Article VI Blog

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

United States Constitution — Article VI:

"No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."

  • Telling The Story – Part V – ‘Stuck In The Middle With You’

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:00 am, January 29th 2010     &mdash      2 Comments »

    It is time for the next installment in our “Telling The Story” series wherein we try to review the primaries in ’08 as they relate to Mitt Romney’s candidacy and its relationship to his religion.  We have looked at the basic primary narrative, the bad actors on the left, and the bad actors on the right.  But who were the “good guys” in all this? – Were there any?  What even constitutes a good guy in a situation like this?

    We need to start with the proposition that there was an essential prejudice against Romney because of his Mormon faith.  Not all of it is anti-Mormon bigotry either.  For people of the left, Mormons are  viewed, essentially, as über-Christians.  That is to say that Mormons represent all the bad things about religious people in general (“sexual repression,” “lack of creativity,” insert your tired and untrue cliche here) taken way more seriously than even normal religious people take them.  This is the sort of “Oh, my gosh – Mormons really believe this stuff!” category.

    For people on the right, at least those who are not predisposed to declare all Mormons headed for hell right now, Mormons are just “weird.”  Even amongst the more reasonable there is just this sense that “Mormons believe strange things.”

    The Good Guys

    In light of that, can someone be said to be a “good guy” by simply ignoring religion in the campaign altogether?  Back in July of ’07 we contended that acknowledging the prejudices we just mentioned and then designing our political decisions in avoidance of them amounted to enabling bigotry.  Could simply ignoring the existence of those prejudices, without confronting them, amount to the same thing?  Must prejudice be directly confronted to be done away with?  The answer, frankly, is in how one “ignores” them.

    The Campaigners

    For purposes of this post, to be considered a “good guy” someone has to have been actively involved in confronting the prejudices and bigotries that were present in the campaign.  That confrontation took two distinctive forms.  The first, and most easily identifiable, were people, particularly religious non-Mormons, who directly supported Mitt Romney’s candidacy.  All such people by example, and many by argument, stood in the face of the prejudices and bigotries, looked them dead in the eye, and said, “No!”  We will call this group “The Campaigners.”

    The Principled

    The other form of such confrontation is much harder to pin down.  Many people, especially people in positions of religious leadership, do not, as a matter of principle, endorse candidates.  Such people can speak out, however, against religious bigotries.  This is a very sharp edge along which to walk.  To decry bigotry against those who are suffering deep bigotry is, seemingly, to endorse those people.  Thus in 2007-08, those decrying bigotry against Romney took the risk of appearing to endorse Romney, and violating their principles against endorsement.  We will call this group of people “The Principled.”

    Many people similarly have a difficult time making the distinction between speaking out against religious bigotry and endorsing the religion that is the object of the bigotry.  I find myself personally often accused of thinking Mormon doctrine is “correct” because of my eventual support of Romney, and my longstanding fight against bigotry aimed at him.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  In the interest of preserving my friendships with Mormons, I do not speak of it often, but Mormon doctrine is distinctly aberrant to my way of thinking.  But that fact does not preclude Mormons from a place in the public square.  Should I ever differ with my Mormon friends on a policy matter we will do political battle in the finest traditions of the American political system.  Which means we will argue the merits of the situation, we will not sling accusations of religious mind-muddling at each other.

    What Went Wrong?

    The list of names we have assembled as “good guys” is impressive, a virtual “Who’s Who” of religious right activism.  And yet clearly they were not nearly as effective as one would hope.  Before we sing their praises, we need to devote a few paragraphs to their failings. This list should have meant an almost automatic win.  What went wrong?

    Two factors seem most salient.  Number one, the depth of anti-Mormon prejudice was grossly underestimated.  This is not unreasonable because the mainstays of that prejudice are not typically politically active.  The average political consultant and religion watcher are not going to have this group on their radar.

    Which brings us to the second factor: New media.  It gave this “off the radar” group a platform for both voice and organization.  We made the case early in this series that Mike Huckabee was the spoiler for Romney and Huckabee ran, in a very real sense, a “virtual” campaign.  Operating practically without budget and with a grassroots organization to-speak-of only in Iowa, Huckabee relied heavily on the Internet.   We have previously discussed the heinous nature of comments that found their way to the Huckster’s official campaign web site.  That web site is now gone, and what remains is “unofficial,” but when you combine it with the anti-establishment sentiment that has come to the fore at formerly great conservative sites like Free Republic and Red State, it is clear that the Republican party in general, and Mitt Romney in particular, need to formulate an effective, highly active, and well-funded new media operation, or else the party runs the risk of being rendered ineffective, or – more likely -  hostage to its own extremes, which is the situation the Democrats now find themselves in.

    So, who are the “good guys?”  We’ll look at them in the groups we previously defined.

    Some of the Campaigners

    Hugh Hewitt - Do we really need to talk about Hugh Hewitt on this blog?  He’s why Lowell and I are here and his encouragement of and friendship with us is the base on which we stood when we started.  Hugh wrote THE book on the Romney/religion issue (we interviewed Hugh on the release of that book here) as well as being downright prophetic in another book about the role new media would play in politics generally.  Hugh did C-Span on the issues at hand.

    Hugh has said in speeches we have heard that he underestimated the anti-Mormon forces that came into play in the campaign.  He had thought that those forces were far enough removed from the mainstream that they would be relegated to a sideshow for the press.  Perhaps by the time he got to this issue, he had forgotten the lessons of his prophetic book on blogging, which had come out several years earlier?  But regardless of having missed that call to some extent, Hugh more than almost anyone else saw the issue of religion as it related to the Romney campaign.

