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."

  • The “Must Read” That Does Not Go Anywhere….

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:34 am, June 28th 2011     &mdash      3 Comments »

    Byron York is one of the leading pundits on the right.  Anything he writes is a must read, especially when the headline is “Anti-Mormon bias persists, notably among Democrats.“  His piece opens with a most startling result from the recent polling – a result that we shamefully missed:

    Ever since Mitt Romney’s unsuccessful run for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, there’s been much discussion of whether GOP voters would accept a Mormon candidate. Would evangelical conservatives, in particular, look past the former Massachusetts governor’s faith to vote for him? The underlying assumption was that the more conservative the views, the more intolerant the voter.

    Now, it turns out a better question might be whether Democratic voters would accept a Mormon candidate. In a survey that cuts against the media stereotype, a new Gallup Poll has found that more Democrats than Republicans say they would not vote for a Mormon for president. Twenty-seven percent of Democrats say they wouldn’t vote for a Mormon, while 18 percent of Republicans say the same. For independents, the figure is 19 percent.

    He mines the historical data for an even more startling find:

    Perhaps the most striking news in the Gallup survey is the durability of anti-Mormon bias. For more than 40 years, Gallup has asked a simple question: “If your party nominated a generally well-qualified person who happened to be a Mormon, would you vote for that person?” In the most recent survey, 76 percent of those polled said they would vote for the Mormon candidate, while 22 percent said they would not.

    In 1967, when Gallup first asked the question, 75 percent said they would vote for a Mormon, while 17 percent said they wouldn’t. The results were practically the same as they are today.

    “The stability in U.S. bias against voting for a Mormon presidential candidate contrasts markedly with steep declines in similar views toward several other groups over the past half-century, including blacks, women, Catholics, and Jews,” writes Gallup. “The last time as many as 22 percent of Americans said they would not vote for any of these groups (the same level opposed to voting for a Mormon today) was 1959 for Catholics, 1961 for Jews, 1971 for blacks, and 1975 for women. Opposition to voting for each of these has since tapered off to single digits.”

    But not for Mormons.

    There is much that could be concluded from such data.  For example, the durability data indicates that the LDS community has remained too insular.  The only way to move data like that is to “get out among them.”  Headline stuff like the Osmonds or Romney won’t shift such data much, it takes people meeting people – Mormons hanging out with non-Mormons and vice-versa.

    But the meat is the fact that Democrat bias is MUCH stronger than Republican.  It reflects s couple of things.  For one it reflects the move of the most conservative, the real nutters, away from the Republican party.  But it also reflects the Democrat fear of religion generally as I am sure Mormons are viewed as “uber-religious.”  These conclusions are strongly verified by the press coverage and sources of that coverage that we have seen so far this campaign.  This raises fascinating questions about campaign strategy and messaging.

    But York doesn’t go there – his conclusion is milksop:

    There will be a lot more conversation if Romney or Huntsman becomes the GOP nominee. And perhaps there will be a serious discussion of the acceptance question — on both sides of the party divide.

    There will be no serious discussion, for such serious discussion does not lay at the root of the disparity or the Democrats obvious bias.  Don’t get me wrong, there will be discussion aplenty, but not serious discussion.  As we are already seeing the willing allies of the Dems, the MSM, are attempting to use faith, and their own bias, as a wedge to once again divide Republicans and win the election.

    The real questions to flow from this data is are we dumb enough to allow their bias’ to influence our decisions?  If we do, we harm ourselves.  Make no mistake, the Democrat bias is based in a distaste, if not hatred, for religion generally and to allow ourselves to fall victim to their bias is to participate in our own political demise.

    Further, this data is political weapon.  Each charge of bias throw at us can be answered with “Where’s the data?”  And when we pull this data out, low and behold – who’s biased?

    York’s deep review of this data is most informative to the campaign ahead.  It will likely play out like we expected the last one to – with the left hammering religion in reflection of their own fears and bigotry.  We would do well to remember it is a political not a religious battle we fight, and to respond accordingly.

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    Laying Traps, Memes Only The Memers Listen To, Yeah It’s Still Early

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 05:34 am, June 27th 2011     &mdash      3 Comments »

    About Abortion

    Remember last week when we talked about how Susan B. Anthony pledge?  Romney did a really smart thing and wrote an op-ed pledging to support life.  But that did not seem to be enough.  Fox gave it some reasonable coverage.

    I smell a trap.  One must remember “flip-flop” developed into “Mormon” code last cycle and a lot of that centered on Romney’s apparent change of position on abortion.  (Of course, it was nothing of the sort, but people needed a reason to call foul.  See what I mean.)  So, at a time when social conservatives seem to be looking for a savior (I thought  they had one?! – it was Jesus Mike Huckabee last time) this pledge comes out; a pledge that looks almost designed to be unsignable by someone not an absolutist about the issue, and the front runner reasonably does not sign it.  Sounds like the perfect opportunity to reignite the discussion and wave the coded flag again, doesn’t it?

