Article VI Blog

"Religion, Politics, the Presidency: Commentary by a Mormon, an Evangelical, and an Orthodox Christian"

United States Constitution — Article VI:

"No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."

  • The Buzzing of Gnats

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 04:00 am, July 30th 2012     &mdash      1 Comment »

    One of the harder things on this blog is knowing what to pay attention to, and what not.  The simple fact of the matter is that, despite appearances, there is no shortage of Romney/religion stories – there is only a shortage of such stories in places that matter.   Dozens of such stories land on my desk every day, but they are from places like the Omaha Gazette and the Janesville Argus.  Do such stories matter?

    They certainly do not in the sense that they do not reach a lot of people and they do not reach a lot of people in positions of serious leadership.  They are very repetitive and very uninformative to anyone that is paying attention to the issue.   However, the sheer numbers indicate that there remains a low level “buzz.”  I am not sure people are worried about Romney as president so much as they are simply curious about Mormonism which they only know of from stories in history class about polygamy and if they are church going they have heard the word “cult” thrown around.  At this point, I wonder if people do not simply need to reconcile their “weird” picture of Mormonism from such sources with the very normal Romney they are meeting in the press every day?

    Right now in terms of the election, the whole thing just seems like the buzzing of gnats, you know its there, and if you bother to pay attention it is a bit annoying, but it is not that big a deal.  However, if enough people can be made to pay attention to the buzz, then it becomes an issue and it has to be dealt with.  How does one get enough people to pay attention, should one want to?

    Well, there are a lot of attempts.  The LA Times has been beating the drum for a long time now – here is their latest effort.  However, the LA Times now carries about as much punch as the Columbus Dispatch.  The far left, is actually going crazy over it. Most of it stays at places like Kos, Democratic Underground, and occasionally HuffPo, but every now and then the craziness surfaces in places like The Daily Beast.  I think the race card and religion is going to backfire.  Most people are smart enough to know discrimination is discrimination and one is not more important than the other.  This stuff is easily dismissible.

    But I worry about something like this, as reported in the SLTrib:

    If Mitt Romney has, perhaps, soft-pedaled his Mormon faith as he campaigns for the presidency, PBS’s “Frontline” won’t.

    Filmmaker Michael Kirk promises that when “The Choice 2012″ airs nationally on Oct. 9, “We are going full speed, ears back, head down, right at it to understand it in every possible way.”

    He promised to delve into “every bit of it — his mission to France, and the politics of it. I think when we are done, you’ll understand it in a much better way.”

    Which is the point for “Frontline.” Since 1988, the various editions of “The Choice” have proven to be some of the most enlightening of the presidential campaigns.

    [...]

    He’s in the midst of reporting on Romney and his campaign, and promises the GOP candidate’s religion will be a major focus of “The Choice.”

    Hmmmm.  Why should Romney’s religion be a major part of the reporting?  I thought the idea was religion did not matter?  And consider the timing – could a religion play be Obama’s “October surprise?”  It would not be the smartest such shot, but given the ineptitude this campaign is currently demonstrating it is a possibility.  And with mid-major media support like PBS, it could have an effect.  Will Jeremiah Wright be examined in similar detail, or the president’s current lack of religious affiliation?  I can hear them now saying, “Wright is so last cycle,” and “Not going to church is nothing to report.”

    I fear the buzz of gnats could yet become an issue.

    Especially if you accept the view of Oz Guinness as quoted by K-Lo:

    As I understand the American Founders, the most brilliant and daring idea they had was that it’s possible to create a free society that could stay free forever.

    The founders were not merely revolutionary. They were rooted. They knew their classics, and they knew from writers such as Cicero and especially Polybius that no system ever lasted, and free systems are especially precarious because freedom is the greatest enemy of freedom. So they devised a system that would have antidotes built into it. I think their system was positively brilliant, and yet the present generation either totally ignores it or pretends that it has something better. I think modern American freedom is unsustainable.

    We need to continue to enjoy our summers – it might just be a longer fall than we expect.

