends and family who are Republican, Libertarian (you know who you are,) and Nader-ists, and the dialogue is almost always engaging, stimulating, and respectful. By their very nature, political parties are imperfect and fallible, and they don't easily lend themselves to black and white categorization... more like 50 shades of grey. So I would in turn ask the Mormons who question my faith and allegiance to the gospel because of my support for Obama: how can you so readily assume that because I'm an active and faithful Mormon that I would by necessity vote Republican?
So let's put this simplistic thinking to rest. Choosing Obama over Romney is not the same as choosing the great and spacious building over the tree of life. But don't get me wrong; I do believe that there are extremely compelling reasons to vote for Obama in 2012, and so I don't mean to trivialize the decision with the following analogy; but maybe it's more like choosing a spinach salad with feta, cranberries, and raspberry vinaigrette over an iceberg lettuce concoction from Jack in the Box. The iceberg lettuce salad has a form of healthiness, but in the end it is empty, wilted, and undeniably overpriced.
Post by Joseph -
Super Tuesday is over, Santorum took Kansas yesterday, and Romney got Wyoming (and Guam and the Virgin Islands); he continues to inch closer to Republican nomination - line upon line, precept upon precept. And in order that I might contradict my last post, I offer up this post script:
While it might seem less likely that I'll have the opportunity to be offended by the Republicans for picking Santorum over Romney, ultimately I wish that the Romney candidacy was done or that it had never happened altogether. This Mormon moment is going on for an eternity, and I feel a tremor in the Force.
Mostly, I don't like the scrutiny. With Romney in the spotlight, the news media is looking to report on anything and everything about the Church; seriously, if there is anything sensational, ugly, or that will make a good report or newsworthy (or not) they seek after these things. Check out Friday's op-ed piece in the Huffington Post that asks, "Is Mormonism a Cult?" The good old days of the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics are gone, back when the Church had published ideas for stories on Mormons for the media to use when reporting about the Church. Now the talking points have given way to the Mormonism: Getting it Right feature, and Mormonism 101 which includes a FAQ section that addresses many of the queries about Mormonism, (i.e., "Do Latter-day Saints believe that they will 'get their own planet?'") Personally, I would prefer directions from the brethren that sounded something like "duck and cover!" "drop and roll!" "hold on tight!" or other words of wisdom from a Tornado Survival Guide.
This oversaturation of Mormon stories in the news and popular culture leaves me feeling defined, boxed-in, stereotyped, and judged. My discomfort is increasing with each new online article or blog post, and I am patiently awaiting the day when I become desensitized to it all (or just give up and grow horns). I acknowledge again that Mormons make a tempting target. The policies of apparent discrimination makes it so; but seriously, The Book of Mormon Musical? (And I have it on good authority that it contains catchy tunes, colorful sets, and profanity throughout.) Of course, the South Park guys are equal-opportunity offenders, and Mitt Romney's campaign can't be blamed for The Book of Mormon Musical, only thanked. But it feels a little bit much right now.
A couple of media storms have arisen in the past few weeks that illustrate my point; these concern baptisms for the dead, and the ban on blacks receiving the priesthood.
Baptisms for the dead have continued to be a problem in the Church due to the continued overzealousness of some genealogically-minded Latter-day Saints that feel inclined to submit the names of people such as of Anne Frank, Daniel Pearl, Elie Wiesel's parents and other Holocaust victims for proxy baptisms. See my previous post. And before I even heard the Church leaders' letter that was to be read in Sacrament meetings today, I first heard a report about it on NPR.
And then my former mission president (and BYU professor), Randy Bott, offered an explanation to a Washington Post reporter about the Church's ban on blacks receiving the priesthood. The Church immediately condemned it in an issued statement. Well, I don't feel I need to say much about the ban or the 1978 reversal; here is the link to the original Washington Post article, and this is the Church's response as reported in the Deseret News and the Salt Lake Tribune. Additionally, some Mormon bloggers at By Common Consent have already thoroughly examined the issue and posted their many comments, condemnations, and analyses on their website; they lined up like members of a Utah firing squad, uncertain who had the real bullet in their barrel, but took aim President Bott and fired their guns anyway. Their posts can be found here and here and here and here and here and here. I especially liked what this guy had to say - he's southern, and I can relate.