    Not sure the ploy has worked, the discussion is just about dead already.

    Now About That Meme

    You know the one I’m talking about – The Mormon Meme.  Some tried to approach it gently.  Some Mormon sources tried to say coverage was “more fair,” which I presume means it more reasonably represents Mormonism.  Perhaps, but properly representing the religion is only part of the problem.  It can be properly represented and still used to generate bias and suspicion of a candidate, which is less than ideal in the American system.

    There was a poll:

    Americans appear hesitant to vote for a Mormon as president, a new poll shows, posing a challenge for Republicans Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman.

    Although three of four Americans say they would support a presidential candidate who is an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the Gallup Poll finds that 22% say they would not.

    Don’t you just love that – the vast majority of people don’t care, but the lede is those that won’t vote for a Mormon!  That does not sound like numbers that make it necessary to launch an image campaign – which some people are writing about as if to say they are sad the issue is not getting as much action as they hoped for.  Given that the image campaign is localized in NYC, I’m thinking it’s about the musical, not the campaign.  But I will say this, the fact that there are two Mormons in the race should make it possible for the LDS church to be more active in this sort of fashion without appearing to back a specific candidate.

    Canadians and the left seem to say it should not make a difference.  Of course they do – it allows them to raise the issue and play on the biases they assume to be prevalent in us right-wing nutcases.

    Time will tell.

    Timothy Dalrymple continued his exquisite argumentation.  Some tried to play on the issue wrongly.  There were efforts to draw the line between Huntsman and Romney.  There was silliness and then there were reasons for out and out laughter.  And who reads this stuff?  What the H&^% is a “Mormon Primary?“  (An excuse to talk about Mormons – that’s what it is!)

    Frankly, the whole thing seems to be an exercise in people that simply have not caught on to the fact that the world has moved on from here.  There is a certain air of the pathetic about the whole thing.  It is so clearly the left trying to use it as a wedge, but they fail to realize that there really are no groups to wedge apart.  Their president has seen to that.

    Jon Huntsman Underwhelms

    He is not Reaganesque, Un-Repubican,  too civil, too moderate, too nice, headed for oblivion and too much like Pete Wilson.  But that is what the left is saying about him mostly to make fun of what they perceive as the far right.  He does have some real problem -  civil unionspolls that fly in the face of his strategyno tractionbad history, and questionable strategy.

    Huntsman is an interesting case in press coverage.  I suppose the juxtaposition of this Politico piece and this one, makes for “balanced” coverage?  However, in the internet age where placement and feed readers make it increasingly less likely that readers will see both pieces, that seems like a canard.  But taken together what they do reveal is that Huntsman is largely a media creation of the left leaners amongst us.  He is hot becasue he is closer to Obama than anyone else in the Republican field.  Hmmmmm.

    And speaking of underwhelming – this is dangerous territory, but then he clearly paid no attention to the last cycle.  I have no idea how the LDS church would feel about it (Lowell?) but how a man chooses to practice is faith is between him and the officialdom of that faith.  I am sure the left will love it though.

    Who Do Evangelicals Love? – Pawlenty, Bachmann, or Perry?

    Actually, the first question is really does it matter anymore.  A new poll shows that 82% of Evangelical leaders think their influence is declining.  I really hate to get all “told you so” here, but precisely how much time did I spend arguing last cycle that if Evangelicals insisted on voting based on identity they would sequester themselves into a powerless Evangelical ghetto?  Of course, they are trying to spin it a bit differently than that, but come on, this is not the first move they have made towards the ghetto.

    Regardless it seems that Evangelicals polled preferTim Pawlenty.  Not terribly surprising, if you read his book, you’d know why.  HuffPo makes on interesting observation:

    Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty is evangelicals’ choice to win the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, according to a new poll conducted by an organization led by his pastor. [Emphasis added]

    So everything may not be as rosy as the headlines would indicate.  Of course they claim no bias, but really?!  There are problems – the campaign appears to be on a financial shoestring (quarterly reports to be out soon):

    “This isn’t ‘We’re broke and we can’t afford to pay you,’ ” the aide said. “We’re raising exactly what we said we were going to raise. We’re paying our consultants exactly what they expected to be paid right now.”

    That may be so, but they are still not getting paid – which indicates an issue is present.  And while he sorta, kinda tries to hit on Romney about healthcare, there is a serious question of what his policy would be.

    Meanwhile, ready made Evangelical/Tea Party fusion candidate, Michele Bachmann will announce her candidacy today, Monday.  But I thought she cheap tricked her announcement into the debate last week?  This woman is definitely dancing to the tune of a different drummer.  Remember all that talk about Gingrich and the similarity of aircraft design?  Seems applicable here too.

