All across America, people celebrated the end of 2012, the beginning of 2013, the love of friends and family, and the continuation of our world despite some presumably dire predictions by an ancient people; all the while, Americans with incomes between $250,000 - $450,000 popped their corks for a completely different reason: the aversion of the fiscal cliff and the preservation of the Bush-era tax cuts for their income brackets. And interestingly enough, we all will be paying more in payroll taxes. Specifically: payroll taxes for the past two years have been at 4.2% and will now rise to the customary 6.2%.
Alas, the fiscal cliff is averted (sort of) and the can is kicked down the road to be dealt with another day. Read this review from NPR of yesterday's (early this morning's? when did this happen?) voting in the House and the New Year's Day passage of the deal in the Senate. In the end, it was not Obama and Boenher that brokered this compromise, but McConnell and Biden. (Another pairing of the turtle and the hare.) But many on both sides of the debate are not happy with this outcome, and Boehner had some choice words for Sen Majority Leader Harry Reid, while the House is looking (especially) foolish in its handling of the fiscal cliff crisis. Additionally, as if they wanted to verify their status as a fortress of ineptitude, the House declined to vote on the Sandy Relief Bill, which prompted sharp criticism from NJ Gov. (and 2016 presidential candidate) Chris Christie:
"There is only one group to blame for the continued suffering of these innocent victims: the House majority and their speaker, John Boehner. This is not a Republican or Democratic issue. Natural disasters happen in red states and blue states and states with Democratic governors and Republican governors. We respond to innocent victims of natural disasters, not as Republicans or Democrats, but as Americans. Or at least we did until last night. Last night, politics was placed before oaths to serve our citizens. For me, it was disappointing and disgusting to watch."
But moving forward to more important things! It is a new year, and with every new year comes our responsibility as Mormons to vote for the Mormon of the Year of 2012 over at Times and Seasons dot org. And seriously, I realize Mitt Romney didn't win the presidency, but he most certainly deserves Mormon of the Year, does he not? He should definitely beat out some band called "Neon Trees" anyway - especially when the first time I heard of them is when I saw them on the list of candidates.
Let's hope for a path forward this 2013 - and choices as easy as Mormon of the Year. We need to move past this fiscal edge of the cliff mess and onto some real important things. Otherwise, President Obama's second term will be one big fight over budgets and taxes and cliffs and nooks and crannies. Seriously, we are ready to move on.
Well, yesterday we learned pretty much nothing new about Mitt Romney. Well, we learned that Harry Reid wasn't so far off when he questioned Mr. Romney's tax history (although we still haven't seen convincing evidence that Romney didn't paid any taxes in recent years). We learned that Mr. Romney's vast wealth is still mostly untouched by taxes. We also learned a new acronym, the one for the special vehicle into which Romney put quite a bit of financial resources: the Charitable Remainder Unitrust, or CRUT.
For those of you who don't know what a CRUT is, join the club. Even after this Bloomberg article on the Romneys' CRUT, I still don't quite understand what it is, other than a way that really rich people are able to basically stash their money in a charity and yet keep on earning tax free interest on it, and often--but not always--leaving a little something for the charity. In this case, Mr. Romney stashed his funds in the LDS Church, and it's looking like somewhere between 0% and 8% of the original value will be left over for the Church after Romney officially turns it over to them. But, in all honesty, and other than the CRUT details, we've known that all before today.
This is a helpful reminder of the reason we have taxes in the first place, and the reason we need them. Remember, conservatives always argue that if we just had lower taxes on the wealthy, those wealthy would be able to spend that money on some wise charitable project. The idea that if the rich (or 'job creators') had more money then they'd create more jobs, also flies in the face of the fact that Wall-Street has completely recovered under Obama. The more people complain about unemployment under Obama, during which time Wall-Street performed exceptionally well, the more they prove that 'trickle-down' economics are simply a thinly veiled excuse to benefit the rich at the expense of the poor. Lower taxes on the rich doesn't produce more jobs or give a dramatic increase in charity. Mitt Romney is a master at lowering his own taxes--legally, of course--and it doesn't really seem like the conservative prediction held true. Instead, with his pocketed tax dollars, he purchased a couple of Cadillacs, three houses valued at around $20 million, and a car elevator.
Now, let me be clear here. I'm not criticizing those purchases. I've certainly spent money on personal stuff that I could have given to charity, and I think most of us have. And the Book of Mormon teaches that we should help people achieve their wants as well as their needs (Mosiah 18:29, D&C 51:3, Alma 35:9, and D&C 82:17). I have no business criticizing their wants (just like conservatives have no business criticizing the wants of the poor among us). I'm just pointing out that the conservative prediction--lower their taxes and they'll be able to give more money to charity--doesn't seem to hold.
In this sense, it doesn't matter what the Romney's money went to, just that it didn't go to charity. And it clearly didn't. And, in fact, some of what did go to charity didn't really. It's hidden in a CRUT, which I will work into this post as many times as I can because it is such a delightful acronym. Again, I only learned of CRUTs recently, but the whole idea of tax havens just seems a little out of sync with the brunt of Mormon scriptural teachings about wealth. There's Jacob 2:17, for example:
Think of your brethren like unto yourselves, and be familiar with all and free with your substance, that they may be rich like unto you.
And Doctrine and Covenants 49:20:
But it is not given that one man should possess that which is above another, wherefore the world lieth in sin.
And he looked up, and saw the rich men casting their gifts into the treasury. And he saw also a certain poor widow casting in thither two mites. And he said, Of a truth I say unto you, that this poor widow hath cast in more than they all: For all these have of their abundance cast in unto the offerings of God: but she of her penury hath cast in all the living that she had.