But my point is that a lot of this news coverage seems to miss who we really are as Latter-day Saints. For example, I enjoy explaining proxy baptisms for the dead. To me, this rite and all the research that goes into it, shows a deep compassion for one's ancestors and a commitment to them in a real tangible way. I am reminded of some branches of Buddhist practice that call for the male relatives of a deceased person to become monks and spend time in the monastery so that they can obtain merit vicariously for the departed. This merit is then transferred in a ceremony in hopes that it will improve the station of the loved one in their next life. Therefore, I realize I could take the opportunity to correct the misperceptions, but with so much information on the Church and its doctrines suddently available, why would someone even feel the need to ask a Mormon for clarifications at this point? (And why would someone feel the need to talk to LDS missionaries if they just heard them singing on Broadway for three hours?)
Additionally, all of the criticism of President Bott does not represent him in the way that I experienced him as a mission leader. I love this man; I loved his enthusiasm, compassion, and insight. He did away with "junior-senior companions," (we needed to learn to share responsibilities equally); he never talked about baptismal statistics, (this obscured the real purpose of missionary service); and he consistently followed Joseph Smith's declaration, "I teach them correct principles and they govern themselves." As an instructor, he was incredible. He gave us the parable of the devil tree, his retelling of the David and Goliath story, and a clearer existential understanding of life and death. I remember going to him as a struggling "green" missionary, feeling somewhat alone and isolated, and he saw to the heart of my concerns almost instantly. His counsel was right on the mark, and I remember it almost word for word. I don't feel I should forget this, regardless of the Post article and the assertion by some that President Bott has taught these ideas for years at BYU.
Thus, I refuse to define my former mission president by this public relations debacle. I know that I don't wish for a lone action on my part to solely characterize me. President Bott does not equal his statement made to the Post reporter, just like the Church is not just the pre-1978 ban on blacks receiving the priesthood. But I realize that this happens often in life and popular media; we define people by their most provocative action or a prominent occurrence, and all else becomes insignificant: Kitty Genovese was defined by her murder, Richard Jewell by doing his job, and Thomas B. Marsh by cream off the top of the milk.
I miss the days of my youth in the south when nobody really knew the Mormons; I could be the one to tell them who we are and be the first point of contact. Then I had control of how I was defined and understood. So let it be over quickly. Mitt Romney's presidential aspirations have pulled Mormonism into the 21st-century spotlight like a handcart across the plains of America, and I am feeling pretty tired. Not even a hit Broadway musical could have ever done it this well.
You have probably heard quite a bit by now about a recent incident in Afghanastan in which several Qurans were burnt by US military personnel at Bagram air base. Apparently the Qurans had notes written in them by prisoners, and upon discovery were confiscated, mistakenly added to other garbage at the base and at least partially incinerated before being noticed by Afghani staff.
In the wake of the incident radical elements of Islamic extremists used the situation to foment anti-American sentiment, which ultimately culminated in riots that killed more than 30 people, several of them American service members.
As the controversy began to heat up President Obama wrote a letter of apology to Afghan president Hamid Karzai. Secretary of State Clinton and the head of NATO forces in Afghanistan, General John Allen, also issued apologies for the incident.
It was these apologies, and particularly the President’s, that set off its own controversy generated by the Right-wing media machine here in the U.S. Media Matters recently compiled an astounding set of clips from FoxNews on this story. (http://mediamatters.org/research/201202280001).
A few highlights:
- Liz Cheney (daughter of the Dark Lord, and qualified political commentator?) calling Obama “The Apologist”, and stating that his “default position” is to “apologize for America”
- FoxNews contributor Mike Gallagher saying that it was “outrageous” for President Obama “to go crawling to Karzai”
- And of course Carl “ham” Rove (Colbert reference), stating that rather then do any good, President Obama’s apology actually “made [the situation] worse by showing weakness”
[caption id="attachment_618" align="alignright" width="300"] A political cartoon by Gary Varvel criticizing Obama's apology[/caption]
Why should we apologize to terrorists who blow up civilians, throw acid in the face of schoolgirls and kill people over a burned book when they don’t apologize to us? As another Fox contributor, Charles Krauthamer, put it, “when I hear that [apology from their side] I'll expect my president to start issuing an apology.”