    She tied with Romney in a pre-Iowa straw poll poll.  Many will focus on how strong that is for her before she has “announced.”  I think the opposite.  In a state where Romney has noted and proven disadvantages, and where he is not choosing to work too hard this cycle, he is tied in the lead with a candidate that should win going away.  Think about it.

    Meanwhile, the press’ fascination with the Rick Perry possibility is definitely humorous.  At one point during last week, rumors abound that he was in, only to be shot down virtually moments later.  He has some really serious issues to think about.  But is that what the press is reporting?  Oh, of course not.  They want to talk about stuff that anybody even maybe slightly thinking about it would do and whether he is “just like W” or not.  And while we are talking Perry, it’s official, Rich Lowry is a curmudgeon.

    Newt…Newt…Newt

    Jazz Shaw of Hot Air says:

    This is quickly going down in history as one of the strangest presidential bids – at least among high profile names who would be taken seriously – of all time.

    That about sums it up.  He is not doing anything in Iowa, but says he is in until at least the caucuses.  And this week just past saw his financial team take the same explosive route his political one did a couple of weeks ago.  This has no moved beyond just being a candidate running for reasons other than wanting to be president.  I am beginning to seriously worry about the guy on a personal stability level.  It’s become humiliating and he is his own worst enemy.

    Romney Political News

    Polls this early don’t mean much, but Romney is pulling out in California, Florida and has good favorability numbers.  The Florida numbers even triggered some Rubio for VP rumors.  There is some fascinating financial news.  And since the Mormon Meme seems to be getting no traction, the left is trying to drive new wedges because, frankly, they fear Romney a lot more than they let on.

    Closing Reading…

    There is something to this.  I heard similar comments from a guy on a airplane a couple of weeks ago; he really liked Romney, but commented that it was obvious the guy was so straight that even spin made him feel like he was lying if one read his body language.

    Mormons really have become the point of the spear in the religion wars – they are bringing out the atheists in droves.  All the more reason to offer support on the political level.  Not to mention the fact that I have found this bit of Mormonism to be quite true.

    Speaking of Mormons, who is more “cultic”?

    I hate this kind of stuff.

    For once, Al Mohler has a point.

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    State Of The Race

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 05:31 am, June 20th 2011     &mdash      3 Comments »

    I think it is fair to call this thing “a race” now.  Last Monday’s “debate” (actually a vain attempt at sound bite generation) was of sufficient substance and breadth to come to the conclusion that “it’s on.”  What amazes me is that despite the substance of that debate and the very real issues and choices facing both Republicans and the nation, the Mormon Meme continues to ring throughout the left wing press.  Let’s look….

    On The Good Side

    Timothy Dalrymple takes apart Warren Cole Smith.  Some of his argument sounds eerily familiar.  So did some others.

    Rick Santorum says the right things. (Makes me wonder if he is thinking about the VP job?)

    I think this is meant to be satirical, but it rings just a bit too true to be certain.

    The Return Of “Examination of Belief”

    I grow increasingly unhappy with pieces that attempt to examine the beliefs of a religion and use that to draw conclusions about how an individual would govern.  The church to which I belong has just voted to allow for the ordination of practicing homosexuals, and certain of our confessional documents can be interpreted (and have been) to say that Christ was not divine.  Does that mean I do not believe Christ was (is, actually) divine or that I support homosexual ordination – sure doesn’t.  So this is nonsense, just an opportunity to point out that certain candidates are “different.”  And so we have:

    NPR – “The Nation: The Missionary Position“  Naked attempt to solidify the connection between Romney and Huntsman and the annoyance of door-knocking missionaries.

    Even the Desert News got into this act.  (Here’s a hint guys – in the internet age, your audience is not nearly as limited as you think it is.)

    Which Leads To The Emergence Of A New Meme

    Last cycle, after it was all over, I went to a meeting of influential Mormons and Evangelicals where we discussed what went right and wrong about things.  If there was a consensus, which there really was not, it came down to the fact that people just view Mormons as “odd.”  When you boil it down, it’s not about belief or practice, or really religion in any serious sense.  They are just presumed to be “weird.”  Well, that is a naked meme of the left now.   See:

    Dana Milbank and Joshua Green and some guy in the Examiner.

    Last time saw “flip-flop” serve as code for “Mormon.”  This time look for “weird” or “awkward.”

    And Always Some Outright Attack

    Ex-Mormons and racism.  There is also pure tastelessness.  Tired old canards that I fear will be used when convenient.

    And Now The Straight Politics

    There were two winners in last week’s debate.  Mitt Romney and Michelle Bachmann.  Let’s start with Romney since he has the presumptive lead in the polls.

