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."

  • NYTimes’ Bill Keller – Journalist or Political Operative?

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 11:31 am, August 27th 2011     &mdash      6 Comments »

    While my aforementioned vacation has brought me late to this party, it has also given me some perspective on Bill Keller’s  proposal to ask candidates — well, GOP candidates, at least — tougher question about religion.  This has drawn so much reaction.  Hugh Hewitt’s invocation of Monty Python made me laugh out loud.   Hugh later rounded up some of the better responses, a favorite of mine being Joe Carter’s piece which contained the appropriate level of smirk.  But it was when I saw Stanly Kurtz’ table-turning questionnaire for Obama that my read on the whole episode really came into focus.

    There is no journalism involved here – this is purely a political ploy on Keller’s part to try to resurrect Obama’s already virtually dead campaign.  Please recall it has already leaked from Obama sources that they are going to go negative in the campaign and use dog whistles to do so religiously.  Keller knows a hint when it is thrown his way, so he has taken up the ball and tried to set the table for the campaign.  It would be smart were it not so blatantly transparent.

    The lack of research or rigor applied by Keller is a clear sign that Keller is not interested in facts, but is instead interested, almost purely, in scoring political points.  Let me give you just a few examples:

    • Keller’s opening analogy – the belief by a candidate that “space aliens dwell among us” – completely ignores the fact that religious belief of various sorts has been vetted by society throughout human history.  There simply is no comparison between a faith in a supernatural that has been practiced in different forms by mankind since we became mankind and the a faith in stuff that makes the cover of the National Enquirer.  One is a major force in the development and civility of the human race and the other is science fiction.  One may not choose to believe in the supernatural as I do, but to dismiss it altogether by throwing it out with the pop culture trash is to deny virtually all of human history.
    • In his piece Keller uses the term “fealty” when referring to a candidate’s attitude towards the scripture of his/her particular religion, though citing only the Bible and The Book of Mormon.  His lack of citation of the Quran, or the Bhagavad Gītā or other holy documents further indicate his desire to score political points on GOP candidates as opposed to make a genuine inquiry into the intersection of religion and politics.  But his use of the term “fealty” is entirely misleading.  Fealty is a political pledge to a lord – one would pledge fealty to duke or baron or king.  This term is simply unused in religious terms, at least in America.  This is an attempt to set up a straw dog to create fear where there should be none.
    • Keller also invokes the term “dominionist.”  Make no mistake, we are seeing a meme in the making with this one – a red herring designed to send the media down a path where there is nothing, but along which much fear can be induced.  Jeremy Peirce has noted, “Dominionismism begins, as far as I can tell, with a sociology Ph.D. dissertation at the University of California at Berkeley, by a woman named Sara Diamond.”  In other words, the apparent movement is a creation of the left.  Frankly I know of no religious conservative that would self-identify in such a fashion.

    So now let’s turn our gaze on Keller’s questionnaire.  When I read through the thing I had one thought over and over and over again: “Asked and answered, your honor.”  This was particularly true with the questions aimed at Romney, who, having already taken one lap in the race, has been asked virtually everything imaginable and unimaginable about his faith.  But it is really true of all the candidates, even if they have not been specifically asked the questions.  All the candidates have been in government for some time and have a record to stand on.  Some certainly more than others, but they all have a record and that record says more about how their religion will affect their performance in office than a dozen interviews by a dozen Bill Kellers.

    But of course Keller could not be bothered to research things to that level because he is not interested in the answers, he is interested in scoring political points.  The archives of this blog would allow us, were we willing, to go through and provide Keller with all the answers he purports to want.  We are not, however, so willing.  To do so would be to give Keller precisely what he genuinely wants – to define the terms of the debate.

    Gaining Altitude

    And so with that, I want to leave the ground game for just a minute and start to look at things from a few thousand feet.  For starters, Keller’s invocation of all that went on last time with regards to Obama and Jeremiah Wright, when combined with the ugliness in the tone of Keller’s writings, indicates that he is not only trying to score political points, but also to vent his anger about the Wright dust-up last cycle, and further, that much of what we are witnessing here is little more than what Keller perceives to be tit-for-tat.

    There are some significant differences.  Jeremiah Wright was prone to long and almost purely political discourse from his pulpit.  Much of the source material that Keller attempts to draw upon is almost purely religious in nature.  It is a political statement for Jeremiah Wright to say “God Damn America.”  For religious leaders to examine their beliefs and scriptures for guidance on specific issues is a religious exercise.  But that notwithstanding, this blog was one of the few conservative voices to rise, distasteful though it was, to Obama’s defense when it came to where he chose to worship.  Frankly, in that sense we conservatives asked for this.