So, from what I have gathered, a good portion of the Republican electorate thinks that President Obama’s apology was insulting to America and its troops, pathetic, weak and harmful. Leaving the efficacy of the apology aside for the moment, I’d like to reflect on the substance of the Right’s inane reactions.
The reality is that the war that the United States is fighting in Afghanistan is not a ‘traditional war’, but rather a culture war. There are fundamentally differing views about the world on the two sides, views that cannot be softened with the help of shared history, customs, language or faith. A more amicable America is not Al Qaeda’s goal any more than a more democratic Afghan terror cell network is the goal of the U.S. We will never ‘agree to disagree.'
Because we are engaged in a culture war, the opinion of the vast majority of Muslims across the world whose minds and support are being fought over are very important to our goals. We will never win those minds and support if Muslims believe we don’t respect their beliefs. To ignore public opinion of Afghanis and other Muslims is not only idiotic, but also deadly. It should be noted that there actually are some conservative political minds that understand this, and so support Obama’s decision to apologize, in addition to a number of military minds as well. (See the Media Matters link).
As one observer pointed out, Hamid Karzai is a weak president struggling to maintain his tenuous grip on power. Whether we like him or not, he is our guy right now, and we need him to succeed for stability in Afghanistan to even be a possibility. What Obama did with his written apology was to give Karzai a tool to use as he worked to confront this mini-crisis at home. Karzai actually read the letter to the Afghani Parliament in the aftermath, using what he had to get what he could.
These common sense reasons to apologize were even obvious to George W. Bush, who apologized not once, but twice, to foreign nations for desecration that occurred to the Quran on his watch.
But beyond the common sense reasons to be culturally sensitive to the Muslim faith that is followed by millions across the globe, there is another reason, an even better reason, for being thoughtful. That reason, of course, is because it is the right thing to do. Rather than subscribing to Krauthamer’s ‘only do good unto others when they have done good unto you’ worldview, I am more inclined to go with another philosophy, something more like ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’. Now who was it that said that? Maybe the Right believes that this only applies when it’s easy.
Because I am a Mormon, I am sensitive to how the outside world treats my faith. Beyond the history of forced dislocation, assassinations and open hostility that the early Mormons endured, I have personally had to defend my faith in public arenas, classrooms and in conversation. I know this is not unique to me, but is a common experience for many members of our church. As Mormons, “We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.” [*] Of course this does not mean we sit idly by while minority fanatics attack us in the name of their God, but it does mean that we should show Muslims the same degree of respect that we believe our faith deserves.
Leave it to the Right-wing to call Obama’s common sense response to the situation “irresponsible and unnecessary”, an olive branch as “outrageous”, likening it to groveling before a foreign power. And who would you expect but Rove and his ilk to see what others might recognize as self-reflection and honesty as “weakness”. Is theirs a world you want to live in? Me neither.
[*] The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints’ 11th Article of Faith.
I realize that a posting on class warfare may seem about 6 months behind the times. Accusations of “Class Warfare” reached a fever pitch some months back amidst calls for a “millionaires tax,” the headline-grabbing “we are the 99%!” cry of the Occupy movement and Warren Buffet’s disclosure that he pays a lower tax rate than his secretary. The best synthesis of the discourse that I saw was provided, of course, by Jon Stewart .
The topic was brought to mind again recently when I read a NY Times article on the increasing number of conservative, middle-class Americans who receive some sort of government assistance .
In the article I learned that not only does the lowest income quintile receive 36% of all forms of government aid (down from 54% in 1980), but also that the top quintile actually took home about 12% of all aid. Additionally, a survey referenced in the article found that a plurality of respondents incorrectly named “programs for the poor” as the fastest-growing benefits program in the U.S.
I bring up these two points specifically because they are important in the larger context of the national debate surrounding topics like income inequality, budgets for social programs and class. The article illustrates what all poor people already know, which is that the answers to questions like who gets what from the government, and where should we be looking to make cuts, are seriously obscured by misinformation.