    When it comes to Mitt Romney, amidst the great reviews of his debate performance and the polling, there were some that tried to make it sound like it was less than it was.  There was one point in the debate, and only one, that made me cringe.  Of course, there was the predictable, and sadly, CBN is coming to be among the predictable.  I really do not get it with Robertson’s operation – they were neutral to supporters last time.  I think they have concluded that a Mormon can’t win, but Robertson is politically smarter than that.  It’s not true for one thing, and for another this Mormon can do enough even if he doesn’t win that it is really dumb to burn the bridge.  One must wonder if CBN has slipped so much that it has nothing left other than to try and appeal to the bigoted minority?

    Romney did make one decision this week past that is very astute from a leadership stance, but quite risky politically.  He declined to sign the Susan B. Anthony anti-abortion pledge.  In the words of a spokesperson:

    Mitt Romney pledged in the last campaign that he would be a pro-life president and of course he pledges it today.  However, this well-intentioned effort has some potentially unforeseen consequences and he does not feel he could in good conscience sign it.

    That really is smart if you read the thing, but this will be more trouble than it is worth.  This is where Romney’s outstanding character can be problematic.  Most people in his position would sign the thing, get elected and then break the pledge if it became necessary.  Romney simply cannot bring himself to do that, his word is his bond.  He is taking his best shot to overcome, but it is a heck of a dilemma, isn’t it?

    Michelle Bachmann kinda stole the show at the debate by announcing during it.  Cheap trick if you ask me, but it was effective.  She then decided to continue to hire Team Huckabee and that seems to be working in Iowa.   The Huckabee comparisons are starting to grow.  Smart money says Iowa will decide second place this time.  It did last time so not much of a stretch there.  But that also fuels the Huckabee comparisons, as does analysis of her “outside shot.

    But this is what tells me all I need to know:

    Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), who has just launched her campaign for president, is getting ready to roll out a book – and as the New York Times reports, she will have a very interesting co-author from the ranks of conservative media.

    Bachmann’s assistant in writing the book will reportedly be none other than John Fund….

    So Bachmann has parlayed a bid into a book deal?!  Most people do it the other way around, and while the use of ghost writers in politics is common, serious candidates tend to write their candidacy books themselves, or close to it – not to mention Fund is no ghost writer.  Now the Huckabee comparison seems very clear.  She is not pursuing the presidency so much as she is big media – just like Huckabee.  Let’s face it, Team Huckabee is the best at that.  Now, that said, Bachmann appears to be a much more classy individual that the ‘ol Huckster.  I don’t look for her to play the religion card in the nasty disingenuous way that Huckabee did.  But I do think she is marching to the beat of a different drummer than your average candidate.

    Which brings us to Jon Huntsman He is announcing next week.  He has started to play hardball, but is moving rapidly to the center, if not the left.  But most interesting is this:

    Huntsman Bets Everything on New Hampshire

    This sets me to wondering.  Romney’s polling lead in NH is extraordinary, even for the pointless polls of this early.  Seems like a bad place to make a stand.  Of course, as a Mormon, Iowa and South Carolina are out which might mean it was a good cycle to take a pass.  But instead he is beating his head on an apparent brick wall.  So I wonder if his goal is to to damage the brick wall?  There are rumors of personal beefs between the Romney and Huntsman clans.  Wouldn’t be the first time personal beefs got in the electoral political mix.

    Herman Cain seems stuck on the outside looking in.

    Meanwhile, in the side show, Giuliani continues to make rumors and Trump is officially an ass. (Pardon my language, but….)

    Religious Reading

    Important Demographics.

    A Little Too Obvious.

    A Start.

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    Media, Elections and The Gingrich Campaign Meltdown

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 05:41 am, June 17th 2011     &mdash      1 Comment »

    This post is several days late but I have suffered, as Lowell is found of saying, “from a serious bout of employment.”  But I do want to do some analysis of what is going on with the Gingrich campaign.  Of that implosion, I wrote on Monday:

    My analysis is this – Gingrich was never in to win; he was in to maintain his public profile and therefore media/moneymaking presence.  Hence the effort at an “unconventional” campaign.  Here’s the problem that all media candidates eventually run into:  If it’s not genuine, people will figure it out at some point .  That means to pull it off, one has to be consummately gifted at misdirection, if not outright lying.  The Ed Rollins/Mike Huckabee team proved pretty consummately gifted, which is something for the Bachmann backers to think about; Palin keeps using the word “unconventional” – also food for thought.

    We’ll return to those thoughts in a moment.

    There has been a battle between Gingrich and those that resigned raging all week.  Former aide Rich Galen wrote at length:

    There is a reason that just about every airliner looks like every other airliner. Some are larger, some smaller; some have two engines, some four, but they generally look alike.

    There is a reason for that. There is a design solution that fits commercial airliners. They take off, they go where the pilot aims them, they land, and they can carry enough passengers to make money.

    Same with political campaigns. Every cycle candidates say, “We’re going to run a different type of campaign.” They all look pretty much alike because there is an engineering design solution for political campaigns.

    Things change. On-line fundraising instead of using the USPS was new. So were digital avionics instead of analog instruments. But those things are updates, not fundamental changes.

