Post by Rob T.
One of my lengthiest discussions about Mormonism happened with a high school friend who had just finished his first year at a top-25 dental school.
It started with his question: "Why do so many of you become dentists? Half of my class is Mormon: they're all from Utah, they're all married, and they all have two or three kids."
While I never answered that particular question, I've had many Mormon friends go to dental school. My wife completed professional school, I'm almost done with a doctoral program. We Mormons are told to get married, have children, and get all the education we can. This leads to a simple fact: despite the fact that we've settled down, we're raising the next generation, and we're working very hard to secure a stable future, we fall into Governor Romney's 47% who pay no income tax, who can't be convinced to "take personal responsibility and care for [our] lives."
There are two broad reasons we pay no income tax (though, of course, we still pay sales, gas, and payroll taxes). First, as Ezra Klein lays out, Republican tax cuts have reduced the income tax liability for poor and middle-income Americans, even as that reduced liability is now being used as a reason to cut services to pay for new tax cuts for our wealthier fellow citizens. Second, as FactCheck.org explains, over the last few decades, presidents from both parties have supported and expanded the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit. This is because they've believed that it was good to encourage people to work and to have children. There's that personal responsibility again.
We don't consider ourselves victims for choosing to marry young, go to graduate school, and have a daughter. We've had incredible opportunities, and done our best to only use as much of the social safety net as we needed, and not begrudging others who used more. (If anyone out there doubts the general eligibility of young Mormon student families for government benefits, check out this thread from Mormon Mentality in 2007. It's one of the most epic discussions that has ever graced the Bloggernacle.) We do our best to take responsibility for our lives, both in the here and now and in planning for the future.
Four years ago, my wife and I had the opportunity to hear Michelle Obama speak at a rally in North Carolina. She talked about how she and Barack only managed to finish paying off their student loans in 2004, as sales of Dreams From My Father started to take off. The President's also talked about this. Sitting in those bleachers back in May of 2008, listening to the future First Lady as we faced graduate school and having kids, we said to one another, "She and Barack get it. They know what we're going through. They're going to pursue policies that help young families who are just starting out." And so they have.
We Mormons are taught to take responsibility, to make choices that can lead to getting an education, to marriage, to children. Many of us are part of the 47%, and many of us are voting for President Obama, because we know he's got our backs.
PART TWO: MEASURING THE MAN
My thoughts in my first post were basically introductory to talking about specific issues; for my own sake as much as anything else I wanted to think through why there are conservatives and liberals within the Mormon camp and how there is room for both (for both government and church, for both progressives and traditionalists). New converts will bring their own backgrounds and beliefs with them when they join the Church—and we’re only talking about American Mormons in all this anyway—but I think that understanding the long history of Mormonism’s relationship with American politics can help us situate our current Mormon moment as it relates to Mitt Romney’s candidacy. So I was excited Thursday morning to see that another friend, Dan Wotherspoon, had posted a discussion on this exact subject on his podcast Mormon Matters, with a lot of people who are a lot more informed than I. It’s definitely worth a listen. If any readers were underwhelmed with my thoughts they’ll certainly be much more satisfied by the four gentlemen on the podcast.
So that was where I started, and in the rest of my posts I’ll look at specific issues that face our country and how my faith informs my beliefs about them. But what I hope to do today is look at what kind of political leaders I think the Lord wants us to have—and in a democracy what kind we should strive to elect—regardless of their specific platforms or the form of government in question. I guess I’m asking whether we should have specific moral standards for our public officials—if that’s even relevant—and then, to liken these standards unto ourselves, how Governor Romney and President Obama measure up. It’s a mixed bag and therefore I think a profitable discussion to have at this point in the campaign.
So what do the scriptures say? It makes sense to begin with Doctrine and Covenants 134, a statement of belief regarding the Church’s position on government, usually ascribed to Oliver Cowdery and written in Joseph Smith’s absence during a conference in 1835. This was when Mormons were first beginning to be seen as un-American because they allegedly sought to govern themselves autonomously, akin to South Carolina in the Nullification Crisis of two years earlier. Section 134 thus seeks to define what the Church believes to be the proper role of government and of religious societies, and it only briefly touches on the desired character of government officials: verse three reads: “We believe that all governments necessarily require civil officers and magistrates to enforce the laws of the same; and that such as will administer the law in equity and justice should be sought for and upheld by the voice of the people if a republic, or the will of the sovereign.” Hence, rulers and civil officers should be equitable and just, broad terms that encompass a trove of character traits: someone who is equitable and just must, perforce, be honest and forthright, which is one of my chief concerns with any elected official. Being equitable and just means regarding oneself as an equal to and a servant of the people: hence, not attempting to deceive the electorate or seek personal gain through position. It means seeking what is best for the country over a single political party, special interest group, or campaign donor. It means they will always put their country and their people ahead of themselves.
LDS readers may make the connection with Doctrine and Covenants 121, part of an epistle written by Joseph Smith three years later while languishing in prison, having been betrayed by some of his closest associates. He wrote that “it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion,” (v. 39) which, in civil as well as religious government, consists of undertaking to “cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness” (v. 37). Power corrupts, and it is a difficult task to find anyone who chooses to seek after civil authority for the public good yet who can remain untouched by the perks and power that accompany that authority. That’s why the Nephites “did wax strong in love towards Mosiah; yea, they did esteem him more than any other man” (Mos. 29:40) and why King George III described his rival General Washington as “the greatest man in the world”: both men relinquished the power they could have seized.
I think I can summarize all this into two qualities: one, honesty; and two, humility—perhaps the hardest qualities to find in politicians of any political stripe. In my mind these qualities mirror those described by King Mosiah in characterizing a righteous sovereign: “If it were possible that you could have just men to be your kings, who would establish the laws of God, and judge this people according to his commandments . . . then it would be expedient that ye should always have kings to rule over you” (Mos. 29:13). He holds up his father Benjamin as an example of this and says he himself has “labored with all the power and faculties” (v. 14) of his soul to reach the same standard. The scriptures give us numerous other examples of righteous rulers—Nephi, Alma, Helaman, Hezekiah, Lamoni, Josiah, Lachoneus, Emer, Melchizedek, Anti-Nephi-Lehi, Enoch—and even righteous bureaucrats and civil servants—Daniel, Nehemiah, Gideon, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, and Joseph in Egypt. The Book of Mormon’s oft-repeated promise about our continent—that if we keep the commandments we will prosper in the land—is personified in our executive leaders and their own humility; as Mosiah says, as the king goes so goes the nation (Mos. 29:16-23), and the national decline has visibly followed the moral decline of initially great leaders like David and Solomon, let alone the likes of King Noah, Jezebel, and Herod.
We want leaders who are righteous, but that’s hard to gauge. After all, when Samuel was looking for a king the Lord told him that only he could look on David’s heart (1 Sam. 16:7). But trying to look holistically into politicians’ hearts is a dodgy business, so on a very practical level I’m quite satisfied limiting my inquiry to candidates’ honesty and, when possible, perceived humility. The latter doesn’t change much from person to person—all candidates promote themselves with monumental bluster—but the former, honesty, does. James says that if a man misuses his tongue it defiles his whole body; though “a little member,” it can give us insight into a man’s entire soul (Jas. 3:5-8). I wouldn’t want to be judged exclusively on what leaves my mouth, but bearing in mind our limited time as voters and that we’re not judging someone for their eternal disposition but just for a few years in elected office we can look at what they say as a pretty accurate measure of the man.
I suppose I’m fairly stern about this. When I catch a politician issuing public lies then I lose all esteem for them. I really admired Anthony Weiner’s ability to destroy ignorant reporters and galvanize constituents around important issues, regardless of his strength as a legislator. But when he started producing feeble lies to cover his very public tracks, the respect went out the window; likewise there was no way I was going to vote to re-elect my representative Charles Rangel after his financial improprieties and factually flimsy self-defense. The national example par excellence is Watergate, with major instances going back through the Gulf of Tonkin all the way to the XYZ Affair, but my most personal experience came with Bill Clinton. In August 1998 I returned from my mission to discover the country embroiled by the President’s misdeeds, leading to his impeachment that December. I was surprised but not particularly moved by his sexual indiscretions; I thought it reprehensible on a personal level but largely irrelevant to his ability to govern. His perjury, however, was another matter. Though not naïve about the relative honesty of all politicians, I thought Clinton’s perjury so inexcusable that it turned me against Al Gore in 2000. I supported Gore’s positions in every way over George W. Bush, but in my post-mission zeal I thought he had handled the Lewinsky affair poorly: when the full breadth of Clinton’s perjury and obstruction of justice became known, the only honorable thing I thought Gore could do was to resign in protest—or at least condemn his boss in the strongest of terms. He did neither, and the result was that I voted for a Republican for one of the only times in my life. (Imagine how I later felt when that new President repeatedly lied about the infinitely weightier issue of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.)
