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."

  • Who Is The Tea Party? Dobson Gets Bold – and more . . .

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 07:43 pm, February 8th 2010     &mdash      2 Comments »

    James Dobson, now divorced from Focus on The Family, has endorsed a candidate.  There is no a big stretch here, but it is the kind of leadership that Dobson failed to show in ’08.  We have wondered if his departure from FOTF was in part motivated by the political restraints that organization forced upon him.  This could get interesting . . .

    The “Tea Party”

    Last week, Lowell and I had a minor disagreement about the Tea Party movement.  Given that there was a convention of the movement this past weekend, there has been much analysis and efforts to define it.  See, the problem is it’s not well-organized; it’s a bunch of organizations with a lot of different things in mind.  National Journal profiles some of the “leading” groups.  The Christian Science Monitor tries to profile it and says this is how it started:

    CNBC editor Rick Santelli’s on-air “rant” last February about a proposed mortgage bailout is widely considered to be the “big bang” moment for the birth of the movement.

    Interesting thesis, and it probably is right for one branch of the movement, but this thing is too diverse to have a single “big bang” moment.  Zogby does some numbers, and Chris Good theorizes that it will “fail” – being subsumed by the Republican party.  This later is an interesting choice of words – the history of the United States is that we are a definitively two-party state, third party movements always fail in the sense that they do not last.  But, if they are indeed subsumed by one of the two parties, and in that process move that party towards their ideals – can they truly be said to have “failed?”  I, for one, do not think so.  [Lowell slips this in: Good point!]

    But let’s get the heart of the disagreement between Lowell and me:  Is there a religious element to the movement?  There certainly is not an overt one, but I do think there is an undercurrent.  Let’s consider two pieces.  One from the Financial Times, looking at Republicans and the South:

    The south is the spiritual and – along with the mountain states of the west – electoral base of the Republican party.  And yet, as the party ­struggles back into national relevance with recent gubernatorial triumphs in both New Jersey and Virginia and a genuinely shocking upset last month with the victory by Scott Brown in the race for Ted Kennedy’s former seat in ­Massachusetts, the south has become as much a curse as a blessing.  If the “Grand Ol’ Party” wants to win nationally in 2010, it must attract ­voters who do not identify with southern values.  And if it wants to harness, as it did in Massachusetts, the power of the anti-Washington “tea party” ­protests – the grassroots movement that emerged in 2009 in opposition to Obama’s tax and spending plans – it may have to distance itself from the southern establishment.  The great paradox of recovery, then, is that it now seems that the fastest way for the Republican party to return to its broader base of the late 1990s and early 2000s is at the expense of its most loyal and ardent followers.

    [Emphasis added.]  Note the reference to “spiritual.”  There are other references in the piece to the Bible Belt and its importance to Republicans.  As I said before, the issue lies in the word “authentic.”  The Republicans lost so broadly last time because they were no longer “authentically” conservative.  Romney lost last time for similar reasons, and those concerns were given great force, as we have documented endlessly here, by the ugly “Mormons lie” meme, the roots of which lie in theology.

    More importantly, this blog post contends that Sarah Palin is the only uniting figure in the entire Tea Party Movement.  The heart of Palin’s appeal, for most everyone I talk to, is the “authenticity” she demonstrated in carrying her Down Syndrome son to term and raising him.  They can rely on her to be a “real” Christian.

    Speaking of Palin, she is leaving the door open to a run.  And she does not appear to want to do so for a third party:

    Asked whether she sees herself as a member of the tea party movement or a member of the Republican Party, Mrs. Palin said, “I think the two are, and should be even more so, merging.”

    “Because the tea party movement is quite reflective of what the GOP, the planks in the platform, are supposed to be about — limited government and more freedom, more respect for equality. That’s what the tea party movement is about. So I think that the two are much entwined,” she said.

    Actually, I’d call that hedging her bets.  In many senses the Tea Party movement is her base.  The other thing, aside from Trig, that gave her “authenticity” last time was how far she was from the mainstream of the party.  Lowell said when this discussion started that the movement was similar to the “Perotistas” of the Bush/Clinton election – which is a good analogy.  Palin is going to find herself with a problem if she actually does try to run.  More in a moment – back to the movement and religion.