Finally, it seems that some like to argue something along the lines of "Mr. Romney is just a harder worker and a smarter man than the rest, so it follows that he's richer than they are." This line of argument bothers me as well, because lifting the rich onto a high pedestal is roundly discouraged in the Book of Mormon. For example, in Helaman 7:26, Helaman's son Nephi denounces such a practice:
Yea, wo shall come unto you because of that pride which ye have suffered to enter your hearts, which has lifted you up beyond that which is good because of your exceedingly great riches!
You can also see Jacob 2:13, Mosiah 4:17, and 3 Nephi 6:12 on the dangers of thinking that the rich are better than the poor in some way (for summaries of contemporary conservatives making this "richer=better" argument, see here, here, and here). But back to CRUTs and Mr. Romney. Here's the extent of the response from the Romney camp:
“The trust has operated in accordance with the law,” Michele Davis, a campaign spokeswoman, said in an e-mail.
And after ye have obtained a hope in Christ ye shall obtain riches, if ye seek them; and ye will seek them for the intent to do good—to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted. (Jacob 2:19)
The final Presidential debate was... disappointing. It was filled with some great one-liners that will have some funny memes ('the 1980s called, they want their foreign policy back' 'We have these things called aircraft carriers and planes land on them. We have ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines.').Read more
Post by Joseph M -
President Obama finally did it: he ended Tuesday evening's debate by calling out Governor Romney (to his face!) over the 47% comment. Romney set himself up for it; he answered the last question by declaring that he cares about 100% of America. This proved a temptation too great to for even Obama to resist, and Obama responded by referencing the behind-closed-doors 47% comment.
But on one point, Romney is correct: the Obama campaign has painted a picture of Romney as out of touch with the poor and the middle-class. But Romney has also done a lot of this to himself; when he attempts to be candid, he invariable says too much, and this ultimately signals open season on the fields of (class?) warfare. Romney's wealth, elitism, and disconnect from ordinary Americans have become his most salient features, and therefore this image of privilege has supplanted the real man.
And it seems that conservatives are getting rather testy about all this negative talk of Governor Romney's wealth - and also of rich people in general. This also is the case with some members of the church as well, and I'm not sure when the shift began; it used to be that we were concerned about not speaking ill of the poor, but now the super-wealthy seem to be deserving of our charity and sympathetic glances.
Two examples: some months back, our Elder's Quorum lesson devolved into the semi-annual discussion of how should we respond to "pan-handlers" on the street; one comment from the group asserted that we should be cautious because homeless people are often hyped-up on meth and might kill you. And then the next Sunday, another good brother commented on how there's such hostility towards wealthy individuals these days, and that he was surprised by the poor opinions that many people have of the rich. (Yes, he used "poor" and "rich" in the same sentence as if to say, "those poor rich people.")
In an extreme case of political-correctness-hijacking, the wealthy are no longer referred to as "the rich," but now they are part of the protected class of "job creators," "entrepreneurs," and "innovators." I'm guessing that congress might even enact laws shielding them from hate crimes. This is necessary because all of them own small businesses and hire lots of people to do lots of things; money trickles down from these wealthy folks like water flowing towards a floor drain after a long shower at the gym.
In a recent column, David Brooks extolled the virtues of a wonderfully ambitious job creator, Elon Musk, one of the minds behind PayPal. He writes, "Government can influence growth, but it's people like Musk who create it...A few ridiculously ambitious people can change an economy more than any president." Romney reiterated this when he reverted to his high school cheerleading days and attempted to lead a chant towards the end of Tuesday's debate, "Government does not create jobs! Government does not create jobs!"
So if David Brooks is correct, we shouldn't be looking to tear down Romney and his financial success - even if he did eliminate jobs in order to make companies profitable and more efficient. The goal of a business is to make money; when a company makes money, its workers will benefit - the company can hire more workers. (Wait, is that what Romney meant when he said 'corporations are people?')
So this just begs the question: why all of this class warfare anyway? and when did this feeling of animosity towards the wealthy begin? and who decided that it was okay to criticize someone just because of their riches?
Well, let's start here:
"Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. (Matt. 19:23-24)"
Or Matthew 6:24: "No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and Mammon."
"Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten. Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days (James 5:1-3)."
The Book of Mormon is also rife with admonitions as well; I'll just give the first one I found:
"Wo unto the rich, who are rich as to the things of the world. For because they are rich they despise the poor, and they persecute the meek, and their hearts are set upon their treasures; wherefore , their treasure is their god. And behold, their treasure shall perish with them also (2 Nephi 9:30)."
So I guess when people ask where all this rich-bashing came from, I'll just say, "well, it's Biblical."
Of course, being "rich" is relative; with the advent of the middle class, most people would not think of themselves as "rich," but might feel like they're somewhere in the middle. However, I wonder what wealth looked like during the time of Christ, a time when money changers were cast from the temple? And for the young man who received Jesus' condemnation, what made him rich? We are told that he had "great possessions," (but so do many of us, and we are clearly in the middle class.)
These questions are particularly hard for many of the super rich, who tend to view their "great possessions" with a sense of pride. Chrystia Freeland, the author of Plutocrat: the Rise of the New Global Super Rich and the Downfall of Everyone Else, said on NPR on Monday that "in America we have equated personal business success with public virtue. And to a certain extent, your moral and civic virtue could be measured by the size of your bank account."
Freeland goes on to say that the "super rich" are angry because President Obama is pushing the idea that "what is good for the guys at the very top is not necessarily good for the people in the middle." They see this as an "existential threat," because people don't just want to be wealthy and successful, they want to be good. Therefore, any suggestion from progressive thinkers, Obama, or Jesus to the contrary is met with disappointment: "Wow, I'm not as full of virtue and goodness as I thought I was?"