And that brings me back to Mitt Romney. I mentioned last week how frustrated and even a little angry I get regarding his platform, but the thing that really ticks me off is his perpetual dishonesty, dishonesty that makes President Clinton look like Abraham Lincoln. I’m trying to broach this some way besides just as a blatant personal attack, because it’s important to remember what a good person Romney is. Eric Samuelsen, one of the best writers in Mormonism, one of my mentors at BYU, and one of the most liberal Mormons I know, touched on this on his blog in July:
I actually like Mitt Romney. In fact, one thing I'm grateful for in this fall election is that we're genuinely choosing between two moral, decent guys; family men, good folks. This isn't by any means inevitable. It's not terribly hard to imagine this election being between Newt Gingrich and John Edwards, for example. Scary thought, that.
I know we're not supposed to like Romney, we liberals… [But I don’t] see his policies as suggesting some core of rottenness in his character. He's a Mormon patriarch writ large. I know fifty of them in my stake. Call him Friday night and tell him you having a moving van arriving Saturday morning, and he'll be there, bright and early, work gloves tucked into his belt, a smile on his face.
This is a hypothetical testimonial; here’s a real one, courtesy of Glenn Beck. (Sorry it won't embed here on Wordpress. Feel free to start around 3:50 and end by 5:15, and as a filmmaker I really have to apologize for all those endless sea-sickness-inducing tracking shots; perhaps someone could donate a tripod to the show.)
If that’s the kind of person Mitt Romney is on a personal level, why is his public persona so different? He is, for example, just incredibly negative. All candidates have to differentiate themselves from their opponents, but Romney spearheaded the most negative primary election in the history of presidential politics. Clear back in January analysts in Florida, where he poured $15.3 million in one month on ads that were 92% negative, were saying things like, “I have absolutely never seen television advertising so negative in a Republican presidential primary.”
And it’s kept going of course, with all the force of Citizens United behind it. Mudslinging is unbecoming any candidate, and it is, of course, not Christlike in any way. Here’s a verse (6) from Doctrine & Covenants 134 that I don’t think I’d ever noticed before but which applies specifically to how we citizens should regard our government officials, of either party: “We believe that every man should be honored in his station, rulers and magistrates as such, being placed for the protection of the innocent and the punishment of the guilty; and that to the laws all men owe respect and deference, as without them peace and harmony would be supplanted by anarchy and terror; human laws being instituted for the express purpose of regulating our interests as individuals and nations…” Romney is certainly not honoring the station of the President through this fog of negativity, nor is he paying respect and deference to the laws like the Affordable Care Act that seem to be in his crosshairs. To be sure, President Obama has been dipping in the muck as well, but claims that his campaign are as negative as his opponent’s are more spin than fact.
This is all bad enough, but unfortunately it gets worse. Romney seems on track to run the least honest campaign in history as well. There’s Paul Ryan, of course, who’s blatant dishonesty has even drawn criticism from Fox News along with CNN and the traditional suspects, and who can’t even discuss his marathon running without including two lies, about the number of races he’s run and his finishing time, last week trying to clean up the mess by admitting that he just made up the facts. No harm in that, right?
Romney is not Ryan, but he is responsible for him and they’re running to be in the same administration. And Romney doesn’t need Ryan's help to dabble in dishonesty. There are the truly famous moments, like taking credit for how President Obama saved the auto industry despite the New York Times op-ed he wrote in 2008 unequivocally condemning government involvement, arguing instead for a “managed bankruptcy.” But there are smaller Etch-a-Sketch moments weaving their way throughout his campaign, on everything from abortion to global warming.
The sheer number of lies is unbecoming any candidate, but I'm afraid that it’s downright disgraceful for a priesthood holder; like I said last week, I'm afraid it's rather difficult to not subconsciously hold him up to a higher standard. But I don't even need to do that. In June The Guardian wrote up a laundry list of falsehoods emanating from Romney’s own lips, blaming the President for touring the world to apologize for America (not true), saying the stimulus didn’t create private-sector jobs (it did, over three million of them), saying Obama's grown government (both government spending and the number of government employees are down), saying he’s raised taxes (they’ve gone down), saying Obamacare will consume 50% of the economy (not true), etc., etc. The connections to reality become increasingly tenuous, with New York magazine even publishing an article entitled “Romney Just Making Stuff Up Now.” And that was before the RNC.
How bad is it? On Friday Steve Benen at MSNBC published the thirty-fourth installment in his series totaling up Romney’s weekly mendacities. This week Romney told at least thirty-six verifiably indisputable lies. His incredible change of position on healthcare reform—that he wouldn’t get rid of all of it, an Etch-a-Sketch move toward the center to pick up moderate voters—came not just after several years of claiming that he would get rid of all of it, but just one day after claiming on the record that he would get rid of all of it. This week he claimed he balanced Massachusetts’ budget even though he left the state with a deficit. This week he said the federal deficit has doubled under Obama when it’s actually shrunk by $200 billion. And so on and so on, just this week.
The amazing thing is that Romney continues to hammer away at the same falsehoods, despite their obvious inaccuracy, over and over again. This is supposedly on the theory that if enough voters hear the same lies repeated on Fox News and conservative radio enough, the facts won’t matter: hence, his campaign will not be dictated by fact checkers. And it’s this point, quoted here from the Guardian article but raised by many commentators, that I as a Latter-day Saint observing another Latter-day Saint candidate, find the most unsettling:
This is perhaps the most interesting and disturbing element of Romney's tireless obfuscation: that even when corrected, it has little impact on the presumptive GOP nominee's behavior. This is happening at a time when fact-checking operations in major media outlets have increased significantly, yet that appears to have no effect on the Romney campaign.
What is the proper response when, even after it's pointed out that the candidate is not telling the truth, he keeps doing it? Romney actually has a telling rejoinder for this. When a reporter challenged his oft-stated assertion that President Obama had made the economy worse (factually, not correct), he denied ever saying it in the first place. It's a lie on top of a lie.
Do you remember that old Homefront Jr. spot, a Church-produced PSA from the 1980s that sang, “If you tell one lie it leads to another. Then you tell two lies to cover each other. Then you tell three lies—oh brother, you’re in trouble up to your ears.”
If I as a Latter-day Saint refused, on moral grounds, to vote for a candidate who served as the vice-president for a man who got caught telling one admittedly horrendous lie, how can I possibly justify voting for a man who himself told thirty-six equally horrendous lies just this week, many of them again and again and again? Reporters like George Stephanopoulos have given him ample opportunity to repent and come clean, but he refuses to do it. “Thou shalt not lie; he that lieth and will not repent shall be cast out” (D&C 42:21), not elected to the highest office in the land.
I haven’t even talked about avoiding the very appearance of evil. By only releasing one set of tax returns Romney leaves the door open for us to assume the worst about the rest of them. As one outlet, I forget which, wrote a few weeks ago: “It’s a pattern of secrecy, and this [the Boston Globe’s revelation that Romney was still actively running Bain Capital two years after he claims to have left] is just the latest example of him trying to hide the truth from voters.”
And then there’s Libya. The gall Romney had on September 11th, to use the death of American diplomats abroad to score a political point, was affronting. The fact that he misrepresented the truth in a way that everyone understood when he made the statement that night was more jarring. That he and his campaign have doubled down on the lies throughout the rest of this week is truly affronting. Andrew Sullivan at the Daily Beast analyzed Romney’s statement with its inaccuracies and concluded:
[Romney’s] people are simply unfit for the responsibility of running the United States. The knee-jerk judgments, based on ideology not reality; the inability to back down when you have said something obviously wrong; and the attempt to argue that the president of the US actually sympathized with those who murdered his own ambassador in Benghazi: these are disqualifying instincts for someone hoping to be the president of the US. Disqualifying.
Maybe, maybe not, but it’s certainly troubling. The photo of Romney leaving the dais with a smile on his face didn’t do him any favors. When Captain Moroni’s men were suffering abroad, the chief judge Pahoran wrote him saying, “I do not joy in your great afflictions, yea, it grieves my soul. But behold, there are those who do joy in your afflictions . . . and it is those who have sought to take away the judgment-seat from me . . . for they have used great flattery, and they have led away the hearts of many people…” (Alma 60:2-4) Now, of course Romney doesn’t joy in the death of Chris Stevens and the other American diplomats, but he’s given us no way to know that or reason to suspect it.