    We stretch things a bit in calling Hugh a “campaigner.”  He did not formally endorse a candidate until it was time for him to cast his own vote in the California primary, via absentee ballot, several weeks before Super Tuesday.  Hugh was also the primary example of fighting the prejudice without necessarily endorsing the candidate.  Which brings up an interesting issue.  Virtually none of Talk Radio endorsed in the primaries.  They refrain from doing so for practical reasons.  They want all the candidates to appear on their shows throughout the campaign; if they endorse, they run the risk of alienating and losing the interview(s).  Yet, on the day before Super Tuesday almost all of conservative Talk Radio sounded dangerously close to endorsing Romney – Bill Bennett – Laura Ingraham – Sean Hannity – Dennis Prager – even Rush Limbaugh himself – not to mention the hundred of others out there with local or smaller audiences – all emphasized with great zeal the advantages of Romney over McCain.

    Talk Radio walks a fine line between information and activism and one wonders what the future holds in terms of endorsements for this bunch.  Formal endorsements earlier in the game could have made a huge difference in the outcome.  In the new media age of niche marketing, endorsements might not be as alienating as typically thought.  Certainly they could be more active in fighting the prejudice without endorsing the candidate.

    In Talk Radio, Hugh Hewitt led the way regarding this issue.

    “Evangelicals for Mitt” – David and Nancy French and Charles Mitchell ran this aptly named blog and frankly garnered the lion’s share of the “whom to call when you want to write a story” action as the MSM tried to cover the issue.  As such they probably had the largest profile, other than the aforementioned Hugh Hewitt, on this issue.  David French as a regular contributor to National Review had a particularly high profile, only enhanced by his service in Iraq during a significant portion of the campaign.  We did an interview with David and Nancy that was never published due to any number of failures on our part.

    What was most fascinating to watch was that they covered the campaign largely as any normal  political blog would.  They freely acknowledged that Mormons were quite different in their beliefs than traditional Christians and argued a “big so what.”  Then they went about covering the campaign.  In some ways it was a very different approach than the one we took here, but to analyze that in depth would definitely take us into the tall grass and outside the main thrust of this piece.

    What matters most, though, is that there were few of us in the new media that tackled this issue head on and EFM was one of the few and one of the effective.  As we have said, new media mattered a lot on this issue.  If will be interesting to watch New Media’s role as things move forward.  EFM as a site is still occasionally active, and we hope it will become increasingly so.  The name alone is worth gold.  It would be great to see it become the kind of on-line community center that we saw develop in the anti-Mormon forces.

    Mark DeMoss – When it comes to public relations among Christian organizations and in Evangelical circles, Mark DeMoss is THE MAN.  His DeMoss Group handles the PR for everything from PromiseKeepers to Franklin Graham’s Christmas Gift Child operation.  Mark went to Mitt Romney early in the process and told him, as Mark describes it in our interview with him:

    I said, “I’d like to help you.  I’m not a political consultant but I do know this evangelical world pretty well.  So, I would like to help you.  And secondly, I am not for hire.  You can’t pay me.  Now or ever.”  And that was a beginning of a friendship and a respect that we have for each other now.

    Mark’s initial action was to set up a meeting for Romney with a number of highly placed and influential Evangelical leaders.  Then throughout the campaign Mark served to make introductions, provide advice, and do whatever else he could to help Mitt Romney get elected.  Mark was a “campaigner” for Romney in the truest sense of the word and he stood on the front lines of the campaign in the Evangelical world.  Mark was very succinct when he said (again in our interview with him):

    I think this has really become a passion of mine of late, and that is, what got me interested in this particular man to begin with was this conventional wisdom that actually a national religion reporter posed to me, a year and a half ago and that was in the form of a question:  Did I think evangelicals could ever support a Mormon?  Or did I think a candidate’s being Mormon would automatically disqualify him from considerations by evangelicals?

    And that really bothered me.  That whole mindset troubled me.  So I began to look into Mitt Romney and his life and his record and everything I could find out about him.  And I finally reached this conclusion, and that was, to ask whether I could support a Mormon is the wrong question.  I think the question should be: Could I support this Mormon, this particular Mormon.

    That about sums it up as well as it can be summed up.

    Wayne Grudem – is a highly noted and influential Evangelical Theologian.   He came as perhaps the most significant of traditional Christian endorsements that came Mitt Romney’s way around the fall of ’07 Values Voter Summit.   (Some of the links in that piece are broken, you can hear Hugh Hewitt’s interview with him, if you are a “Hughinverse” subscriber, here.)  Grudem matters more than many of the other endorsement precisely because he was not a “leader” in the political or ecclesiastical sense, but because he was a theologian.

    When people talk about the differences between Mormons and traditional Christians it always ends up focusing on the theology, because frankly, that is the only significant difference.  Grudem’s endorsement said almost nothing about theology and a lot about political and organizational savvy and a lot about values  – placing theology in a proper perspective, something only a  theologian can do, when it comes to electing presidents.

    The fact that Grudem’s endorsement, along with so many others, did nothing to really move polls, or even the straw poll at the Values Voters Summit, remains one of the more fascinating facts of that campaign.  It says, at least in part, that the Evangelical world can be divided into a couple of distinct groups – those that use religion as a political tool and those that use politics as a religious tool.  For the former group, a proper understanding of the place of theology did not matter, what mattered was being able to use theology as a tool to help their candidate or eliminate one they do not like.  For the latter group, theology was placed in its proper perspective and did not matter much as the campaign proceeded.

    In the category of “might have beens,” it would have been great to see someone like Grudem enter into the countless debates about “what Mormons believe” that occurred around the Internet, or at least have his work up earlier and an army of people quoting it in those discussion.  The recurring mantra, “Yes, but this theologian says it is immaterial as to whom to vote for,” could have had an interesting effect.

    But we get a bit ahead of ourselves.  Evangelical leadership, particularly political leadership, is examined in detail and pretty much as a group in our next entry in the list of “good guys.”

    Jay Sekulow/James Bopp/Gary Marx – The campaign’s Faith and Values Steering Committee – As we have eluded to, Romney was backed by most of the big names in Christian political activism.  They coalesced into his campaign’s “Faith and Values Steering Committee.”   (Please note that link is to leftie coverage of the formation of the committee – a fact to which we will return in a moment.)  Heading the group were the three names just cited: Jay Sekulow,  Chief Counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice; Gary Marx, Executive Director of the Judicial Conformation Network; and James Bopp, probably the preeminent anti-abortion attorney in the nation.  Also on the committee were names like Lou Sheldon, Matt Spaulding, Barbara Comstock and groups like the Alliance Defense Fund and Citizens for Traditional Values were represented.  These people worked hard to elect Mitt Romney and the fact that in the end Romney was not successful has more to do with the state of religious activism in politics than it does with their extraordinary efforts.

