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."

  • Another Movie!

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 12:00 pm, October 22nd 2011     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    Old timers ’round these parts will remember there was a movie about our issues last cycle.  Turns out there is going to be another one this cycle.  What follows here is a “guest post” by one of the producers:

    The Religious Test – A Documentary about Mormons and Politics, thinks that in this saturated political discourse, there is room to take a deeper look at the “Mormon Moment” and ask some introspective questions.

    Meredith LeSueur


    A few months ago a colleague pitched the project to us at Old Future saying, “1 in 5 Americans say they wouldn’t vote for a Mormon! Isn’t that awful? We need to set this story straight!”  And it kind of put us off the project. We weren’t interested in making a pro-Romney propaganda piece. But after talking about the project more, we found there was room for asking a larger question: Why  do people still feel comfortable admitting something so seemingly prejudiced?  If people feel justified in this hesitation,is more than just fear of the unknown? Is it something deeper? As Mormons we want everyone to accept us and realize how we are good, Christian folk, but maybe in this political discussion we could learn something about ourselves, about our culture and ultimately about our country.

    In The Religious Test, Damon Linker posits that religious faiths that are theocratic in their ideologies pose a threat to the liberal democracy of America. Although his point is mainly directed towards the evangelical right, Romney, with an ultra-Orthodox Mormon persona, also has a difficult road in terms of serving God and country. This perception of the rigidly hierarchical Mormon beliefs is difficult to shake off when Mormons have a difficult time wearing their faith on their sleeves. In our interview with Joanna Brooks of Religion Dispatches, she describes the Mormon narrative of persecution and how this culture of “exile” has crafted a deep internal protection of our faith, meaning that the deepest and most reverent aspects of our faith are generally kept private – something very difficult for a public figure like Romney. This can translate into a lack of transparency, or a “sinisterness”, that for the outside world can seem somewhat suspicious.

    These are some of the really interesting cultural perspectives we hope to explore with this film. We also delve into the political past of the Mormon faith – from our Theocratic beginnings to our concessions to obtain Statehood, including abandoning polygamy. We’ll discuss past and present Mormon politicians including Joseph Smith’s political ambitions (with Mormon Scholar Richard Bushman), Reed Smoot and the Smoot trials, and George Romney’s candicacy for the American presidency, along with all the present-day LDS politicians holding office. We’ll touch on Prop 8 and the role the Mormon faith played in that political arena, only to show the culture around what a Mormon rally can achieve and also to show the anti-Mormon sentiment coming from the Left.

    When we started this project, Perry wasn’t yet in the race, Romney wasn’t the frontrunner and the Mormon question hadn’t yet exploded. With all the anti-Mormon rhetoric now out in the open, it seems the dialogue has gotten a lot more productive, a lot more interesting and we are so excited to be part of the conversation.

    To contribute to our project, please visit our kickstarter page:

    Old Future Studio Productions ( is a collaborative production house that creates thought-provoking video work with fresh perspective and honest narratives.


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    From Maureen Dowd’s ugliness to Campbell and Putnam’s sweet reason

    Posted by: Lowell Brown at 09:22 am, October 21st 2011     &mdash      3 Comments »

    When snarkiness becomes ugly

    Most people take Maureen Dowd’s views with a grain of salt, seeing her as a sort of H.L. Mencken wannabe.  Her latest column, however, descends from attempted satire into a vicious nastiness that both surprises and disappoints.   You need to read the entire thing to appreciate fully how wildly Dowd swings at Mormonism and its practitioners.  Suffice it to say she hits on just about every anti-Mormon canard available: polygamy, Mormon vicarious baptism for the dead, the notion that Mormon doctrine teaches that the faithful will someday have their own planets, and – of course – the special sacred undergarment faithful Mormons wear.  None of this is explained or substantiated.  It’s all smear.  Along the way she quotes anti-Mormon rants by Bill Maher and Christopher Hitchens, both atheists and ardently anti-religion, as if those two men were authorities on the church. (Hitchens, an otherwise thoughtful and fair writer, has a blind spot regarding religion. He  writes of “the weird and sinister beliefs of Mormonism.”)

    Dowd concludes with what looks like an ominous threat:

    Republicans are the ones who have made faith part of the presidential test. Now we’ll see if Mitt can pass it.

    Really?  Because some religious critics have raised a candidate’s faith as a reason to vote against him, his faith is now fair game for ridicule by everyone else?  Is Dowd serious?