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    Where Religion Fits

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 07:19 am, July 28th 2012     &mdash      3 Comments »

    The biggest news during my vacation was the Aurora theater massacre.  It is a horrific thing.  It is not; however, typical subject matter for this blog.  However, Peggy Noonan’s normal Friday WSJ piece, highly touted by Instapundt, my make it so.  I have here previously established my love of all things comic book – and Batman is certainly that.  Therefore, when people begin discussing that medium (or related movies) as part of the problem, I pay attention.

    Some preamble is in order.

    I will not attempt to defend the portrayals of the Joker character from which the shooter and some copy cats appear to derive some sort of twisted inspiration.  The Batman comics have turned darker in recent decades, and I have not read them routinely in quite a while for that reason.  Said Noonan about the movie:

    Remember Jack Nicholson’s Joker, from 1989? He was a garish, comic figure and he made people laugh. He was a little like Cyril Ritchard as Captain Hook in the old TV version of “Peter Pan.” You knew he wasn’t “real.” He was meant to amuse.

    Compare that with Heath Ledger’s Joker in 2008′s “The Dark Night.” That Joker was pure evil, howling and demonic, frightening to see and hear. If you know what darkness is, you couldn’t watch that Joker and not be afraid. He looked like the man who opens the door when you get off the elevator to enter Hell; he looked like the guy holding the red velvet rope. That character was so dark, and so powerful, he destabilized the gifted actor who played him.

    That is a pretty fair assessment of what has happened with the character, and as it has happened, I have found Batman less heroic – when he should have grown more heroic.  You see, the Joker is so incredibly evil that he simply needs to die.  Batman’s “heroism” consists entirely of catching him and turning him over to a corrupt system that finds him insane and once again commits him to Arkham Asylum so he can escape and perform more evil.  For awhile this was one of those comic conventions about which everybody suspended disbelief because you wanted Bats’ best baddie to return.  But as the Joker has turned more and more evil, the convention has grown disturbing.

    It has created a conundrum for superhero comics.  All superheros are vigilantes and that is a huge legal problem.  Anything beyond citizen’s arrest of the super baddies and turning them over to the legal system technically makes the hero a criminal too.  Comics have reached for a thousand ways to solve this dilemma.  Some move to outer space where there is no legal authority – think Green Lantern.  Some, like the X-men, just pretend like they are a part of a different world, sort of in and around the world we live in.  But some, most importantly Batman, plant themselves firmly in our world and try to deal with the issue.  Unfortunately they have done so in precisely the wrong fashion.

    Batman’s only has only a few  “real” options.  One would be to ether turn his crusade in a different direction, for example to try and reform the Gotham legal system sufficiently to see to it that Joker gets death and it is carried out.  That is a great way to go, but it makes for lousy comics.  Another way would be for Batman to take justice into his own hands and actually kill Joker, then submit himself to the proper authorities.  (They have done this in the comics with Bat-analog Green Arrow, but I do not want to get too deep into this.)  Self-sacrifice is the truly heroic option (think about the Avengers movie), and Batman has failed to take it, hence my conclusion that he has grown less heroic as the Joker has grown more evil.  In fact I could argue that in failing to do so, he has become part of the corruption.

    The real problem here lies in making the legal system, even a corrupt one, the ultimate arbiter of right and wrong.  Which leads to Batman’s third option – revolution, hopefully a peaceful one.  A system as corrupt as Gotham’s may simply need replacing.  Ultimately it is about right and wrong, not legal and illegal.  But revolution is so morally complex that I am not sure the mediums involved, comics or movies, could do it well, and that might be as problematic as the current state of affairs.

    End of preamble one – on to preamble two.

    Comics have been down the path of being “The Problem” before in the 1950′s.  It resulted in the creation of the now abandoned Comics Code Authority.  It was an effort at self-censorship by the comics industry when comics were be blamed for everything wrong with youth in the nation.  The Wikipedia entry on it is really insufficient and this NPR piece is typically a bit slanted, but you get the general idea.  It is a bit too fashionable to denounce it has “censorship” these days.  I will admit, comics got a bit moribund under the code, but I blame a lack of creativity on that, not the code itself.  The problem was cardboard characters, not the action they pursued, but that is a debate I think we should avoid for the moment.