Freeland notes that the numbers of plutocrats has increased, and the gap between them and everyone else is huge; ultimately, they can be expected to "rig the rules in their own favor," while convincing themselves that what is good for them is in the interest of everybody else, (i.e., cut entitlements and shrink the national debt, while reducing taxes for the wealthy.)
However, I am not interested in pointing fingers at Romney - or to imply that any church members with several fancy cars and a horse are not going to heaven until they learn to thread a needle. I guess I am more interested in understanding America's relationship with money. Capitalism has become our national pastime - and I am not sure what this says about us. But alas, that is also another post.
I think our prophet Brigham Young's fears for the Church and the Saints is of particular note:
"The worst fear I have about this people is that they will get rich in this country, forget God and His people, wax fat, and kick themselves out of the Church and go to hell. This people will stand mobbing, robbing, poverty, and all manner of persecution and be true. But my greatest fear is that they cannot stand wealth; and yet they have to be tried with riches, for they will become the richest people on this earth."
What did President Young see of our future when he said this? The implications for America (or even for me and my own life) will make my head hurt if I think on it too long. Clearly this is a truth that is hard for all of us (including the rich) to take in. The pursuit of wealth is truly a moral conundrum; for what is so powerfully connected with self-worth in the American context is defined as a burden that drags one to hell in the scriptural sphere.
So I will end this for now. I have the new episode of The Walking Dead saved on my DVR, and I am really excited to watch it on my 48-inch flat-screen LED TV with my Bose speakers! (And my TV is a Samsung, because everyone knows that is the brand second to none when it comes to flat-screens!)
The townhall debate is tonight. I've been watching President Obama for eight years and Governor Romney for 10. I favored them for their respective parties' nominations back in early 2007. President Obama has exceeded my expectations; Governor Romney has consistently failed to meet them. If I had the chance to ask the Governor some questions tonight, here are five that are on my mind:
1) Your work on healthcare in Massachusetts was the first thing, after our shared faith, that attracted me to your candidacy. President Obama instituted a national version of this private-market based reform. You've repeatedly pledged to repeal Obamacare. If you become president, what happens to people who can't afford insurance coverage out-of-pocket but can't get it through their employers? What happens to people with pre-existing conditions? What happens to seniors who fall back into the Medicare prescription coverage "donut hole"? Why should we kick young adults who get married off of their parents' insurance, but let people who just "shack up" stay on?
2) You frequently discuss the need to balance the budget, but you're also pushing a tax proposal that completely eliminates the estate tax, lowers cap gain taxes, and cuts income tax rates by 20% across the board, while also continuing all of the Bush tax cuts and giving the Pentagon another $2 trillion over the next 10 years (which they say they don't need). Wouldn't this explode our deficit and make it impossible for you to balance the budget? Or would you soak the middle class to give a tax cut to the rich? Isn't that what we tried, without success, 10 years ago?
3) What will you do if the Supreme Courts strikes down the section of the Defense of Marriage Act that prohibits the granting of federal benefits to couples who are legally married in their home state (including Massachusetts)? What is your stance on a federal law that prohibitions discrimination against LGBT in housing & employment, like the one the LDS Church supported for Salt Lake City? Speaking of human rights, if you're elected, what happens to the executive order that grants "deferred action" to people who were brought to this country without papers as children?
4) What will you do differently on Iran or for Israel? President Obama's already got strong sanctions in place that are causing the Iranian currency to collapse, and he's massively increased aid to Israel during his four years. What would you do differently? What happens to the executive order banning the use of torture in U.S.-run interrogations?
5) Your central claim is that you'll create 12 million jobs during your first term. Independent forecasters say that's already going to happen during President Obama's second term. When pressed, you gave a clarification that the Washington Post said "doesn't add up." So, why do we need to elect you?
In my last post I tried to examine the personal standards set forth in scripture—and through common sense and decency—for all government leaders. My assertion was that we could safely approximate a politician’s moral mettle by looking specifically at his integrity, his honesty, a position I believe is upheld by Doctrine & Covenants 98:10: “Wherefore, honest men and wise men should be sought for diligently….” I tried to show how Mitt Romney’s actions for years now have led me to believe that he places very little value on his integrity compared to attaining office and how, therefore, Americans concerned with electing the most honest leaders could not conscientiously vote for him. Unfortunately I didn’t have the time or space to give the same amount of attention to President Obama, and though my intention was not to exclusively attack Governor Romney personally I admit it was difficult to discuss his record without impugning him as an individual. So it was an incomplete essay, but I want to reiterate the importance of the main point, which is that Mitt Romney has run a very dishonest campaign, with other examples of questionable ethics dating back years earlier, and therefore does not deserve our trust—and I wrote the piece two days before the release of the Mother Jones video. If it is impossible to divorce Romney’s public persona of dishonesty from his private character as a loving, caring individual, I think he has consistently shown us which way we have to cast the dye, even into last week’s debate. And if that’s the only thought from that essay that readers are able to present to their more right-leaning acquaintances, then I’m satisfied. Greg Prince came to a similar conclusion in his Huffington Post op-ed soon after the fundraising video emerged.
My purpose for these six posts is not to draw conservative Mormons over to the left, really, but merely to explain how my religious beliefs as a Latter-day Saint influence my political convictions as, generally, a progressive. I was therefore intrigued by Patrick Mason’s closing argument in the Mormon Matters podcast on Mormonism and Politics, in which he claims that Mormonism has never really established a political theology, a philosophy of how its tenets should affect political belief regardless of partisanship. That’s essentially the process I’ve been trying to go through on my own—mentally, informally—for many years, and it has landed me primarily, though not exclusively, in the Democratic camp (sometimes I’m to the left, sometimes to the right). So while I don’t have the ability to fully expound a political theology of Mormonism here, I’d like to take some initial steps by looking at how my Mormonism influences my beliefs about foreign policy. Subsequent posts will attempt the same thing for different issues, but with foreign policy the focus of Governor Romney’s recent comments and the next two debates I thought I’d begin here. These are just initial thoughts, of course, rough drafts really, but hopefully they’ll be helpful as Mormons with differing political philosophies discuss their views.