    There are three things to note about this group, aside from their outstanding credentials.  First, they are lawyers or judicially active, not necessarily legislatively active.  Secondly, they garnered little press save from the lefties, as we noted above.  Finally, they did not bring much in the way of grassroots Evangelicalism along with them.  This is worthy of a bit of discussion.

    The fact of the matter is that most of the “action” with regards to the erosion of traditional values in the society is judicial in nature, Roe v. Wade being the classic example.  In light of sweeping court decisions of this type the legislative and executive branches of the government can do little to change things except trim the edges of the law a bit.  Under such circumstances there is little for the average concerned voter to do but send money to guys like these, and the average concerned voter in America likes to do more than write checks.  Romney, in working with this particular group, was typical Romney – he put effectiveness in front of votes, expecting the votes to come when people figured out what he was up to.  This is not something that is going to change – Mitt Romney is who he is.  However, the actions of the current administration are rapidly bringing into focus the value of substance over style, emphasizing that effectiveness is what counts.  Votes should follow.

    People don’t like feeling powerless, something most of us feel when confronted with judicial activism.  Thus powerlessness does not sell papers, and people like those on this committee don’t generate a lot of press.  Court rooms are not dramatic places, unless you see the ones in TV fiction and they have little connection to reality.  There are no polls, no big crowds to take pictures of, argument is done in increments too small for the average person to follow without taking notes.  The fact of the matter is Jay Sekulow may have done more to try to limit or eliminate abortion in this nation than any other single person, but very few people that are not insiders know who he is.  Abortion will only even be able to be made illegal in this nation when Roe v Wade is overturned and that means myriad court cases until a sufficient mass is built to attract the Supreme Court’s attention.  That does not really make good ink, or even electrons.

    The average Evangelical just does not understand this. They want press, they want heat, they want to march in front of abortion clinics and they want something to happen now.  Thus they gravitate to the agitators with media outlets instead the slow and effective types like those represented on Romney’s committee.

    What emerges is an interesting picture.  The “agitators with media outlets” (think James Dobson) did not line up behind Romney because they feared backlash from their constituencies due to the Mormon thing.  This bunch did line up behind him because they knew his effectiveness and they knew it was the best path to actually getting things done.

    There is a political circle here that needs to be broken somehow.  Either Evangelicals need to learn where real effectiveness lies or Romney has got to find a way to attract at least one of the loudmouths.  Better, maybe the loudmouths need to educate their audiences on where genuine change can be made.   This problem does not just apply to Romney; virtually any politician that wants to be effective on these issues faces the same political conundrum.  Romney’s conundrum is complicated by his Mormon faith, but the fundamental misunderstanding of the legal situation with regards to many social issue remains.

    Frankly, this is where new media can have the best positive effect in terms of a potential future Romney run.  As new media gave the bigoted a place to organize, so it can the truly effective.  If I am a Romney political adviser, the Faith and Values Committee of a future campaign is going to have a huge new media presence.

    romneynationalreviewNational Review and NRO – While a diverse group, the heart of National Review is Roman Catholic.  Their endorsement of Romney should have been a much bigger deal to the election than it ended up being – a fact that illustrates that the Mormon issue is, in some ways, less about “being Mormon” and more about “not being Evangelical.”  This endorsement just did not move the polls much.  It likely reflects that Evangelicals were not interested in who was best, but who was most like them.   Since the editors of NR are not like them either, they ignored.

    It would be very interesting to see how things would have worked were there not a candidate in the race who was so much “like them.”  Under such circumstances would Evangelicals have gravitated towards Romney?  My thinking is not likely – they would have stayed home.  Prior to the emergence of the Huckster that seemed to be the handwriting on the wall.  Now, that could very well have resulted in a primary victory for Romney, but would not have boded well for the general.

    In its various online outlets NR covered the religion question to an extent but tended towards straightforward reporting and political analysis.  With a few notable exceptions they did not argue its merits or lack thereof.  This author would have very much liked to have see the formidable intellectual talent that resides there address the issue in deep detail.  But they did fight hard for the Romney candidacy and they did so with a largely religious audience.

    John Mark Reynolds – Dr. Reynolds heads the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University.  In August 2006 he published at his blog what has become the classic apologia for an evangelical Christian voting for a Mormon.  He allowed us to reprint that piece in May of 2007.  He continues to reassert and defend the arguments he put forth then in any venue available to him where the issue arises today.

    On the intellectual level JMR did most of the heavy lifting for the issue of Romney and religion during the entire campaign.  He was in early and he worked hard.  He has not gotten the credit he deserved for a couple of reasons.  For one, those opposed to Romney on religious grounds are generally not of an intellectual bent.  (There are notable exceptions.)  Secondly, since most of the real grunt work of the issue happened in the virtual netherworld of blog post comments, etc., it does not lend itself to the kind of extensive reasoning Dr. Reynold brought to the fore.

    Reynold’s work was largely complete before Grudem’s endorsement, which garnered much more attention.  Grudem is a theologian and Reynolds a philosopher, which also made a big difference in who attracted attention.  But Reynolds work had a “real world” quality to it that should have made it much more effective than it was.  Once again testament to the fact that prejudice is generally about the absence of reason.

    Also, of course, it is testament to the fact that the New Media activity on this issues fell well short of what was needed that Reynold’s work did not spread farther.  Reynold’s work should have been linked, reprinted, discussed and commented upon throughout the online world.   Romney supporters need to get active across the Internet.  See our online activism page for what YOU can do.