    The real question is how it came to be abandoned.  Well, the answer is very straightforward.  It was self-imposed (to avoid government action) and so when the threat of government action disappeared, the industry, albeit slowly, walked away.  Mostly in pursuit of bigger sales and more mature audiences – which in turn had more money to spend on merchandise and other such things to which my office stands testament.  Given the dollar explosion that has resulted around all this, I do not blame the publishers for walking away one bit.  I am a good capitalist after all.

    Which brings me back to Noonan.  She says the movie is not the problem with the Aurora massacre:

    Did “The Dark Knight Rises” cause the Aurora shootings? No, of course not. One movie doesn’t have that kind of power, and we don’t even know if the shooter had seen it.

    But then she goes on to deride the entire output of Hollywood, and by implication the comics on which so much of Hollywood is currently based:

    Some of the sadness and frustration following Aurora has to do with the fact that no one thinks anyone can, or will, do anything to make our culture better. The film industry isn’t going to change, the genie is long out of the bottle. The genie has a cabana at the pool at the Beverly Hills Hotel. The movie market is increasingly international, and a major component is teenage boys and young men who want to see things explode, who want to see violence and sex. Political pressure has never worked. Politicians have been burned, and people who’ve started organizations have been spoofed and spurned as Puritans. When Tipper Gore came forward in 1985, as a responsible citizen protesting obscene rap lyrics, her senator husband felt he had to apologize to Democratic fund-raisers. If some dumb Republican congressman had a hearing to grill some filmmakers, it would look like the McCarthy hearings. There would be speeches about artistic freedom, and someone would have clever words about how Shakespeare, too, used violence. “Have you ever seen ‘Coriolanus?’”

    Of course there should not be hearings, or new self-imposed codes, or any other such nonsense.  This is not a problem for the government.

    And now, finally, this intersects with this blog’s subject matter.  Religion is what to do about this problem.  I will use myself as an example.  I do not read modern Batman.  I often pick up my old CCA covered books and enjoy them again.  What I do buy new while it may no longer comply with the code, is only ratty around the edges, it is not the sort of dark, ugly, and frankly evil stuff that has produced the Joker and related characters of recent decades.  That is simply a matter of preference.  Those preferences were created in me by the role family and religion and God have played in my life.

    If more people had those preferences, media would quit producing the sort of stuff that Noonan bemoans, because such preferences dictate where the money is and from comics to movies to merchandise they are chasing the preferences.  The government cannot change preferences in a republic such as ours – it reflects them.  That is the nature of being democratic.  That is why we limit government so that other, more capable, institutions can shape the preferences.

    The thing to be done about this is for those other more capable institutions to get better – not the government.  And that means those institutions have to find other ways to influence than simply lobbying the government.  That’s what lead to the Comics Code and its ineffectiveness has been demonstrated.  Prohibition would be another good example.  Clearly what we need here is a real hero.

    This looks like a job for….CHURCH!

    Excelsior!

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    2006: A Mormon Cannot Be Elected – 2012: No One Cares

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:23 am, July 27th 2012     &mdash      1 Comment »

    So, Pew did a poll and the results say, essentially, no one really cares about religion in the general election.  The spin is; however, kind of fun to watch.  Consider:

    • USA TodayPoll: Voters unconcerned with Romney’s Mormon faith
    • PoliticoPoll: More know Romney’s religion than Obama’s
    • Washington PostPoll: Qualms about Mormonism widespread, but may not impact Romney’s run for the presidency
    • Christianity TodayPoll of Americans: Better a Mormon than a Muslim in White House

    Fascinating, is it not?  Same poll, same results, but everybody still has an axe to grind.  David Sessions did a really interesting analysis at The Daily Beast contending that the results are unsurprising (more in a moment) and yet some Evangelicals are still grinding the their old axes.  For example, the increasingly silly David Brody:

    Mitt Romney has sure been talking a lot about God recently. He did so in Irwin Pennsylvania and then the next day in Bowling Green Ohio. Then he really cranked it up a notch during his remarks about the horrendous murders in Aurora Colorado.