So how does foreign policy situate in Mormon theology? The Book of Mormon has a wealth of information by way of example; it’s almost entirely a history of different nations negotiating an often hostile relationship, after all. I’ll come back to that occasionally, but I think we can find some even more fundamental principles in scripture. In fact, this little dialectic guides virtually all my political philosophy—including my thoughts about foreign policy:
1) We are all children of God, equally valued and equally valuable. His desire is to bless everyone on the earth equally.
2) People around the earth are not physically and temporally blessed equally; there is great inequality.
3) Therefore, it is incumbent on those who have been blessed abundantly to use the resources God has given them to bless others as much as possible.
At first blush this may seem rather naïve, and maybe it is, but I prefer to think it’s just plain and simple. It’s completely possible, in other words, that nearly all political matters can be boiled down to essentially these three points and that the plainness and simplicity of them, which might prove a stumbling block to some, is precisely their strength. Nephi obviously gloried in what was plain and simple, and even said that the Lord “doeth nothing save it be plain unto the children of men; and he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile” (2 Ne. 26:33; I also appreciate how he uses plain and simple in 2 Ne. 25:4,20; 32:7; and 33:6).
I like his international and egalitarian language in that verse, as it directly connects the simplicity of many doctrinal matters with their global universality. And although he’s emphasizing the accessibility of the core gospel invitation to come unto Christ and receive eternal salvation, I think language like “all are alike unto God” strongly states that all should receive equal temporal blessings—food, water, medical care, education, protection from violence and poverty—as well as spiritual blessings—revelation, scriptures, a knowledge of the gospel, the opportunity to receive its ordinances and hold the priesthood, companionship of the Holy Ghost, etc. How could it be otherwise with a just and merciful God? Besides, it also seems that the Lord would not distinguish between temporal and spiritual blessings, and that if it is incumbent on us to share our knowledge of the gospel it is equally required to provide educational opportunities, vaccinations, and any other “temporal” goods to those who need them:
“Wherefore, verily I say unto you that all things unto me are spiritual, and not at any time have I given unto you a law which was temporal; neither any man, nor the children of men; neither Adam, your father, whom I created. Behold, I gave unto him that he should be an agent unto himself; and I gave unto him commandment, but no temporal commandment gave I unto him, for my commandments are spiritual; they are not natural nor temporal, neither carnal nor sensual.” (D&C 29:34-35)
Thus this principle—that when we’ve been blessed we should use every means to equally bless others—has no division between temporal and spiritual dimensions. It is a spiritual commandment when the Lord tells us to care for the poor, which I suspect is also one of the most repeated commandments in scripture. King Benjamin makes explicit the connection between our state as beggars for spiritual mercy and others’ state as beggars for physical relief in Mosiah 4:15-27, which includes statements like this, from verse 26:
“And now, for the sake of these things which I have spoken unto you—that is, for the sake of retaining a remission of your sins from day to day, that ye may walk guiltless before God—I would that ye should impart of your substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants.”
Brigham Young taught this in his typically salty style: “Prayer is good, but when baked potatoes and milk are needed, prayer will not supply their place.”
Thus far, of course, this sounds like essentially an economic argument. I admit that’s true and I’ll return to domestic economics in my next post, but how does this apply to international affairs? To me it means that given limited time and resources our primary focus for foreign policy should be relief: the global eradication of violence (i.e. war), disease, poverty, ignorance, and discrimination. Disagreements over trade, like the U.S. and China both complained about with the WTO recently, are secondary and, really, rather petty when compared with these larger issues. Yes, issues like trade imbalances are important in their sphere, but my point is that ending war and suffering is a greater and globally more beneficial goal—which will help things like trade disputes more easily fall into place.
So let’s look at war. Perhaps Christ’s blessing upon the peacemakers has no greater relevance than in the sphere of national conflict, where the stakes are highest. In Doctrine & Covenants 98:16 the Lord commands us to “renounce war and proclaim peace,” in what is probably the single most important scriptural pronouncement on large-scale violence. He goes on for essentially the rest of the revelation to explain to the Saints, beleaguered by the initial persecutions in Missouri in 1833, when to justify themselves in self-defense, and there are explicitly instances when they are justified (v. 33). But throughout the section He values peace, forgiveness, and turning the other cheek as much more moral and revered than self-defense: “And again, if your enemy shall smite you the second time, and you revile not against your enemy, and bear it patiently, your reward shall be an hundredfold” (v. 25); “And then if thou wilt spare [thine enemy], thou shalt be rewarded for thy righteousness” (v. 30); “And again, this is the law that I gave unto mine ancients, that they should not go out unto battle against any nation, kindred, tongue, or people, save I, the Lord, commanded them. And if any nation, tongue, or people should proclaim war against them, they should first lift a standard of peace unto that people, nation, or tongue...” (v. 33-34).
Accordingly, the ancient Nephites averred they were justified in defending their families and religion from foreign aggression (Alma 43:46-47) but held the pacifist Anti-Nephi-Lehies up as having a much higher standard: “For behold, they had rather sacrifice their lives than even to take the life of their enemy . . . And now behold I say unto you, has there been so great love in all the land? Behold, I say unto you, Nay, there has not, even among the Nephites. For behold, they would take up arms against their brethren; they would not suffer themselves to be slain” (Alma 26:32-34). The Nephites never lived this higher law, but when righteous they strove to suffer multiple offenses before retaliating, as Hugh Nibley explained about Captain Moroni and the futility of preemptive war. And, finally, whenever the Nephites ignored even the lower law of not giving the first offense they were swept before their enemies (as in Morm. 4:4).