    Some of the Principled

    Richard LandDr. Land is essentially the political face of the Southern Baptist Convention, which is the biggest denomination in America today.  As a matter of course Dr. Land does not endorse candidates.  Therefore he never said “vote for Mitt Romney.”  In fact, if one were to look at the uncountable times he was quoted in the press on the issue of Romney’s faith, one would suspect he opposed Romney on religious basis.  But that was just the press at work.  Dr. Land speaks extensively on the issue in the Article VI movie, and that is the only place we saw him quoted at sufficient length to know that he in fact thought it would be fine to vote for Mitt Romney.  It should also be noted that we never attended a Romney event of nationalland scope where Dr. Land was not present.  In fact the photo that appears here is one that Lowell took of Dr. Land at Romney’s “Faith in America” speech in December of 2007.

    Dr. Land did suffer from “theology first” syndrome and whenever he did say it was OK for a Baptist to vote for a Mormon, he lead with the observation that Mormons are heterodox – although he usually used stronger terminology than that.  This, frankly, is why he was so often misrepresented by a press eager to show a problem with Romney and religion.  The quotations never extended beyond the heterodox point, even though Dr. Land routinely went on to put that observation in a broader context.

    It would be very interesting to interview Dr. Land at this point and see if he might not adjust how he makes comments in the future, should Romney elect to run again.  It would be fascinating to have a discussion with him not on Romney per se, but on religious bias generally and the role of religion in the public square.

    Regardless of this singular weakness, Dr. Land supported Mitt Romney’s candidacy as best as the constraints of his position would allow him too.  Even if his presentation was not perfectly honed, Dr. Land did stand for the right of an American of minority faith to stand for election and perhaps win.  And for that he is one of the good guys.

    Charles Chaput – Like Richard Land, Roman Catholic Archbishop (Denver) Charles Chaput does not do candidate endorsements.  But he is probably the most politically visible and active of all the Roman Catholic hierarchy in the United States, and he is staunchly conservative.  He was one of the first and most extensive interviews Hugh Hewitt went after when he did his Romney book.

    Funny, he did not get much press after that.  Probably because he is so identifiably conservative.  When it came to Roman Catholic comment, the press tended to turn to the late Father Richard John Neuhaus who is a bit more politically moderate, and far more “theology first.”

    Regardless, Archbishop Chaput’s comments in the Hewitt book, and his few press comments later in the campaign were right on.  One would think that Roman Catholics, with their long history of suffering similar political bias in America, would have a well formed and unified view of such things.  But the divide between Neuhaus and Chaput demonstrates most likely is that the Roman Catholic church does not have a unified view on much of anything.

    A hypothetical Romney campaign cannot stand “the principled” up because such people do not do endorsement and do not wish to be perceived as Romney, or any other candidate, partisans.  What is a more interesting question is why the cause of anti-religious political bias in politics has not become a movement unto itself.  There is such a clear bias from the left against any religious voice in politics that one would think it would become a cause célèbre amongst the religiously motivated and politically active.  Any such movement would have to defend all religion, not just its own.  And therein, I think lies the problem.  The Lands and Chaputs of the world are far more rare than the people who are interested only in protecting their own religion.  Such a movement just cannot seem to get any traction.

    As I review this list of “good guys,” I am heartened.  Religion was indeed problematic for Romney 2008, but this list of people gives one hope.  They are the smart people – not because they supported Romney directly or indirectly – but because they are the people that do politics, or comment upon it regularly.  They are leaders and opinion makers.  Such talent and ability may not have the instantaneous gratification of pop cultural impact, but it seems to always prevail in the long run.

    As the political ground is shifting under our feet,  as those of us who are religiously motivated and politically active find ourselves increasingly “on the outs,” substance will begin to matter more than flash, and this is a group of much substance.  It gives one hope that regardless of what decision Mitt Romney comes to, there is a good conservative future for America.  People like this cannot help but make it happen.


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    Help Haiti

    Posted by: Lowell Brown at 09:11 am, January 25th 2010     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    more about "Help Haiti", posted with vodpod


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    More on Massachusetts – Prop 8, “Romneycare”, and more…

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:43 am, January 25th 2010     &mdash      2 Comments »

    When Smart People Analyze Scott Brown’s “Massachusetts Miracle”. . .

    They say what we said the night of the event – that after Scott Brown himself, Mitt Romney and 2008′s (soon to be 2012′s?) Team Romney were the biggest winners.   Consider:

    Let’s consider a pull quote from that last link:

    “Scott Brown has certainly put a lot of wind in the sails of my campaign,’’ said Charles Djou of Hawaii . . . .

    Now, first of all, it is a huge story if the Globe has to write it, as they are loath to say anything nice about Mitt Romney or anyone associated with him.  Even this piece reads like it was written with gritted teeth.   But let’s do a little political math here.  Scott Brown has completely changed the equation in the current Congress.  Jam-downs are now impossible.  Scott Brown owes that to Team Romney – thus every Republican in Congress owes Team Romney.  Now, Team Romney spreads out and works with new candidates, who in all likelihood are  going to ride this wave into office, at least a majority of them.  So now a large segment of the Republican elected officials in the nation owe Team Romney.

    That, dear friends, is how presidential elections are typically won.  The hitch in this get-along are poll results like this showing Huckabee as the only candidate out-polling Obama at the moment.  What the many independents that elected Brown, and currently seem to favor the Huckster, have to realize is that parties are necessary, very necessary, for actual governance.  Scott Brown’s effectiveness in Congress is not based on Scott Brown himself, but on the fact that he allows a filibuster to hold in the Senate along party lines.  The Party Matters.

    And of course, religion matters, but not in the way you might think.  The Brown election has been described as “ecumenical.”  Now, that can be a loaded word.  Religious ecumenism is not something I favor, but political ecumenism – across religious lines – well, that’s a different story.  Mike Potemra at The Corner points out:

    Some on the Internet are upset because Senator Brown is pro-choice, but most are wise enough to realize that he is a friend to life in many ways that will actually count over the next couple of years. Brown, like the rest of us, is what religious folk like to call a “work in progress” – and he is an instance of yet another notable development in American religious history, one First Things editor Jody Bottum recently pointed to: “As my friend Paul Mankowski, S.J., once remarked, the Catholic Church’s moral agenda would be much advanced if every Catholic in Congress was replaced with a Mormon or a Muslim.” When I first read that, I thought it was somewhat overstated, but the longer I think about it the more true it appears.