Contrast this situation with 1980, when President Carter’s attempt to free the American hostages in Iran went horribly wrong. As reported then, candidate Ronald Reagan “urged Americans to ‘stand united’ and to pray . . . He also said it would not be appropriate for him to express his reaction to the action. ‘This is the time for us as a nation and a people to stand united.’ George Bush was also campaigning in Michigan, saying he completely supported Carter’s actions. ‘I unequivocally support the president, no ifs, ands or buts. This is the time to support him,’ Bush said. ‘This is not a time to go one up politically. He made a difficult, courageous decision.’”
Hillary Clinton gave a moving and forceful response to the Libyan and Egyptian attacks, akin to these men in 1980. Romney, in contrast, gave a mean-spirited and fallacious attack on President Obama for events beyond his control, then hunkered down this week by saying the attacks would never have occurred were he President and his Republican allies in control of the State Department. Honest? No. Humble? No.
Such assertions sound like the “great flattery” described by Pahoran, or those used by Amalickiah (Alma 46:4-5), or by Akish (Ether 8) or Gadianton (Helaman 2). I do not and cannot believe that Mitt Romney is anything like these men. I believe the descriptions we’ve heard of his deep concern for people, his kindness, his charity in the best sense of the word. What I can’t yet do is square that private individual away with this public figure who we’ve seen so smoothly and consistently bend the truth for his personal ends. Of course he’s not evil, but he hasn’t sufficiently avoided the appearance thereof to gain my trust or my vote. And I really wish that the LDS candidate would have set the standard for excellence. I feel America is in better hands with the President who has consistently treated us like adults, expanded executive transparency, and who is already navigating us through these crises.
Next, given the events of this week, foreign policy.
Matt Taibbi recently wrote an article for Rolling Stone magazine all about Mitt Romney and his time at Bain Capital. As has been well documented that Romney founded the private equity firm in 1984, and ended up making a fortune for his efforts. The article, Greed and Debt: The True Story of Bain Capital, gives some detail into how Bain operated, and sheds light on as to why even conservatives like Rick Perry referred to their business model as “vulture capitalism.” While Taibbi clearly does not provide an impartial analysis, the piece does provide some interesting insight.
So how did Romney and his friends at Bain make millions? I’ll try to explain it briefly, but bare with me, it is not only a little complicated, but mind-bogglingly crazy. Basically, Bain would put up some amount of their own money, say $5 million, and then borrow another $300 million or so from a bank to purchase a struggling company. The target company’s chief officers would receive large bonuses for selling, and Bain would get a controlling stake. The company, now saddled with the $300 million dollar debt (why that is fair I can’t tell you), would be forced to pay millions in management fees for Bain’s recommendations about how to dig out of the hole they now found themselves in – which usually involved ‘reducing costs’, aka, firing workers and cutting benefits.
Romney and friends would also make money by giving themselves bonuses paid for by the company. Termed “dividend recapitalization,” it basically amounted to giving your self a bonus with someone else’s credit card. For example, after buying KB Toys in 2000 with $18 of its own money, and $302 million in borrowed funds, Bain induced the company to redeem $121 million in stock and take out more than $66 million in bank loans – $83 million of which went directly into the pockets of Bain's owners and investors, including Romney. KB later went bankrupt and people who had worked there for decades didn’t even get one day of severance pay.
Not a bad deal. If the company rebounds Romney gets paid. If the company goes bust, Romney gets paid. And if that company went bust from the burden of a debt it didn’t create, and everyone who works there gets fired and looses their benefits, well that’s capitalism – Romney style.
Not mentioned in Taibbi’s piece, but also interesting, are Romney’s connections with investors who were directly linked to Salvadoran death squads in the 1980s. Having difficulty attracting sufficient initial investment capital, Romney traveled to Miami in 1984 to meet with Salvadoran exile families, a number of which had direct links to death squads committing atrocities during El Salvador’s brutal civil war. Bain received some 40% of its initial investments from the parties in question, which Romney/Bain now admit were linked to death squads. Romney’s defense is simply that Bain checked them out, but no red flags came up. But according to the U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador, Robert White, “The Salaverria family (which invested heavily in Bain) [were] very well-known as backers of D’Aubuisson. These guys were big-money contributors...They were total backers of D’Aubuisson and the extremist solution, including death squads."
Granted, it is impossible to know everything about the people you do business with, but when family members and close associates of your business partners are well-known in their home country for their ties to paramilitary groups, to suggest Bain carefully checked them out, or checked them out but found nothing, is suspicious at best.
Is any of this illegal? No it is not, just as stashing your fortune in off-shore bank accounts to avoid paying taxes is legal, which Romney also freely acknowledges he does. The question is not whether or not Romney committed crimes amassing his fortune; rather the question has to do with what these facts say about Romney’s character, as well as his views about what is or is not a moral way to make money.
Romney is shrewd, I will give him that. He found out how to make millions loading up companies with debt, paying off their executives, and letting others [the employees] deal with the consequences. But this election I am looking for something more than just clever. How about you?
PART ONE: THE LONG VIEW
I casually started watching Mitt Romney’s career over a decade before I ever heard of anyone named Barack Obama. My oldest brother was his son Tagg’s roommate at BYU, then a trip to Boston to work on his ‘94 Senate campaign connected him with his wife-to-be, then Mitt swooped into my native Utah to save our Winter Olympics, then another sister-in-law became his speech writer as governor in Boston. At first, circa 1993, it was cool to have these connections with someone so famous and, frankly, rich, and I suppose I was even a little proud to see a Mormon challenge a politician as powerful as Ted Kennedy. In a way Church members like Mitt made us feel like we’d arrived on the national scene.
By the time he gained the Massachusetts governorship, however, I myself had matured and I’d learned a lot more about Romney’s views, leaving me apathetic at best about his single term in the corner office—with the exception of the Massachusetts health care reform law, which I saw as a shining example of bipartisan cooperation to achieve a much needed goal, one that I thought needed to be repeated on the national stage—and that deeply reflected my religious beliefs. But after not even attempting a re-election, Romney started his gradual shift to the right and I became increasingly critical and frankly skeptical of his beliefs, which seemed to be changing with the whims of the extreme faction of his party. As he shifted so did I: I became embarrassed and ashamed then eventually a little bit angry. When people learn I’m LDS the last thing I want them to do is equate me with the far right agenda that Romney has worked hard to embrace.
The thing is, I think I hold Romney up to a higher standard than most politicians. I don’t mean to, I consciously try not to, but it’s hard when he’s one of us. He’s the most-recognized face of my religion and hence he’s a surrogate for each of us Mormons, a symbol, supposedly, of what we believe and stand for. I realize he shouldn’t be and that it’s not fair for us Latter-day Saints or the nation at large to put him in that position, and heaven knows he’s tried with all his might to disassociate himself from the Church. But that’s just where he is, and it would only increase exponentially were he to win the White House. So because he’s become this public face of Mormon belief yet I disagree so strongly with essentially all of his positions—and on religious grounds, at that—I’ve been searching around for ways to explain the difference between what I believe and, from what I can tell, what Mitt Romney believes. I’m grateful to Joseph here at Mormons for Obama to give me a little opportunity to do that.
What I hope to do is write a short series of posts about why my religious beliefs as a Mormon lead me to support the Democratic Party in general and President Obama in particular, and why they cause me to generally reject the Republican Party in general and Governor Romney in particular. I know it’s a fool’s errand to attempt to persuade my conservative LDS friends and family members to join me on the Light Side, but what I want to do, as has been stated many times on this website and by organizations like Utah’s LDS Democratic caucus, is to add my voice and give insight into why I, as a Latter-day Saint, disagree with a majority of my fellow Church members and choose to embrace a progressive political agenda; to help show there is a diversity of opinion within Mormonism that is only going to continue growing as converts keep coming from different walks of life.
In undertaking a task like this I’m obviously not alone. We’ve seen a real upswing of Mormon Democrats adding their voice to the national discourse over the past four or five years; as has been pointed out by people like Joanna Brooks, it's generally the progressive Mormons that the news media is turning to for explanations of the faith, and news coverage of last Tuesday’s meeting of Mormon Democrats in Charlotte shows that progressive Mormons are often more interesting to outsiders than their conservative counterparts. Since all these Mormon Democrats have discussed their political beliefs with eloquence and gusto, I’d like to take a slightly different tact and instead discuss my religious beliefs. My thesis, I suppose, comes from Harry Reid, who first said in a 2007 BYU forum address (a pdf), “My faith and political beliefs are deeply intertwined. I am a Democrat because I am a Mormon, not in spite of it,” an assertion he repeated this week in North Carolina.