    It is fair to say that the Tea Party movement as a whole is not going to dip into the religious wars we saw last time.  You are not going to see leading religious figures arguing about genuine faith in the movement, at least not until the movements death throes.  But there is little doubt in my mind that religious impulses lie in the emotional mix of a large section of the Tea Party people.

    Someone could come along and play on that impulse, and religion could come front-and-center again.

    The future for the movement is, from my perspective fractured.  It’s single defining characteristic is dissatisfaction and such people can only ever agree to disagree, thus they will never be able to organize sufficiently to stand alone.  Those interested in changing things will indeed be “subsumed” into the GOP because that is how they will get things done.  Those interested solely in being dissatisfied will begin to grow dissatisfied with each other and they will fracture into a million pieces.  Some of those pieces will be overtly religious and they could get really ugly in 2012.  But it will be rhetorical ugliness only, their very nature will render them ineffective.

    This is where Palin’s problems will arise, if she decides to run.  The fractures will be such that she will not have enough support in the Republican party to prevail in the primaries, and there will not be enough of a party outside of it to succeed in the general.  From our perspective, the question is which direction will the religiously motivated amongst the movement go?  My guess is the third party route.  Wonder if the Huckster will try and get in front of that parade?

    But then political predictions are worse than Super Bowl picks, so take it for what its worth.

    Lowell adds . . .

    I still see the tea partiers as mostly libertarian in outlook. Their primary message is about economic liberty.  A quick visit to the Tea Party Nation web site seems to confirm my sense of them.  The links there to “strategic partner” sites includes only a couple of faith-based organizations.

    Still, I think John is right that most religious conservatives tend to identify with tea partiers.  There’s little doubt that religious folk who are also politically conservative are generally liberty-oriented as well, even if the liberty they care about relates to government staying out of religion or out of parents’ ability to raise their families in accordance with their beliefs.  All in I think the tea party movement is going to strengthen the GOP, not weaken it (assuming the organized GOP and indvidual Republican politicians are not stupid in their dealings with the movement).

    As John suggests, one positive result from the tea partiers’ infusion of vigor and fire into the Republicans will be the balancing of the “Religious Right’s” influence.  Putting it another way, the party does not do well when one of the three legs of the GOP “stool” (family values, economic liberty/small government, and strong foreign policy) is longer than the other two.   I think we had that problem with the family values leg in 2006 and 2008.  In 2009-10, we saw the economic liberty forces come roaring back, and as a result we got two Republican governors in New Jersey and Virginia and a Republican senator in the seat Ted Kennedy held.

    Finally, in relation to this blog’s mission, I think religious concerns will fall behind, or at least even with, economic liberty in 2010 and 2012.  That’s a good thing.  If we’ve learned anything in 222 years under the Constitution, the country does better when the “public religion” Lincoln talked about is at the forefront of our politics, rather than more sectarian views.  Here’s an interesting First Things summary of Lincoln’s views and their impact:

    It is to Lincoln that we owe our modern–day Thanksgiving, and the fact that it is celebrated by Americans of every religion and no religion also bears traces of Lincoln’s attitude. Owing, perhaps, to his own theological skepticism, he steered clear of sectarian squabbles, refused to countenance nativist anti–Catholicism, and changed “Christian” to “religious” in the chaplaincy program to accommodate Jewish chaplains.

    In Lincoln’s mind, public religion and nationalism were bound up together. From his “Young Man’s Lyceum Address” in 1838 . . . to his presidential speeches, Lincoln made clear that he wanted national unity “under God” and reverence for law as “the political religion of the nation.” Whatever else this mix of sanctity and politics produced, for generations after his death it had the effect of uniting a diverse people in the belief that they were all, somehow, participating in a great eschatological drama.

    That’s my story, and I’m stickin’ to it.

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    Utah (and Mormons) Front and Center

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:43 am, February 4th 2010     &mdash      1 Comment »

    Before we get too deep into things, you can go to this “YouTube” and hear Mitt Romney read the introduction to his forthcoming book. (HT: Race 4 2012)  The comments at the “hat tip” are fascinating.  The first one says a great deal:

    While there has been a plethora of books by former candidates (Huckabee, Palin, Obama), each has been about themselves. In many cases (especially in Huckabee’s case), it was a way to settle perceived slights.