When imagery of animals digging through garbage, and terms like “welfare queen” and “parasite” are used on national television to describe those receiving government assistance (watch the Stewart clip!), it is clear that there is actually a concerted effort by some on the right to frame the debate in falsehoods.
While the right would have you believe that those receiving government assistance are lazy, greedy, black single mothers of 6, the numbers tell a different story. First, the large majority of all recipients of social programs are either children or the elderly. In FY 2011 nearly 75% of those receiving federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits were children . Medicare and Social Security, which together make up the government’s largest expenditure, are both only available to the elderly.
Okay, so most aid money goes to children and the poor (not counting the billions in tax breaks for big companies), but I bet the rest of them are just lazy, right? As mentioned above, almost 65% of all government aid goes to those above the lowest income quintile. Believe it or not rich folks, you can work hard and still have trouble making ends meet.
The TANF program, for example, contains employment requirements . And there are millions of working Americans who have seen their real wages decrease for decades, making government assistance necessary for things like health care, education, energy and housing. The price tags for these necessities have all skyrocketed, especially compared to most consumer goods, making the Heritage Foundation’s attacks on the poor for having televisions and microwaves seem particularly disgusting .
From 1970 to 2010 real wages for American workers declined by 28%, while national GDP nearly doubled . So who saw the gains from the growth in GDP? Over the same time period the top 0.1% of earners saw their share of national income rise by 385% !
The dishonest discourse fomented by the right has very serious consequences for all of us, and particularly the most vulnerable in our society. When the millionaires in Washington DC decide to ignore our woefully underfunded schools, choose to prioritize prisons over housing, and do nothing to fix healthcare, there are serious consequences. Over 46 million Americans live below the poverty line, the highest rate in the 52 years that the Census Bureau has published statistics on it , the U.S., with over 2.3 million people in prison, has by far the highest incarceration rate in the world , and an estimated 45,000 premature deaths occur each year because of lack of access to health care .
But despite reality, the right continues to ignore these problems and dismiss those who raise issue of equality as 'divisive'. Rick Santorum (a millionaire) even criticized Mitt Romney (a multi-millionaire) for using the term “middle class,” because he believes it is a Democratic term used to divide society . Which society is he is living in that he doesn’t see how very much divided we already are?
Yes, there is certainly a Class War raging, and I’ll give you one guess as to who is winning it.
The 28% figure takes into account the (non)wages received from the unemployed as well. Real wages over this period for only employed individuals dropped by a smaller, but still alarming, amount.
I tried to stay rather upbeat (and nice) in my last post when I expressed my primary reason for supporting President Obama (expansion of access to healthcare in America), but in reality, I am not completely satisfied with how everything turned out. I am disappointed that we did not get the public option. While many in the far-left Democratic camp wanted a single payer system, I feel that this might be too much, too far, too Canada to ever get passed in Washington D.C. However, I wish that more moderate Democrats and Republicans would have gone "all in" and gotten us the public option; I suppose they were afraid of what might happen (and ultimately did happen) back home at election time. Yes, it appeared that many senators and representatives, in hopes of preserving their jobs in congress, carefully walked the edge of the healthcare blade in hopes that they would not be implicated by the far right when the final tally of votes was taken. But alas, the bloodletting of the 2010 congressional elections seemed to come straight out of the Rambo film franchise; the tea party republicans went for the gut, and bloody entrails were scattered across the ground. The moderate Dems and Repubs lost their jobs in such high numbers the unemployment rate ticked up half a percentage point (and yes, Obama was blamed for that too.) Even the beloved (but not far enough to the right?) Bob Bennett, Senator from Utah and grandson of Heber J. Grant, lost out to a tea party candidate, the some nameless son of Rex E. Lee, former president of BYU.