I’m also a Democrat because I’m a Mormon, but what does that mean for me personally? On my mission I was fond of misquoting Marx to claim that politics is the opiate of the people. My thought was that people were too focused on the temporal and passing issues du jour—what Ecclesiastes repeatedly calls “divers vanities” (5:7), and which John Bunyan in his 1678 novel The Pilgrims Progress described as a “Vanity Fair,” a place where the faithful are tempted to leave the path of progress to dally in the passing issues of the world (heaven knows why anyone would name a magazine after such a fleshpot). Thus I thought the politically consumed were neglecting the weightier matters of the law, limiting their vision to a myopic moment in the spectrum of eternity. There’s still a lot of weight to that argument, I believe; after all, Neal A. Maxwell said the plan of salvation “is a most stunning example of the precious perspective of the gospel of Jesus Christ”; it widens your view to the things of eternity over the cares of the day. But after my mission I began to increasingly notice the claims that all truth can be brought together into one great whole and quotes like Brigham Young’s claim that “Mormonism . . . embraces every principle pertaining to life . . . no matter who has it. . . . There is no truth but what belongs to the Gospel.” Such truth would surely include political truth. I also became aware that if God, though above politics, was intimately interested in the intricacies of our lives, then how we govern our nations and communities would be included in that—D&C 134, Mosiah 29, and the common LDS belief that America’s founding fathers were divinely directed (i.e. 1 Nephi 13) evidenced that. So, even though I’d always been inclined toward the Democratic Party, as I allowed my political beliefs to solidify out of what I believe about God, Jesus Christ, the scriptures, and the plan of salvation, I found myself aligning firmly with that party. Not always, but usually.
The epic caveat to all this, of course, is that God is neither a Democrat nor a Republican, and he favors neither Democrats nor Republicans. God is not progressive or conservative; he’s not a monarchist or a socialist or a capitalist or a Marxist or a Tory or a Whig or a Bull Moose. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa. 55:8-9). The work of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent no matter who is king, chief judge, president, or prime minister. I think any discussion of Mormonism and politics needs to begin—and perhaps end—with Hugh Nibley’s 1973 speech “Beyond Politics.” I’d love to reprint the whole thing (please read it!), but here’s the most pertinent passage for what I’m talking about and what I hope to do in my subsequent posts:
“The wide difference, amounting to complete antithesis, between men's ways and God's ways should always be kept in mind. If we would remember that fact, it would save us from a pitfall that constantly lies before us—especially here at Brigham Young University. Nothing is easier than to identify one's own favorite political, economic, historical, and moral convictions with the gospel. That gives one a neat, convenient, but altogether too easy advantage over one's fellows. If my ideas are the true ones—and I certainly will not entertain them if I suspect for a moment that they are false!—then, all truth being one, they are also the gospel, and to oppose them is to play the role of Satan. This is simply insisting that our way is God's way, and therefore the only way. It is the height of impertinence. `There have been frauds and secret abominations and evil works of darkness going on [in the church], . . . all the time palming it off upon the Presidency, . . . practicing in the Church in their name.’ Do you think these people were not sincere? Yes, to the point of fanaticism—they wholly identified their crackpot schemes with the church and with the gospel. Some of the most learned theologians, such as Bossuet, have shown from every page of the scripture that God is an absolute monarchist, while others, equally learned and dedicated, have formed religious communities dedicated to the equally obvious scriptural proposition that the Saints are Communists. You can search through the scriptures and find support for any theory you want, and it is your privilege to attempt to convince yourself of any position you choose to take—but not to impose that opinion on others as the gospel. God certainly does not subscribe to our political creeds. The first issue of the Times and Seasons contained a lead editorial to the elders: ‘Be careful that you teach not for the word of God, the commandments of men, nor the doctrines of men nor the ordinances of men; . . . study the word of God and preach it, and not your opinions, for no man's opinion is worth a straw.’”
With that warning in mind and before jumping in (in my subsequent posts) to how the scriptures have led me to believe what I believe politically, let me just add with a few thoughts about how I see Mormonism as positioned between conservatism and progressivism (so hopefully we can all get along!).
Taking the long view, I think it’s helpful to remember where our political terminology comes from. I remember learning in high school that the terms right and left are simply relics of the French Revolution, when members of the National Assembly randomly divided themselves on the right (monarchist) and left (revolutionary) sides of the room in order to hear themselves over their opponents’ shouts. I like the terms conservative and progressive (rather than liberal) because they better connote the desires of people who thus self-identify. Conservatives want to conserve, they want to retain what they or their country had in the past: traditional values, traditional ways of doing things. They look back to a lost time when life was better, people were happier, and their beliefs were not under attack from new ideas. Their goal is to deliver society out of its contemporary morass by making the future more like the past. Progressives, on the other hand, look forward; they want to progress. They see the past with all its warts and want to create a future that is more just, pleasant, and egalitarian than anything we’ve seen before. Conservatives look back to a paradise lost, progressives forward to a coming utopia.
Where do Latter-day Saints sit? I think the tenth Article of Faith puts us right in the middle: “We believe in the literal gathering of Israel and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes; that Zion (the New Jerusalem) will be built upon the American continent; that Christ will reign personally upon the earth; and, that the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory.” We look back to Adam and Eve and the earth before the fall, Israel before its apostasy, Zion before it was taken to heaven, and we want to regain that state; we believe that Christ’s atonement was specifically planned before the earth’s creation to achieve that. But we also look forward to Christ’s second coming, when the glories of the new Jerusalem will surpass those of the old—or even of Enoch’s city—and the renewing of the earth as it fulfills the measure of its law and transforms into the Celestial Kingdom. We look back to the prophets but forward to their prophecies’ fulfillment. We trace back our ancestors and our priesthood authority, but do it to bless our children and those who come after us. Our past physical bodies, a great gift, will be renewed and perfected in the resurrection.We will go back into God's presence but with the new stature as exalted beings ourselves. Basically, we want to conserve all that the gospel has given us as we progress toward the millennium. Remembering this can help us see beyond immigration policy to the greater vision Elder Maxwell was talking about.
But we still live here in mortality, it’s still a fallen world, and immigration policy still needs to be addressed. I’m grateful to live in a country that guarantees me the right to freely exercise my religion and to belong to a church that allows all men the same privilege, to worship how, where, or what they may—and encourages me to exercise my franchise and be involved in my community and the political process. I greatly appreciate Church leaders’ oft-repeated declarations of political neutrality and, like I said, I’m gratified that one result of Mitt Romney’s campaign has been to shine a light on the breadth of Mormon political belief.
But why are so many American Latter-day Saints, especially multi-generational Latter-day Saints, politically conservative? (74% compared to 17% liberal, according to this year’s much-discussed Pew Forum survey.) We should let them speak for themselves, of course, but I think I understand some of the causes.
Reason #1: Agency. Conventional wisdom is that early Mormon converts, often New Englanders transplanted to the antebellum frontier, tended to vote in a bloc—hence the Gallatin Election Day Battle in 1838, for instance—and that nearly all Mormons in nineteenth-century Utah supported the People’s Party, essentially an arm of the Church itself. When this was disbanded during the Great Accommodation of the 1890s and Church members were encouraged—and often assigned—to join the two national parties, there was a great amount of resistance to Mormons becoming Republicans; it had, after all, been the Republican Party that had spearheaded the campaign against polygamy and refused Utah statehood for so many decades. But I can also see how the Republican platform would appeal to Utahns from that time, particularly in its evolving emphasis on states’ rights over a strong federal authority: local self-determination had, after all, been the rallying cry of Mormons since the first mobs pushed them out of their homes in the east—and it certainly reflected how they felt about anti-polygamy legislation and Washington-appointed governors and judges in Utah territory. In other words, in all of this, the distant federal authorities were seeking to restrict the populace’s God-given agency, a right they saw as guaranteed in both scripture and the Constitution. If they chose to live polygamously, or follow a prophet over a legislature, or work communally instead of individually, then the government had no right to limit their belief or religious practices, just like it couldn’t for Abinadi, Alma the Elder, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, or Abednego. Political self-determination merely protects individual agency, and if the anti-polygamy raid didn’t cement this belief, by the Cold War it was easy for Mormons to see any government that limited agency as either wrongheaded or inherently evil. Communist countries exemplified this, making it easy for Mormons to gradually migrate to the right.