    However, here is real leadership. Romney is looking beyond the mark into what is best for this nation.

    There is some interesting media thought there.  The personal actually “sells” in this day and age.  Our current president is the king of “I” – people do not always know how to relate to the kind of service and leadership that Romney demonstrates here.  My impression is that the nation is quickly returning to more solid underpinnings as we learn the lessons the hard way, but it will be an interesting contrast as we move forward.

    As an example of his service mentality, Romney is going to raise money for John Thune’s 2010 Senate run.   Thune is quickly joining Pawlenty as the other serious alternative to Romney for the GOP presidential nomination in ’12 – and yet Romney is going to help him.  The man is obviously far more interested in getting done what needs to be done than advancing his own possible candidacy.

    And before we get to Mormons, we need to look briefly at Evangelicals.  Indiana Democrat Evan Bayh, who should be in one of the most secure seats in the nation, finds himself being challenged in the next election.  His opponent:

    Coats was a key behind-the-scenes force in convincing John McCain to take Sarah Palin seriously as a vice presidential candidate. He was a member of “The Family,” a close-knit group of rigorously evangelical Christians who run, among things, the now well-known C Street rooming house in Washington, D.C. He also lobbied on behalf of Roache Diagnostics during the health battle reform battle.

    It will be interesting to keep an eye on this campaign in the ’10 cycle and see how the religious angle plays.  It could tell us a lot about religion, Romney and ’12.

    And this is unbecoming.  I am no fan of Obama or his agenda, but the seriousness of his faith is between him and his God.  Technically, this is about his Office on Faith, but the headline and lead are a little too attention grabbing.

    Utah . . .

    . . . is  still in the running for the 2012 GOP convention.  Says Jay Evenson of the Deseret News:

    Maybe Mitt Romney will be the nominee in 2012. If so, does he want to deliver an acceptance speech in a venue that would draw more attention to his Mormon faith than his leadership abilities? The Salt Lake area is gorgeous and has much to offer, but it offers absolutely nothing politically for the GOP, which already owns this state.

    It has got to be hard to be Romney right now.  He has done so much for the SLC area with the Olympics and these conventions bring big money into an area, but he must at least want to lobby against this because Evenson is absolutely right – from Romney’s perspective, the convention should be anywhere but Utah.

    Mormons . . .

    Elder M. Russell Ballard spoke at BYU-Idaho last weekend.  Seems like that is the selected venue for Mormon Elders to go to make bold statements.   I am not sure this time went as well as last time.  Quoth Ballard:

    “You remember Mr. (Mike) Huckabee (who was also vying to be the Republican candidate for president), who among other things said that Mormons believe that Jesus and the devil were brothers?” Ballard asked students. “Remember that? It went all over the media.”

    “Well they are!” Ballard exclaimed to a laughing student body.

    “But they (the media and nonmembers) don’t understand that, because they don’t have the (LDS gospel) restoration. They don’t understand the spiritual relationship that … we are all sons and daughters of God, and that Lucifer was one of those and (that) he chose to use his agency in an unrighteous way.”

    Declaring the Mormon belief is fine, but tying it to Huckabee makes it a problem for Romney – particularly that way.

    There is a school of thought, one I basically agree with, that Romney should not worry about being called “Christian” – he should just acknowledge that the LDS faith is quite different from traditional Christianity and move on from there.  I know how difficult that is given the Mormon conviction that it is Christianity restored, but politically, it’s a loser discussion.  For Elder Ballard to point out that Mormons believe very differently from others is a proper move in that direction.  But to do so while acknowledging one particular Mormon belief – even with the proper explanation – that most traditional Christians would find very troubling does not help at all.

    In this internet age, even this obscure story from a local paper gets picked up and spread widely.  Mormons are free to believe whatever they want, but they need to work on media management if they want one of their own to occupy the highest office in the land.  After all, W, or his pastor, did not spend any time explaining how the media does not really know what they believe.  They just let it go, even though they were grossly misrepresented in the press any number of times.  Do the job, worship in church, allow your worship to make you a better person and do your job better and leave it at that.  Anything else is picking a fight – in this case a fight that Mormons can only lose.

