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"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."

  • Setting The Stage – Part II – The Tea Party & The Religious Right, Religion in 2010 and What It Means for 2012

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 04:16 pm, November 11th 2010     &mdash      5 Comments »

    There is little doubt that the election just finished has shifted the religious/political landscape, but probably not as much as people think.

    On the left it is being widely discussed that the Dems have given up on faith outreach.  It is being pretty widely debated, and frankly, I don’t much care.  I think it would be smart if they did.  There is a left leaning religious vote but it is not that big.  When it comes to how to use resources, that vote is not a big bang-for-the-buck constituency for the Democrats.  What is clear is that there is a strong correlation between the religiously active and committed and the politically conservative.  Dems would clearly be smart to look elsewhere for votes.

    Some have attempted to paint the 2010 mid-terms as a “religion free” election - but that just was not true.  Catholics were in this cycle — as they are increasingly – quiet major players.  The left of course screamed “religious foul” and painted pictures of bizarre unthinking creatures committed to the end of life on the planet.  Yeah, well – not so much so.

    Some claim the evangelical voice has lost credibility.  Some are working hard to say that social conservatism is not dead.  Some are pointing out now is not the time to lose heart.  When there is this much highly divergent discussion, you can be sure of one thing and one thing only – change is afoot and where things will settle is not yet determined.

    I see no clearer sign of that change than in the resignation of Marvin Olasky as the Provost of King’s College.   We have discussed Olasky many times on this blog.  He is editor of “World Magazine” – home of the infamous to our readers Joel Belz “Mormons Lie” editorial.  Olasky later made some remarks that were seemingly conciliatory towards Mormons on a political level, but it was more implied than overt.  Belz is Olasky’s boss, so it has been hard to get a read on precisely where Olasky has stood.  That said, his resignation as Provost of one of the leading religiously based educational institutions in our nation, essentially losing a political in-fight with the new college president, Dinesh D’Souza, can be read as a clear repudiation of the confrontive and combative style of politics that has been practiced by the Religious Right in recent years.

    So what really is going on?  Statistically it appears that most the Tea Partiers are conservative Evangelicals.  Some have described the Tea Party this way:

    However, despite being dominated by religious people, the Tea Party organizations don’t focus on social conservative issues. There is, in fact, little agreement on which issues are significant. When the Washington Post contacted 647 Tea Party groups, they found that less than half of the organizations considered spending and limiting the size of government to be a primary concern.

    So if the Tea Party is not a movement, what is it? Mostly a marketing tactic, and an attempt at rebranding. The term Tea Party is mainly a label for very conservative Republicans and conservative independents who always vote for the GOP, even when they shun the Republican label. It’s a way to set themselves apart from those they deem insufficiently conservative, like RINOs (Republicans in Name Only) and ruling class elites.

    “Rebranding” is actually a very smart way to think about the Tea Party.   But the new brand is not entirely settled.  Sometimes branding is not so much substantive as it is style.  The author above wants the new Tea Party brand to be deeply and combatively conservative, but I do not think that takes in all the lessons of 2010 – it was not a clean sweep for the “Tea Party.”  Consider this from Thomas Kidd:

    We know that election 2010 represented an overwhelming repudiation of the Obama administration’s policies, and that the Tea Party movement played a major role. There was a great deal of speculation about the connection between the Tea Party and the Christian Right, with polls indicating that Christian conservatives represented the core of the Tea Party.

    But what of evangelical Tea Party candidates? They didn’t fare quite as well as some had expected. This failure was most obvious in the once-promising candidacy of Sharron Angle in Nevada, and the doomed race of Christine O’Donnell (a cradle Catholic turned evangelical, turned Catholic again) in Delaware. Among the ‘mama grizzly’ candidates backed by former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, South Carolina governor-elect Nikki Haley is the only prominent winner. Even she did not make her faith a major issue in the campaign, aside from defending the sincerity of her Christian convictions against charges that her conversion from her family’s Sikhism was opportunistic. Similarly, Marco Rubio, Senator-elect from Florida, identifies generally as a Roman Catholic, but he has attended an evangelical church for several years.

    On balance, the election of 2010 reveals Americans’ discomfort with evangelical candidates who wear their faith on their sleeve, or even worse, use evangelical lingo on the campaign trail.

