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."

  • Will Romney v Perry Devolve Into A Religous Battle?

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 05:31 am, September 12th 2011     &mdash      3 Comments »

    The answer is, of course, yet to be seen, but one would hope not.  It is, however, a distinct possibility and one the press is longing for.  Some say it is the old “moderate east v conservative west” battle that has gripped the party for decades.  (I guess we know where Palwenty is on that spectrum.)  But note this towards the end of that piece:

    The reduction of the race to this revival of the old conflict proves difficult for Romney because the GOP in this Tea Party era is more conservative, more Southern and more Jacksonian than ever before. [emphasis added]

    The south is often described in the press as more religious than the rest of the nation.  Numbers are emerging that show an anti-Mormon bias still exists, though it may not be as problematic as people are inclined to believe.  But it is a very simplistic analysis as far as the primary is concerned.  For one, suspicion, which falls short of bias, can be leveraged into votes for an opposing candidate for “different” reasons.  Strategy matters immensely too.  As we saw last cycle anti-Mormon bias was used in Iowa to shift the caucuses’ outcome, and that affected the rest of the primaries.

    Perry appears to be trying to steer very clear of the issue – too clear in my book.  But then Mike Huckabee was all full of denials and completely changed his tune after his NYTimes interview last cycle.   Perry sent his signals before he began his campaign – remember that prayer meeting just a couple of days before?  There certainly are a lot of people that want to label him religiously – there is this lady, and there is all sorts of discussion about Perry’s “personal testimony.“  Some evangelical sources seem to want to pick the fight.  Regardless, I do not look for Perry to “go there.” If it happens it will be accomplished through surrogates and supporters.

    The usual suspects want to foment the fight.  The Los Angeles Times has been beating this drum for quite a while, this is only the latest installment.  The Los Angeles Times is, however, almost beneath consideration anymore.  If their circulation drops much more, they may have to start hiring high school journalists.  Politico just had to throw in this aside.  When a religion’s adherents include politicians as widely divergent as Romney and Reid, when will they figure out that those of the faith are just not going to line up on one side or the other?  Radio Stations need something to talk about.  Some are trying to use the most extreme of traditional Christianity to characterize us all.  Some continue to use Jon Huntsman to bring it up and he is such a non-factor at this point that it is ridiculous.  (Huntsman may get more press for less polling results than any Republican candidate in history.  He fascinates a left-leaning press because they perceive him as one of their own.)  I have no idea who this is, but it’s ugly.

    Some Mormon sources are not helping either.  And that is just silly.  Bachmann is truly over.  She even has problems in the tradtional religious base other than Perry.  It is important on the Mormon side of things to be wary, but not over-reactive.  A lot of the anti-Mormon bias out there will not matter.  As we said earlier, it has to be properly leveraged, and Bachmann is no longer in a position to do that – let it go.

    It does seem clear that religious “tension” will rise as the campaign proceeds.  The question is how will it play out?  Some see Perry’s ‘cowboy attitude” as a boon for Romney.  Some think they will end up running mates.  How religion plays will be important to which one of those people is right.

    What is eminently clear, the primary notwithstanding, is that religion generally has a huge battle on its hands.  As Bill Keller’s and Dana Milbanks’s attacks continue to reverberate the likes of Chuck Colson are beginning to push back.

    Everybody seems to take it personally.  It’s an “Anti-Catholic Moment.”  Evangelicals need to, once again, clarify who they are.  Let me ask you something as the anniversary of 9-11 surrounds us – were those airplanes aimed specifically at a person in the Pentagon or the Towers?  Of course not, I seriously doubt Mohammed Atta and friends knew the name of anyone in the buildings other than perhaps Donald Rumsfeld and the Joint Chiefs in the Pentagon – they did not care.  They were attacking America – ALL OF US.  And so it is with the attacks on religion we are seeing.

    I guess it takes a British scholar to see it for what it really isRamesh Ponnuru has identified the real danger in all this:

    In any presidential primary there’s a tension between the voters’ desire for a candidate who can win the general election and their desire for a candidate who shares their views — between, in other words, ideology and electability. The more beatable Obama looks, the more the balance for Republican voters will tilt toward ideology and away from electability.

    [...]