Reason #2: Fiscal self-sufficiency. Mormons’ nineteenth-century collectivism was, by the Great Depression, replaced by a sense of fiscal propriety, of living within one’s means. The Church’s welfare program, launched as something of a response to the New Deal, still included the value of caring for one’s neighbor, but it also emphasized maintaining a house of fiscal propriety free from debt or speculation. Financially strained Church members were to rely on family first, Church second, and government welfare only as a last resort. Work was “to be re-enthroned as the ruling principle” of Mormons’ lives. “But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.” (1 Tim. 5:8) There were at least two results from this: first, reliance upon government assistance for any reason became a sign of weakness or infidelity—or at least poor judgment—and, second, Church members extrapolated the Church’s advice on personal finance, specifically to avoid borrowing and deficit spending, to government finance as well.
Reason #3: Social issues. My friend Boyd Peterson, whose 2009 article “Why I’m a Mormon Democrat” is another must-read, summarized this well on NPR’s Tell Me More on Thursday. After talking about Utah’s pluralistic political atmosphere of the 1960s and 70s (with a Democratic governor and congressmen) he said, “It’s interesting that we’ve [since] become so closely identified to the Republican Party. I think a lot of that has to do with the social issues that have come to the floor recently that have been so divisive, from the women’s rights movement of the 70s on through abortion and now gay marriage. I think those kinds of issues have polarized the electorate and the two parties in ways that have kind of influenced the way the Church members have seen it.” It was difficult for Mormons to affiliate with a party that supported the Equal Rights Amendment, for instance, when their church so strongly opposed it.
There’s more to it than that, of course, but those three reasons help me as a progressive understand how so many of my friends support a political party that I otherwise find so foreign to my beliefs. But there’s a flip side to the coin. While Mormons were developing their vehement dislike of government authority in the 1800s, so too grew their belief in centrally organized communal industry under the leadership of Brigham Young and John Taylor. The Great Basin Kingdom that Leonard Arrington describes so intricately in his 1958 book was, he believed, the predecessor and model of the New Deal. As he says in the preface, “[This book] may be said to suggest the positive role which a government, whether secular or theocratic, if sufficiently strong, can play in the building of a commonwealth.” Or, as LDS historian Ronald Walker says in his new introduction, “During a time of New Deal and Fair Deal reform, the Mormon Kingdom was a concrete, practical example of what government central planning could be” (p. xx). It persevered as the last manifestation of Jacksonian democratic ideals while the rest of the nation fell under the spell of capitalist industrialists and robber barons. (My friend Roger Terry wrote an interesting comparison to early Americans’ view of private corporations in Thursday’s Deseret News.) Indeed, Arrington's book shows it wasn’t polygamy but rather this centralized planning and communal social safety net that Americans rejected most strongly in the 1800s, and it would have to be overcome before Utah could gain statehood. Great Basin Kingdom reads like an autopsy of the early progressive Mormon ideals; as their communal industries died out one by one, the stage was set for capitalist expansion in Utah, through mining and other industries, akin to the rest of the country. For better or worse, Deseret—symbolized by the communal hive—disappeared as Utah joined the Union.
But for Mormons who retained a memory of this isolated period, Christ’s call to be our brothers’ keeper trumped any qualms about a large activist government, federal authority, or deficit spending. This is exactly what prominent Mormon Democrat James H. Moyle, an assistant Cabinet member for both Presidents Wilson and Roosevelt, said in a memo on Mormonism requested by FDR in the 1930s (as reported by a young Gordon B. Hinckley in his 1951 biography of Moyle). More recently, at the meeting in Charlotte this week, Robert Cooper said, “I feel there’s a big-tent approach, helping those who are disadvantaged. If you look at economics, Mormons take good care of themselves. We give ten percent of our income to the Church, in addition to a monthly donation. So a lot of Mormons say that’s not the role of government. But not everyone has that support structure. That’s one of the roles of government, to help those who don’t have that support structure. A lot of people don’t have what we have.”
I’ll explore these issues in greater depth, but Cooper's statement is a cogent summary of why many Mormons support the Democratic platform despite its obvious flaws. Along with churches, charities, and individuals, government can often be part of the solution to society’s problems; in fact, because the federal government is as large as it is and has the authority it has, it can almost universally be a greater part of the solution than any other organization. The Church is amazing in its humanitarian programs, disaster relief, and myriad other efforts—and I’ve been a grateful beneficiary of it—but it cannot revitalize infrastructure, ensure healthcare, repair environmental disasters, regulate industry, protect our food supply, deliver our mail, run our public schools, provide police and national defense, care for the poor, or do most of the other things the government does to the extent that government can do it. With all the problems facing us today, there is room for both. Next I hope to get into some more specifics about President Obama and Governor Romney as individuals and why I think the former remains the better leader for our country.
The DNC is over; it is like saying goodbye to a good friend. But before I say how much I love and respect President Obama, and how inspired I felt listening to him speak Thursday night - "like General Conference come early," (if I can be egotistical enough to quote my own tweet,) and how I felt like his speech renewed hope for America and brushed aside the RNC's mockery and derisive comments of Obama's call for change, like chaff driven before the wind - before I say all of that, I have a couple of complaints to make.
But don't close your browser - it is not what you think. I realize that some might have found the tone of the DNC to be too harsh and critical, like this blogger at 1MormonDemocrat, but that's not what I'm complaining about. (I took a bit of a drubbing for my "I like Mitt" post from several days back, so I have no interest in being "nice" and getting more feedback like that.) My problem with the DNC is: WHAT WAS WRONG WITH THE CAMERAMEN? Did anyone noticed how the side view cameras started shaking anytime they panned back from the speaker? It felt like one of the Bourne films, or even worse, that some Republican-leaning small business was trying to sabotage the DNC. Additionally, the camera seemed to find their audience pan shots at the most inopportune times: when a woman was rubbing her nose, or a child was biting his nails, or Michelle was talking to the Castro Wonder Twins, not paying attention at all. And some of the cuts to the audience were so quick, I was constantly wondering if there wasn't some subliminal advertising in there. That said, they seemed to have it figured out by President Obama's speech on Thursday night.
But back to the other speakers: John Kerry and Joe Biden unleashed a flurry of attacks on Mitt Romney and the Republicans. (Ask Osama Bin Laden if he is better off now than four years ago!) and (I found it fascinating last week — when Governor Romney said, that as President, he’d take a jobs tour. Well with all his support for outsourcing — it’s going to have to be a foreign trip.)
But the prize of the night was hearing our President spell out what four more years would look like. And I dare not comment too much on his near perfect oratory excellence. Instead, I will just be lazy and post the whole thing here:
In a post script to Thurdsday night, we all woke up Friday morning to some stagnant job numbers; this proved a brisk cup of coffee for the Romney campaign: "If last night was the party, this morning is the hangover." (He probably should have said "this morning is the withdrawal," because we are all missing the DNC a lot.) Regardless, I love it when we Mormons make drinking analogies - I mean, it's the one thing we know so much about. Romney might also have been rumored to say, "Obama's jobs plan is about as effective as giving a cup of sacramental wine to an inebriate," and "the Obama stimulus had money bouncing wildly around the country like a game of beer pong," and finally, "what was in that glass anyway?" And so the campaign continues.
President Obama may get a bump in the polls after three days of great speeches (that actually talked about the President, rather than one's self,) but at this point America is just sitting around waiting for the debates: the two men together on stage with no pesky barriers between them - having to answer each other's claims face to face - without Twitter, Fox News, or Cutter and Priebus to answer for them. (And based on Thursday night, I think Obama is going to do just fine.)
Post by Joseph M -
Bill Clinton spoke truth this evening; the mists of darkness that covered the land have dispersed and scattered, and America's collective memory of last week's confusion and half-truths (and even lies) at the RNC has cleared. Clinton solidly reviewed and dismissed the misinformation from the RNC speakers, and he highlighted Obama's record in so many areas. View the speech or read the transcript, if you have not already. By the way, the pundits keep referring to policy wonk, and they're saying that Clinton's speech was full of it. Can I admit that I am already tired of the word, "wonk?" When Romney or Ryan say wonk or wonky, it seems like a desperate attempt to sound cool, but it's completely uncool instead. However, Bill Clinton took cool into the 21st century: he had swag. Paul Adams tweeted: "Usually they tell you not to cram in too many statistics. Different rules apply to Bill Clinton. He makes them sing."
But beyond the wonk or the wonky, Bill Clinton gave us inspiration like this:
"Now -- but he has -- he has laid the foundations for a new, modern, successful economy of shared prosperity. And if you will renew the president’s contract, you will feel it. You will feel it. Folks, whether the American people believe what I just said or not may be the whole election. I just want you to know that I believe it. With all my heart, I believe it."