I’ve thought about all of this often since September 2001. My belief in scriptures like these made me initially wary of and eventually completely opposed to invading Iraq specifically and the Bush doctrine in general. The potential threat from Iraq did not warrant the level of violence and disruption we inflicted upon that nation, and thus I have for years seen ending the Iraq War and beginning to make restitution for our national sin as one of our country’s highest moral imperatives. Ending the Iraq War and shifting the tenor of international diplomacy from one threatening violence to one eschewing it as much as possible is the President's greatest foreign affairs victory, and one that has made him worthy of his Nobel Peace Prize that so many thought premature; the point was that the shift in global feeling between Bush and Obama was palpable, and had a real ripple effect that's still going. On the other hand, Governor Romney’s comments that Guantánamo ought to be doubled and, later, that the rapid drawdown in Iraq was tragic, even when taken in context, are lamentable and seem to place his worldview on the morality of war completely outside my own.
Even in October 2001, when the U.S. launched the first missile strikes into Afghanistan during an LDS general conference, my first thought was not about al-Qaeda but about Lachoneus. As the news was breaking, President Hinckley stood at the pulpit, explicitly comparing the September 11th terrorists with the Gadianton robbers. Lachoneus and his people faced a force of robbers that threatened to completely annihilate them—more than al-Qaeda or the Taliban could ever plausibly threaten the U.S. with. Yet when the people prodded his chief general Gidgiddoni to “pray unto the Lord” for his blessing and go attack the robbers in their mountain strongholds, he responded, “The Lord forbid; for if we should go up against them the Lord would deliver us into their hands; therefore we will prepare ourselves in the center of our lands, and we will gather all our armies together, and we will not go against them, but we will wait till they shall come against us; therefore as the Lord liveth, if we do this he will deliver them into our hands” (3 Ne. 3:20-21). Thus I wondered if the complete overthrow of the Taliban and long-term nation building in the mountains of Afghanistan was really the right choice. During that address President Hinckley said that “the terrible forces of evil must be confronted and held accountable for their actions,” but he also warned that “now we are off on another dangerous undertaking, the unfolding of which and the end thereof we do not know.” Overthrowing the Taliban in order to scramble al-Qaeda in Asia seemed a justifiable mission, but I wondered even then if the same results couldn’t have been achieved with a much smaller hammer. Unfortunately I feel my misgivings have played out as Afghanistan has become the longest war in American history—one Governor Romney wants to continue indefinitely. President Obama, unlike Bush and Romney, conceived a much more nimble strategy and eventually killed bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders throughout the region while reducing troop numbers; we can judge the scope of this accomplishment by remembering that Gadianton himself was never caught.
So, to summarize so far, my religion causes me to believe that pacifism is better than belligerence, and that when we do fight it should only be after several offenses and only in self-defense. But to renounce war and proclaim peace means, I think, something even more than that: that we should seek to be our brothers’ keeper and strive for the end of all violence throughout the world.
How do we do it? As far as our Church and other churches are concerned it means working to spread the gospel throughout the world: when the Nephites were faced with a dangerous border community that might incite the Lamanites to violence, their record states: “And now, as the preaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just—yea, it had had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them—therefore Alma thought it was expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God” (Alma 31:5). Roughly fifty years later, the righteous Lamanites were faced with the growth of the Gadianton robbers among them and responded with a mixed campaign of military strikes and proselytizing: “And they did preach the word of God among the more wicked part of them, insomuch that this band of robbers was utterly destroyed from among the Lamanites” (Hel. 6:37). So much fighting has been carried out in the name of religion, it’s good to remember that religion can also be the primary cure.
As far as our government and other governments are concerned it means robust diplomacy aimed primarily to curb tyranny, violence between states and communities, violation of international law, and human rights abuses. It means we have a responsibility to stand up for those who are most defenseless—like the Nephites who suffered Lamanite aggression for protecting the Anti-Nephi-Lehies (Alma 28:2 calls it the most “tremendous battle” in their entire history)—and intervene as much as our resources permit in cases of genocide or large-scale oppression—including, at present, possibly Syria and certainly Palestine, where the United States’ opposition to recognizing Palestinian statehood in the UN is one of the low points of the Obama administration’s foreign policy record. I feel it is our duty to pay the most attention to those who are most defenseless, and any nation, like Palestine, without a state certainly falls in that category. This, by the way, is an example of where my Mormon beliefs cause me to take a position—that the United States needs to support a measured but determined process for Palestinian statehood—that neither American political party has ever really embraced.
But I’m not suggesting America needs to invade every country with a popular insurrection or throw its military might around unnecessarily. The responsibility, real or imagined, to be the world’s policeman can overstretch even the world’s largest military, and one often makes the mistake of sending forces into areas where our intervention isn’t necessary, the largest recent examples being Vietnam and, as mentioned, Iraq. Any Commander-in-Chief this soon after Bush will be wary of that, and President Obama’s response to Libya seemed measured but effective, using technology to assist rebels fighting a superiorly armed despot without endangering the lives of American ground forces. Of course, it can be argued that this assistance came only after Gaddafi’s position became untenable and that U.S. support for the dictators in Egypt and Tunisia (and Syria) lasted far too long—and should never have existed in the first place; supporting a regime that does not have its people’s best interest at heart just because it supports American economic interests is not a tenable position: we should be just as concerned for each and every citizen of Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, or Iraq as of the United States.