    I couldn’t help but think that when Romney started referring to God over and over again during those specific remarks we were finally seeing the authentic Romney.

    Brody does reflect a large swath of Evangelicals and I don’t get it.  It’s like you have to talk about God to make His effects on your life real.  That strikes me as nonsensical – “Talk is cheap,” as they say.  Then there is Daniel Allott at The American Spectator:

    One was the divorced son of an alcoholic shoe salesman; another, the stepson of an alcoholic car salesman; still another, the self-proclaimed “black sheep” of his family.

    The history of the American presidency is a history of men who have suffered — and largely overcome — humble beginnings, immense family hardships, profound personal tragedies, and humiliating public failures.

    To put it another way, when considering whom they want to lead them, Americans naturally gravitate toward flawed characters – people whose success is rooted in failure, and whose lives contain the familiar arc of a redemption narrative.

    But Mitt Romney doesn’t fit this mold. In fact, he may be the least flawed presidential candidate in recent American history. His main flaw, it seems, is that he doesn’t really have one.

    WOW!  Let’s put these things together.  “Authenticity” is portrayed in speech, not action, and the “ideal” is to fail.

    OK, I have to resist the temptation to get all scripture-quotey, preachy on this one – but that is so theologically misaligned from any understanding of Christianity that I have run across, Mormonism included, that I am a bit dumbfounded.  Maybe that is why Evangelicals make so much noise in the primaries, but just don’t matter in the general, if this latest poll is to be believed.  Which brings me back to the Sessions analysis.  He makes four points:

    1. They don’t pay attention, period. Voters, evangelical and otherwise, pay a fraction of the attention to the minutiae of the campaign trail as political reporters.[...]
    2. They don’t vote based on religion. Not only do voters have huge information gaps when it comes to candidates’ religions, but they are not interested in learning more.[...]
    3. The GOP base is united more by ideology than theology. After much speculation during the rise of the Tea Party, its libertarian façade gradually wore off and everyone realized that it was driven by committed Republicans and moneyed organizations with deep ties to the party.[...]
    4. The religious are joining forces. Beck’s pastoral role in the Tea Party might have been the closest evangelicals and Mormons ever came to each other, but it wasn’t their first joint effort. California’s Proposition 8, the now-overturned amendment that banned same-sex marriage, was a darling evangelical cause that leaned heavily on Mormon money and votes to be enacted. Prominent evangelicals may still be calling Mormonism a “cult,” but the fight against same-sex marriage proved more powerful than labels.

    There are a couple of interesting take-aways form that analysis.  The second point illustrates how minority Evangelicals really are in the nation, at least the ones that fit the “won’t vote for a Mormon” mold.  In point of fact they are a minority of Republicans, despite the left-leaning press’ desire to portray Republicans as otherwise – which is really what the third point is about.

    Being more religiously inclined, I would describe this a bit differently.  If, in fact, “‘Authenticity’ is portrayed in speech, not action, and the ‘ideal’ is to fail,” then it seems like the Evangelicals opposed to Romney on religious grounds are behaving in exact accordance with that assertion.  They talk a big game and then vote far more practically, and the fail pretty routinely at political action.  That’s harsh, I know, but it seems a transparent conclusion.

    The problem is not political behavior; however, it is depth of religious commitment and understanding, and I should stop there.

    In Closing…

    K-Lo reminds us of what is at stake RIGHT NOW:

    “I feel we’re all Catholic today,” Mitt Romney said at a campaign event last week in Bowling Green, Ohio. He was talking about religious freedom and the narrow exceptions the White House has carved out for religious organizations in the wake of the Department of Health and Human Services mandate requiring coverage of abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization, and contraception.

    Much of the reporting and policy debate surrounding the mandate has focused on the religious institutions that have conscience objections to the paying for this coverage. But Romney emphasized an aspect of the mandate that is still underappreciated: The mandate will also affect business owners who have not offered and do not want to offer coverage that is an affront to their consciences.