    Already the Republican primaries have seen candidates take positions that will be hard sells in the fall of next year. Both Bachmann and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, for example, want to abolish the Environmental Protection Agency. Polls suggest that while the public doesn’t consider environmental protection its top priority right now, it favors regulation and trusts Democrats over Republicans on the issue. Texas Governor Rick Perry has suggested that Social Security and Medicare are unconstitutional and that they should be replaced by state-run programs. There’s a reason no Republican candidate since 1964 has run on a platform anything like this one on entitlements: Both programs are extremely popular.

    The same trends exist in defensiveness as well as perceived weakness in the opponent.  As we take the attacks personally we will assume that only someone “just like us” will offer sufficient defense, and so we vote more on ideology than electability.  But the fact of the matter is protecting religion is protecting religion and the attacks are not at ME, they are at religion.

    There’s a cliche, “A rising tide raises all ships.”  That applies deeply here.  Religion is under attack, Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical, Mormon, Orthodox, Jewish….  We cannot afford to let our internecine bickering affect our politics or the attackers will prevail.

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    Rick Perry – Confrontational on Everything BUT Religion

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:30 am, September 8th 2011     &mdash      5 Comments »

    Rick Perry has raced to the top of the polls in part on the basis of his overt religiosity.  He seems to be filling the role from which Michele Bachmann has fallen – the candidate that speaks plainly about faith and calls it like it is.

    Well, in last night’s debate, Perry was certainly confrontational and plain speaking.  His direct confrontations with Romney have become THE meme of the show, but it was his petulance at Karl Rove and Ron Paul that defined his performance in my mind.  Needless to say the left-leaning press is, as we predicted, using the confrontation with Romney to drive a wedge into the party generally, one they hope will divide us sufficiently to prevent a win in the general.

    That wedge has a distinct religious angle to it – Perry the firebrand Evangelical vs Romney the calm, cool, collected and establishment Mormon.  It is more than a bit ironic that the Mormon is cast as the establishment is it not?  Religion played virtually no role in last night’s debate.  Perry’s Galileo crack was as close as it got – a bit of irony in that as well, on multiple levels.  (Brian Williams “Catholic” lead into a question to Rick Santorum does not count, it was not really a question about religion.)  This was in stark contrast to the Labor Day Palmetto Freedom Forum in which Perry did not participate, staying home in Texas to deal with the wildfire emergency.  Although I must say it is an interesting choice that Perry remained in Texas to deal with the emergency for the forum that was social issue heavy, but found time to get to the debate that was not, even though the fires still rage in Texas.  Religious discussion conveniently avoided.

    But Perry did get asked some religious questions yesterday.  It came before the debate in an interview he did with Hugh Hewitt:

    HH: Now Governor Perry, you’ve attracted a lot of criticism. The New York Times’ Bill Keller, who’s now a columnist, used to be their editor, says you’re a dominionist. And Dana Milbank of the Washington Post says you’re a theocrat. What do you put down to these attacks, particularly those on your religion?

    RP: Well obviously, they’re real scared of me, is what I would say. And they understand that America is longing for someone who stands up and tells it like it is, someone who know what they believe in, someone who is not afraid of the left. And I’m not going to cower, whether it’s someone who’s writing for any of the mainstream media. If they want to attack me, have at it. But I know what I believe in, and I’m going to go forward, full-bore, full tilt, because I believe in America. I know that our best days are in front of us, and I know if you’ll free up the American entrepreneur, and clearly tell them, listen, you risk your capital, and you’re going to have an opportunity to have a return on your investment, our best days are ahead of us. The greatest exploit in America’s history has not been written, yet, because we have that type of spirit in this country. And you know, write what they will. I know what I believe in, and I think I’m on the better side of the angels on this one, because I truly know that America believes that we have the work ethic, the values…we just need to be freed from these federal government regulations that are killing jobs, and sending the message that don’t risk your capital, because you’re not going to have a chance to have a return on your investment.

    Let’s see, Perry was asked a direct question about the most truly pressing religio-political question of the day and he was completely non-responsive – COMPLETELY!  He retreats to his talking points, and brushes this off as an attack.  Does he defend the place of faith in America? – no.  Does he address the charges of “dominionist” or “theocrat”? – no.  Does he even use the words “God” or “Jesus Christ” as a part of “what he believes in?” – no.