This raises a second point that has dogged the U.S. since at least the Mexican-American War: that our own foreign policy should not have a direct negative impact—such as when our unmanned drones kill civilians then name them posthumously as “enemy combatants”—or, as much as possible, any negative externalities. This is most obvious with military interventions but can come from other sources: NAFTA, for instance, was intended to increase efficiency in North America by reducing trade barriers—Economics 101—but it had the negative affect of underselling many Mexican farmers, especially corn farmers, putting them out of work, and forcing many of them to come, undocumented, to America to work in our farms, causing personal strain on them and their families specifically and also on Mexico’s economy as a whole. Latin America unfortunately has many other examples, as the conservative regimes the U.S. and the CIA propped up during the Cold War often turned out to be some of the worst human rights violators in the world, decimating populations and economies in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Chile, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, and other countries. Other instances—such as arming the anti-Soviet rebels who became the Afghan Taliban—have come back to haunt us as well.
War is arguably the greatest evil that man can perpetrate on man. A true statesman will do everything in his power to avoid it—including communicating with his enemies (as Captain Moroni did)—and would never delegate that authority to even his allies. Thus the friction between the Obama administration and Hamid Karzai or Nouri al-Maliki is actually encouraging, while Governor Romney’s close personal relationship with Benjamin Netanyahu is, more than anything, troubling. In his speech on foreign policy Monday Romney said that “the world must never see any daylight between” the U.S. and Israel. Romney can’t seriously expect to defer to Netanyahu on Middle East policy—particularly not after the latter’s performance at the United Nations. There must be daylight there, and I think most Republicans would agree with that.
More importantly—because it’s more possible, if not practical—someone who wants to renounce war and proclaim peace should not attempt to enlarge what is already by far the largest military force in the history of the world. Romney has consistently vowed to enlarge the military, but it seems more in deference to his financial backers than to wise national policy. In Monday’s speech Romney said, “I’ll roll back President Obama’s deep and arbitrary cuts to our national defense that would devastate our military.” As David Ignatius wrote, “that’s pure demagogy. One of Obama’s more thoughtful efforts was the defense budget guidance announced last January in which all the service chiefs agreed to balanced reductions in forces—including agreement by the Army and Marine Corps to significant cuts in ground forces on the understanding that we won’t be fighting more wars like Iraq and Afghanistan in the near future. Romney should credit that kind of careful, consensus planning rather than trashing it.” Similarly, Romney's aggression toward Russia and opposition to nuclear draw-down--a major theme of Obama's Russian relations--seems geared toward increasing the possibility of war rather than decreasing it--and was cited by Putin as strengthening his resolve against NATO's European missile network (and possibly its announced withdrawal from Nunn-Lugar).
Indeed, in foreign policy as in everything else, the current President is nothing if not a careful, thoughtful pragmatist. His evolving firmness with China evinces this, and it is evident through his and Secretary Clinton’s dealings throughout the world, even up to the lifting of international banking restrictions on Myanmar a few days ago. (Hillary Clinton, in fact, has been a stellar Secretary of State, actually reminding me of President Hinckley in her vivacity and record-breaking travels; she'll be missed next year no matter who wins the election.) I quite appreciate Jamie Zvirzdin’s evaluation of the President’s foreign policy successes and failures that was reposted on Mormons for Obama in August: “Even [Obama’s] supposed failures in foreign policy reflect good thinking in my mind.”
I’ve basically talked about war and not even touched on aid, which is actually just as big an issue, if not bigger; many more people live in poverty than in conflict zones, after all. I might get back into my beliefs here next time as I discuss how Mormonism influences my beliefs about economics, but suffice it now to quote Doctrine & Covenants 104:17-18:
“For the earth is full, and there is enough and to spare; yea, I prepared all things, and have given unto the children of men to be agents unto themselves. Therefore, if any man shall take of the abundance which I have made, and impart not his portion, according to the law of my gospel, unto the poor and the needy, he shall, with the wicked, lift up his eyes in hell, being in torment.”
“For of him unto whom much is given much is required” (D&C 82:3), something as true of nations as of individuals. If the Americas are truly a promised land that have been blessed beyond proportion, then we must use that blessing to eradicate poverty throughout the Americas and the rest of the world. It’s a process that might not be complete until the end of the millennium, but all the more reason for starting now. And it will take a mixture of individuals, organizations, and governments to accomplish it; without any one of these three it will be impossible. (One notable example of these coming together is the Half the Sky movement to empower women and girls in developing nations.)
So that’s roughly how my Mormonism influences my thoughts on how nations and states should interact, and the United States’ specific responsibilities. By and large my understanding of these doctrines causes me to support the Democratic party in foreign policy matters: even before getting down to brass tacks, Republicans often seem to place too much emphasis on American exceptionalism over global equality, which is where I feel the scriptures’ emphasis lies (as in 1 Ne. 17:32-36, 2 Ne. 29:7, and 2 Ne. 30:8), and hence feel justified in throwing our country’s weight around more broadly and dangerously than appropriate (and, Republican readers, I’m here thinking of Bush, Cheney, Romney, and Rice—not you). In contrast, the scriptures cause me to believe that completely unfettered self-interest is damaging for society at any level. Ayn Rand, Machiavelli, and Korihor all stand, each in their way, equally in stark contrast to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Zion has always been about all of society, not just the individual, about putting the interests of others above your own. Foreign policy reflects how nations of individuals navigate this on a global scale. At its heart, every decision should ask if this choice, this policy is as beneficial for the whole global community as it is for our own self-interest (speaking of national self-interest, let alone individual politicians’ self-interest). And if not, perhaps it’s time to rethink that policy and what it means to be sent by God to this earth, which is everyone’s second estate, at this time, with these blessings and these responsibilities that God has given us today.
Post by Rob T.