    Lowell adds . . .

    I don’t have too much to add, except to note that Mormon belief about Satan’s origins is not that different from the commonly-held Christian notion that Satan (Lucifer) is a “fallen angel.” But that gets into religious doctrine and we do not want to go there – and neither should the news media or any political candidate.

    By the way, I heard today that Marco Rubio is outpolling Charlie Crist in Florida in the race for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination there.  It is not hard at all to imagine Mr. Rubio as the next senator from Florida.  Let me be the first to predict the 2012 GOP ticket:  Romney-Rubio!  Isn’t speculation fun?

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    People Are Talking About Republicans Again!

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:37 am, February 2nd 2010     &mdash      3 Comments »

    Funny, a big win and suddenly everybody starts to pay attention again.  ABCNews ran a piece on 12 potential GOP presidential candidates.  They had to stretch pretty hard to get the list to 12.  Three things to note.  First of all,  John Thune appears in the top 4.  You will note he has made our masthead as of last week – the whispers about him have gotten too loud.  The second thing to note is that Tim Pawlenty is down the list a bit.  He is just not making a splash, and if I were him, this is the last headline I would ever want written about me.  The final note is unsurprising: Mitt Romney occupies the top spot.

    That last fact is also true with a panel on FOXNews.  Check the top video in the widget on the left.  On that panel, both Kristen Powers and no less than Charles Krauthammer proclaim Romney as the best the Republicans have to offer.  What’s interesting from the perspective of this blog is that Powers says he will be great in the general, but have problems getting out of the primaries because of the Mormon issue.  David French at EFM said this about it:

    As 2008 proved, the evangelical vote can block the Governor in key states (Iowa, South Carolina, etc.), but it’s absolutely critical to understand that evangelical opposition to Governor Romney is not a naturally occurring phenomenon.  It happened largely in 2008 because one candidate decided to play the religion card early and often to court his natural constituency.  Even worse, that candidate seemed to have a special disdain for Mitt.

    He then goes on to do the “electoral math” and point out that Palin and the Huckster are likely to split the evangelical vote and therefore prevent them from such blockage.  If both run, that’s probably true, but not a given.  First of all, one must remember that much of the evangelical vote that harmed Romney were not typical voters – they came out because the Huckster played the religion card.  They could become organized opposition in ’12, and one wonders if the seeds of that organization are not in the Tea Party movement.  (More on that in a minute.)  Secondly, I am not sure that either Huck or Palin, let alone both of them, is running.  They are enjoying media stardom a bit too much.  With Palin, that simply takes her out of the mix.  She has never overtly played the religion card, but the Huckster; he could be more dangerous with a pundit background.  Last time, when he did strike out he was roundly pilloried.  As a pundit he will not garner so much criticism for such escapades – he can supply far more fuel to an organized opposition than as a candidate.

    It’s interesting – Sarah Palin was noted last week as saying “It’s not Romney’s turn.”  Here it is from Taegan Goddard, and Ben Smith, and Race 4 2012.  Of course, that’s the headline, the real story is that we don’t take turns as Republicans.  It looks like it sometimes, but it’s earned and if Romney runs and ends up the nominee, he most certainly will have earned it.

    Which is why some are defending him, and many are taking pot shots.  (Some on the left are even trying to play the religion card right now.)   What’s more interesting is to see who is making moves to hitch onto Romney’s rising star.  Some that are already hitched are working hard at helping Romney shift his image a tad.

    And before we leave Romney altogether, in our last “Telling the Story” post we talked about the role of new media and how a future Romney campaign will have to be very astute online.  Given Romney’s work with Scott Brown, looks like he is learning.  Romney’s PAC has a much higher online presence now than it did at this point last time around, but it will need to keep innovating.

    The Real Divide

    David Brody notes:

    The Democrats are going to try to expose the rift between Tea party conservatives and GOP moderates.

    They are working darn hard at it, and frankly, I am worried.  It is looking nasty in Utah, and Texas.  I am worried about this for a couple of reasons. From my perspective, the only thing holding us together right now is opposition to Obama.  If the man would just shut up and sit down we are liable to tear ourselves apart – he really is slitting his own political wrists with his continued fight for what is clearly now a loser agenda.  And he does not need to, given his personal popularity.  We may be watching one of the worst bits of political calculation in history unfold before our very eyes.