    I am not going to begin to try and fathom Perry’s game here, but I am going to say as someone interested in preserving the place of religiosity in American politics, this does not sound like the guy that I want debating on my behalf.  Set up with a great question, by a religion friendly questioner to a religion friendly audience Perry had the perfect opportunity to stand up for all of us of faith and our voice.  He failed miserably.  He appears to be running away from the discussion altogether.

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    Posted in Candidate Qualifications, Political Strategy, Reading List, Religious Freedom, Same-sex marriage, Understanding Religion | 5 Comments » | Print this post Print this post | Email This Post Email This Post

    The Republican Horse Race the Democrats, and the Press, Want

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 08:41 am, September 6th 2011     &mdash      4 Comments »

    Rick Perry’s entry into the race, not to mention his race to the top of the polls, seems to have given the Dems and the New York/Beltway Media Elite precisely the Republican primary they wanted – one that they can drive a wedge into deep enough that we cannot unite come the general.  A primary campaign not unlike the one they had last time, but with one significant difference.

    The Dems had a knock-down, drag-out brawl of a primary last time – one that should have left them weakened and eminently beatable.  However, the eventual winner of the primary represented the holy grail of Democratic politics – a POTUS candidate of color – so they lined up like lemmings at the cliff and pushed on to victory with a little help from a Republican candidate who left a lot of Republicans a bit queasy when they pulled the lever.

    The looming fight between Romney and Perry has some parallels, and some significant differences.  Parallels include the fact that one is an “establishment” candidate (Romney being like Clinton) and one is the insurgent new blood more closely attuned to the true believers in the party than the power structures (Perry being like Obama).  Differences include:

    • the rest of the field is much stronger than it was in the Democrat primary last time;
    • there are candidates yet to announce (Palin) that could change the entire complexion of the race in a big hurry; and
    • religion is one of the key factors between the two heavyweights (well at least between a significant subset of their supporters).

    It is this last factor that has the Dems and their willing media allies (yes you, Bill Keller) salivating.  Religious conflict, even the relatively civil type of such conflict we have here in the US, is extremely difficult to resolve and therefore stands a good chance of leaving the GOP a party divided in the general, regardless of outcome.

    Consider the coverage.

    Turning first to setting it up as a two-man race. The Wall Street Journal discussed the importance of this week’s debate, especially to Perry.   Dan Balz wonders if Romney is ready for this battle.  (Wait, which one of these guys has run before?)  There is much discussion of Romney’s strategy to deal with Perry, such as from Marc Thiessen and Adam Sorensen.  And with the two-man race coverage we can see the wedge being driven.  The Wall Street Journal, Politico, and Bill O’Reilly all discuss the “personal feud” between the two candidates.  (Nothing spices up a good fight like a personal angle and any good promoter knows you need to add one if there isn’t one.)  Then there is the National Journal poll proclaiming Romney as the “insider’s favorite.”  (So it’s an inside/outside cage match is it?)

    What are these MSM guys going to do in the increasingly likely event that Palin gets in?  Or when we do not buy this stuff and do not behave in the manner they expect us to?  Well, they are going to up the ante.

    FOXNews says the obvious:

    Now, politicians are navigating a landscape in which rifts over faith and policy have become chasms. An outlook that appeals to one group enrages another. Campaigns are desperate to find language generic enough for a broad constituency that also conveys an unshakable faith.

    Which ups the ante considerably and sets up where they really want to drive the wedge.

    So, let’s turn to the coverage playing up Perry’s religion. Building on the Texas connection with W and the memes that developed around him.  Questions about Perry’s intelligence arose.  This is also a religious shot.  It must be remembered that W was open, if nowhere near Perry’s level of effusiveness, about his faith and after all, “you have to be stupid to believe that stuff.”

    [Lowell interjects: One of the MSM’s favorite memes (originating with the left) is that conservatives are stupid knuckle-draggers.  In my lifetime it goes back to Gerald Ford, and continues through Reagan, both Bushes (but especially W.), and now virtually every Republican except Gingrich and Romney.  You combine love for that meme with a religious candidate and it’s pure catnip for liberal MSM journalists.]

    Religous questions are just swirling around Perry.  Is he God’s Candidate?  People just have to write about itDana Milbank was in total attack dog mode on the subject.  (Something Republicans should keep in mind: Perry’s overt religiosity will draw some pretty extreme stuff in a general election.)  And given that Perry and Bachmann, rightly or wrongly, occupy pretty much the same space in the media’s mind, one also has to take note of utterly idiotic stuff like this.