    [...]

    Gingrich and his wife wanted to campaign where, when, and how they wanted; a different kind of campaign.  But, they ran afoul of the rule that campaigns look like campaigns look, because there’s a design solution that works.

    The Gingrich campaign was like an airliner with no wings, no engines, and no landing gear. It was a different kind of airliner.

    But, it couldn’t get off the ground.

    Gingrich has tried to fire back:

    Newt Gingrich said this morning that the bulk of his senior staff resigned en masse due to “fundamental differences about strategy.”

    “My campaign consultants understood 30-second attack ads,” Gingrich said on Fox and Friends.  They didn’t understand you could actually write a book with big ideas and actually campaign talking about big ideas.”

    As did his remaining staff:

    Still, the way the advisers resigned has raised eyebrows from DeSantis and others close to Gingrich. “We do not know for sure how they coordinated their departure,” he says. “But we are curious about whether there were any inappropriate conversations or actions. There is a lot of talk that another potential candidate made it clear that he may join the race. If former staffers were being paid by the campaign — yet plotting to join another campaign — that would be a major conflict of interest.

    Stories about his wife emerged and he shot back at those as well.

    He is absolutely tanking in the polls.

    I think both sides have a point.  Presidential campaigns are what they are because that is what it takes to win – score one for Galen.  What they are is not necessarily what is best and there is a place for “big ideas” – score one for Gingrich.  But the point for Gingrich does not change the fact that better might be better, but better often does not win.  In the end elections are not about best, they are about the will of the electorate and the electorate often is about less than the best, and is even self-contradictory.  For example, the American public seems to want entitlements and limited government – you figure out how to make that happen.  With such inconsistencies among the voters, is it any wonder that candidates often sound like they are a bit schizo?

    If Gingrich insists on running on “big ideas” one must assume that he is either grossly misguided about the American voter (he’s too smart for that), or he thinks he can single-handedly raise the electoral consciousness of the average American voter (even his ego is not that big), or he is running for reasons other than to win.  Needless to say, my money is on the latter.  I speculate, and I emphasize speculate,  that his media presence has been fading and nothing raises media presence like a presidential run.  Of course, he could be doing so to raise certain issues in the campaign, or to get the VP slot, or a host of non-media reasons, but given the trajectory of his career since he left the House in shame, media makes the most sense to me.

    Now let us return to my comments from Monday with which I opened this post:

    That means to pull it off, one has to be consummately gifted at misdirection, if not outright lying.

    Whatever the reasons for running, if they are other than to win the presidency that statement holds. Which brings up one of the essential points people often forget about the presidency.  It is a service job.  It is not a popularity contest.  It is not a step to the highest speaking fees available.  It is not a platform to implement your plan.  It is a job to provide the American people with governance, as outlined by the constitution.  Campaigns are as much about the candidate learning what the people want as they are about the people coming to know the candidate.

    If you are running for any reason other than to serve, even some that are not so self-serving as to build a media career, you are running in service of your agenda instead of trying to run in accordance with the agenda of the American electorate.  That frankly, is what I hear when I hear all the protests and rebuttals that come from Gingrich – I hear his agenda, and his purposes, and his style.  That is also why I have always had my suspicions about Gingrich’s outreach to Evangelicals.  An article has appeared about how marital fidelity matters to GOP voters.  Despite his apparent personal confessions and redemptions, Gingrich simply is not a good fit to appeal to Evangelicals as a candidate.  Again, I sense his outreach based on something other than a sincere desire to serve that community in office.

    The media has made the self-serving run more common and pronounce.  That is one of the many reasons why I laud the birth of new media  though to date new media exposure seems to be even less serious than the old media analog.  At least with new media I can find the good stuff if I look hard enough.

    This is why I sound so negative about even good people when I sense they are running for other than the purest of reasons.  In many ways it is a violation of the trust of the office, and candidacy.

    As a final note, returning to the comment about Evangelicals – this is a place where religion really matters in politics.  Religion, at least the good and reasonable ones, are the only authority I know that can teach service.  If there is any trend that underlies the many ills we all note in out culture, it is narcissism.  It is reflected in everything from how stories are written to advertising to music to self-serving presidential campaigns.  The idea of a higher power – a deity – is the only thing that can break the narcissistic viewpoint of so many.  To be sure, many religious people are narcissistic, but in their devotion lie to roots of the solution to the problem.  Without their faith there would be no solution.  That is not a idea that is deeply or particularly theological – it is perhaps the most generic of religious ideas, but it is also the most important to a democracy.

    The problems of religion in politics arise when we confuse such basic ideas from religion with our own particular theological formulations.  Such confusion is decidedly undemocratic.  Here is hoping our nation is learning that.