    Yes, Obama sat in Wright’s church for 20 years, but to therefore infer that Obama would also utter “God Damn America,” is to make Obama guilty by association.  Virtually all of Ryan Lizza’s hit piece on Michelle Bachmann, and much of Keller’s attack here are similar “guilt by association” inferences.  This is something we can ill afford.  I know of no religion that is without its fringe elements – often destructive fringe elements.  Such guilt by association tactics will serve only to completely delegitimize the religious voice in politics.  If we are going to rightfully get upset when such tactics are used against us, we have to be mindful of our own deployment of same.

    Keller’s piece is yet another bit of evidence regarding one of the assertions this blog has been making since 2006.  If attacks on Romney for his faith in 2008 were allowed to stand, we would see similar attacks leveled at candidates on any religion this cycle.  Keller’s piece is precisely that in spades.  Frankly, the piece would be entirely unsurprising and almost unworthy of comment were it aimed solely at Romney.  In that regard it is nothing we have not seen countless times before – often much more well done that in this instance.  But it is the broad brush with which Keller paints religion generally that makes this notable, even if it was entirely predictable.

    Keller makes almost  no effort to acknowledge the distinctions between Mormonism and mainline Christianity that we all cherish so and write about so endlessly.  In fact the few instances where he brings it up are a clear effort to paint us all as silly in-fighters more interested in our squabbles than the good of the nation.

    At this point in time, a person serious about their faith and politics and governance in this nation has little choice but to set aside our internal squabbles and fight the good fight for any candidate of any faith that agrees with us.  Anything less will serve only to make Keller’s point for him.

    Finally, I must note that Keller’s view of religion implies a religious, even hyper-religious, level of devotion to secularism.  Keller’s questions bristle with accusations that only “science” holds the “answers.”  No scientist worthy that title holds their own work in such a high regard.  It should not be forgotten that I am trained academically as a scientist.  The first lecture of my first chemistry class in college drove home a single point:  No matter how much we think we know, no matter how much the data support our conclusions, no matter how well our models may work, something can and often does come along that will upset the whole applecart.  It is not bigotry to make inquiry, but it is bigotry when one is so certain of one’s own view that the point of the inquiry is not to learn what the other thinks, or to follow the data where it leads but merely to discredit all other points of view.

    The accusations of bigotry tossed Keller’s way are well-deserved.  It is nearly impossible to argue with a bigot.  Hence I chose not to do so here and instead merely demonstrate the fact of Keller’s anti-religious bigotry.  Those of us of faith do now have a higher bar to clear; however.  Keller’s bigotry, as well as that of so many that agree with him, gives us no choice.

    In this piece I have pointed to a couple of places where we “asked for this.”  We have to get smarter, we have to get better, or we will lose – bigotry notwithstanding.

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    Posted in Candidate Qualifications, News Media Bias, Political Strategy, Religious Bigotry, Understanding Religion | 6 Comments » | Print this post Print this post | Email This Post Email This Post

    Bill Keller suggests: Let’s make this campaign about all the GOP candidates’ religious beliefs

    Posted by: Lowell Brown at 10:08 pm, August 25th 2011     &mdash      2 Comments »

    This is the first post you’ll read here about Bill Keller’s New York Times op-ed, Asking Candidates Tougher Questions About Faith.  But it won’t be the last.  Our time is limited right now – John’s just now re-entering normal life after a long and well-earned vacation, and I’ve been in trial.  But we had to say something about Keller’s piece.

    Hugh Hewitt summarizes:

    Former editor of the New York Times Bill Keller is out with a piece that encourages his colleagues in the Manhattan-Beltway media elite to do their best to stoke the fires of religious intolerance by turning this presidential campaign into the occasion for an inquisition into all of the Republicans’ religious beliefs.

    Hugh’s not exaggerating. These early Keller paragraphs will give you a sense of his direction:

    [W]hen it comes to the religious beliefs of our would-be presidents, we are a little squeamish about probing too aggressively. Michele Bachmann was asked during the Iowa G.O.P. debate what she meant when she said the Bible obliged her to “be submissive” to her husband, and there was an audible wave of boos — for the question, not the answer. There is a sense, encouraged by the candidates, that what goes on between a candidate and his or her God is a sensitive, even privileged domain, except when it is useful for mobilizing the religious base and prying open their wallets.

    This year’s Republican primary season offers us an important opportunity to confront our scruples about the privacy of faith in public life — and to get over them. We have an unusually large number of candidates, including putative front-runners, who belong to churches that are mysterious or suspect to many Americans.