The website Mormon Dems has long piece laying out the reasons not to vote for Gov. Romney this November. I encourage you to read the whole thing here for the meat of the argument, but here are some key quotes:
"While I admire Romney’s dedicated unpaid service in my church as a bishop and stake president, believe that he is a good family man who also cares deeply about our country, and am thrilled by Romney’s ascension to the GOP nomination in this Mormon moment, I am confident that he is the wrong person for the job of President of the United States."
"I recognize that many politicians shift their positions from time to time, but cannot think of any politician as well-known as Governor Romney who has gone through such seismic political shifts. These shifts are disconcerting not only to me, but also to many GOP primary voters who wondered whether Romney was as “severely conservative” as he said he was. Governor Romney’s GOP Primary opponents were often frustrated by Romney’s flip-flops and had difficulty cornering him on any particular issue. How do we know how Romney would govern as President? While I suspect Governor Romney may not be as conservative as he appeared in order to clinch the nomination, no one really knows. This is why I do not find Romney to be trustworthy as a politician."
"While Governor Romney’s candidacy is exciting for Mormons and has done a tremendous service for our church by helping to bring it out of obscurity and to generate a national and global conversation about Mormonism, a Romney presidency would be wrong for our country in many ways. Even if Romney is more moderate than he seems, many of his party members in Congress are 'severely conservative' and would put tremendous pressure on him to pass right-wing legislation and appoint right-wing officials and judges. For these reasons and others, I cannot support Mitt Romney for President."
Let's just admit it now and get it out of the way: Romney looked strong in tonight's debate, and President Obama seemed as if he didn't want to offend anyone. Well, the Presidential race may have gotten a little more interesting - especially because the undecided voters (those who tend to have no idea what is going on in politics) may have been watching this evening. And if they tuned in to this debate without the back story... then maybe Romney came out ahead?
The next two debates will both cover foreign policy, and the final debate is focusing exclusively on this topic. And it is here that Romney may have found an opening: there is strong indication that the American officials at the Libyan consulate made several requests for extra security before the attack on September 11th that killed the US Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans there. Additionally, the State Department is reversing its former statements that the attack on the consulate was a result of popular protests due to American-made anti-Muslim video, "The Innocence of Muslims;" the State Dept now confirms that this was actually a coordinated terrorist attack.
Romney is rumored to be planning a coordinated attack of his own on President Obama's foreign policy record in order to assert that Obama is weak on terrorists. This would be a much-needed boon after his "shoot-first-and-aim-later" statement on the evening of the attack in Benghazi and then his 47% comment that caused some Mormons to cringe. Romney will need to continue to boost his image after the debate this evening, and maybe this is it.
Yes, Romney needs to seize upon this Muslim Moment.
But I wonder what is really going on here. Maybe this is an area that Romney should avoid altogether. Seriously folks, this is the President that killed Osama bin Laden. I mean, is it possible that the only voters who might respond to the idea that President Obama is weak on Islamic terrorism are those who believe that Obama is himself a Muslim?
Of course, Obama supporters do not require convincing that the President is the man for the job; it's just like tonight's debate - if one already supports Obama, then Mitt Romney's red-bull-infused attack did nothing more than cause a slightly irritating rash on the proverbial backside of listener's intellect. (And poor poor Big Bird. As one tweet asked: "doesn't Big Bird live on the street?; Romney hates the homeless.")
Anyway, I am amazed by how many questions still abound about Obama's religiosity and faith, and many come from our fellow Mormon brothers and sisters. Interestingly enough, some of these same Mormons also question the faith and commitment of us here at Mormons for Obama, as evidenced by the constant trickle of hate mail we receive. (One would assume that since we Mormons are often challenged regarding our Christianity, we would be careful not to level the same charges at someone else.) Alas, this is not so.
We recently received a comment that expressed a considerable amount of disdain for President Obama and our support for him. The commenter disparaged Obama as a "lover of Islam," and went on to say that she would not allow him to watch over her dog, "less (sic) alone my grandchildren." (To which I ask, did Obama even ask to babysit her grandchildren?) But she does have a point about Obama watching her dog, although I would add that both Romney and Obama carry baggage in this department; Romney's baggage is on the roof of his car, while Obama's is on his plate.
In the end I deleted the comment, seeing that it did not follow our guidelines of civil discourse. Obviously, this begs the question as to why I would review its content here - giving it more prominence than what it possibly deserves.
Well, first I wish to correct the assertion that Obama is a Muslim. Clearly, this woman, like many others, believes every anti-Obama email forward she receives in her inbox (which, I will add, is producing another convert to Mormons for Obama. Read this hilarious piece by Mark Saal.) She also must have arrived late to the town hall where John McCain rebuked a woman (and a member of the Blood gang?) for saying something similar. If Obama says he is Christian, why would it behoove us Latter-day Saints to question this?
But this leads to an even a more important aspect of this whole debate: it does not matter whether our President is Muslim, Buddhist, Christian, or even a Mormon. In fact, I would vote for Obama even if he was Muslim, and I am pleased that Minnesota elected our first Muslim congressman, Keith Ellison. We are a country of many cultures, ethnic groups, and religious affiliations. If I feel I cannot trust a Muslim to properly represent my views and interests on a national or local level, then why should we expect an American Muslim, Buddhist, or Jew to accept a Christian president?
Many people became very upset when a mosque was proposed at a site near Ground Zero. This hostility seemed to imply that all Muslims are somehow responsible for the events of 9/11. However, this public battle failed to acknowledge or demostrate the proper respect for the lives of the many innocent American Muslims who were lost in the World Trade Center attacks. Of course, my argument is not new.