This doesn't bode well for Romney and Ryan. President Clinton has given President Obama a load of talking points to take to the debates and every campaign rally from here until November. (And FINALLY we even heard about the proposed cuts to Medicaid!) Having watched three days of the RNC, I am surprised by the tepid drone of the Republican speakers compared to what I have seen in just two days of the DNC. (I am biased here?) I don't think so - check out this article from Smart Politics that reports that Michelle Obama's DNC speech was seven grade levels higher than Ann Romney's. This also is fascinating because Michelle Obama's speech was "written at a higher grade level than all but 11 of the 70 orally delivered State of the Union addresses delivered since 1934." Of course, the Democrats have an advantage because their convention was held a week after the RNC, but more than that: they have the lucky benefit that Truth is back in style and trending on Twitter this week.
And we Mormons are taking to the internet, (Twitter and Facebook), our phones, and even to the streets (of Charlotte NC!) to make clear our message: we are Mormons, and we are voting for Barack Obama for a second term. (See our previous post for links to news articles about the Mormon Democrat gathering in Charlotte.) This article from the Las Vegas Sun may have misunderstood a portion of our purpose when it wrote, "having a Mormon candidate at the top of the Republican ticket will only make it that much more difficult for Democrats hoping to win over the Mormon vote this year. But some felt that even if winning over LDS voters was a longshot, the political circumstances make it worth trying."
You see, Mormons have voted for the Republican ticket in high numbers for some time, and having a LDS candidate doesn't necessarily change that. Besides, change, as Bill Clinton aptly pointed out tonight, is a "long, hard road," and each of us will find our own way. (I haven't always voted Democrat, and neither have many Mormon Obama supporters.) So our goals are beyond convincing other Mormons to vote for Obama - (seriously now) - but we aim to add our unique voices to the wealth of diversity of those supporting President Obama; we understand that we are breaking from the expected, the norm, or even the stereotype. However, this also is part of why we hope to make ourselves heard - and to find strength from one another, because we are "all in this together," and we are not "on (our) own."
With so many reasons to vote for Obama this November, (and thank you Pres. Clinton for spelling it out so clearly,) we Mormons also feel to press forward and do what we can to get him that second term. In this regard, Bill Clinton asked this question during his address: "Are you willing to work for it?" We answer with the delegates at the Charlotte convention: "Four more years!"
Read Hannah's post here to find out how you can get involved.
The DNC will begin tomorrow, and President Obama will have his moment on the stage to highlight his accomplishments of the past four years and his plan for the next four. But I would like to reflect back on Mitt Romney's acceptance speech; a lot has been made of this "Mormon moment," and Thursday night at the RNC in Tampa finally visited the source of this attention on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Because without Mitt Romney, the Church would not be in the spotlight as much as we've seen in the past year. (A day hasn't gone by without a new articles appearing about Mormons, their faith, their practices, their doctrines, and even their unauthorized Broadway musicals.)
So the Romney team finally decided to focus on the governor's service in church by featuring, as speakers, one of his counselors and three members of his Massachusetts ward while he was Bishop. The RNC delegates were clearly moved by their talks, and the panning cameras caught more than a few people shedding tears. Of course, this led David Brooks and Mark Shields, who have been co-hosting the RNC with Judy Woodruff and Gwen Ifill for the PBS Newshour, to ponder as to why we haven't seen these folks on campaign ads for months now. They went on to declare this a missed opportunity for the Romney campaign and termed it, "campaign malpractice."
I was also deeply moved by their talks and what these "character witnesses" had to say. They reminded me of the difficulty of the calling of a bishop, and the number of bishops who have personally blessed my life in the past. I am grateful for the countless opportunities for service within the Church, and the resulting blessings that come from the work of the gospel. Additionally, I feel confident that Mitt Romney was a great bishop, and I acknowledge that he is a man of compassion and faith. President Obama said,“I think he takes his faith very seriously. And as somebody who takes my Christian faith seriously, I appreciate that he seems to walk the walk and not just be talking the talk when it comes to his participation in his church.”
So Mitt Romney addressed the convention, and he returned to the themes of the week: job creation, a strong military, help for the middle class, and he continued to push the message of Obama's leadership as faded hope and glory and a series of broken promises. He also continued the work of telling his story - relating the history of his father's rise to politics, his time at Bain, and his experience of serving in his church community. As he ended his speech, the crowd took to their feet, the balloons and confetti dropped, and his and Paul Ryan's families joined them on stage - and I sat back and thought, "they look so Mormon!" (And trust me, this was a good thing!)
While I do not agree with Romney, and I will be voting for Obama this November, I do pause and reflect on the magnitude of this Morment moment. Of course, I would rather us Mormons not receive all of this exposure; I love my church, and I find it hard to hear some of the negativity that has come our way during this election cycle. However, with Mitt Romney receiving the Republican nomination, many in America have now heard our collective Mormon voices. And I hope that our small efforts at this website, the Facebook group, and national organizing might also have been a portion of this. We Mormons are a part of the American story; we believe in Christ, and we believe strongly.
When we first had the idea of creating this website to represent Mormons who support Obama, I spoke to a friend about it, and he commented, "that is a big responsibility." This increased my anxiety for what we were setting out to do. And so much more for any man that runs for president: he represents this country and will be linked to our national identity. In that same vein, Governor Romney, whether we like it or not, has been the face of our church for some months now, and he will also be forever connected with the nation's view of Mormonism. For that, I honor and respect him and his family. Whether he wins or loses in 2012, I wish him success, and I trust that he will honorably serve (whether his community, nation, or church,) and for this I am thankful.
We've found new friends! Catholics Democrats are following us on Twitter - and we in turn are following them! Please check out their website here - and notice the bannerhead "Catholics for Obama." Also read this article here that details their efforts.
When you find a new friend it is usually because you both have something in common - and I mean something beyond the Blake Edward's film, Breakfast at Tiffany's, although for some people that's enough to keep a relationship together. I read this week that Mitt Romney has a penchant for Cherry Coke Zero and McDonald's pancakes, and I was floored because those (and brown paper packages) are two of my favorite things as well. So now, beyond our common religious affiliation, Romney and I share Cherry Zero and MacDoughs, and this is no small thing for me... especially because I'm trying to distance myself from Romney as the election draws closer.
But I am moving forward. And to further this effort, I am giving up Cherry Zero until the election (and I hardly eat McDonald's pancakes anyway; you have to be there by 11 am on Saturday before the switch to lunch, and that is way too early.) So instead, I am taking up Obama's favorite drink, which is... oh wait... black forest berry iced tea. That might pose a problem.
Well, no matter - I found 50 Facts You Might Not Know About Obama, and I've already discovered 8 things we have in common:
1) I have read every Harry Potter book also (and then turned around and listened to them all on CD.)
2) I too have eaten dog, snake, and grasshoppers - and found them all to taste like meat.
3) I sometimes try to write with my left hand (when disguising my handwriting for ransom notes.)
4) I also like Casablanca and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (but edited for television only.)
5) I like Scrabble too. (Qat is my favorite word, because I don't like u.)
6) Like Obama, I don't drink coffee and rarely drink alcohol (only in cough syrup and desserts - but mostly it cooks out.)
7) I've read the dedication page for Moby Dick; (it's written for Nathaniel Hawthorne - before Nathaniel unfriended Herman on Facebook for posting too much political stuff.)
8) The Wire.
And I will add one more thing to my list that wasn't included in the article: Me and the President will be voting for the same candidate in November. That is some common ground to start from.
I am so happy that all this back and forth between the two Mormon political super-celebs (Mitt Romney and Harry Reid) officially ended today when Romney finally announced that after thumbing through his old tax forms, he discovered that he'd "never paid less than 13%" during the past ten years. He went on to report, "I think the most recent year is 13.6 or something like that." I say it's over because Reid, as far as I can tell, has not volleyed back at him yet.
But let me back up to the beginning and explain how this all went down: it started with a simple sit-down interview between Reid and the Huffington Post and turned into a three-week-long brawl between the two most recognizable Mormons in the American political arena. This battle is worthy of Brigham Young and Orson Pratt back in the day - only unlike Brigham, Reid hasn't told any of Romney's wives to divorce him yet; (one can only speculate what a fast and testimony meeting might look like with both of these men in attendance.)