Even with the healthcare reform, millions of Americans will still be without coverage without a public option in place. I don't see anything Christian about the refusal to provide healthcare to American citizens, and their reasons always involve some sort of judgment of the poor: they're without healthcare because they don't want to work; they're lazy, they want free handouts; they don't take care of their health; it is their fault they are fat, or smoke, or don't exercise, or eat Krispy Kremes, (insert whatever you want to here - just be aware that wealthy people are perfectly healthy and never eat doughnuts or smoke cigarettes and thus deserve their healthcare.) I've become so frustrated with the Christian Right that I'm somewhat pleased that they don't claim us Mormons as Christian; in fact, it's gotten to the point that when I'm asked if I'm Christian, I feel as if I want to answer, "Heck no. I'm Mormon."
I know that name-calling happens on both sides of the political spectrum, but the raucousness that ensued during the healthcare debate in congress (the town hall meetings, Sarah Palin's death panel, charges of socialism) seemed to come very heavily from the conservatives. This wailing and gnashing of teeth only served to strengthen my feeling of resolve that Obama's plan was not only moral, but the right plan for America. He advocated a moderate plan that even the insurance companies could stand behind, and it's actually such a middle-of the road stance that many in Obama's own party disapproved.
I personally felt saddened by the loss of the public option, and my very liberal sister and I discussed the issue numerous times over the phone. She was angry that President Obama didn't fight harder for the public option: "Why is he being so weak? Why isn't he standing up to those Hatriots in Washington?" But I told her then, and I say it now: in the end, Obama's willingness to compromise and let it go only proved his skills as a leader. Healthcare reform was passed, millions more can now be covered. While Republicans dig in their heels on anything that Obama proposes and supports, he continues on. And so do we continue on in our support of him. Obama 2012.
I was at the National Hispanic Medical Society conference in Washington DC when the House agreed to the Senate's amendment of the Affordable Care Act, on March 23, 2010. The energy and excitement was electrifying! My feelings that day are the same today--the Affordable Care Act is monumental and critical for our country. Indeed, it is one of the primary reasons why I support Obama wholeheartedly.
My favorite facts about the Affordable Care Act:
- Expands health care to 32 MILLION Americans
- Insurance companies are prevented from dropping sick people
- Insurance companies cannot deny children coverage if they have a pre-existing condition
- No lifetime caps on coverage
- Cost: $940bn over 10 years; but it would reduce deficit by $143bn by tackling fraud, abuse, and waste
- Expands women's health preventative coverage, including services such as well-woman visits, mammograms, domestic violence screening, screening for STIs, and access to birth control without charge
Of the Affordable Care Act, Barack Obama said "A good compromise, a good piece of legislation, is like a good sentence; or a good piece of music. Everybody can recognize it. They say, 'Huh. It works. It makes sense.'"
One of the most controversial aspects of the Affordable Care Act is this concept of the "individual mandate" or requiring people to have insurance. The individual mandate is really important because it reduces the overall costs of health care for everyone. But don't take my word for it. Heck, (not h-e-ll, we are mormons after all) don't take Barack Obama's word for it!
"If you don't want to buy insurance, then you have to help pay for the cost of the state picking up your bill, because under federal law if someone doesn't have insurance, then we have to care for them in the hospitals, give them free care. So we said, no more, no more free riders. We are insisting on personal responsibility. Either get the insurance or help pay for your care."
Mitt Romney, defending the 2006 Massachusetts Health Reform in a debate with Rick Santorum, Jacksonville, Florida, 1/26/12
YES! More cowbell. At a time when partisan politics have harshly criticized the 2010 US health care reform, I long to hear Mitt Romney defend the Massachusetts Health Reform! I believe there are far more important reasons for health reform (like, uhh, helping people), but it is soooo refreshing to hear it defended in 'Republican speak'.
I'm not the only one who feels good about this. Of Romney's words, Prof. John McDonough from Harvard School of Public Health said, "Romney has given in this entire presidential campaign last evening what I believe is the most effective and persuasive rationale and defense of the individual mandate."
A recent study reports that Taxachusetts (as my in-laws so lovingly call it) is doing very well after the 2006 health initiative. Access to health care remains high, emergency room visits are down, and there has been some improvements in health outcomes.
"I gotta fever, and the only prescription is more cowbell!"
President Barack Obama, you gained my (second) vote on March 23, 2010. And I personally thank you for on behalf of all 32 million Americans who will now have access to health care!
Post by Doctor LauraClubFancy, your health care correspondent-