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    The Problem with “The Book of Mormon”

    Posted by: Lowell Brown at 09:17 am, June 16th 2011     &mdash      4 Comments »

    No, I’m not talking about the book of scripture from which the nickname for my church is derived. I’m talking about the Broadway musical that won so many Tony awards last Sunday night.

    I’ve admitted here to some ambivalence about “The Book of Mormon.” On balance the musical seems to be harmless nonsense that, I hope, signals a recognition of my faith as sufficiently established and familiar in the USA to mock. In other words, the musical might be seen as a back-handed compliment to Mormonism.

    And yet….

    Part of me is uneasy about the notion that is is acceptable — even praiseworthy — to mock a religious minority that has a history of persecution. As much as “The Book of Mormon” may be a sign of mainstreaming Mormon culture, if not its beliefs, it may also foreshadow the acceptance of intellectual persecution and ridicule of a distinctive religious tradition. We Mormons are a little sensitive about that.

    But it has taken an Orthodox Christian professor at Biola University, John Mark Reynolds, to make the point for us. In a must-read op-ed at The Washington Post’s “On Faith” blog, Professor Reynolds (a favorite of this blog) writes of Amos and Andy and The Book of Mormon:

    If we assume the play a brilliant satire with PR unfortunate enough to release only the cruel and facile bits, then we are still left with two unfortunate truths about this play. First, the writers are cowards. They inflict pain and mockery on those already despised while going soft on the tired assumptions of their rich and powerful patrons. Second, in a pluralistic society they have targeted a group already misunderstood and discriminated against.

    I am no Mormon, but I have witnessed bigotry and ignorance directed against this American community. The LDS Church is placed in the difficult position of seeing their most sacred beliefs mocked in a nation that murdered their prophet in a shameful lynching. Broadway has given aid and comfort to the mob of ignorant folk who know nothing of modern Mormonism outside of their prejudices.

    No wonder Mormon politicians like Jon Huntsman, bob and weave when asked by bigots if they are part of the LDS church. Few of us have the Mitt Romney courage to stand by our people when the cost is high. For his steadfastness, Romney was linked to the play in a Newsweek parody cover that left only his profile, but a profile in religious courage.

    Please read the whole thing.

    In the end, I, and other Mormons like me, find the musical disturbing and somewhat worrisome. In the aftermath of California’s Proposition 8 we felt the sting of public attacks on individual members of our church who acted on a matter of conscience. Yes, that makes us nervous about the extent to which we might have to steel ourselves for further such attacks in the future. We do not like the idea that ridiculing and marginalizing our most sacred and fundamental beliefs is not only acceptable, but hilarious. What person of faith would?

    Two days ago Susan Brooks Thislethwaite, a Professor at the Chicago Theological Seminary, writes of “Mocking Mormons.” Professor Thislethwaite takes a slightly more benign view of “The Book of Mormon,” and tells Mormons “welcome to the American mainstream. Now, in order to join this fraternity, you need to go through the hazing.”

    Other reviewers disagree, of course, that attacking faith or Mormonism is the goal of this musical. Mark Kennedy writes for Associated Press that the “Book of Mormon” is “a pro-religion show at heart.” Why? Because it has an uplifting moral at the end. “Far from being nihilistic,” Kennedy writes, “the moral seems to endorse any belief system — no matter how crazy it sounds — if it helps do good. Amen to that. Consider us converted.” That’s about as watered-down a version of religion as you can get; but after all, Kennedy writes for the Associated Press, not Beliefnet, so what does he know? (That was a joke, Mark.)

    ….

    But that doesn’t mean that the “Book of Mormon” isn’t funny, especially if you like silly, sophomoric humor of the “South Park” variety…. What is offensive to some can be funny to others, but often precisely because it is offensive. Humor isn’t always kind; humor is routinely used to put minorities in their place. In the case of “The Book of Mormon,” the offensiveness seems to be the point, not the ‘doing good.’

    Can Mormons ‘take a joke’? Like women in the workplace having to suffer through sexist jokes, I see this musical as a sign both that Mormons are moving into the mainstream of religion and culture, and that there is resistance to that.

    I hope Thislethwaite is right, I really do. But John Mark Reynolds convinces me that we ought to watch the progress of this phenomenon closely, and with more than a little concern.

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    The Beginning of a Hopefully Quiet Summer

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 11:04 pm, June 12th 2011     &mdash      1 Comment »

    The 2008 cycle taught  lot of people a lot of things, but for this observer the biggest lesson learned is that an early start creates more opportunity for mischief than it helps build momentum.  And so  I’m hoping once the flurry of announcements is through things will quiet down until fall.  I am certain that is what Romney wants.  Mark Halperin accuses him of “playing possum,” but in reality he is just biding his time until it is smart to get really active.

    Case in point:  Newt Gingrich has been on vacation these past few weeks – timed, apparently, to let the furor over his opening missteps subside.  Unfortunately he came back to even bigger problems – see the BIG News section below.