    But more I am worried because the Tea Party movement really has its roots in the “authenticity” question of the last round.   Of course, “inauthentic” was the big charge against Romney, and as we have documented, that charge is given credence by distrust of Mormons.  We will likely not hear much about the “Mormon issue” this time around – this is where the fault line will lie and this is the language that will surround it, but make no mistake, it is in many ways the same issue.  Because it will not be in religious clothes, we cannot fight it with the language of anti-bigotry, we will have to develop a new vocabulary.  I’d like to think “winning” would be the magic word, but many in the Tea Party movement seem as tone deaf as Obama – that’s the concern.

    Frankly, the time to deal with this is in the 2010 cycle.  If Romney can be as effective in other races as he was helping Scott Brown he will have built a huge base of insiders, but more he will have successfully united the two branches.  If that happens, you can look for the Dems to try and punch this button in any way possible.  The Mormon issue will be back big – they’ll want to rub the scar, anything to open the wound.  But it’ll be too late.

    In The Deep End

    Politics really does hurt the church more than the church hurts politics.

    Neither the president, nor the state in general can be a Savior.  But a lot of people confuse the two.  That’s the rel problem when religion and politics mix.  It is also more evidence about why politics hurts religion.  It co-ops the language of religion for its own use.

    These are reasonable guidelines, because this is what must be avoided.

    Lowell adds . . .

    Regarding the Tea Party activists, the kiss of death for Romney is to be branded the “establishment” candidate.  I don’t detect much of a religious undercurrent in that group of voters; if anything they remind me of Ross Perot’s group, but angrier (and justifiably so).  Remember:  We probably have Perot to thank for Bill Clinton’s election, so John’s worries are not unfounded.

    Thanks to Instapundit, here’s an interesting (and predictable) piece from Newsweek’s Lisa Miller, who thinks “moderate evangelicals” who once supported President Obama are becoming disenchanted with him.  (John must quip: Gee, could it be they are fairly conservative at root?  Back to Lowell . . .)

    Now, keep in mind that to MSM writers like Ms. Miller, “moderate” means “believes in social justice through government action,  loosely based on on the Bible.”  In Miller’s view, during the 2008 campaign “Obama created a vision of America as a place where people took care of one another because it was the right thing to do,” and he did so by “[d]rawing on Niebuhr, Lincoln, and King.”

    Lincoln?  A voice for Niebuhr-style social justice?  But I digress.  Miller elaborates:

    Count the moderate faithful, then, among those palpably disappointed in the president. Part of this is inevitable, the bruising differential between courtship and marriage. But part of it is a legitimate frustration that the thing Obama once did so well—articulate American values as a matter of conscience and community—he seems today not to be able to do at all. His State of the Union address last week was not corrective: more pedantic than inspirational. Health care, centrist clerics say, would have been better if framed strongly from the outset as an issue of social justice. The economy, they continue, is also a values crisis, a failure on the part of the banks and government to respect our collective inter-dependence. “Not my problem” is exactly the mindset that Matthew 25 warns against. “I am my brother’s keeper, my sister’s keeper,” Obama would say on the campaign trail.

    We could say a lot about this.  I simply find it interesting that when religious conservatives mention religion as a basis for their policy views, many on the left have a hissy fit; but the same people applaud when Obama does the same thing.

    Meanwhile, a documentary film on the involvement of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in opposing California’s Proposition 8 has hit the Sundance Film Festival in Park City.  I have not seen the film but understand it is produced and directed by former Mormons.  (Do you hear the sound of axes grinding?)  Predictably, reviews have been mixed:

    Daniel Fienberg, a blogger for the Web site Hitfix, dismissed it as “sloppily assembled propaganda,” while the Salt Lake City Tribune called it “a vital, important cry for an open dialogue.” Variety said the film “covers a lot of ground in a short space, not always in the most organized way, but on enough fronts to spark an informed dialogue.”

    The public discussion about Prop 8 is fascinating to watch.  We are watching an important chapter being written about the role of churches and faith communities in the public square.

    I should say that better:  Let’s not just be watching; let’s help write that chapter.

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