    Mitt Romney is now clearly the most influential Republican in the country.  Voting for Huckabee, or Palin, or any other presidential possible other than him is to vote against the party – which means it is to vote against effectiveness, even on so-called social issues.  At this point, all one could do by supporting someone other than Mitt Romney, should he decide to run, would be to express whatever negative feelings they might have towards the Republican party.  They can accomplish nothing else, because without the party, nothing can be accomplished.

    Scott Brown’s victory was such a coup for Team Romney, that if I am Tim Pawlenty, I am thinking about shelving my presidential hopes for at least a cycle.  What was an obstacle (Romney’s prior run and the experience and friends that brings) has, with the Brown victory, become a fortress that is well-nigh unassailable.

    Which is why. . .

    Romney Is  In The Crosshairs . . .

    . . . Of the Prop 8 Foes

    The federal Prop 8 trial continues in San Francisco, and all we can do is read and pray for the lawyers and judges.  Frankly the trial is flawed by its very existence – Prop 8 is none of the federal government’s business, nor is it the place of any court to override the twice expressed will of the electorate (even the California Supreme Court could figure that one out), yet here we are.  Courts are also supposed to be about facts and law, not feelings, but in our society of abundance feelings seems to have taken a disproportionate place.  (Now there is something for religion to ponder!)

    The plaintiffs in the case, that is to say opponents to Prop 8, appear to be rank religious bigots and act like it too.  But likely fearing a loss, they have launched a campaign aimed right at Mitt Romney.   You can read about it here and here.  From the latter of those two links:

    Coming just two years ahead of New Hampshire’s First-in-the-Nation Presidential Primary, Californians Against Hate’s Fred Karger is running “Call MittRomney” ads in three major daily newspapers in states where Romney resides: the New Hampshire Union-Leader, the Boston Globe, and the Salt Lake Tribune.

    The online ads ask former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney to use his vast influence with the president of his church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon Church), to get them out of the anti-gay marriage business.

    Folks, that is massively ugly, but in many ways it is brilliant politics.  What Karger is doing here is reminding everybody he can that Mitt Romney is, oh no, a Mormon.  And sadly, that fact makes some Republicans very unsettled.  Unsettled enough that in the last cycle, divided Republicans suffered huge electoral losses.  The ideological overreach of the current administration and Congress has reunited us in the Brown victory and that spells serious trouble for Democrats and liberals.  So in a matter of days we see our opponents start hammering on the wedge that divided us last time.  One can only hope, and pray, that we are smarter this time around.

    . . . And Others

    There have been a lot of people trying to make political hay out of some surface similarities between the now dead Obamacare and the healthcare plan that passed in Massachusetts when Romney was governor.  The Wall Street Journal fired the latest salvo in that effort just last Thursday.  As we have discussed here many times, what was enacted in Massachusetts and what Mitt Romney wanted and proposed were two very different things.  Not to mention Romney veoted, only to have that veto overridden, the most objectionable portions of the package.  And of course, Romney has said from the inception that the states should be doing this, not the fed.  On this latter point, it looks like a lot of people in Massachusetts agree.

    It is nothing more than anti-Romney spin to try and make a case that he is tarred by the now dead-in-the-water Obamacare.  As we show above, Romney had a huge role in electing Scott Brown which is what made Obamacare dead-in-the-water.  One cannot possibly reasonably assert that Mitt Romney wants some sort of federal health care package when he just worked so hard to defeat it.

    Of course, reason has often been absent when it comes to opposition to Mitt Romney.  As I have said many times, the Massachusetts health care legislation kept me off the Romney bandwagon, even if I was on the anti-religious bigotry one, for a very long time.  But actions speak louder than words and more recent actions matter more than the past;  we all learn things.  Anyone beating this issue now is beating a dead horse.

    Related Things . . .

    From a reader we get a story about a Ponzi scheme with Mormon overtones.  Is it a sign of bigotry against Mormons?  In a sense, yes, but Ponzi schemes thrive in faith communities of all sorts.  The grandest of them all, the Madoff scandal, was largely a Jewish phenomena, and that fact is definitely under-reported in comparison to something like this.  But I personally tend to look at these stories as more testament to the fact that in our faith communities we tend to suspend our faculties for reason and caution.  On an emotional level its part of where religious bigotry comes from – we trust those within our group and suspect those without.  The real lesson to learn here is that our faith communities, whether Mormon, Evangelical, or Jewish, contain both good people and bad people.  The trick is not to figure out who is of our religious community, but who is good or bad.

    Finally, Joe Carter writes on why a pro-life president matters, even when abortion is largely a judicial issue.  I would like to challenge Mr. Carter to explain how the religious affiliation of any pro-life president matters to any of those reasons.  What matters, simply, is that they are pro-life.

    Lowell adds . . .

    These are fascinating subjects. A few quick hits:

    Isn’t it interesting that no one is asking Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader who is an active Mormon in good standing, to influence The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on same-sex marriage?  Reid opposes such marriages, as this Salt Lake Tribune article, reprinted by Californians Against Hate themselves, reported:

    Even on the most recent issue of gay marriage, Reid says he doesn’t disagree with the church’s position on traditional marriage. The senator says he voted in Nevada for the state constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. But he says he’s expressed his concern for years to leaders about the church stepping into the debate and that the millions the church invested in the Prop 8 campaign was bad strategy.

    Reid said he’s not suggesting the church change its position, just that it not speak out so strongly. “It’s just bad strategy to create so much ill-will in California.”.