    But before we get really deep into the race, let’s look at…

    The Announcements Yet To Come

    There are two – Michelle Bachmann and Jon Huntsman.  Note who is missing – Sarah Palin.  The MSM want her so bad, they think of her as a bobo doll for their hatred of the right, and if they have her, they have a solid target.  It’s actually funny to watch her play that desire on their part for all its worth – whistling all the way to the bank.

    Bachmann has hired Ed Rollins to run her campaign.   Regular readers here will remember the Rollins name – he ran Mike Huckabee’s campaign last time around.  There were two memes around Bachmann this week past.  One is that she is the candidate for Evangelicals, being open about her faith and speaking their “code.“  (And this is the kind of nonsense such things bring us – ridicule.)  The other is that she is some sort of psuedo-Palin, which she most assuredly is not.  This latter meme show how much the press wants a Republican bobo doll, they’ll make one if Palin won’t give them one.  The former meme, along with her decision to hire Rollins, tells you pretty much all you need to know about the Bachmann candidacy.  She is looking to follow the Huckabee path to fame and media fortune – same players, same memes.  Last time, Huckabee had to pick on Romney to get where he wanted to be.  This time Romney is in a much different position and Bachmann, personally, is different from the Huckster.  She may have to pick a target in order to endear herself to the audience she seeks.  Rollins acted like he wanted to make Palin that target, and so far it is backfiring.  I’m thinking it will be Huntsman in the end.

    Speaking of Huntsman, he is playing pretty smart, maybe even gentleHe misstepped in an early radio interview, but generally seems to be playing this serious and smart.  Although it still smells to me like he is trying the Giuliani path.

    Speaking of Rudy Giuliani, the rumors keep floating.  We are not seeing any hiring or organizational stuff.  I am beginning to think he will get in, but still in a fundraising, not a serious, mode.  Although these rumors are sourced at Bill Kristol and he was wrong about Huckabee and Daniels.

    The BIG News

    Newt Gingrich‘s campaign imploded last Thursday.  There is discussion about why. (Money?)  A lot of people think the staffers will jump to Perry.  Gingrich is done, even though he does not know it just yet.  It’s really sad to see one of the more talented politicians of my lifetime fall apart this way.  One of the former staffers has gone on record.

    My analysis is this – Gingrich was never in to win; he was in to maintain his public profile and therefore media/moneymaking presence.  Hence the effort at an “unconventional” campaign.  Here’s the problem that all media candidates eventually run into:  If it’s not genuine, people will figure it out at some point .  That means to pull it off, one has to be consummately gifted at misdirection, if not outright lying.  The Ed Rollins/Mike Huckabee team proved pretty consummately gifted, which is something for the Bachmann backers to think about; Palin keeps using the word “unconventional” – also food for thought.

    As to Perry, I think it is too early to know what is going to happen there even if the drumbeats keep getting louder.  There is some sense to the rumors, but I also think the press wants the drama of a later entry by a perceived swoon.  We’ll see.

    “The Question,” Asked Weakly

    There was a lot written about The Question in this week past, but it all seemed a little wrong somehow.  Again, it just is getting no play on the right at all, and that which is written seems to just recycle the stories from last cycle.

    The nasty Warren Cole Smith piece we took on a couple of weeks ago drew some fire from the official LDS spokesman.  It only got coverage in the religious press, creedal and LDS.  This is the first indication that there is no real interest in The Question this cycle.

    Likewise, the Newsweek cover.  This summarizes all the coverage save for our own.  Again, all sources with some sort of religious angle.  No traction here.

    Lots of people asked The Question, but look at the sources:

    There was a poll about it and the headlines just cracked me up:

    A Third of Voters Have Qualms About Mormon President, Poll Says

    Poll: Two-thirds of Americans OK with Mormon candidate

    Can you say spin?  Which really seems to be what is going on here.  Romney himself has brushed the issue aside.  He is being attacked from some of the usual right wing sources, but its only being covered by the left.  I would judge there is no real steam left in the issue, but that people still want to try and make something of it.  I think this headline says it all:

    Romney Well-Positioned, Despite Voters’ Attitudes About Mormons

    Which brings us to the serious political news about Romney and the others running…

    Those Running

    When it comes to Mitt Romney, one Politco column says, “Everything’s coming up Romney.”  Peggy Noonan says Romney “Had a Good Week.“  He is polling ahead in South Carolina – that’s huge folks.  He’s doing exceedingly well in the money department.  FOXNews thinks he’s the frontrunner – even Tim Pawlenty concedes that Romney is the frontrunner.  And this pullquote is somewhat how I see things:

    His party keeps moving away from him.

    But the national agenda keeps moving toward him.

    I don’t so much think he is parting ways with the party so much as he is moving away from one small segment of the party that would rather lose than compromise, but I really agree with the part about the national agenda.  He will not participate in the Ames Iowa straw poll.  I’m with Geraghty’s take:

    Er, but maybe the argument is that over time, Ames means less – if it ever really meant that much at all.