    Well, we have always said that the real attacks will come from the left. If you think Robert Jeffress is a malign influence on the political process (and he is), wait until the general election – you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

    A thoughtful, data-based view

    Fortunately, this morning we can turn from Dowd’s bilious rant to a refreshing view in today’s Wall Street Journal by two thinkers who seem interested in accuracy. David Campbell, an associate professor of political science and director of the Rooney Center at the University of Notre Dame, and Robert Putnam, professor of public policy at Harvard University, are co-authors of “American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us” (Simon & Schuster, 2010). Campbel and Putnam have done some polling, and tell a more encouraging story. They claim their data “suggest … that a Mormon politician like Mitt Romney may not face an impenetrable stained-glass ceiling after all.”

    Our attention is usually on those who view Mormons warily—especially evangelical Christians like Pastor Robert Jeffress, who recently declared Mormonism a cult. But it’s also informative to examine which Americans like Mormons….

    [T]here are potentially significant political consequences for the other groups that give Mormons a positive rating. While evangelicals have issues with Mormons, other churchgoing whites—primarily Catholics and mainline Protestants—view them warmly. Put another way, besides evangelicals, antagonism toward Mormons is concentrated among non-churchgoers and racial minorities…. whereas evangelicals present a problem for Mr. Romney as he competes in heavily evangelical primary states like Iowa and South Carolina, his Mormonism would be unlikely to hurt him if he survives and wins the Republican nomination….

    Thus our data suggest that the key question isn’t whether a Mormon can be elected president, but whether a Mormon can win the GOP nomination. Should Mr. Romney clear that hurdle, the evidence suggests that the general election would not hinge on his religion.

    For political scientists and political junkies alike, the great thing about hypotheses like Campbell’s and Putnam’s is that there are elections: We can actually see whether the prognosticators are right or wrong. For me, one of the more fascinating aspects of Romney’s candidacy in 2012, assuming the GOP nominates him, is whether the Jeffresses, Dowds, Mahers and Hitchens of the world will have significant influence on the outcome. I have my doubts.  Or maybe what I have are hopes.  We shall see.

    John’s Turn

    This marks the first time I have read Maureen Dowd in at least a decade.  She seems to be one of those people that makes a living out of writing stuff so outrageous people HAVE to read – so I generally don’t; she does not need the encouragement.  But then this piece is so over the top, even by Dowd standards, that some attention is required.  Guy Benson called her “vile”.  That works for me.

    Bottom line is simple – if we buy what this woman is selling, then we will next read very similar things about such “weird” beliefs as transubstantiation, or confession, or even simple healings.  Bill Maher made a movie that did pretty much that – but no one saw it, so does it really count?  What is truly amazing is that Dowd considers herself a good Catholic.  Why would she even quote someone like Maher?

    Needless to say, she is politically motivated, not religiously so.  Amy Sullivan used this issue last time to essentially front for Americans United and she is going at it again.  And what ho?  Here comes that very group hot on her tail.  And leave it to NPR to insinuate that the entire campaign’s purpose is purely to give the LDS church “legitimacy.“  Do you get it here, folks?  They figure that if we can go at each other it just gives them ammunition to kick us out of politics altogether.  And, sadly, they have a bit of a point – we are better than this, and we need to remember it.

    Fortunately statistically, this seems to be better than last time – which may account for the increased shrillness from the left.  They are not getting the traction they want.  But that said we cannot afford to let our religious battles creep into our political ones.  Because the next round is going to get even uglier.

    There is little doubt that should Romney be the nominee the Mormon card is going to be turned into the race card.  It is just too fat a target for a floundering incumbent not to take a shot.  The whisperings have started.  Which is why we have to do our best to keep the Mormon card as quiet and off the table as we can.  If we play it, they sure as heck are going to.  And if they are successful – we more mainstream Christians are undoubtedly next.

    Which means, I probably should heed my own advice and continue to ignore Maureen Dowd.  To Benson’s “vile,” we should just add Reynold’s “useless idiot” and be done with her.


    Posted in Electability, News Media Bias, Political Strategy, Religious Bigotry | 3 Comments » | Print this post Print this post | Email This Post Email This Post

    Post Las Vegas Debate Analysis w/o The Hangover

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 03:00 pm, October 19th 2011     &mdash      1 Comment »

    I seem to be very out-of-step with most people because I find little humor in the movie The Hangover.  It’s the story of the day after a Vegas bachelor party in which things have gone horribly wrong.  I’ve done stupid things in my life, much like the film’s protagonists, and I do not find them a source for humor, I find them embarrassing.  One takes the hard won lessons from such a mistake, but does not celebrate or enjoy what lead to those lessons.

    That would be good advice for Rick Perry, but he seems to want it both ways.  He seems to want to appear to have learned his lesson, but he still wants to enjoy some fruit from the mistake.