    Well, that’s a reasonably nuanced position to take, and one that more than a few politically liberal Mormons have adopted.  But Reid voted for Nevada’s constitutional rule on same-sex marriage that is just like Prop 8. So why is Californians Against Hate not running ads, asking people to call Harry Reid and urge him to lobby the Church on the issue?  The most logical explanation is that Fred Karger and company want to hurt Romney and not Reid. (Yes, Karger has historically been a Republican but this is an attack coming from the left.)  We will see more of this as Romney’s 2012 campaign efforts become more prominent.

    Regarding Ponzi schemes:  It’s well known that some Mormons prey on other Mormons.  As John notes, this goes on in all kinds of affinity groups.  Utah was once known as the penny stock fraud capital of the United States.  Church leaders have warned members against investing in schemes in which the promoters tout their Mormon faith as a basis for trust.  Enough said about that sad human tendency.

    And One More Thought About Haiti

    If you have not felt moved to donate to the Haiti relief efforts before, you will after watching this privately-produced video:

    Have I Done Any Good?

    (HT: Meridian Magazine.)

    And the week is off to a great start!


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    Romney Wins! Romney Wins! Romney Wins! . . . Sort Of

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 11:04 pm, January 19th 2010     &mdash      3 Comments »

    There is no surer sign of the Democrats’ increasingly tenuous grip on power than the fact that they are trying to spin Scott Brown’s (R) incredible victory for the Senate seat vacated by Ted Kennedy’s death as problematic for Mitt Romney.  We first noted the spin on Politico early Monday morning.  In the wake of the election Investor’s Business Daily tried to point out how it was big for Romney, and yet the first comment on that post tried to show it as a downer for him.  Fortunately, other commenters quickly pointed out the error of that commenter’s ways.

    Funny though . . . Romney was on the dais at Brown’s victory speech and Brown called him forward for thanks – the first call after his family.  Do you need other facts?  Calling this “spin” is actually being kind.  Romney played this just right – he was an enormous amount of help to the Brown campaign.  Cash from Free and Strong America was just the beginning – staff was loaned.  Let’s face it, there is no such thing as a Republican “machine” in a place like Massachusetts, but given that he came closer to beating Ted Kennedy than anybody and got elected governor there, Romney comes as close to having one as possible.  No Republican could have pulled this off without him.  But despite that, Romney stayed, as far as coverage was concerned “in the background.”  This was Scott Brown’s campaign, not Mitt Romney’s.

    And that points out the huge difference between this administration and a possible Romney one.  This president enters the room and he insists that the spotlight shine on him.  When he went to Massachusetts to stump for Coakley, he sucked all the oxygen out of the room.   Romney did far more for Brown than Obama even thought of doing for Coakley, and yet he did it in a way that left the spotlight on Brown.  Service, not ego, was what mattered here.

    And that seems to me the heart of where religion and politics intersect.  Good religion, regardless of theology, makes us better people – it makes us people of service and goodwill, not self-service and personal will.

    Lowell adds . . .

    Romney played this one very well.  Ed Carson at Investor’s Business Daily:

    “Ex-Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney was . . . a key backer of the little-known state senator [Scott Brown] back when he was seen as a sacrificial lamb.

    “While some are already touting Brown as a 2012 presidential contender, Romney could be the big beneficiary. He’s helped deliver the 41st GOP Senate vote, perhaps derailing Obamacare. Activists will remember that.”

    I think so too.

    John Updates The Next Morning…

    Here from the local Massachusetts press is a recount of what went on in Brown’s suite as news of his victory spread.  Key ‘graphs for our thesis above:

    He said he’s been “calling everybody I know, doing everything I can to make sure Scott Brown won. Finally we can tell Washington, ‘We want you to listen.”‘As 10 p.m. approached, and Brown prepared to go down to the crowded ballroom to give his victory speech, former presidential candidate and Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney looked over his speech of introduction for Brown. “This is heroic,” he said of Brown’s win. “It wasn’t expected that he would have a victory this big.”

    With everyone piling out of the room to head downstairs, Ayla smiled, sending an affectionate glance toward her dad as he consulted withRomney.

    Romney did introduce Brown at the victory celebration.  A sure sign that he was key to the campaign.  And yet, no mention of that on TV coverage last night (Even Fox which is what I watched) and when Brown thanked Romney, he had to step from way back in the crowd to receive Brown’s handshake.  So far back I did not spot him until he came forward – unlike the unmistakable visage of Doug Flutie and other Massachusetts luminaries.

    And it was former (perhaps to be again?) senior adviser to Romney’s presidential campaign, Kevin Madden that had an op-ed in the WSJ this AM:

    Republicans could easily recline and leave Mr. Obama and the Democrats to self-destruct. Majority status and control of Congress is conceivably in reach just by reminding voters you can’t blame Republicans for Washington’s current appetite for excess, since Democrats are in control of this mess. It would be a safe maneuver because it’s true.

    However, for Republicans the progression from malcontent to sustainable movement involves learning from President Obama’s mistakes. Unlike Mr. Obama, the party can go beyond ideals and process ideas that deliver an actual reformist agenda. The party can prove to a disaffected public that we stand for more than just winning elections but instead are dedicated to reforming a broken system and governing a nation with public support. A Republican Party that avoids the same shortsightedness and reflexive partisanship that has defined President Obama’s first year in office will be one truly deserving of majority status and deliver on the promise of a remade America currently eluding Mr. Obama.

    That sounds like the map for 2010 and beyond to me!

    And on a final sad note, this “tweet” passed through our little twitter monitor at right this morning:

    OMG Romney is on stage with Brown lapping up the victory. This is a nightmare. The Mormon takeover.

    We certainly hope you all are taking our advice and actively engaging in comment “policing.”  See “Online Activism” above.  You might want to set up a Twitter account.  After all tweets are just comments without context.


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    Palin on Fox, “Double Standards,” The Invisible Primary, and more…

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:48 am, January 18th 2010     &mdash      5 Comments »

    Sarah Palin . . .

