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"Religion, Politics, the Presidency: Commentary by a Mormon, an Evangelical, and an Orthodox Christian"

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The Invisible Primary Is Well Underway, Mormonism Still Has Image Problems, and more…

Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:29 am, October 19th 2009     —    Comment on this post »

Before we dig too deeply into the ever growing “stack ‘o stuff,” if you are not “following” us on Twitter, you should be.  We post links to the highlights of what we put into that proverbial stack as we find it.  You’ll still have to come here for our thoughts and commentary, but you’ll be able to stay as up to the minute as we do if you read our tweets.

You can become a “Facebook fan” as well.  We’ll still figuring the whole Facebook thing out – but we would love to have you along for the ride.

News From The Invisible Primary – Polls, Polls, and More Polls

Rasmussen reports that Huckabee has a slight early lead for the ’12 Republican nomination.  But they also report that Palin is getting a lot of play, even though her favorability ratings are dropping.   Heck, even evangelical insider David Brody is reporting on the “next” Sarah Palin, indicating that she is in the past.  But back to the Rasmussen numbers, this paragraph was fascinating:

The numbers for Huckabee and Romney look even stronger when GOP voters were asked which candidate they would least like to see get the nomination. Pawlenty came on top in that category with 28%. Palin was second at 21% while 20% named Gingrich. Romney and Huckabee were in the single digits with 9% and 8% respectively.

Pawlenty in the least category tells me that these numbers are all about name recognition, and that is about it.  All the political pros I know are thinking the race is going to be Romney v Pawlenty with Huckabee and others playing the gadfly role.  Romney is getting so much press coverage because he hanging around and came in second last time.  But how to explain all the press Pawlenty is getting?  (Consider here and here.)  My hypothesis would be because he is putting together an actual organization and doing the things that people that are serious about becoming the President of the United States do.  But the average person polled is not watching organizations and fund-raising, they are being “fans” – at least until the election is closer and therefore becomes serious for them.  Conclusion?  Polls at this stage are darn near useless.

Meanwhile, serious fund-raising is going onvery serious – and RNC chairman Michael Steele is working very hard to remove his foot from his mouth.  (Remember this?)  Further, some people continue to wonder about how the Massachusetts health system overhaul, on Romney’s watch will affect a potential ’12 bid.   Speaking of useless!  All such prognostication assumes that health care will even be on the political radar come the actual campaigns.  There is no way to know that right now.   Will something pass, will it contain a “public option?”  These and many more questions have to be answered before we can even begin to assess how what affect the events of almost 8 years earlier in one state will have to do with what happens in a presidential campaign in 2012.  But then people do need to write about something.

The Mormon Image

For better or worse, Glenn Beck seems to the the banner carrier for Mormons of the moment.  It’s something of a shame that such is the case when church officials are saying such good things. But then, mastering the media is an art unto itself and one that religious officials are not generally spending time figuring out.  So, back to Beck.

Some smart people are pointing out what we already have.  Beck is first an entertainer, not a political leader.  Although sometimes he does not really help himself.  But when Rod Dreher is finding common cause with him, you have to think he is doing something right.  Hey, if common ground can be found between Mormon and Evangelical pundits, maybe political alliances can be forged.

But then, the problems continue.  There has been this painting being discussed all over the Internets depicting Jesus holding the constitution and blessing America.  It was catching on in Evangelical circles, although many heavy theology types were calling it “idolatrous,” that is until GetReligion pointed out that it was of Mormon origin.  There ended the Evangelical conversation about it.  No debate about whether it was a good thing or a bad thing – no discussion of the proper role on religion in civil life, it all came to a halt, just because it was “Mormon.”  That’s really troubling, because it was a conversation that is needed, at length and in depth.  I mean there are some reasonable conversations going on out there – why can’t this be one of them?

Of course, as always, the serious, ugly bigotry is on the left.  Check out the comments under this thing.  (And it looks like the President himself has a bit of a problem in that area as well!)  I think that is what really bothers me when my Evangelical brethren do not engage with Mormons – they are playing the same game with a little nicer language.  Whatever your opinion of someone may be, simply dismissing them is wrong, and certainly not within the example of Christ, whether you understand Him as I do or as Mormons do.

Meanwhile, in Evangelical News . . .