In the interview, Harry Reid speculated that Mitt Romney didn't pay taxes for the ten years that he was at Bain - hence Romney's refusal to release the tax records. He even went so far as to say, "His poor father must be so embarrassed about his son," apparently in a reference to the elder Romney turning over 12 years of tax records during his bid for the presidency. This even provoked the ire of Jon Stewart, who told Harry Reid that he should "shut-up" while introducing the segment, "You, Harry Reid, are Terrible." (I guess I could pile on to Reid's accusations towards Romney by including the speculation we received from M.W. in the comment section of this website: "Wow! It just hit me – Romney doesn’t want to release his tax returns because he doesn’t want the church to find out that he has not been tithing his full 10%.") But Stewart is right, as well as the mass numbers of commenters on our website who took issue with M.W.'s comments - we shouldn't accuse Romney of dishonesty without any proof.
Governor Romney sure does agree - read this article from the LA Times to get more details of the squabbling between the two.
But Senator Reid isn't apologizing. This isn't the first time Reid has used "choice" words to describe a political foe. In fact, in addition to Harry Reid's statements about Romney a few weeks ago, the Huffington Post also reported that he'd had time to disparage fellow Democrat, Bill Magwood, calling him a "'treacherous, miserable liar' and 'first-class rat,'" (and he also used a word that would have cost me a severe licking if I'd said it as a child.) Harry Reid is not unacquainted with harsh words. In the first few pages of his memoir, The Good Fight: Hard Lessons from Searchlight to Washington, Reid writes about George W. Bush,
"I believe that the current President is an ideologue who has done incalculable damage to the government, reputation, and moral standing of the United Stakes of America. His vaunted "CEO Presidency" has...been incompetent in the face of grave challenge at home and abroad..."
[caption id="attachment_1578" align="alignright" width="300"] Harry Reid's boyhood home in Searchlight[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_1675" align="alignright" width="300"] Mitt Romney's boyhood home in Detroit[/caption]
Harry Reid grew up in Searchlight, Nevada, and although it may sound trite, his experience of coming "from a mining town" where "the leading industry...was no longer mining, (but) prostitution," might explain a something about this high-ranking Mormon politician. He is known for being soft-spoken, but even words of condemnation can be spoken softly (whether it's saying that the USA Olympic uniforms should be burned or repeating the call to release tax forms.) This of course is in stark contrast to Romney's upbringing. In fact, the two have little to nothing in common in that respect, and I'd guess that this speaks volumes to their different opinions, ideas, and presentation in regard to their politics.
But despite it all, Harry Reid seems to relish the criticism he's received for his attack on Mitt Romney. So I will do Senator Reid a favor and give him some criticism of my own. I don't know how much more time I would waste on this tax thing. Personally, I don't think it strange that Mitt Romney would refuse to release more taxes. With talk of tax shelters in the Cayman Islands and Swiss Bank accounts, America can't help but be reminded of a half-dozen James Bond movies and a recent episode of Breaking Bad. (And that can't break good for Romney.)
So instead of the intense scrutiny of the Romney taxes, let's consider the ridiculousness of Romney's statement today about his taxes: "I just have to say, given the challenges that America faces — 23 million people out of work, Iran about to become nuclear, one out of six Americans in poverty — the fascination with taxes I paid I find to be very small-minded."
Beyond Romney's taxes, (which only point to the inequities of our tax system,) I am troubled that Romney would point to poverty in America as something he is seriously concerned about. I appreciate the logic that if you give the wealthiest Americans a tax break that they will then invest that money, and this will spur job growth; inevitably these investments would trickle down like crumbs falling under the table of America for the one in six people in poverty to eat up. But I just don't believe it is true. Statistics do not back it up. If tax cuts for the wealthy really helped eliminate poverty or even created jobs, then why did the Bush tax cuts fail to do that? According to PolitiFact, job growth under Bush was a sluggish 4.5% while the previous Clinton administration posted double-digit job growth numbers.
In the article, Myth Romney: Tax Cuts Spur Growth, Ernest Dumas writes,
Not once has (a tax-cut spurred job growth), but the theory never loses its shine. Ronald Reagan cut lots of taxes in 1981, and it was followed by the deepest recession since the '30s — 10 straight months of double-digit unemployment and soaring deficits. When the economy began to recover, he raised taxes over and over until the big 1986 tax increase (revenue enhancement, they called it) was followed by the growth spurt that got him the reputation as the wizard of economic growth. George W. Bush passed successive tax cuts, which produced ballooning deficits, virtually no job growth and, finally, the longest doldrums since the Great Depression.>
So Senator Reid, if we are going to call out Romney on something let's bring it back to this: please don't discuss unemployment anymore. Please don't talk about poverty. It's like talking with your mouth full. Because in the end, Romney cannot honestly talk about poverty when the other words twisting and turning around his mouth leave no room for the American poor. Nothing in his (which really is Paul Ryan's) plan helps this particular group of people. And although we are only 80 plus days until the election, I am just getting started here. I am supporting Obama for very specific reasons, and issues of poverty and inequality are at the top of my list. More to come...
As this year's political race between Obama and Romney gains traction in the media, on social networks, in churches, and elsewhere, there are Mormons who, while having nothing against Romney personally or religiously, have decided to vote for Obama. The following is from a Mormon (not me) who supports Obama and the reasons why:
I am voting for Obama. I voted for him in 2008, and I believe that he was the best candidate at that time. In my opinion, he is again the best candidate for president this year. Here are my key reasons:
In my opinion, Obama has been the greatest foreign policy president we have had since Ronald Reagan. He has largely shifted America's foreign policy focus to Asia where it rightly belongs, reduced resources in Iraq, plotted an escape route out of Afghanistan, managed the Arab Spring revolutions better than I ever though possible, strengthened international resolve towards Iran, reduced tensions along the Mexican border, corralled India in a tighter alliance, and done all of this with fewer resources. Oh, and he killed Osama in an incredibly daring but brilliant operation. How could anyone even compete with that?
Much of the success belongs to Obama's excellent Cabinet choices. Secretary Clinton has been a fantastic Secretary of State, the best we've had since Colin Powell. Gates was so impressive as Defense secretary (I have mixed feelings about Panetta) and even Mullen as Joint Chiefs has demonstrated an excellent ability to think outside the box and also confront his own bureaucracy. But Obama is the one who assembled the team from rivals (Clinton) and the other political party (Gates). And he is the one who has ultimately made the right decisions at the right times.
Even his supposed failures in foreign policy reflect good thinking in my mind. Liberals are upset over his inability to close Guantanamo, but that issue is way more complicated than most people realize. And Obama is willing to recognize reality, even in the face of his unrealistic campaign promises. Others have criticized him for his response to Libya, but again, I think he struck the exact right balance of intervention without U.S. commitment. And it was a good chance for Europe to step up to the plate and work out its defense arrangements a little bit more.
Foreign policy is largely controlled within the executive branch of government, so I hold the President more accountable on this count than most others. And I think because Obama has a freer hand in this policy realm, we have seen more of his true colors in this respect. Plus, his rhetorical gifts are so needed and so effective in the international arena. Words matter there, and Obama has the ability to really influence things by what he says. Speeches in Russia and in Egypt prior to the uprisings had a dramatic regional impact.
Those who want Ron Paul's version of foreign policy are living in historical fiction, though I empathize with their aspirations. It was Woodrow Wilson, nearly 100 years ago, who presided over the transition of America from an isolated, waterlocked, largely agrarian society to the global economic and military power it is today. That transition, while not irreversible, has been so comprehensive as to make the costs of returning to isolationism far higher than any benefits. We are a global power, our military is a crucial international asset used to secure shipping lanes, reduce transaction costs, and save lives abroad, and our role in international fora cannot be replicated.
I actually think Romney wouldn't be too bad in the foreign policy realm. He certainly wouldn't be as bad as Bush or Carter were. But I worry about his Cabinet choices, about too much focus on domestic issues, about his inability to connect with Americans let alone foreign countries. And Obama has a clear track record in this realm. Absent some compelling flaw in the President's foreign policy or some remarkable asset in Romney, I am certainly not willing to change presidents after only four years.