    . . . signed with FOXNews last week at the same time “Game Change” showed us she thought her Veep nomination was “God’s will.”  What can we conclude?  She is not running – I repeat – she is not running – at least not for real.  People run for POTUS for a lot of reasons, and in the last decade we have seen a new one arise – running for media credibility.  It seems clear that both Palin and Huckabee, if they throw their hat in the ring, will be doing so simply to accumulate the kind of cred that delivers five-to-six figure speaking fees and TV time.

    Media is rapidly becoming about niche marketing.  Develop an audience and hit its pockets over and over again.  That is what both Palin and the Huckster are up to.  You can make a lot of money that way.  But becoming president is still about broad appeal, and that is what Romney and Pawlenty are up to – maybe Thune?  (I still say that if Thune throws in it’s a “practice” round.)

    What’s sad is the ridicule the behavior of someone like Palin of the Huckster sets the rest of us up for.

    The Whole “Double Standard” Thing . . .

    Everybody was talking about how the media was cutting Harry Reid a break over his racist comments in re: The One.  The comments are reported in “Game Change.”  Of all the comments, Cal Thomas hit the salient point for this blog: (HT: Jay Evensen)

    Reid belongs to the Mormon church, which waited until 1978 to announce a “revelation” that black people were welcome in that denomination. That is mostly ignored by the media, though reporters kept bringing up Mitt Romney’s Mormon beliefs — even questioning what undergarments he wore — during the last presidential campaign.

    Watch what happens here.  Not only is no one mentioning Reid’s faith – they are not pointing out the Mormon church’s troubled history with race.  But have no fear.  Reid is about to get his head handed to him when he stands for re-election this year.  He will then become a discredited political figure.

    Once that is done, if Romney runs again, you can bet we will hear all about Reid, his racism, and his Mormon faith – as a cudgel to beat Romney.  Mark my words, the swami has spoken.

    The Invisible Primary . . .

    Frum is trying to cause trouble here, but he does not have to work very hard at it.  When it is all said and done, I think we are going to find a close correlation between the Tea Party people and the “don’t vote for a Mormon” people.  I heard one on Michael Medved Friday say he would rather have his “conscious right with God” than vote against “his principles.”  That is just a rephrasing of the “Damn the environment, bring on the apocalypse” mentality that many on the left accuse we religious folk of having.  We really can be our own worst enemy.

    Is Romney a health care hypocrite?  Tough call.  Ask Lowell, the Mass. healthcare plan kept me in the purely-academic, not-supporting-Romney mode for a long time last cycle.  It is the only thing I do not like when I look at Romney.  That said, it is a far cry better than anything that has been considered by the Fed to date.

    But this I will say, the word “hypocrite” carries with it religious overtones.  Don’t be surprised to see Romney’s faith and “healthcare hypocrisy” wrapped up into a nonsensical, but somewhat effective, ball sometime in the future.

    And while we are in Massachusetts, Mitt Romney is now firmly in front of the Scott Brown parade and Barack Obama the Martha Coakley death march.  In both cases it’s a huge bet on a Senate race for president or presidential candidate.  For a president there is no up side – only the preservation of existing political capital, or not.  For a candidate, the upsides are tremendous, and the downside is to look like a loser in your home state.  But at this point the “loser” label has fled the race.  Should Brown lose, which is looking less and less likely, there will be moral loss and moral victory only.  Romney comes out of this smelling like a rose, regardless.

    UPDATE: Politico says Romney is missing from the Brown campaign?  Maybe he failed to appear as predicted in the link above, but if my email is any measure Romney is doing everything he can to help Scott Brown.  Why just yesterday I got emails for support activities for Brown from the Romney operation BEFORE I got them from Brown’s campaign.  And of course there are the Romney TV appearances discussing Brown that are buried in the story.  Politico is shooting at Romney here — I wonder why?  Back to the original post.

    Ya gotta love it.  We laugh, but on reflection, Huck’s comment that Romney “has no soul,” is so ugly that laughter is the only viable response.   To question someone’s essential humanity is, in the end, contemptible.  I can come up with a list of negative adjectives in re: the Huckster much longer than my arm, but he is a human being – a wrong one – but a human being nonetheless.  Shame on Huckabee.

    Deep Thoughts . . .

    Bias and ignorance are close kin.

    Using freedom to deny it.  Interesting concept.

    Finally . . .

    We have added MLK’s “I Have A Dream” Speech to our video widget at left – apropos the day and the raison d’être for this blog.

    Lowell adds . . .

    Viewing Mike Huckabee’s comments in “Game Changer” charitably, I suppose he was using “soul” in the sense of “a moral compass,” or “integrity.” Still . . . it was a most unfortunate choice of words by a candidate who everyone knows was a Baptist preacher in a religion-charged campaign. The most telling aspect of the Huck-Romney rivalry as it now stands is that Huck is the only one still taking shots at the other guy.

    As for Romney’s involvement in the Scott Brown campaign, here’s an analysis that finds Romney’s fingerprints everywhere:  “Largely overlooked in assessing Brown’s prospects [is] the hidden hand of Mitt Romney.”  Read the whole thing; it describes a lot of the political bridge-building Romney is doing.  I don’t see any other candidate doing anything comparable.

    Romney and healthcare:  is he a hypocrite?  The answer is no, but understanding that  requires more than a superficial understanding of what Romney did in Massachusetts.  Here’s what you need to know:  Romney’s plan was for Massachusetts, not the USA.   He has always said that he would not be in favor of the Massachusetts system (including the “individual mandate” requiring everyone to have health insurance)  being imposed nationally.  That said, 96% of Massachusetts’ citizens have health insurance.  Not a bad feat; I wish California could come even close to that.


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    The Truth About Religion In Public and Romney is Emerging

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 07:01 am, January 10th 2010     &mdash      2 Comments »

    Reactions to Brit Hume’s Tiger Woods comment continue unabated.  The best thing I have seen so far is Michael Gerson’s WaPo coulmn from Friday:

    The root of the anger against Hume is his religious exclusivity — the belief, in Shuster’s words, that “my faith is the right one.” For this reason, according to Shales, Hume has “dissed about half a billion Buddhists on the planet.”