    For the “Tea Party” to really be successful as a rebranding for conservatives, it has to look at the entire scope of what happened last week.  Conservatism wins in this nation – but overtly religious conservatism, not so much.  Conservatism is, and should be presented as, a matter of reason, not dogma or doctrine.  The fact of the matter is conservatism works in this nation becasue it is reasonable.  We do not need doctrinal statements, or confession of belief in conservatism; we need sweet reason.

    Thomas Kidd concludes his piece this way:

    Evangelicals today might take a cue from their forebears: we don’t need our candidates to talk ‘churchy’ to win our votes. In some cases, we should vote for candidates who do not share our personal faith at all. At some level, successful politicians will have to build consensus, and the way to do that in America is to emphasize shared political values, not personal faith. That was true in 1776, and it was true in the election of 2010.

    The rebranding effort that is underway can and should be the umbrella under which the Religious Right resides and accomplishes what it could not standing alone.  It will mean that sometimes they will have to be less dogmatic – but in the course of that they will be more successful.

    Such an effort will have to combine with continuing the fight on some other fronts – most especially education and personal evangelism.  Which takes us to the next and final post of this series – tomorrow.

    Lowell adds . . .

    Well, I don’t have too much to add.  One thing I think Evangelicals need to learn (and, if John is right, they are learning it) is that successful national candidates do not wear their religion on their sleeve.  Mike Huckabee can win GOP primaries in places like Iowa and Georgia by doing that, but not a national election.  Accordingly, a candidate’s supporters should not expect him or her to do so, either.

    Now, if you are a voter and have religious goals you want to accomplish – and heaven knows, we Mormons have plenty of such goals – then you vote for candidates who will support keeping the government out of the way of those goals; but you don’t need a candidate who shares those goals.  If it is true that the tea party groups are indeed overwhelmingly composed of religious people, it looks like they are learning to focus on legitimate secular goals (smaller government, lower taxes) rather than religious social issues.  I hope that it what is going on.

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    Setting The Stage, Part 1: The Field

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 08:00 am, November 9th 2010     &mdash      5 Comments »

    Well, it did not take very long last week for everyone and their uncle to start talking about the POTUS ’12 race after the midterms were over.  Voice of America gave it a light touch on Wednesday.  The Washington Post focuses on the real story of the moment which is, how weak is Obama right now?  (On that subject, a political consultant in Britain obviously does not have deep insight into Obama’s personality.)  The Hill surveys the field reasonably well.  Tom Diemer at Politics Daily also reviews the field and starts to add a little personality to the story.

    There was some polling reported as well.  CNN did a poll that was reported by Taegan Goddard and David Brody.  Rasmussen had some interesting numbers as well.  FoxNation reported on a Harvard poll.  And finally, TPM uses a poll to try and say “Romney’s in trouble.“  Which to my way of thinking is very supportive of the other polls that show Romney leading for the nomination – TPM is going to shoot at the most likely nominee of the moment.  They are not alone either.  And. of course, someone is trying to figure out when the announcements will come.

    But the story line that appeared most frequently and with the most fervor was the one we mentioned last Wednesday – the “near coronation of Sarah Palin.”  NPR shaped its story on the field around her.  Ed Rollins says not to underestimate her.  Michael Gerson says she is a problem, but in doing so puts her at the center of the discussion.  The left leaning papers in London have her leading the field, and the right leaning ones place here at the center of a “Republican civil war.”

    There is some individual candidate news.  Depending on if you are from the right or the left, Mike Pence‘s resignation from Republican leadership is to set the stage for a run at POTUS or IN governor  – respectively – or president.  Given that Romney’s religion is last year’s Christmas present — it has been played with and is now a little boring — they are starting to ask questions about others like John ThuneTim Pawlenty is going to run on repealing Obamacare – and how does that separate him from any other Republican?  And how did Rick Perry‘s name get involved?  Some are wondering if Sarah Palin does not talk about her faith enough!?

    Mitch Daniels keeps saying things that seem designed to make people angry with him.  Rumors around the Indiana statehouse are that he wants to run and is being urged to run, but his wife is not the least bit interested.  My guess is he is trying to get those urging him to back off so he can, at a minimum, have a reasonable discussion with his wife about it.  However, some of his supporters seem to want to draft him into the job.  It’s now officially silly – someone has to come at this job with 100% commitment and enthusiasm or now matter how talented they are, they will not do it well.