    He goes on to detail the areas of inquiry he proposes, including:

    • What Michele Bachmann meant when she said,  during the Iowa G.O.P. debate, that (in Keller’s language) “the Bible obliged her to ‘be submissive’ to her husband.”
    • That “Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman are Mormons, a faith that many conservative Christians have been taught is a ‘cult’ and that many others think is just weird.”
    • That “Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann are both affiliated with fervid subsets of evangelical Christianity — and Rick Santorum comes out of the most conservative wing of Catholicism.”
    • “[Whether] a candidate places fealty to the Bible, the Book of Mormon (the text, not the Broadway musical) or some other authority higher than the Constitution and laws of this country.”
    • “[Whether] a candidate is going to be a Trojan horse for a sect that believes it has divine instructions on how we should be governed.”

    There are more.  He also announced he has sent the Republican candidates “a little questionnaire (which you can find on The 6th Floor blog).”  The questions include:

    • Do you agree with those religious leaders who say that America is a “Christian nation” or a “Judeo-Christian nation?” and what does that mean in practice?
    • Would you have any hesitation about appointing a Muslim to the federal bench? What about an atheist?
    • What is your attitude toward the theory of evolution, and do you believe it should be taught in public schools?

    He promises:  “We’ll be posting the campaigns’ answers — if any — on nytimes.com. And if they don’t answer, let’s keep on asking. Because these are matters too important to take on faith.”

    So now we have an announced inquiry – or inquisition, using Hugh’s figure – by America’s “newspaper of record” into what one party’s candidates believe about God.  This is, in a word, outrageous.  It deserves to be met with full-throated condemnation from people of good will everywhere, no matter what their political views.  It needs to be exposed as un-American.

    Watch this space.  We’ll be part of that effort.

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    Religion and the Perry-Romney competition? Count on it! And more….

    Posted by: Lowell Brown at 10:34 pm, August 21st 2011     &mdash      3 Comments »

    When is the news media really the news media?

    Now that Rick Perry is the candidate who is most fascinating to the punditry these days, th e inevitable juxtaposition of of Perry’s prominent Evangelical beliefs with Romney’s Mormonism is popping up everywhere.  Writing in the Austin Statesman, Jason Stanford asks, “Would Obama rather run against Perry or Romney?”  It takes Stanford only 5 paragraphs to raise The Question:

    And though it’s impolite to make an issue of it, Romney is a Mormon. Many social conservatives in this country think that’s a cult, whereas liberals just think it’s something for the creators of “South Park” to mock on Broadway.

    With a Mormon topping the Republican ticket, Republicans could face an enthusiasm gap akin to the lack of excitement that George W. Bush’s doctrine of “compassionate conservatism” engendered among social conservatives. No one throws red meat to those wolves like Perry does, giving him a huge advantage.h

    But there’s something very interesting about Jason Stanford.  He’s a Democrat political consultant in Texas.  The web site for his company, Stanford Research, quips, “We serve Republicans.  Would you like them skewered, roasted or deep-fried?”

    Interestingly, I had to use Google to get that information.  The Statesman says nothing about who Stanford is.  We’ve seen this before:  Democrats and their supporters say to Republicans like Romney and Perry, “Let’s you and him fight.”  Call me cynical, but I think Democrats and liberals are all too happy to raise the religion issue for Republican candidates.  We haven’t seen the last of this, either.

    Now this is clearly the news media at work

    In ABC’s “This Week” blog Jake Tapper focuses on religion questions for Jon Huntsman, the other Mormon in the race. The video is at the link.  Here’s the text:

    TAPPER: Well, OK.  Here I go then.

    You’re Mormon. Until you were 18, your church had racist rules. It would not allow anyone with African ancestry to become a priest and blacks were also banned from participating in certain Mormon ordinances, such as temple marriages. Then the leadership of the church, in 1978, announced something along the lines of that God had changed his mind or the rules had changed because of revelation. You seem to be a thinking man. What was it like to go through this as a — as a young man, your church having racist rules and then all of a sudden, God says no more?

    HUNTSMAN: I think it was wrong, plain and simple. I think it was wrong. I think it was something that divided people, divided friends and maybe even divided families. I believe they — they saw the errors of their way and they made a policy change. And I think they’re much better because of it.

    TAPPER: Did it make you question at all your faith?

    HUNTSMAN: Well, over the years, of course, you can’t help but reflect on — on certain policies. Any church, any religion is — any religious tradition, I’m sure in their decades or centuries of history, would have some episodes that would cause you to look back and question it a little bit. But you put everything in perspective, or at least you try to.