    Most of the post-debate analysis and discussion has focused on this particular debate’s feistiness, and particularly the “showdown” between Romney and Perry on immigration.  That showdown looked to me like the hay-maker that missed.  It was apparent from the cheesy opening CNN made for this thing and all the after-talk that the media and presumably the public, since that is who the media tries to please, would prefer professional wrestling and it’s unending trash talk to reasoned discussion on important issues of the day.  *SIGH*

    Needless to say, our focus is a bit different.  The heart of the debate for this trio of blogger was the much dreaded “religion question.”  Before it got to Perry and Romney is was pretty uneventful, but then Romney took Perry to religion/politics/governance school and Perry did not much like what he heard.  But before we get there, let’s look at how much the question should not have been asked.

    There is little doubt that the religion smack from Jeffress was approved of by the Perry campaign, they seem to want it.  Despite serious criticism, Perry allies continue to push the button.  It seems to me that if the point of a debate is to explore serious issues with the candidates, the moderator would not hand the candidates questions that are clearly designed to push buttons created by or candidate or the other.  But then this entire debate seemed to want more heat than light.

    Then there is the legitimacy of the issue itself.  Uber-atheist Christopher Hitchens seems to be the only one interested in it.  Luminaries as bright as Chuck Colson are decrying the entire discussion.  The NYTimes is getting nailed for bringing it up in a reasonably nice way.  Even seeming natural allies of Perry and his sillier supporters are crying foul.  This kind of stuff, shouldn’t happen at all, and when it does it has traditionally been left for the water cooler – in the new media age, we can even fight the water cooler talk.  However instead, the old media seems to want to sink us deeper in the mire.

    So it came up, after things had turned testy and Perry had gone personalSantorum and Gingrich acquitted themselves well and Perry reitereated his disagreement with Jeffress.  Then Romney got brilliant.  Thanks to Nancy at EFM for transcribing:

    “With regard to the disparaging comments about my faith, I’ve heard worse.  So I’m not going to lose sleep over that.  Actually, what I found most troubling about the Reverend’s introduction was when he said, ‘In choosing our nominee, we should inspect his religion.  And someone who is a good, moral person is not whom we should select.  Rather, we should select someone based on their religious beliefs.’

    “That idea–that we should choose them based on their religion for public office–is what I find most troubling. The founders of this country went to great length to make sure–even put it in the Constitution–that we shouldn’t choose people to lead this country based on their religion, that this would be a country that would respect other faiths, where there’s plurality of faith, where there’s tolerance for people of other faiths.  That’s a bedrock principle and it was that principle, Governor, that I wanted you to say, It’s wrong.  Rather than say, ‘Reverend Jeffress, you knocked that out of the park,’ I wanted you to say, ‘Reverend Jeffress, you got that wrong.  We should select people not based on their faith.’

    “And I don’t expect you to distance yourself from your faith any more than I would.  But the concept that we select people based on the church or the synagogue they go to, I think, is a very dangerous and enormous departure from the principles of our Constitution.”

    But it was Perry’s response to that that tells the tale.  For that you’ll have to go to the video in our left hand widget, but essentially Perry said “I have nothing to add.”  So, Perry “disagrees” with Jeffress, but refuses to repudiate, or even correct along the lines Romney outlined, him.  The LATimes said Perry defended Jeffress.  So what do we learn from this – other than the fact that Perry does not quite “get it” on this issue.

    Well, it seems Perry’s base has pretty deep pockets but is very narrow.  Simply put Perry has to hold on to that base very tightly.  If he repudiates them he’s got nothing.  You’ll note in the statistics just linked why Perry’s jobs plan seems to rotate so fully around domestic energy production.  We seem to have a two-trick pony on our hands.  Takes a bit more to be president.

    But back to the debate proper.  What we had here was an attempt by the moderator to spark a fight.  Romney refused to give it to them and Perry was unarmed.  The real sadness here is that Perry does Evangelicalism, already taking heavy fire, no good.  The NYTimes op-ed just linked is really beneath refutation, (it contends essentially that Evangelicals are not stupid becasue of their religious convictions, but because they are conservative) but it is a sign that we are under attack.

    All I can say is, if this trend in debate positioning and moderation continues, they will soon be moderated by Jerry Springer, and feature John Cena as the special guest referee – and this will matter.


    Posted in Candidate Qualifications, Electability, Latest News, News Media Bias, Political Strategy | 1 Comment » | Print this post Print this post | Email This Post Email This Post

    In Which Schroeder Rants

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:00 am, October 19th 2011     &mdash      4 Comments »

    It has been an interesting week to say the least.  That there is religious opposition to a Mormon candidate is no surprise.  That they are organized is something we have long suspected and now confirmed.  That they fail to realize the disaster a second Obama term would represent for the nation and religion is distressing.