    Turning to Romney’s religion. There is the usual – what has now almost become background chatter.  There is a movie coming out.  (There is so much of this stuff going on that I think it’s just people trying to cash in.)  The Boston Globe keep taking shots.  (I am shocked, shocked.)  Some fellow Mormons are not helping.

    There was a bizarre set of stories about Romney having problems with Jewish donors because of Bachmann’s perceived jewishness – see the New York Post and the Daily Mail.  First of all, the perception that Bachmann is a Jew is just bunk.  She is an outspoken supporter of Israel, but so is any viable Republican candidate.  This strikes me as just another reason to try and bring up the fact that Romney is Mormon and somehow apart from the religious mainstream.  The same is true of the stories saying that Romney “needs” Sarah Palin to jump in to divide the religious/Tea Party vote.

    But the real meat of the matter appeared in the coverage of an appearance Romney made at a New Hampshire Tea Party event over the weekend.  It has just dawned on MSM that the Tea Party is religious conservatives in new cloth and now they have a play thing.  They can talk about evangelical problems with Romney and his faith without really talking about it.  So, the Tea Party is “at war” with Romney – see WaPo and Business Insider.  Romney “drew protest” and “was not their cup of tea.”

    So, how are we to react to all this? The narrative they want to establish seems clear – Romney vs. Perry/Mormon vs. Christian – neither candidate really tuned into things because they are, after all, religious nutcases; their religious clashes with one another being evidence of such.  The Minneapolis Star Tribune carried a long article on the role of religion in the race that concluded with a quote from Kathleen Flake of Vanderbilt:

    “For the first time, we’re not only interested in whether someone is religious, which is essentially a question of, `Do you have a morality that the voter can identify with?’” Flake said. “It appears that there’s a significant portion of the electorate that’s interested in what the particular theology of the candidate is. Do they believe in Jesus? If so, what kind of Jesus do you believe in?”

    That set me to thinking deep thoughts.  My recent vacation included a visit to Jerusalem – sight of the holiest place in Judaism (The Western Wall), the holiest place in Christianity (Church of the Holy Sepulchre) and the third holiest place in Islam (Dome of the Rock.)  I, in fact all people, were welcomed at the Holy Sepulchre.  Everybody was also welcome at the Western Wall, provided they followed the rules concerning garments and sex separation.  But a non-Muslim venturing to the Dome of the Rock was taking a dangerous step.

    If Kathleen Flake is correct then Christians and Jews in the United States are becoming, in some sense, more like the Muslims in Jerusalem – “You are not welcome in our space unless you can genuinely prove you are one of us.”  I reject that idea.

    We cannot let the left, in their endless and merciless attacks against what we hold dear define us.  We are better than that.  We cannot retreat into territorialism and defensiveness against the onslaught.  I saw all sorts of Christians at the Western Wall, many approaching with deep reverence.  I was unable to determine the religion of the hordes of people I encountered in the Holy Sepulchre, but I am quite certain there were people of many faiths, as well as many of no faith.  Everybody was enlightened and uplifted by their experiences at these places, regardless of their individual convictions.  It is that uplifting and enlightening experience that America has historically chosen.

    If we allow the left to define the narrative as they are trying to, we will no longer be uplifting or enlightening.  I just don’t think we want to be there.  We need to fashion a different narrative, one built on respect for all reasonable candidates, and an ability to share space with others of differing viewpoint.  We cannot act as the press wants us to.  We cannot read these stories and join the chorus.  We have to make the reality of our behavior louder than the din of their writing.

    Our primary is increasingly going to be the knock-down, drag-out they expect.  That’s politics.  But we cannot let it be the religious war they want it to be.  It is up to our candidates to help keep that dog at bay.  They cannot deny the candidates’ faith and no one should ask them to, but they should not run on their faith either.  Any candidate that does is, in the end, weakening the party and their own ability to win the general election.  As those of us in the rank-and-file look at the candidates we have to carefully consider this issue.  We cannot let our own religious identity stand in the way of electing the candidate that has the best chance of carrying the general and  advancing our issues as far as feasible.

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    Bill Keller – Man of Reason!?!?!?!?

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 09:34 am, September 3rd 2011     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    Sure he is! Just ask him.