Regardless, many people continue to assert that Islam is a violent faith; however, I caution that we don't need to look too far to find violence in Christianity - and I am not just speaking of the Holy Wars: bombings of abortion clinics, Jones, Koresh, Northern Ireland, and Mountain Meadows, all happened under the banner of heaven.
I don't know everything about Islam, but I am unconvinced that Muslim Americans are somehow less American than Christians, or that consequently, a Muslim is somehow less qualified to be President of the United States. The Christian Right often states that America was founded on Christian principles, but one only need to watch the season finale of Sorkin's The Newsroom to know that this is not exactly true. Maggie spent all evening to find the supporting quotations from our founding fathers - but it took me 30 seconds: Top 5 Myths About America. (Will MacAvoy, hire me please? --and where were you tonight? The tired Jim Leher could've used your crib notes.) See this article on Wikipedia as well, because Wikipedia is always correct.
But I will quote one of our founding fathers here:
Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his god, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people who declared that their "legislature" should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between church and State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.
And by the way Fox Newsies, the Pledge of Allegiance had its famous line, "one nation under God," added to it in 1954 by our other founding father, President Eisenhower. See this article.
In the end, I believe that Obama is adept at handling our troubles in the Middle East. Romney might possibly attempt to seize upon this anti-Muslim Moment and use it (as Bush the W. did before him) to stoke fear in the more bigoted hearts of America. But as this article explains, it is high time we separated church and hate. Obama has demonstrated how to do this; far from being the great apologizer as Romney accuses him of being, President Obama has exhibited true Christianity time and time again. As Eric R. pointed out in his post:
(B)eyond the common sense reasons to be culturally sensitive to the Muslim faith..., 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.’
So Romney can debate on and on and on; some may listen and believe. However, a quick tongue and a smart retort in tonight's contest doesn't obscure the fact that President Obama understands this country (beyond its capitalistic leanings) and its extremely important place in the world at large. And yes - even the Muslim world. Once again, I affirm my support for the President in 2012.
While we will not ever say that our interpretation of Mormon doctrine's political implications is the only viable one, we here at MormonLiberals.org firmly believe that ours is the most viable. We will never say "You can't be a good Mormon and a good conservative" (even though we've been told we can't be liberal and be good Mormons hundreds of times). Here's what we say instead.Read more
The Seahawks beat the Packers last night in this amazing down-to-the-wire knuckle-biter, (the finger nails were all gone by the end of the third quarter,) where Russel threw a 24-yard touchdown to Golden Tate. Clearly, there were angels in the endzone to solidify this miracle of epic proportions. (For optimum effect, reread that last line imagining Sean Connery's voice.) Of course, this wasn't without controversy: football fans all over the country called foul (baseball?) in that M.D. Jennings maybe/probably/most-likely had a hold of the ball before Tate got his hands on it, making the play an interception, not a touchdown, as it was called by the high-school-football-type referees called in to replace the striking professional refs.
After the call, all of us in Seattle jumped, cheered, and high-fived each other, and even if us Hawks fans acknowledged that it might have been an interception, we sang together in one unified harmonious chorus: "We'll take it."
And President Obama also jumped into the fray, calling the outcome "terrible," and Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan tried to score a political touchdown of his own by comparing the amateur-refereeing to the Obama administration.
Well, Ryan's comments seem to further the assertion that the Romney campaign is struggling and desperate. The way I see it, Mitt Romney is running out of ways to get himself to the White House. While all roads lead to Rome, there's only one or two that'll get him to D.C. With a series of missteps in the past few weeks (admittedly, no-apologies-Romney doesn't publicly refer to them as that,) Romney's image as an out-of-touch, privileged, and somewhat surly rich man continues to surge in inverse proportion to his chances of winning the election.
I am starting to think that he really only has a few ways to win at this point:
1.) Voter suppression. I used to be unconvinced that this was a real thing. However, I can no longer pretend this isn't actually happening. Read here for an article on its effect on Latino voters. We even have reports of people trying to register ONLY Romney voters. See below:
But I have to admit that my heart goes out to this cute little girl - I swear she looks like a Mia Maid I knew growing up. And plus, the woman with the camera is so mean! She yells at her and calls her honey bunch! My opinion (although patronizing and sexist) is that we should give this poor girl a pass because she seems so nice and sweet, and I think that her father probably made her do this.
2.) Money. Now that Romney and Obama are the nominees, spending on the part of both candidates is astronomical. According to PBS News Hour yesterday, the rates of spending on TV advertisements has doubled the amount of what was spent in 2008. Both candidates are after that (unbelievably) undecided middle-voter, and these ads target them without regard to truth or reality. And of course, this says nothing about the Super-PAC money out there. Michael Moore predicted a Romney win for just this reason: "Mitt Romney is going to raise more money than Barack Obama. That should guarantee his victory." True enough; he does have a lot of dough to spend, and if Romney ever needed his wealth to buy something, the time is now.
3.) A miracle. I believe in miracles, but I don't know that the Republicans should wait for seagulls to swoop down and gobble up the elderly and minority voters in those states that have overturned the voter-suppression laws. However, that doesn't mean that some other natural disaster or man-made calamity couldn't set the president off of his stride. Just look to Bush (W.) in 2000. A bunch of hanging chads and that Michelle Bachman look-alike handed him the election - and of course, this was subsequently confirmed by the Supreme Court. But all of that refers back to point number one. So could more poor job numbers or an uptick in the Middle East conflict send voters fleeing for Romney?
But alas, pondering on a Romney win causes me to think about that wonderfully awesome football game from last night with its game-winning Hail Mary pass; while Republicans would celebrate if Romney was elected in November, somewhere deep in their heads they might recognize that it came about through happenstance, a bad call, or even nefarious means. And just like in 2000, when the presidency was given to George W. Bush by the Supreme Court, the Republicans will intone simultaneously, "We'll take it."