    Mitt Romney, alone among the hopefuls, is not going to talk to FoxNEWS.  Which lays out how I think the early analysis of the Republican field should be made.  I think the field can be divided into two serious categories and one third that FoxNEWS is sort of forcing upon us with their “12 in ’12″ series.  Let’s start with that last category:

    Wishful Thinking

    My guess is some of the names in the FoxNEWS list of 12 are there because Fox wanted to get to 12.  One example would be Chris Christie.  Christie has flat out said he is not running.  Jim DeMint is another in this category.  He is a force to be reckoned with inside the Tea Party movement, but not next to Palin and I think he would defer to her anyway.  Finally there is Bobby Jindal.  Jindal is a man with a bright future, although he is rapidly being eclipsed by Marco Rubio.  Nonetheless, “future” is the operative word.  Jindal has a troubled state to run and seems to be committed to doing so.  Someday perhaps, but not now.

    So now let’s turn our attention to the next category:

    Media Candidates

    This category is made up of the hopefuls that generate more heat than light.  They capture the media; in some cases they are the media.  They are typically people making money right now by being possible candidates.  Here’s the list:

    • Sarah Palin
    • Mike Huckabee
    • Newt Gingrich
    • Rick Santorum
    • Haley Barbour

    Note that all of these, with the exception of Barbour, are currently employees of FoxNEWS.  Santorum is not on the FoxNEWS list, but I have added him because he has admitted publicly to be thinking about it.  This means that both the people themselves and the primary news outlet for the right leaning populace have a vested interest in having these people in the mix.  Barbour is not a media guy at all really, but he is very much a kingmaker type.  If he runs it will be for reasons other than actually wanting the job – which is the characteristic at the deep heart of this category.

    The next category is:

    The Serious Players

    This is the list that I hope springs to mind of any serious person thinking about who will be the Republican nominee.

    • Mitt Romney
    • Tim Pawlenty
    • Mitch Daniels
    • John Thune
    • Mike Pence

    These are all people that are serious about governing and could be serious about being president for the sake of doing the job and doing it well.

    And now:

    Some Analysis of the Categories

    I think the Republican nomination race is going to come down to a serious battle between the leading Media Candidate (Sarah Palin) and the leading Serious Player (Mitt Romney).  Simply put, as our society becomes increasingly media saturated, image often matters more than substance.  Barack Obama may be the primary testimony to that fact.  His governance has been nothing like his media and campaign image.  In point of fact, there has been little governance – the man is simply in over his head.  In a different era his functional weaknesses would have been both more exposed by the media and the voters would have cared more to find out about them.  Media saturation is not all the media’s fault – much of it belongs to us as consumers of media.  The news media are just making a buck giving us what we want.

    The problem for the Serious Players is there cannot be too big a divide between the media image and the governing reality or they will have no credibility in office.  That precludes to some extent running a very savvy media campaign just to get the job.  One can hope that the public has learned the lesson about “Image voting” based on the the last election, but there are indications that the Tea Party is just the Republican version of a media play.  Mark Halperin was on Michael Medved’s show last week saying that the Obama camp firmly believe that they will win in ’12 because the Tea Party will force the nominee so far right that Obama can claim the center.  I’m not sure the public’s memory is that short – but even if it is, Obama likely finds himself is a similar trap.  Pelosi’s run for Minority Leader is a demonstration of just how much of a stranglehold the far left has on the Democrats.  When the clearest signal in the last 100 years has been sent to them to moderate, they are dipping into the same far left-wing well.

    On the plus side, I see the media candidates competing with each other so hard that they prevent each other from gaining a clear plurality and open the door for a Serious Player.  If I am a Serious Player one of the things I am doing right now is making friends with these people so endorsement become a future possibility.

    It is going to be an interesting couple of years and as the field solidifies, this categorization is likely to become invalid – but it is operative for now.  What’s religion got to do with it?  Well, we’ll look at that it the next post in this series as we examine the contention that the Tea Party is a reimagined Religious Right.

    Lowell adds . . .

    It is hard to add much to John’s fine analysis.  I keep reminding myself that two years is an eternity in politics.  Even one year is a long time.  Example:  Who knew anything about Barack Obama in November 2006, just after the Democrats had recaptured Congress by wide margins?  Look how much the world changed between then and 2008, when that same unknown U.S. Senator won the presidency.  And now, look how much the world has changed since November 2008!

    By next November Romney and the others on John’s short list will have announced their candidacies and Iowa and New Hampshire will literally be only weeks away.   Will someone else have emerged who is barely even on the political radar screen?  We shall see.  I am wondering if Haley Barbour will make a move.

    Real Clear Politics, by the way, has already started the talk about announcements.