This is the second most important issue for me, but I suspect it will be the number-one issue for most Americans. The economy is whimpering along, barely making much of a recovery with major structural problems at every level. My perspective is surely influenced by the fact that I have a job and that I am doing OK financially. If I didn’t have a job, or if my future prospects didn’t look bright, I would probably be looking for a change somewhere. In the Book of Mormon, Lehi murmured against the Lord only when he couldn’t feed his family, so I fully respect those who want a change of leadership given the lack of recent improvements. But a couple of thoughts:
Investment is the key to growth, and we are not making the right types of investments. If you think about your own life, you made significant investments in education, maybe a home, other capital. You likely took out loans to pay for these things (I sure did) with the understanding that your investment will yield returns later on. The problem with the U.S. right now is we had to take out loans just to survive for the past few years. It’s like we were living on credit card debt. Now the gut reaction once things start improving is to pay off the credit card debt right away. We all hate debt and hate watching how much interest eats up our paychecks. But the counterintuitive right course (in my opinion) is to take out more loans for the right type of investments first and then start paying off the credit card debt. Domestic infrastructure, education, state and local government, and energy development all desperately need significant investments right now. Waiting until our nation’s credit card bill is paid will be too late and only result in a lower rate of growth in the future. Accordingly,
The Republican’s prescription is the wrong one. What they are proposing is the equivalent of a doctor ordering chemotherapy for broken legs. Everyone is focused on debt right now, thinking paying down our debt will somehow cause the economy to come back. Again, think about it from an individual’s perspective. Does paying off debt make you any richer? Insofar as you get to keep the money you were using to pay interest, yes. But that is really a very small amount in the grand scheme of things. Things that actually make us richer—such as getting more education, getting a promotion, finding a new job, coming up with a new invention—come from investments, from risks, from innovation. Somehow, we are not focusing on that at all; instead, we are bickering about how we have mortgaged our children’s future. That cliché is driving me nuts. Of course we mortgage their future! That’s how we hope to finance a better world that they can then easily pay off with their spaceship explorations to planets made of gold and unobtainium.
In all seriousness though, the Republicans and Mitt Romney would have a valid argument if U.S. interest rates were going up and if inflation were a concern. But that’s the thing: inflation rates are at historic lows, and the world is more than happy to lend us as much money as we want. (See my first point on foreign policy; in a way, this is the reward for all our global expenditures.) Which leads me to the final point on economics:
The current public debate is not looking at the big picture. The U.S. economy is so closely tied into the world’s economy now that it is silly to try to separate them or focus on domestic reasons for our malaise. China’s economy depends on U.S. debt as much as we depend on it. Europe’s problems make our issues look childish in comparison. Brazil, China, and India are practically begging the U.S. to spend their money in our country on our goods and with our workforce. We are missing all these issues in our angry, navel-gazing rhetoric about who destroyed which job. And I think those global issues will ultimately have much more bearing on the domestic economy than nearly anything the executive branch will do.
There may be one exception to this point, however. In periods of panic and serious economic volatility, the President does have real power: rhetorical power and the ability to act quickly to stabilize the market through emergency liquidity measures, etc. Romney and Republicans have all but eschewed such tools, however, saying it is not the government’s role to take such action. And that denial of governmental responsibility in the face of economic crises is frightening. The last presidents to believe this were Herbert Hoover and Calvin Coolidge, who together helped precipitate (but not cause) the Great Depression.
Just to summarize the economic issue:
· Investments, not deleveraging national debt, is the key to growth.
· Republicans have made paying off debt their Holy Grail, creating a myopic and misdirected economic policy.
· International economic policy matters far more than Republicans acknowledge.
· At the end of the day, the President has very little influence on economic issues, except in crises. And it is such power that the Republican party has said should not be wielded by the government.
Looking at Romney individually, I think he is actually very intelligent when it comes to economic issues. I suspect he understands all these points, and I even suspect he may agree with me. But his party has demonstrated no willingness to compromise or acknowledge any complexity on the issue, and I fear Romney would face a revolt from his own party if he suggested increasing spending on anything. So even if Romney really knows how to handle our economic challenges (although his current rhetoric suggests otherwise) his party would never allow it.
Domestic Policy and Entitlement Reform
As the words Obamacare and socialism ring through the air, I think this is the arena where the public debate has gotten out of hand. To be fair, the rhetoric on foreign policy issues was ridiculous when George Bush was president. Whereas Obama is depicted as a Keynian socialist who hates America and wants to decide when senior citizens are killed, Bush was depicted as a bumbling, warmongering puppet controlled by Dick Cheney who wanted to torture foreigners. Neither caricature is particularly helpful, except to put “rage in the hearts” (2 Nephi 28:20) of people. I suspect most Americans were not in either of these two rhetorical camps, but their rational thoughts are getting drowned out.
Obamacare—By far, the strangest thing about this entire debate is that Obamacare will not be truly implemented until 2014! We haven’t even seen what Obamacare will do, but listening to people you would think it single-handedly brought down the economy even before it was passed. The individual mandate hasn’t been implemented, insurance competition provisions remain unenforced, and the whole thing is in limbo before the Supreme Court (and I think a constitutional examination is warranted in this case). My point is, how could you possibly judge a law on its merits when it hasn’t even been implemented? One of the only truly substantive components of the law that has been implemented is the mandate that insurance companies cover dependents until they are 26 (reflecting the fact that children are in school and deferring marriage until later). And I think that has been a great success—I have family members who would not have insurance were it not for this provision.
Medicare—This is the real elephant in the room, and the part where I agree with the Republicans the most. Medicare costs are the fundamental driver of increasing health care costs, and Obamacare’s great flaw is its failure to reign in Medicare costs. The economic reality is that it is inevitable that Medicare benefits will be cut and there will be some type of provisioning of those benefits, aka death panels. Because promising essentially unlimited medical expenditures for the most expensive patients while refusing to raise additional revenue from the healthy patients is unsustainable. Given this reality, however, I think reform is actually more likely with a Democrat as president. He would have the best ability to convince his own party of the need for reform. Remember, Bill Clinton was president when welfare reform was passed. Right now the Democrats are quite intransigent on this issue, but I think economic realities and appropriate pressure from Republicans in Congress could help them come around, provided a Democrat is president. If a Republican is president, there would be too much opposition from Democrats and too much partisan gloating from Republicans to really push anything rational through.
Social Security—See my previous point. Social security as currently constituted is unsustainable, benefits will need to be cut, and I believe Obama is able and willing to compromise on this point.
Women’s and Family Issues—I have no idea what is going on with the Republican party or why they think targeting contraceptives or abortion is going to win the election. But I believe their rhetoric is harmful and counterproductive. Roe v. Wade is a reality, so let’s start talking about how we can reduce the number of abortions through education, contraceptive use, and strengthening families. This war on women and the family is phony, pathetic, and a political red herring.
Of course, I am not happy with everything that Obama has done. I generally like solid conservatives on the Supreme Court who have a more traditionalist interpretation of the Constitution. Obama will most certainly not do that. Obama’s leadership style is frequently too detached to really enact substantive change. Despite his rhetoric, Obama does not have the gift of a Reagan or Clinton to reach across the aisle and really work with the opposition party. And I am concerned with growing consolidation of authority at the federal level at the expense of state and local government.
In these policy matters, I feel Obama is on the wrong side of the issue. But democracy is all about choosing the least bad alternative. I am concerned that Romney is not the master of his own fate. Too many political forces within his own party have compelled him to change into something and someone that he is not. I really liked the Romney who was governor of Massachusetts: a compromiser, able to deal with the political realities at hand, and eminently pragmatic. If that Romney resurfaces, I would be incredibly happy. My concern though is that the Republican party has been captured by a mix of libertarian, Conservative with a capital C (ie., pre-1932), and isolationist groups that have a skewed historical perspective. I am extremely uncomfortable with the rhetoric of Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin, and other pundits from this camp, and Romney has been far too willing to pander to these groups. True leadership would occur if he stood up against those in his own party. But he hasn’t done that.
Of course it is neat that Romney is Mormon, but I actually feel that has very little bearing in this year’s election. It will make for some very interesting attack ads and quite a spotlight on the church, but I haven’t really seen how it will influence his policy choices. Has Romney ever suggested his Mormon faith has influenced his political positions? So that puts me squarely in a very small minority of Mormons for Obama.
This year’s election is not the “once in a lifetime” election I have been hearing about. Yes, there are important issues and yes, it is valuable to be civically engaged. But I have too much faith in the American system to believe that one presidential term could ever fundamentally alter the American way of life, either for good or bad. Presidents are leaders more than they are actors. What I mean by that is they set the rhetorical tone that compels others to action. But no matter who is president, there will be good people in the U.S. doing much good of their own free will.
The Constitution is an incredible document with such flexibility that I believe we can definitely tackle the pressing issues our country faces. I have tremendous appreciation for our country’s commitment to the rule of law and respect for minority opinion. I honestly believe that the U.S. has one of the greatest political systems in the world, if not the greatest ever created. It may look really messy at times, but believe me, we could do much, much worse. Nowhere else in the world is there such a large and diverse population able to live in freedom and peace. As the ridiculous rhetoric heats up on both sides, it is good to keep that in mind.