    The political ill-wisdom of such a stance is astonishing, but there are many that can discuss and document that fact better than I.  But I find myself distressed by this confirmation of long standing suspicion on much deeper levels.  This represents a very skewed vision of what religion, and particularly Christianity, is all about.

    Christianity has roots in Judaism, so it has an ethical/moral element – but it is more.  All theistic religions are a place where natural man encounters supernature – let’s call this, for lack of a better term, a spiritual element.  Somewhere in this mix there is an emotional/psychological element.  This is the least distinct of the elements that compose religion, and is readily and easily confused with the spiritual element – but that is a discussion for another time.  Finally, there is a doctrinal element – a statement of beliefs.  It is this final element that divides Mormons and other expressions of faith in Christ as well as many of us inside the more traditional folds of Christianity such as Catholics and Protestants – and it is only that element.

    The people that are so opposed to a Mormon candidate on religious grounds are placing the doctrinal element of faith above the other three – at the expense of meaningful religion.  In the original comments that sparked this firestorm, it was made plain they place doctrine ahead of ethics:

    “Do we want a candidate who is a good, moral person, or one who is a born-again follower of the Lord Jesus Christ?”

    The placement of the doctrinal element ahead of the spiritual element is evidenced by the fact that they are sowing disunity amongst believers.  Surely any person that has touched the supernature, regardless of how they understand it, must know that their understanding is insufficient simply because it is supernature.  Can we ever sufficiently understand something that is, definitionally, beyond our reality?  The humility born of this acknowledgement of insufficient understanding is the unifying factor between Presbyterian and Episcopalian, Protestant and Catholic,…Mormon and creedal Christian.

    That they place the doctrinal element above the emotional/psychological element is evident in their willingness to suffer a second Obama term rather than have a Mormon candidate.  The emotional unrest in this nation is palpable.  You can feel it in conversations at the workplace if you have one – at the grocery store if you don’t.  The Tea Party and the Occupy Wall Street craziness are both signs that the nation is deeply upset about what is happening.   People feel as if they are on unstable ground and they want something to change.  They all make it clear that Obama is a the root of the unease.  At the very least they look to the office for the stability they desire, and right now they clearly are not getting it.

    And so this group opposed to Romney, and Huntsman if he mattered, on religious grounds have reduced their own faith to a specific set of doctrinal specifications, and little or nothing else.  That’s a skewed religion indeed.  Such a faith is not winsome, nor terribly meaningful.  And worse yet, such a faith does not help the individual become a better person, rather it seeks only for an individual to identify with the religion.  Religion, reduced purely to a matter of identity is little more than label.  Thus, somehow, weirdly, a teddy bear becomes an object of some sacred import.  What was once a power that changed the world and around which our calendar revolves is now nothing more than a brand for selling gee-gaws.

    And that dear friends is why I am truly disturbed by all of this.  Religion is so seriously reduced.  It is now, truly, the servant of politics – all in the name of brand identification.  Not a separate sphere of influence, not a force to improve men who then improve the democratic state, not even an access to the Almighty, religion is now just a political-tool brand-name to be exploited and discarded as is deemed necessary by the political climate of the time.

    John Mark here:

    Let me try it this way: those attacking Romney on the grounds that he must be Evangelical to be President or at least cannot be a Mormon do not love doctrine enough.


    A man who loves doctrine will not abuse it. He will not use it for something it was not intended to do. Just as a man who deeply loves his biological research would never dream of letting that research be twisted to advance a political agenda, so the man loving doctrine will not let its Sacred Truths be misused.

    The doctrine of the Trinity is precious to me, but if true it is true about the nature of God. At one time in the history of the English speaking world, men of good will believed that mistakes about this truth disqualified a man from office. Experience showed that this disqualified good people, facilitated persecution, and corrupted the clergy. As a result pious men became opposed to religious tests for office. This was not the result of impiety, though the impious rejoiced, but due to the overwhelming Christian majority recognizing they had been wrong.

    Doctrinal errors matter, but they don’t matter everywhere with equal importance.

    Of course, true religion is best seen in loving God and loving neighbor. The man with good doctrine who does not love his neighbor does not love God. He is lying to himself and to the community. When people slander the LDS Church with antiquated or stereotyped images (such as whispers about polygamy), they demonstrate that they don’t really know the doctrine they preach.

    A man who claims to know a thing, but does not act on it has a weak will, does not really know what he claims to know, or is a devil.