    WE are winding up to a big fight here.  This election has more than the usual dire consequences attached.

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    What Voice Does The Press Want Us To Hear?

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:36 am, July 25th 2012     &mdash      1 Comment »

    Yesterday, Lowell compared and contrasted several articles covering Romney and Mormonism and asked:

    Which voice will prevail?  The Romney voice of mainstream civil religion, appealing to the “better angels of our nature” — another Lincolnism? Brody’s voice of sectarian suspicion?  Or the Obama campaign’s voice — the voice of those seeking to gain and hold power by any means necessary, however dishonest and cynical?

    As I survey the news today, I cannot help but think the press has one particular voice in mind – I think we can all guess which one.  On Monday, in the Washington Examiner, Byron York wrote:

    The Republican primary race was longer and more grueling than Mitt Romney hoped. But for all its rigors, the contest left three key Romney issues unresolved. Each will play a role in the general election campaign — but in a different way than in the primaries.

    [...]

    The third factor is Mormonism. For the most part, Romney’s religion didn’t arise in the Republican race. It’s possible it won’t in the general election. But if the campaign reaches the final weeks and Romney is leading Obama, some Democrats will find it hard to resist trying to make Mormonism a factor in the race. They tried hard in 1994, when Romney unsuccessfully challenged Sen. Ted Kennedy for a Senate seat from Massachusetts.

    That’s a fair analysis that sound remarkably like what we have said here several times already.  But then, almost plagarisitically, Maggie Halberman had a Politco piece (quickly echoed on her blog) about the “hidden” (note the sinister implications of that word) Mitt Romney:

    Mitt Romney is a man of faith, successful in business and with the executive experience that comes from running a big state.

    A perfect presidential résumé? Pretty close.

    Only one problem, as his critics note: Romney doesn’t spend much time talking about it.

    [...]

    And he does not talk about what people close to him describe as a lengthy list of charitable works, neighborly help and major donations, in part out of personal discomfort with focusing on his good deeds and, in some measure, several Romney backers say, because it will focus attention on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a religion that’s rapidly growing but about which misperceptions remain.

    Is she practically begging someone to put Mormonism on the table or what?  Could she not have waited for the York piece to marinate just a bit before she used the lines of attack he discussed?  The press is just itching for the Mormon thing.  There is coverage of the Hill Cumorah Pageant in the Wall Street Journal.  (since when is that WSJ material?)  Time/Life ran pictures on a 1953 raid on an FLDS polygamist town. (PUH-LEAZE!)  Somethings are more subtle.  Chris Cilizza described the media-created issue around Romney’s tax returns as “exotic.“  There’s a bell-ringing word if ever I heard one – look for that to morph into a Mormon reference quite rapidly.

    Somethings are not so subtle.  Cameron Joseph in The Hill:

    Next year could be a banner one for Mormons in the nation’s capital, with their numbers and influence likely to grow whether or not Mitt Romney is elected president.

    Depending on who controls the Senate, it will have either have a Mormon Senate majority leader in Harry Reid (D-Nev.) or a Mormon president pro tempore and Finance Committee Chairman in Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).

    And if Romney wins the White House, not only will the United States have its first Mormon president but a number of prominent Mormon Republicans might be selected for plum administration positions.

    “I wouldn’t be surprised, especially in a Republican administration, to see members of my faith well represented,” Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), a rising Tea Party star who is Mormon, told The Hill.

    Let the conspiracy speculation begin!  And at TNR, Amy Sullivan attempts to turn Romney’s love of country into something religious (and therefore inappropriate?):

    A favorite conservative charge is that Obama is ashamed of his country and goes around the world apologizing for it. (Sample Hannity segment: “Why is Obama apologizing for America and not to America?”) It’s no surprise, then, that Romney states bluntly in his speech: “I am an unapologetic believer in the greatness of this country. I am not ashamed of American power.”