    As for Mitt Romney, the Mormon issue will be very visible, I think.  It’s simply catnip for many in the news media.  Mormon involvement in Proposition 8 is a great hook for lazy reporter, for example, looking for an easy story to write.  The difference in the 2012 cycle might be that The Question is old hat to most people:  “Yes, Mitt Romney’ a Mormon.  So what?  The country’s in an economic mess, and I want someone who I think will clean that up.”

    Watch this space!

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    Brief Morning After Reflections On The Mid-Term

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:33 am, November 3rd 2010     &mdash      15 Comments »

    California and The Nation

    As a Republican, I am very happy this morning – as a Californian, not so much.  The losses for Governor and Senator are disheartening, but when combined with  results on the propositions they represent fiscal suicide.  Virtually all restraint, what little there was, on runaway government and its unchecked spending have been removed.  These results from a state which, were it not sovereign, would already be bankrupt leave me simply speechless.

    There is but one happy conclusion that can be drawn.  A state that is this daringly and heedlessly liberal in the face of a massive conservative tide nationally is the state that passed Prop 8.  Same sex marriage may be the biggest political loser in our nation’s history since slavery.  Only heavy-handed, aristocratic judicial fiat can bring it to pass.

    It is time for proponents of same sex marriage to pack it in.  They have made tremendous gains in terms of social acceptability, but they are not in the foreseeable future going to get more than civil unions.

    What About POTUS 2012?

    Well, the snap analysis is almost unanimously and glowingly a near coronation of Sarah Palin.  But then snap analysis lacks the depth of significant insight and the events to transpire between now and then.  Palin’s influence was significant this cycle, no question – virtually assuring she will run.  But beyond that there is a lot of ground to cover.  We have seen wild swings in the voting public’s mood in just two years – who knows what the next two years have to hold.  Others endorsements did very well too, even if not quite as publicly – but then a FoxNEWS contract and a forthcoming TLC show will do that for you.

    It’s just too early to analyze this with any meaning.  (Well, except for the fact that Barack Obama is currently ripe for the pickin’.)  So listen to what people are saying, but not too hard.  Let’s see what happens in the next few months.

    What About Religion In This Election?

    Well, some say the Religious Right is dead, and this election is the nail in the coffin.  Some say the Religious Right is the hidden hand behind the Tea Party.  All I know is it is probably some of both.  Simply put, there is a general, though not universal, correlation between religious conviction and political conservatism.  It is, however, unlikely that religious people will ever organize into a stable political force save on an specific issue or measure basis.

    I think the heart of it lies in the fact that to do so means churches must become political organizing centers and they are very resistant to that because frankly, they are  institutions with a different purpose.

    The other thing is that I think religious people are learning that in some sense we have been winning battles but losing the war.  Many of the liberal agenda items that upset us so – abortion, same sex marriage – are not the heart of the problem; there is something deeper at play.  We must fight the political fights in order to keep that deeper battleground open, but straining an analogy just a bit, the political fights are diversions and protecting the supply lines.   They are not the front.

    I think the Religious Right is growing smarter and will therefore be more effective in the future.  Sometimes clandestine special forces platoons can do what entire battalions of armor cannot.  It’s not always how much force you bring to bear, but how you bring the force to bear that matters.

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    The Mid-Terms Are Upon Us, and So 2012 Begins In Earnest

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 05:53 am, November 1st 2010     &mdash      2 Comments »

    Tomorrow Is The Day…

    …that we can begin to turn our nation back in the direction that has served it so well throughout its history.  That means a couple of things.  First and foremost it means:

    VOTE REPUBLICAN!

    This is a time when doing so really matters.  The fact of the matter is, it is a long trip back to reasonableness in our governance from where the last few years have taken us.  It is a very long path back to sustainable levels of governmental debt.  It is an extremely long path to rein in a government that in the name of “helping” threatens to take away our ability to succeed.  That means that tomorrow we begin a journey – we do not arrive at a destination.

    It’s not about getting things “just right.”  The Republican candidate you are to vote for may not be perfect on everything, but you need to vote for him or her.  She/he may be too moderate, with a  stance on stem cell research that may not be strict enough for you.  Whatever it is, right now it is a secondary concern.  Party-based coalitions get things done in this country and there is a lot to be done.  Every vote cast that is not a party line vote is one less thing that should be done that will not be done, or that will be done much more slowly than we need it to be.