    The doctrines that divide us matter a great deal. They should be and are the subject of rigorous dialog. If our ideas of the divine are bad enough, then we might miss the Kingdom of God. However, in this age, this side of Paradise, we also must live in the City of Man. In this City, the most relevant parts of religion are the love of man and (to paraphrase George Washington) a belief in the Divine to undergird oaths of office.

    Better an ethical man, a sound citizen of the City of Man, than a man who might enter the City of God, though by fire, but who is unsound and unserious in the City of Man.

    I am both a citizen of the United States of America and a subject of King Jesus. As a citizen, Barack Obama is my leader, but in the order of heaven I am the King’s man.

    President Obama creates numerous tensions in my dual allegiance. All leaders do, but President Obama has presented unique challenges to traditional Christians. President Obama claims to be an orthodox Christian. If I accept his claim, then he still causes me more tension in my life in the City of Man than a President Romney would.

    On issues where the President is empowered, Romney is compatible with Evangelical beliefs. On issues where the President is incompetent, President Obama is compatible with Christian beliefs. As a result, Evangelicals should retire President Obama to the private life to which he is suited and elect President Romney to govern us.

    As a role model for private moral behavior both President Obama and Romney are fit examples. Not all Republican challengers can say the same. The President will govern our civil affairs and serve as a role model of public and private virtues: Romney is fit for both. He is fitter than most “traditional” Christians running as a result of his practice of the LDS faith.

    Evangelical doctrine and experience teaches us to look for the image of God in all men and truth in all places. If God is real, then we can learn from many people. Doctrine teaches Evangelicals that the state is not invested with all power. Some areas are left to the people, the family, and the culture.

    God help me, but can any Evangelical fail to be moved by the love the LDS community shows its members and non-members? Can any Evangelical have anything but the highest respect for the scholarship at BYU? Can any Evangelical fail to be in awe of the political courage shown by the LDS community in the fight for life and marriage?

    I take our doctrinal differences very seriously. I do not minimize them and think there is much of eternal consequence in it, but if I am wrong, then I hope charity will cover a multitude of my theological sins. Without charity, we are nothing.

    What if my LDS friends are right? What if I am wrong?

    That humbles me. It does not incapacitate me or keep me from witnessing to truth as I see it, but it does mean that I long to make my means of witness fit my certainty. I believe, I have thought, I have experienced, but I have been wrong before now. It is Evangelicalism that taught me this and Evangelicalism that showed me the need for humility.

    Religion without humility, even epistemological humility, is dangerous to both the City of Man and the City of God.


    Posted in Political Strategy, Prejudice, Religious Bigotry, Religious Freedom, Understanding Religion | 4 Comments » | Print this post Print this post | Email This Post Email This Post

    Live-blogging the Las Vegas debate

    Posted by: Lowell Brown at 05:11 pm, October 18th 2011     &mdash      4 Comments »

    I had a last-minute opportunity to attend the CNN debate at the Venetian in Las Vegas. So here I am, in the Romney campaign room, watching on a big screen. We had a pre-debate briefing from the campaign staff. Watch for Romney to focus on jobs (Nevada’s unemployment rate is 13.2%). They also expect the faith issue to come up, probably from the news media questions.

    More comments to come! Watch this space.

    1. The campaign expected a lot of talk tonight about 9-9-9. That’s certainly happening.

    2. Perry announces yet another policy plan that is yet to be unveiled. “At the end of the week.”

    3. Herman Cain’s going to have a fruit salad made by the end of this debate. It needs more than apples and oranges, though. Romney’s “bushel basket” comeback will be one of the oft-quoted clips from the debate.

    4. Perry refuses to address the specific question about Romney’s 59-
    point plan and starts talking about jobs, obviously a scripted response. Does this guy have any nimbleness in him at all?

    5. Santorum tries to filibuster so Romney can’t answer.

    6. 5:40 p.m. – Ron Paul comments on libertarian principles that apply to health care. Not much new there. It’s clear everyone on the stage hates Obamacare.

    7. 5:41 p.m. – Perry turns the health care discussion into one about illegal aliens and Romney’s gardener in 2006 or so. He also tries to filibuster Romney. Where have basic manners gone? “A tough couple of debates for Rick.” Ouch, that will leave a mark. (By the way, it was Romney’s gardner who hired illegals, not Romney.) Perry looks incredibly petty on this one.

    8. 5:45 p.m. – “If you want to be president of the United States,” you have to let people talk.” Another mark left.

    9. 5:56 p.m. – Perry wants to talk about what he wants to talk about. I.e., “Stop asking me questions!”

    10. 6:07 p.m. – Before tonight I’m not sure we have seen this bunch so feisty.

    11. 6:10 p.m. – So far faith hasn’t come up. Will we make it to the end without The Question arising?

    12. 6:20 p.m. – The Question comes up, courtesy of Anderson Cooper!