    But this supposed defense of other religious traditions betrays an unfamiliarity with religion itself. Religious faiths — Christian, Buddhist, Zoroastrian — generally make claims about the nature of reality that conflict with the claims of other faiths. Attacking Christian religious exclusivity is to attack nearly every vital religious tradition. It is not a scandal to believers that others hold differing beliefs. It is only a scandal to those offended by all belief. Though I am not a Buddhist or a Muslim, I am not “dissed” when a Muslim or a Buddhist advocates his views in public.

    [Emphasis added] This is absolutely right, and it is why, when a Buddhist is similarly attacked, as Christians, it is wise for us to rise to their defense.  And it also means we must be very careful in how we apply our religion in public.  Perhaps in a nation where religious adherence could be assumed, and attacks like this were not commonplace, discussions of Romney’s faith versus Giuliani’s or McCain’s might be worth having.  But that is not the nation we live in right now.  Such infighting in our current circumstance strengthens and emboldens those that think religion a blight and that it should be removed from the nation.

    But even if we lived in that fictitious nation, we would need to exercise civility and decency in our discussions.  Which brings us to . . .

    Romney’s Coming Out To Sell His Book . . .

    . . . and the ugliness begins.  Check out the 12th comment on the Ben Smith post on the New Hampshire portion of Romney’s book tour.

    Mormons aint common baby…Palin 2012

    UGH!  I understand why Politico lets that stay there – to edit comments at a site like Politico is a legal minefield – but imagine that someone said the same thing, but substituted “blacks” for “Mormons” about Obama’s campaign stops.  There is also profanity, mild profanity but profanity nonetheless, in the comments.  Politico and sites like it have “report abuse” systems wherein readers can tell them of offensive comments, and they do not have to have large staffs to moderate comments.

    We’d like to urge our readers to become “comment police” people.  Use these reporting systems at every opportunity.  We expect the highest standards of civility and reason from our readers.  This means that the correct answer to a prejudicial or biased comment is not name-calling or equally prejudicial comments.  Such is evident in the comment stream discussed here – we should rise above it.  Use the reporting system or answer reasonably.  Also, we must EQUALLY apply our policing skills.  The same comment stream that takes this shot at Romney’s faith takes a very ugly one at Palin’s.  If you call out one – you must call out both.

    In 2008, comments were where the real bigotry festered and grew.  It is reasonable to try and ride herd on it.  There is little we can do with sites like “Huck’s Army.”  But there is much we can and should do at mainstream news sites. To help you with this effort we have set up a twitter account that is on autopilot.   It will tweet much of the raw news feed that we monitor here.  We, of course, use editorial discretion as we write here (or tweet at our normal spot), but this is going to be the raw stuff and lots of it.  You can mine it to find the kinds of comments we are talking about here since even most news outlets now allow comments on stories.  Please do try to be judicious- complaining about comments at “” is going to be a waste of time – concentrate on mainstream sites and publications.  Drop us an email and let us know if you are going to involve yourself in this effort and how it is going – and please include your email address in the body of the email so we can write you back.

    UPDATE: I used the Politco “report abuse” system when I wrote this piece and between then and publication the comment I quote above has disappeared, along with the profanity and the one about Palin – so this works.   I am betting that the “edited” commenter took offense as there is now a long stream of anonymous “magic underwear” comments. – Go get them, they are all yours.

    Back to the original post…

    More on “The Invisible Primary”…

    And speaking of Palin – Chris Good’s Friday “Invisible Primary” post says a mouthful, while trying to deny it, about Palin and running in 2012.  That post is about appearances at the upcoming CPAC and Southern Republican Leadership Conference.

    Our friends at “Evangelicals For Mitt” were very active on Romney’s behalf at the 2006 SRLC – and that has resulted in some accusations being thrown their way.  They set the record straight here.  You may disagree with EFM’s choice of candidates, but they are above board and honest people.  To insinuate otherwise is malicious and uncalled for.

    As he emerges into the public eye once again, Romney is polling very well, particularly with smart people.  See here and here. (HT:race42012)  This was true last time as well – the smart money was on Romney.  Can the smart people convince the general public this time around?  More importantly will it hinge on the religion question?  In the immortal words of Bette Davis, “It’s going to be a bumpy ride.”

    Romney has been doing a lot of media in the last week.  Race 4 2012 carries the video of his Greata Van Susteren appearance Friday night.  (We could not get our video widget to work on this one and linking directly to Fox, it’ll disappear too quickly.)  And Utah Policy corrects our assertion of late last week that no one in the MSM was asking Romney about religion this time around.  They did on Fox and Friends early last week – barely.  It is still nowhere near the din we saw last time.

    Lowell adds . . .

    John and I are in full agreement on the “blogactivism” idea. The only way — the only way! — The Question will ever fade into irrelevancy is if people of good will use sweet reason to persuade the overwhelming majority of conservative activists (and also quite a few liberals) that The Question deserves irrelevancy.

    Having thought about this overnight, I can’t remember a single occasion when anyone has expressed political anti-Mormon bias to my face – or even in public when I was a witness.  No, that bigotry is the kind of sentiment people express in private or behind screen names on the internet.  Once it is challenged, it slinks back into the hole from which it emerged.

    We need to be careful, however, to avoid “shouting down” opposing viewpoints – a tactic the Left perfected during the last decade.  When a bigoted comment appears, I  hope the response is not, “Shut up, you bigot!” (although in some rare cases that will be the appropriate response).  Instead, I hope we will demand that the attacker justify his statment in some principled manner.  For example:  “Why are you bringing up Romney’s religious beliefs?  How do they have anything to do with his ability to serve as president?  Why didn’t they disqualify him from being a governor?” and similar questions.  Even the “magic underwear” nonsense can be addressed this way: “How is that different from a candidate wearing a cross under his shirt,  or a Jewish candidate wearing a yarmulke or prayer shawl?”

    The blogosphere is a potent force for good, for ennobling behavior, and for bringing out the best in public discourse.  John has come up with an excellent way for us to do all those things by tapping into the inherent decency of the American people.  Let the games begin!


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