    The second thing to bear in mind as tomorrow approaches is to be courageous.  As a voter motivated by religious faith you are being accused of being “indecent.“  We, apparently, misrepresent things.  Some charge that we are intolerant, even bigoted.  Heck, some are calling us to task for being “too sensitive” and accusing us of being some sort of faith based political pawns.  The point is, faith is being wielded as a weapon in the campaign that ends tomorrow.  Take the blows and do not let them sway your vote.  Vote as you know is right.  It is not hateful or intolerant, or in the broader national context even unpopular, to stand for what is right and true.

    Do not allow yourself to become disheartened like my friend Mark DeMoss.

    But his level of despair, a few days before the midterm election, is a measure of how sad things are. Remember that DeMoss is not simply a longtime political activist, but a religious fellow who follows a theology of inevitable failures followed by divine redemption:

    “Campaigns have gotten so low, on both sides, ” he told me, “that for the first time in my life I’m contemplating not voting at all this time.”

    The correct response to the “slings and arrows” that are being thrown our way is not to respond in kind, nor to quit – it is to get up and vote well.  We must continue to state our case in the public square and in the voting booth with clarity.

    About Nevada, Idaho and Mormonism

    According to the SLTrib:

    Mormonism and politics have merged in two Western campaigns this month, providing a glimpse of the renewed scrutiny Mitt Romney could face in a 2012 presidential run.

    But has it really?  Consider these stories; one about the Idaho governor’s race, one about the Nevada Senate race, and one about Mormon efforts in the construction of the trans-continental telegraph line(?!), not to mention this screed.  They all seem to be working very hard to gin up a Mormon issue when there just really is not one.  There are Mormon angles in the Idaho and Nevada races to be sure, but it just is not a serious issue.  It is clear that with all this coverage the press really wants it to be a serious issue, but they do not appear to be getting what they want.

    Things are as I have suspected all along.  Serious issues like federal spending and subsequent deficits have a way of putting things like “the Mormon issue” into perspective.  That may yet change as the POTUS 2012 race now starts to heat up – presidential races are a thing apart, but only time will tell.  That said, the efforts being made in these mid-terms to lay the groundwork for making Mormonism an issue are failing – miserably.

    And so, 2012 IS upon us

    The NYTimes looks ahead, as does USNews, Open Secrets, and the WSJ.  Just know this – they are ALL wrong.  At this point in 2006, 2008 was a battle between Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani to see who was going to take on Hillary Clinton in the General Election.  Things did not quite work out that way.  As the people above are trying to make an issue where there really is none so these stories are trying to define the parameters of a race that has not really started.  Heck – I’ll go so far as to tell you that tomorrow is going to contain some surprises.  I expect things to follow the general “big Republican win” trend, but you can bet there are going to be some races that do not go the way people expect – and that is just 36 hours from now.  What do you think is going to happen over the course of two years?

    So what we need to do is keep an eye on things, watch events unfold and respond to what presents itself.  Let’s turn to the list of hopefuls:

    Sarah Palin is quoted:

    The former GOP running mate to John McCain told celebrity new show “Entertainment Tonight” she would run in the next presidential election if she felt there was no other Republican candidate that met her standards.

    “If there’s nobody else to do it, then of course I believe we should do this,” Palin said in an interview. “For me it’s going to entail a discussion with my family, a real close look at the lay of the land.”

    I really like Sarah Palin, but her ego seems to be growing to Obamaesque proportions.  That sounds like she thinks the nomination is hers for the asking, but that she finds the idea of running a tad bit distasteful.  It’s a job, not a coronation.

    Mike Pence would slice up the “Huckabee vote.“  Fine by me.

    Tim Pawlenty talks tough.  About right, but sounds a little weird from the home of “Minnesota nice.”  [Insert your own Jesse Ventura joke here.]

    Mitch Daniels is getting good press and admitting he is thinking about it.  I have not talked to Mitch in 25 years, but I am beginning to think seriously about giving him a call.  I just cannot get a bead on this guy and this race.

    Mitt Romney is just working hard.  The thing that distinguishes Romney in my mind, over and over, is that he sees a job to do and is setting about doing it.  Press, adulation, attention are tools he needs to get to where he needs to be to do the job, but they are not the job itself.  He is focused on the task and serious about it.  That is not always the best politics, but it is certainly the best leadership.  Right now the country needs good leadership, and he is learning good politics at a frightening rate.

    Interesting Reading in the Realm of Religion and Politics

    From:

    Now – go and vote well tomorrow!

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