    That subject is catnip for the news media, isn’t it?  Read the comments to Tapper’s post.  They’re entertaining.

    Meanwhile….

    The “Are Mormons Christians?” debate will likely never die.  Here’s one example of how it is flaring up these days.

    This New Hampshire newspaper writrer seems a little tired of religion in this presidential cycle:

    Excuse Republicans in New Hampshire if they feel sometimes they are attending a revival meeting, instead of deciding a presidential primary contest.

    They can’t escape religion this political cycle.

    Read the whole thing for a view of how Granite State voters see the candidates’ religions as a non-issue.

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    The MSM’s Relentless Cluelessness; Jacob Weisberg’s Intolerance; And Other “News”

    Posted by: Lowell Brown at 10:08 pm, August 18th 2011     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    The News Media’s Isolation from America

    First, a brief nod in the direction of Martha’s Vineyard.  It’s a bit off-topic for this blog, but bear with me for a minute or two.

    This is an excerpt from Mike Allen’s Politico Playbook, reporting on the president’s Martha’s Vineyard vacation. The irony is pretty rich:

    Ira Stoll, editor and founder of FutureOfCapitalism.com, emails: ….”Spotted Wednesday night on Deep Bottom Road: Margaret Marshall, the chief justice who authored the Massachusetts gay marriage decision, driving out in a gray Honda SUV with Anthony Lewis in the passenger seat. Welcome to paradise. … There’s plenty of regular folk here. Compared to Nantucket or Bridgehampton, it’s practically middle America.”

    How out of touch can these people be?  Much of Playbook is devoted to such banalities as the birthdays of reporters, producers and other MSM acolytes — people almost no one has ever heard of, but Mike Allen sure seems to know them and think his readers should care.  That Allen would publish a howler like Ira Stoll’s cheery comment above is perfect, just perfect.

    To his credit, Romney, who has his own problems with public perceptions of his personal wealth, called in to a Chicago talk radio show and commented on the POTUS vacation:

    If I were president today, I wouldn’t be looking to go spend 10 days on Martha’s Vineyard,” ABC News reports Romney saying on the Don Wade & Roma Show. “Now, Martha’s Vineyard is in my home state of Massachusetts so I don’t want to say anything negative about people vacationing there. But if you’re the president of the United States, and the nation is in crisis, and we’re in a jobs crisis right now, then you shouldn’t be out vacationing.

    In the words of the Washington Post:

    President Obama is set to begin a 10-day retreat Thursday at a 28-acre Martha’s Vineyard compound called Blue Heron Farm, which costs an estimated $50,000 per week to rent. That divide — and the presumed hypocrisy of a president who has pledged not to rest ‘until every American looking for a job can find one,’ going golfing and biking on an island playground for wealthy celebrities — has been too much for political pundits to resist.

    Yeah, and for bloggers too.

    Jacob Weisberg finds a Mormon He Can Get Behind

    Long-time readers here know that Jacob Weisberg has a special place among our pantheon of left-of-center pundits who are refreshingly candid about their condescension and borderline religious bigotry.  Heck, Weisberg is practically a legend around here.  He was the man who wrote a 2006 Slate article entitled “A Mormon President?  No Way.”  Said Weisberg: “I wouldn’t vote for someone who truly believed in the founding whoppers of Mormonism.”

    Well, something must have happened, because Weisberg has written another article.  Oh, sure, it’s full of the snide condescension we’ve come to expect from Weisberg towards people different from himself (in this case, Southerners, whose accents he finds funny).  It’s almost unintentional self-parody in that regard.

    But here’s the take-home message:  Weisberg likes Jon Huntsman, whom he calls “the smooth, cosmopolitan former Utah governor, who not only is on record as a supporter of gay civil unions but also served under Barack Obama as ambassador to China until a few months ago.”

    I’ll give you a moment to catch your breath.

    You must read the entire article to absorb the full force of Weisberg’s admiration for Huntsman.  You don’t have to read far, however, to understand just why Weisberg finds this Mormon acceptable:

    People tend to see Mormonism as a binary, you-are-or-you-aren’t question, but Jon Huntsman is something more like a Reform Jew, who honors the spirit rather than the letter of his faith. He describes his family on his father’s side as “saloon keepers and rabble rousers,” and his mother’s side as “ministers and proselytizers.” The Huntsman side ran a hotel in Fillmore, Utah’s first capital, where they arrived with the wagon trains in the 1850s. They were mostly what Utahans call “Jack Mormons”—people with positive feelings about the Latter-Day Saints church who don’t follow all of its strictures. “We blend a couple of different cultures in this family,” he says.