    13. 6:21 p.m. – Santorum handles it well, focuses on what’s relevant about a candidate’s faith. Good.

    14. 6:22 p.m. – Gingrich also gives a nuanced answer – your religion is between you and God. But you should have a God.

    Perry is asked about Pastor Jeffress. All Perry is willing to say is that he did not agree with Jeffress, but that Jeffress has the right to his opinion. Then Perry wanders off into some nonsense about how the real “faith” issue is that we’ve lost faith in the government. What?

    Romney steps up. He was clearly ready for this. He explains what Gov. Perry should have repudiated, and pretty much hits it out of the park.

    Perry is given a chance to repudiate bigotry (now that it’s been explained to him how he can do that). He repeats his statement that he disagrees with Jeffress and says he doesn’t know what else to say, or how else to apologize.

    Really? Wow, at least Huckabee was skillful in his handling of the issue.

    15. 6:37 p.m. – I wish Ron Paul would go away. He takes time in these debates away from candidates who actually have a chance to win.

    16. Tweet of the night: “Rick Perry is hoping that this debate stays in Vegas.”

    And it’s over!


    Posted in Latest News, Political Strategy, Religious Bigotry | 4 Comments » | Print this post Print this post | Email This Post Email This Post

    Well, at least they’re honest about it: Planting doubts about Romney by “raising the Mormon issue”

    Posted by: Lowell Brown at 06:00 am, October 17th 2011     &mdash      3 Comments »

    Openly appealing to bigotry

    As John notes just below, the Jeffress incident, the pastor’s subsequent pratfalls, and the Perry campaign’s ham-handed handling of  the matter have produced an avalanche of commentary.  We won’t even try to mention it all.

    We do want to focus on some statements that caught our eye over the weekend, however.  They fall into the category of shocking, but not surprising.

    It turns out that some influential Rick Perry supporters – Evangelicals – are quite open about not only their desire to use Romney’s Mormonism as a means of driving Evangelical primary votes to Perry, but also the need to do do indirectly, by speaking in code.

    Lest you think we are overreacting or misinterpreting the Perry supporters’  statements, here’s what the Washington Times (not exactly a liberal MSM outlet) reported.  In short, Perry’s backers “lament what they see as “errors” in his campaign:

    “Perry hasn’t reached out to surrogates sufficiently to get them to help him with his errors,” said Randy Brinson, a leader of the Christian Coalition in Alabama….

    “He hasn’t made the case that he is committed to tying evangelical beliefs to public policy,” Mr. Brinson said. “George W. Bush did that in 2000, and he didn’t have to go on the defensive with evangelicals as Perry has had to do….

    Evangelical Perry supporters said one thing that could be done to unseat Mr. Romney from his front-runner spot is to have surrogates plant doubt among Republican primary voters about the former Massachusetts governor’s Mormonism, something that is widely thought to have contributed to his poor showing in the 2008 Republican primaries and caucuses.

    This is not a difficult task, but one that must be done,” Mr. Brinson said. “You can’t have people raising the Mormon issue front and center, but you can raise the question as surrogates about the language of faith that we used successfully against Romney in 2008 when we worked for Mike Huckabee. It is all about semantics.

    (Emphasis added.)  It turns out that R. Randolph “Randy” Brinson, MD, is Chairman of an organization called Redeem the Vote, which works to register Evangelical voters and get them to the polls.

    I’ve been thinking about Brinson’s statement all weekend and am not sure where to begin in responding.  Mainly, I’m struck by how brazen he is in describing the “dog whistle” tactics that he wants Perry to use in 2011-12, and how freely he admits that pro-Huckabee forces used those same tactics in 2008.  (Remember Mike “Who, me?  Use slimy religion-based tactics?” Huckabee, now of Fox News fame?)

    I suppose all’s fair in love and politics, but there’s a repulsiveness to Brinson’s strategy that I think most decent people will feel.  It seems to me that we can do better than that in the United States of America.  We ought to try, at least.

    What’s mostly fascinating to me is whether we are close to a tipping point at which such tactics will backfire.  I hope so, but fear my hope is really just wishful thinking.

    Late update: The Daily Beast (to which John links below) gives us more on the brazen nature of the pro-Perry whisper campaign.

    The Daily Beast has obtained a series of emails that show an influential evangelical activist with close ties to the Perry campaign stressing the political importance of “juxtaposing traditional Christianity to the false God of Mormonism,” and calling for a “clarion call to Evangelical pastors and pews” that will be “the key to the primary” for Perry.

    Read the whole thing. The apparent connections between the Perry campaign and this effort are illuminating.