    Chait questions whether Romney actually believes this himself or whether the rhetoric is just a bit of nationalist demagoguery. Figuring how which of Romney’s statements and positions reflect his authentic self has become something of a bipartisan sport. But I think it’s worth noting that an enthusiastic belief in American exceptionalism is part of Mormon culture and theology. There is the sacred significance of America as the setting for the Book of Mormon and the birth of the Latter-Day Saints. But there is also the belief by early LDS leaders that Mormons would one day rescue the country when it threatened to fall apart.

    The line between reporting and propaganda is a fine one.  Last week, in my travels I visited Zeppelin Field in Nuremberg, Germany, home to all of those Nazi rallies.  It is most famous in my mind from the newsreel footage after the allies captured the city of the swastika being blown up.  I spent a lot of time comparing it to my visit to Red Square during the Soviet days in 1989.  Both are places that evil regimes used to generate public support for their agendas.  Both are places soaked in blood.

    But I found Zeppelin Field much more viscerally disconcerting.  I find two reasons for it.  For one, many good things have happened in Red Square as well as the bad.  The other is more subtle.  When I visited the  Soviet Union, it was clear that many endured the soviet state, but few embraced it fully.  When one looks at films of, or reads about, the Nazi rallies in Zeppelin Field one sees a population enamored with and fully embracing the Nazi way and regime.  Much of this was fueled by the propaganda of the Nazi state.

    Media is a powerful thing.  That is why it was so important for the Allies to blow up that swastika and for the whole world to see it blown up, as we have, over and over and over again in the ensuing decades.  Something that evil has to be utterly destroyed.

    Nazi comparisons are fraught with risk, and this is no exception.  I do not analogize the Obama Administration to the Nazi’s in any way.  The Obama administration has not proposed genocide, nor is it evil.  It is; however, very wrong.  It has demonstrated a willingness to accumulate power to itself that it does not rightfully deserve – something that has historically lead to evil.  It has resorted to legislative trickery to defy the will of the populace.   There is little question that many of its actions remain unexamined by the press – something that borders on, if not crosses the line to propaganda.

    The Mormon issue could be a powerful issue for propaganda.  Mormonism remains a mystery for so many and into that mystery much misinformation can be poured, shaping public opinion in quite problematic ways.  The only counter is good information.  That is why this blog, and many like it, exist.  But we are not enough.  It is up to every reader and their friends to spread the word.

    The next few months are going to be very interesting.

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    Which Voice Will Be Heard?

    Posted by: Lowell Brown at 10:04 am, July 24th 2012     &mdash      2 Comments »

    As I reviewed over the weekend the latest presidential campaign news and commentary, I noticed the distinctive themes different players were advancing.  Those themes seemed to find a voice, and I was struck by the way each voice calls to us as voters.

    Mitt Romney’s Voice

    Kathryn Jean Lopez, always insightful, may be on to something once again. In Mitt Romney and the Tower of Babel, she talks about Romney’s emerging role as a spokesman for the hopes and values of Americans who are conservative and religious.  “Our politics,” she says, “has become a bit terrifyingly like the biblical story of the tower of Babel. All too often, political communicators are speaking — or texting — to someone, but very rarely outside our comfort zone. Very rarely advancing conversations. Very rarely doing much more than talking in circles with one another….”

    Ms. Lopez lists as an example of the problem the controversy over the contraception issue and the Obama administration’s attempt to force Catholic institutions to provide insurance benefits that violate their religious beliefs.  She goes to Romney’s comments on the subject:

    “I feel we’re all Catholic today,” he said at a community center in Bowling Green, Ohio. “The president and his administration,” he continued, “said they are going to usurp your religious freedom by demanding that you provide products to your employees, if you’re the Catholic Church, that violates your own conscience.”

    “Whether it’s a Catholic businessperson or the Catholic Church itself they’re being told what they have to do that violates their religious conscience,” he said, clarifying the fullness of the impact of the Department of Health and Human Services contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing-drug mandate. “That attack on religious freedom, I think, is a dangerous and unfortunate precedent… In our battle to preserve religious freedom and tolerance . . . in this country, it is essential for us to push back against that.”