    You’d never hear a phrase like that from Romney, who has raised his sons as Mormons and sent them on missions. Nor would you see Tagg, Matt, Josh, Ben, or Craig Romney in a hotel bar, sipping a glass of wine, as you might see one of Huntsman’s adult children.

    In other words, Huntsman just isn’t very devout. He might not even believe those “founding whoppers of Mormonism.”  That is what enables Weisberg to feel comfortable about him.

    Weisberg thus adds another dimension to his shining example as a left-leaning East Coast-based intellectual who smirks at those who are not like him, either because of how they talk or how they worship God. A living, breathing, walking, talking (and writing) stereotype.

    I can’t wait to see what Weisberg thinks of Rick Perry.

    Update: Dave Weigel, Weisberg’s colleague at Slate, has a reasonable view of the Huntsman profile and of Huntsman’s impact on the religion issue for Romney.

    Meanwhile….

    A couple of Mormons are running against each other for the soon-to-be-open Senate seat in Arizona. This is thought to warrant a news article.

    Thoughts on whether this really is “The Mormon Moment.”

    Herman Cain thinks Romney can’t win because of his religion.  Of course, Cain says, “It doesn’t bother me.”

    Sigh.

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    Weirdness and Dog Whistles, Cont’d.

    Posted by: Lowell Brown at 12:40 pm, August 11th 2011     &mdash      3 Comments »

    At The Corner, Glenn Stanton offers some excellent analysis on the subject of our post yesterday.  The take-home point:

    This is a new strategy in politics because candidates in the past who were in fact weird did a marvelous job of exposing that themselves. When it comes to weird, if it’s not obvious, you have to ask, is there really a case to be made? Are the folks in Massachusetts in the habit of electing Republican nuts into high office?

    Of course, if “weird” is dog whistle code for “religious Mormon,” then the use of the term makes political sense.  Read the whole thing.

    Stanton also adds a good analysis of the Newsweek Michele Bachmann cover photo kerfluffle .  (John got into that in some detail in this post a few days ago.)

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    Weirdness and Dog Whistles: Operation “Kill Romney”

    Posted by: Lowell Brown at 10:59 pm, August 10th 2011     &mdash      3 Comments »

    Michael Crowley writes about “Operation Kill Romney.” Crowley’s responding to this Politico story which includes this charming bit:

    “Unless things change and Obama can run on accomplishments, he will have to kill Romney,” said a prominent Democratic strategist aligned with the White House.

    Silly me.  After the Gabrielle Giffords atrocity I thought our chattering classes had moved past homicidal metaphors.  But there’s more.  On closer examination, the Obama strategy begins to look a little, well, weird:

    The onslaught would have two aspects. The first is personal: Obama’s reelection campaign will portray the public Romney as inauthentic, unprincipled and, in a word used repeatedly by Obama’s advisers in about a dozen interviews, “weird.”

    Crowley sees something going on here that arises from Romney’s religion:

    Obama remains relatively popular, given the mess we’re in. Pollsters have expressed surprise that the economy hasn’t dragged Obama’s approval ratings further down, and one working theory that seems plausible is that Americans are inclined to like him personally, even if they’re not impressed by his job performance. That suggests that the more the campaign is about personality, especially if you accept the Obama team’s claim that Romney is “weird,” the more Obama benefits….

    To my ears, [the word "weird"] rings of innuendo about [Romney's] Mormon faith, and surely any sophisticated political strategist would anticipate that reaction. Romney’s Mormonism, much like Obama’s race at a similar point in the 2008 campaign, remains a fascinating and still little-understood political variable. It’s hard to imagine it as a net positive, however, and that Politico story leaves me wondering how much Obama’s advisers are ready to make of it. You’d like to think that the people who work for a man who has been slurred countless times because of his race would take a higher road, so hopefully I’m just reading too much into this. Time will tell.

    I don’t usually look at comments to Politico posts, but I couldn’t resist this time.  Take a look yourself.  My conclusion:  If you think Obama isn’t going to try finding a way to exploit Romney’s religion, that Big News Media won’t at least try to cover for the president, or that the lefty side of the punditocracy and the blogosphere won’t actively aid and abet Obama’s use of the “weirdness angle,” you’re deluding yourself.

    In other words, in this race we are going to see plenty of “dog whistle politics,” which is a “type of political speech using code words that appear to mean one thing to the general population but have a different meaning for a targeted part of the audience.”

    Watch this space.

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