    We’re back to the whole thing about “mischief” in the opening paragraph.  All-in-all, I’d say a great launch.

    Speaking of which, Tim Pawlenty‘s well-executed launch is beginning to pay dividends as well.  Afer his “hard talk” tour he is now making some solid policy statements and starting to attract press, commentary and momentum.  So far, he is the only solid beneficiary of the Gingrich meltdown.  Not to mention, some very smart people like him.

    It really is looking like a two horse race at the moment.

    Finally, Religious Reading

    From an interesting HuffPo post, it’s kind of smart…

    But this one example underscores the point from above that just because a person adheres to a religious tradition does not mean that one can know how they view the world. As the joke goes, two Baptists (or Jews, Muslims, etc) three opinions — just look at Gov. Mitt Romney and Sen. Harry Reid.

    but I feel a wrong turn coming somewhere down the line.

    Religious conversations may intensify over the next 18 months as the election campaign captures our focus and the religious identities of candidates become scrutinized by the media and voters for clues as to who they really are. It is fine for people to talk about their religion if that is important to them, but let them go deep enough to be truly helpful in revealing their core convictions and how that will influence the way they will govern, and not use religion as a trump card to garner votes; or use religious language in a way that raises suspicion about people of other traditions.

    I agree with the “not a trump card” part, but the “core convictions” stuff is troubling.  As we have seen time and again, such calls, particularly from the left ,are really calls for us to give them something to ridicule.

    But this piece is smart, if a bit convoluted:

    Bottom line?

    As Christians we will always live in some tension with the way in which our nation navigates history. If we do not have the same sense of tension with the world around us, in fact, we are probably not paying attention to God, the world, or both. We can and should engage political question, but we will often be forced to do the complex work of evaluating secular priorities in light of the transcendent claims that God makes on our lives.

    Good note on which to end.

    Lowell adds . . .

    Just before publishing this post we ran across a dust-up between Hugh Hewitt and Politico’s Ben Smith, arising from Smith’s piece entitled “Mitt Romney leads the Drudge primary.”   Hugh begins with this:

    But Smith joins with them and advances their line when he writes in the second line of this morning’s lead story, “Mitt Romney leads the Drudge Primary,” that “[t]he former governor of Massachusetts may be the punching bag of the conservative media, ridiculed on blogs and talk radio as a plasticine, untrustworthy flip-flopper and the grandfather of the hated Obamacare.”

    Let’s start with this: It isn’t true. Not remotely so.  It is in fact lousy reporting that is easily understood as such by anyone who listens to say Bill Bennett, Laura Ingraham, Mike Gallagher, Dennis Prager, Sean Hannity, Michael Medved, Mark Levin or me.  Quick, Ben, get me a quote conveying such an opinion that from Hannity or Medved who between them cover most of the afternoon drive in the east.  One quote will do.  You won’t find it because it doesn’t exist.  Those hosts come on just before me and I listen to their shows driving to my studio.  The fact is they both admire Romney, know his strengths and weaknesses, and wouldn’t say anything like what Smith wrote, which of course completely undercuts Smith’s premise and thus his credibility.

    This spilled over onto Hugh’s Twitter feed, with Hugh challenging Smith, then inviting the Politico pundit onto the Hugh Hewitt Show, with Smith declining – all via Twitter. How times keep changing!

    John noted above Peggy Noonan’s piece on Romney. Her closing paragraph is worth quoting:

    In a silly and baiting interview with Piers Morgan on CNN, Mr. Romney swatted away an insistence that he delve into Mormonism and, by implication, defend it. It was like seeing some Brit in 1960 trying to make John F. Kennedy explain and defend Catholicism. It’s not something we do in America. Because we still have a little class.

    When Mr. Romney’s father, George, ran for the GOP nomination in 1968, his religion was not an issue. Forty years later, when his son first ran, it was. Has America grown more illiberal? Maybe not. In 1968, evangelical Christians voted in Democratic primaries, because they tended to be Democrats. By 1980, all that was changing: evangelicals went Republican with Reagan and never came back.

    Catholics do not tend to take a harsh view of Mormonism, nor do mainstream Protestants. It is evangelical Christians who are most inclined not to approve. In a general election this would not make much difference: Evangelicals will not vote for Obama. But in the GOP primaries it could still hurt Mr. Romney. No one knows, because no one knows what kind of year this is. Maybe evangelicals will have seen enough of him not to mind; maybe the Obama presidency convinced them it’s not so important.

    My own read is standard Catholic. Mormons have been, on balance, a deeply constructive force in American life, and it is absurd and ignorant not to support a political figure only because you do not prefer or identify with the theology of his church.

    Really, grow up. Enough.

    I do wonder what Thaddeus McCotter’s game is.

    And finally, Michael Smerconish writes an op-ed that is worth reading.

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