The case for an “Evangelical Left” continues to be made.  Some are praising Obama’s receipt of the Nobel.  Others are writing op-eds.  I find these efforts both amusing and troubling.  Amusing in that there has always been a diversity of political opinion inside Evangelicalism.  The press’ willingness to lump us all together is going to become very problematic.  What was once a convenient shorthand – “religious right” – is now becoming a serious academic effort to define religion by political view.   The problem is that many people hanging around the religion will take that seriously and there will begin to be real serious debate about whether someone is really an adherent to the religion based on their politics.  The net effect of the academic work and the reporting on a “religious left” will be to rip religion and religiously motivated political action apart.   These actions are too diverse to be part of an actual strategy, but the results are the same nonetheless.

And then, when you start laying ethnic identities on religious ones, things are going to get out of hand in a hurry.

The wisdom of the founding fathers was to try to create a government that was focused purely on what government was supposed to do and not all the personal sidelines that autocracy carries with it.  When we start measuring our political activity on our personal identity instead of the perspective of the nation and government, our government stands a risk of being unable to function.  It’s a scary thought.

Finally . . .

An interesting read on religious bigotry in government.

A couple of comments from Lowell:

Huckabee’s numbers in the Rasmussen poll are interesting.  Drilling down just a little, I found this:

Romney leads all prospects among voters who attend church once a month or less. Huckabee leads among more frequent churchgoers. Huckabee holds a huge lead among Evangelical Christians with Palin in second and Romney a distant third. Huckabee and Romney are essentially even among other Protestants while Romney has the edge among Catholics.

Those voters who are very “religious” (measured by church attendance) seem to be more Huckabee’s people.

Ironic aside #1:  Romney, the candidate whose religion gets all the attention, is favored by the less religious voters.  Actually that’s probably instructive; those voters polled who care a lot about religion mostly like Huck; those who focus on other things, like actual political issues, mostly like Romney.  Hmmm.

Ironic aside #2:  This one is not instructive, just funny.  Active Mormons attend at least 3 hours of church each week, putting them very near the top among churchgoers; I can assure everyone that 80% or more of those folks are Romney voters, but they’re not numerous enough to affect the Rasmussen numbers.

Just a “perspective note” to readers who are not familiar with Mormon culture:  Cleon Skousen’s political views are controversial within Mormonism. Glenn Beck causes many Mormons to wince, and to wince even harder when anyone plays up his religion.  That’s all I will say about that now.

As for Michael Steele, I suspect he is learning how to be a national party chairman.  When he said, “It was the base that rejected Mitt because it had issues with Mormonism,” he apparently had not learned to shoot from the hip. Now he says:

“I was speaking to an attitude or a mindset at the time that I thought was unfortunate and I said that I think (Romney) proved just how unfortunate it was for people who felt that way,” Steele said, “He’s a good man, a principled man, a good leader for our party.”

Well . . . okay.  Steele’s blunder is not excusable, but it is certainly forgivable.

I don’t know how much the Massachusetts healthcare issue will haunt Romney.  I think it will be brought up often.  Remember, his opponents are still talking about positions he took in 1994.

John Responds to Lowell:

Gee Lowell, thanks so much for drilling down in that poll and showing, once again, that my brethren have an apparent desire to sequester themselves in an evangelical ghetto.  The last election for which reliable numbers are available (2004) shows that 40% of those that voted Republican in the general self-identified as “evangelical” or “Christian.”  With such numbers you have three options: 1) spoil; 2) Form a coalition around you, or 3) join an existing coalition – you cannot win the primary, let alone the general with such numbers.  Well, last time they chose to spoil.  And given such a prior role, it is simply silly to expect anyone to want to form a coalition around you – they’ll be too angry at you.

So, the only choice for genuine effectiveness is to join an existing coalition.  If you don’t, then the rest of the party will have no choice but to strategize in a manner that limits your ability to spoil, and bingo, you are out in the cold.  We wrote a lot about comparisons of Huckabee to Jesse Jackson and Evangelicals in the Republican party to African Americans in the Democratic party last cycle.  Some in Evangelical circles might take that as a good sign given the election of Barack Obama.  But there are places where the analogy breaks down.  For one, the African-American vote has been extremely loyal to the Democratic party, unlike Evangelicals, many of whom like to flit back and forth between parties.  Secondly, there is a prevailing natural ethos that it “was time” for an African-American president.  No such ethos exists concerning a Christian of any stripe – if anything the prevailing ethos is to the contrary.

If Mike Huckabee were out there organizing and trying to genuinely find a place of leadership in the party instead of collecting a paycheck from FOXNews (and, sadly, the candidates he “endorses,” often to their detriment)  then one could take seriously efforts to build some sort of coalition around him.  But he is not.  Such facts reduce backing Huckabee to a guaranteed assurance of ineffectiveness.  And yet, off to the ghetto we march.  Fortunately there is still time.

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