    Keller set off a firestorm of discussion and criticism last week with his contention that the candidates need to be asked MORE about their religious convictions.  So, of course, he jumped into the fray and engaged in the discussion and defended himself with eloquence and reason – NOT.

    Some predictable sources jumped on the Keller bandwagon – The Atlantic for example.  Some used it as a springboard to grind personal axes.  Some, like Brian Lee at the Daily Caller tried the old “religion matters, but not the way Keller thinks” approach.  Some surveyed religious leaders in their community.

    A lot of people tried to get a handle on the whole “Dominionist” thing.  I have to admit it is amazing when I am accused on being something I barely knew existed.  Some asked “the experts,” at least those they could get a hold of.  David French appeared to share amazement at the labeling.  As did Ramesh Ponnuru, though a lesser extent.   It’s a canard, pure and simple.

    There was also some very direct, deep and important discussion.  The New York Post shot back.  As did the Washington Examiner.  Some had a related and important discussion.  There was some push back from very well respected and deeply intellectual sources.

    The important question; however, is how did Keller and the NYTimes respond?  Well, the Times religion guy, Ross Douthat, responded:

    Keller is absolutely right. The separation of church and state in the United States has never separated religion from politics, and the “private” beliefs of politicians have often had very public consequences. When candidates wear their religion on their sleeve, especially, the press has every right to ask how that faith relates to their political agenda.

    But here are four points that journalists should always keep in mind when they ask and then write about religious beliefs that they themselves don’t share.

    First, conservative Christianity is a large and complicated world, and like other such worlds — the realm of the secular intelligentsia very much included — it has various centers and various fringes, which overlap in complicated ways.

    [...]

    Second, journalists should avoid double standards. If you roll your eyes when conservatives trumpet Barack Obama’s links to Chicago socialists and academic radicals, you probably shouldn’t leap to the conclusion that Bachmann’s more outré law school influences prove she’s a budding Torquemada.

    [...]

    Third, journalists should resist the temptation to apply the language of conspiracy to groups and causes that they find unfamiliar or extreme.

    [...]

    Finally, journalists should remember that Republican politicians have usually been far more adept at mobilizing their religious constituents than those constituents have been at claiming any sort of political “dominion.”

    See, all very reasonable, just needs a little tweaking that’s all.  But here’s the thing about the Douthat response, he is basically correcting Keller’s gross over-generalizations.  When you have a bunch of over-generalizations mixed together into a viewpoint what do you usually have on your hands? – Oh yeah, that’s right – bigotry!   But by appearing to be so reasonable in the face of such blatant bigotry all Douthat accomplishes is to make the bigot appear reasonable.

    So what did Keller decide to do?  Why he took to his blog and  reprinted an exchange with someone that wrote him – someone that shared his animus towards faith if not his tone:

    Mr. Keller: I think all beliefs, religious or otherwise, are fair game for close questioning during a campaign for president, especially in such perilous times when the choice of our future leader may have momentous consequences. Hume taught us that we must always discern between what we believe and what we know, and for many deeply religious politicians (or scientists, for that matter) that can at times be an uncomfortable examination.

    I found not just your tone but your explicit comparison between a belief in space aliens and certain religious beliefs to be highly offensive,….

    Hmmm.  Does Keller engage with those that accuse him of bigotry?  No.  Does Keller attempt to clarify and amplify his “dominionist” charge? No.  Does Keller engage with any of the numerous pundits, commentators, public intellectuals, and public also-rans (e.g. yours truly) that have debated, challenged or outright dismissed him?  No.

    Instead, he carries on an email discussion with Wilburn Smith III, a lawyer in Laguna Niguel, Calif.  That’s a bit like Bull Conner carrying on a reasonable discussion with George Wallace.  It makes everybody look reasonable, but it never once addresses the key issues – most especially the bigotry.

    This has gone from offensive to asinine.  Keller continues, as we pointed out originally, to try to define the terms of the debate rather than genuinely engage in it.

    How about it Mr. Keller?  There are numerous links here, and many more elsewhere.  Very little of your discussion with Mr. Smith addresses any points that I made originally.   Heck, you even manage to divert Mr. Smith from your most blatant factual error concerning Rick Santorum.  Come on – mix it up a little.

    Wait — I’m violating my own advice – you cannot argue  with a bigot, largely because they refuse to argue the point.

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