    Like James Faulconer, who taught me classical philosophy when I was an undergraduate, I am tired of this. But if we really care about allowing religious people a voice in the public square, we don’t have that luxury.

    Meanwhile, back at the Perry campaign….

    Jennifer Rubin seems interested in the Perry campaign’s attempt to become the victim:

    I went back to the Perry camp to ask what attacks were launched because of the governor’s faith. Spokesman Mark Miner responded by e-mail: “Mrs. Perry was expressing her feeling and opinions and did not refer to a particular attack.” In other words, no one has actually attacked Perry for his faith. I also asked why he wouldn’t join prominent conservative leaders like Gary Bauer and Bill Bennett in denouncing the remarks. Miner would only say, “The governor has said he disagreed with the pastor’s remarks.” But if Jeffress had said Jews shouldn’t be president, I would assume Perry would have denounced that; so why are Jeffress’s anti-Mormon comments any different? Miner seemed stumped and never answered whether he would denounce and not merely disagree with such sentiments.

    Some campaigns just can’t get out of their own way, it seems.


    Joe Lieberman, in a Washington Post op-ed entitled “Romney and America’s promise of religious freedom,” also thinks we need to do better with this whole religious bigotry problem:

    I have been watching the recent controversy over Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith through two prisms. One is the vision of the appropriate relationship between government and religion, as set out by America’s Founders; the other is my own experience in 2000 as the first Jewish American to be nominated for national office.

    Read the whole piece; excerpts do it no justice.

    On a similar note, our friend David French of Evangelicals for Mitts writes in the Washington Post “On Faith” blog about “The evangelical case for Mitt Romney —and against Robert Jeffress.”  It’s a hard-hitting piece.

    Okay, John’s Turn

    Well, Perry/Jeffress have opened a can of worms a bit bigger than I thought.  And the article Lowell has linked to gives us a hint as to why the damage to a Romney candidacy from Jeffress’ comments and the coverage is more than suspected at first glance.  Stories about a “whispering campaign” continue to circulate.  Let’s review the coverage/discussion, with the understanding that as much as I link to here, there is ten times as much I do not.  I have tried to limit myself to important sources and limit repetition of argument/discussion as much as possible.

    We have learned that at least according to some polling, most people don’t have a problem with Mormonism in a candidate.  It does seem apparent the left has a bigger problem than the right.  It seems like old friend Richard Land wants to pull Romney and Jefffress out of the fire.  (Sorry Dr. Land, but I think Jeffress has made that a bit difficult for you.)  We know the NYTimes is taking advantage of the furor to discredit candidates of other faiths.

    Political, not religious, pundits do not think this is a very big deal.  Unsurprisingly, one minority religion stands up for another.  There is more claim of divine guidance amongst the candidates – and it’s still not from the Mormons.  This is kinda funny, and we learn that Iowa is a different electoral duck.  (No shock there!)

    But the seriously serious stuff comes when we see the Iowa religion pie getting split up.  That’s what happens when you focus on “I want a candidate who is like me” instead of on “I want a candidate who will make the best president.”  We learn that the Perry campaign is getting the “weird” label.  That’s brilliant, by the way.  And then there is this from the Atlantic:

    What do all these dubious champions have in common? Their red meat rhetoric and ability to antagonize liberals. What many tea partiers share is a belief that the best way to get where the country should be going is by being more ruthless than the Democrats; by fighting them zealously in the media, zinging them from the stump, and never, ever compromising with them in Congress or at the White House negotiating table. This is partly a reaction to George W. Bush’s tenure, when tea partiers believe they were sold out by a big-spending, big-government RINO who kept compromising with Ted Kennedy. It is partly a reaction to the perception that they tried nominating media darling and “maverick” John McCain in 2008, and he lost. It is partly a reaction to the belief, stoked by talk radio, that every compromise with liberals is just one more ratchet in the direction of socialism, and that a confident, uncompromising conservative, in what they imagine to be the model of Ronald Reagan, is the solution to their woes.

    Their approach has several flaws.

    1) Bombast isn’t a predictor of fealty to principle. It’s just strategically uttered rhetoric, like everything else said by politicians, a profession where what is promised on the campaign trail always deviates from what is done in office. How odd that the most cynical voters are most taken by extravagant promises of loyalty.

    2) When primary candidates compete to be the most bombastic and uncompromising in their rhetoric, the most successful quickly start to look unelectable, and the average Republican primary voter wants most of all to beat President Obama in 2012. Thus the winner of the “conservative primary” loses the Republican primary, in much the same way that Howard Dean lost to John Kerry during the 2004 cycle.

    3) Some candidates who lack bombast, like Jon Huntsman or Daniels, would be more effective than any tea-party champion at advancing the movement’s agenda, but they’re overlooked because they fail to excite. It’s absurd. Their records as successful governors are concrete demonstrations that they govern in a reliably conservative manner and can win converts. It is irrational to mistrust the rhetoric of politicians even while preferring someone like Cain, whose lack of experience forces supporters into the position of trusting his rhetoric without any basis for doing so save their gut feelings (which have done nothing but caused them to feel betrayed by pols in the past).

    So, what do we take from that really?  That the left wants us to suffer the actual disarray in which they are trying to portray us.  Unfortunately, if we continue with this kind of nonsense, we are going to give them precisely what they want.  Which takes me back to the problem with Perry/Jeffress and the surrogates and whisper campaigns.  First of all, there was nothing ham-fisted about the Jeffress tack – it provides cover for the whisper campaign – it ignites the talk.

    But the biggest problem with such whisper campaigns is that they are deeply divisive.  They sow such discontent inside the party that if the person the whispers support does not prevail, it leaves the party weakened.  And apparently Jeffress and his supporters don’t care.  This from Jeffress reported just this morning:

    Robert Jeffress, the Mormonism-disparaging, Rick Perry-boosting Texas megachurch pastor, says he doesn’t care much about politics, or even about who will be president in 2013.

    “I don’t lose any sleep over this election,” Jeffress told The Daily Caller.

    “I mean, I do hope a conservative candidate wins. I would like it to be a committed Christian … But you know what? If Barack Obama wins again, I mean, I don’t believe Barack Obama is the anti-Christ.”

    It seems apparent that this group puts stopping the Mormon ahead of the well-being of the nation.  I do not know what other conclusion can be drawn.  They are willing, as we have just demonstrated, to weaken the party for this sake of their agenda.  What is truly maddening is that there seems to be not a speck of serious political thinking involved.  This group is clearly so divorced from reality that they are in a religious swoon.

    They are the left’s religious nightmare.  What they fail to see is that playing the game this way they are playing into the hands of those that would ultimately destroy religion in the nation – all religion.

    Sadly, they seem to be pretty well organized.  Fortunately I do not think there are enough of them to turn the primary around, particularly when their tactics and games are this openly exposed.  Which should tell you something about how badly the press was in the bag from Obama last time – this is not new, just reported for the first time.

    This is an important warning for the Romney campaign.  Perry has self-destructed, but has the means to resurrect himself.  The campaign’s Iowa strategy will not allow this groups efforts to be as successful as they were last cycle.  (Not to mention Perry lacks Huckabee’s innate political winsomeness.)  The state of things should limit the effectiveness of a whispering campaign as people who may harbor suspicion about Mormonism, but not opposition, will focus more on the economy than things like religious affiliation.  However, the motives and vehemence of the Jeffress clan are now crystal clear, and they do not strike me as the kind to go down easy.  This is clearly a matter of religious truth for them, and such people have been known to start civil wars.

    Worse, those of us that are politically active Christians of all stripes that are not such nutcases have a great deal of work ahead of us to maintain our political viability.  Jeffress/Perry et. al. are the precise religious caricature that the left so fears.  Those of us that operate out of God-given reason rather than unthinking, dogmatic knee-jerkism have more at stake than we can possibly know.  These tactics must be condemned in the strongest possible terms, by everyone with a stake in the game.

    John Mark here:

    A weakness of democratic forms of government is that they can be abused by demagogues. Part of being fit for the republic given us by our Founders is for leaders, or aspiring leaders, to avoid manipulating the people using dishonest or evil means.

    I am not naive enough to think all politicians at all places at all times have been good enough to do this. Some bought votes with corn liquor, some with racism, some with lies, but it was never right. Most decent politicians took a “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach to such vile behavior and if it stayed localized it did the Republic little harm. New media, however, gives the evil a bigger chance to rot our national discourse. What once was whispered in a Southern precinct or in a New York ward is now the work of Internet trolls. One foul comment can be spread and the lies poison our discourse.

    Candidates must disclaim these lies once they get wide spread in an Internet age. One cannot tolerate whispers about the mother of Palin’s baby, lies about 9/11, or the race of the McCain child, because those lies now can poison our entire national discourse. Good men and women cannot abide them.

    To openly say that one will engage in a whispering campaign based on bigotry masters the difficult feat of being vile in two ways: it is cowardly and hateful. Not for everyone is the attempt at being the sort of bad man that make other bad men wince. Slinking about the corners whispering what one lacks the courage to say openly gives bigotry an even worse name. Some bigots will at least have the dignity to argue their positions in the public square, but these bigots cover themselves with the hood and sheet of Internet anonymity to break the commandments.


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