    To us that sounds like a candidate speaking from the standpoint of “civil religion,” a notion that Lincoln advanced and which we’ve written about before.

    K-Lo thinks Romney’s voice is important:

    Mitt Romney may not have the office of the president and the communications advantage that comes with it, but he has increasingly been using the megaphone that comes with being the alternative to the president in a presidential election. He has a compelling counter-narrative to advance. He can educate like no one other than the sitting president, as everything he says now has the potential to make headlines. And he’s been doing that lately. It may not all get covered on the top of the news like his tax returns are, but in our current social-media age, the old media don’t have the monopolistic stranglehold on information dissemination they used to. You read this and you pass it on on e-mail, on Facebook, Tweet a little, have a Pinterest — and there is still the old-school getting-it-in-print and passing it on at the diner or kitchen table.

    K-Lo’s entire post is a must-read.

    The Evangelical Voice

    We can offer two contrasting voices in this category.  First, Richard Mouw thinks it’s more important than ever for Evangelicals to listen to Mormons. Mr. Mouw, long a voice for Evangelical-Mormon dialogue, doesn’t have much to say about the presidential race, but does have a vision for how the two faith communities should interact:

    I have two rules for interfaith dialogue: First, don’t tell people what they believe; ask them and listen carefully to what they say. Second, don’t pit the best things in your perspective against the worst things in their perspective. For me, that has meant acknowledging to Mormons some of our evangelical defects, as well as admitting to some good things in Mormonism. We need to account for the many wonderful people in other religious traditions. Instead of just criticizing religious movements and their founders, we need to understand their teachings and the communities built around them.

    David Brody offers a different voice, and wants to talk about “trust and authenticity,” which he thinks is “the real issue” with Romney:

    Romney has always had these problems with the base to begin with. If the Obama campaign can convince Independent voters that the guy is a liar and untrustworthy, then it works to their advantage….

    As for releasing his tax returns, it goes to the same issue of trust. Every day that goes by where Romney doesn’t release these years of his tax returns will simply be another day where some voters wonder whether he is hiding something. That’s not a good place for Romney of all people to be. The last thing he needs is a voter to suspect that he’s a rich guy who has something to hide.

    Look, here’s the deal: maybe there’s something in those tax returns that makes Romney unflattering to some in the middle class but maybe he just needs to take the hit and suffer the short-term consequences.

    (Emphasis added.) When the chief political correspondent for the Christian Broadcasting Network refers to the “base,” is there any doubt what he means? Brody’s comments are perilously close to a dog whistle message to some of his readers: When one of those slippery Mormons runs for president, he needs to do all he can to avoid looking slippery.

    I don’t think Romney needs any more allies like Brody or any CBN readers who share his bias. This is a voice of doubt and suspicion based on a candidate’s faith, and the country needs no more such voices.

    The Obama Campaign’s Voice

    Meanwhile, the Obama campaign team cheerfully admits that they intend to “define and destroy Mitt Romney.”

    [T]his kind of thing is nothing new for campaign honcho [David] Axelrod. “Axelrod’s strategy is always to run unopposed, literally if possible,” says a Democratic insider in Chicago. “He wants to take the opponent out—there’s a long tradition in Illinois of trying to force your opponent off the ballot—and if that doesn’t work, literally, then do whatever needs to be done to destroy him figuratively.”

    So here we have the amoral voice of “just win, baby.” If that means knocking your candidate off the ballot so the voters have no choice but your candidate, then so be it. If it means digging up sealed divorce records to destroy your opponent, then do it. And if it means planting in the minds of the electorate that your squeaky-clean opponent is a felon, then you’d better do that too.

    (UPDATE:  I just noticed, thanks to Guy Benson’s tweet, that the Democratic National Committee is still running their ad ridiculing Ann Romney’s ownership of a dressage horse that is competing in the Olympics.  Guy wonders if the Democrat “really believe wives are ‘off limits,’” as President Obama said they are.)

    Which voice will prevail?  The Romney voice of mainstream civil religion, appealing to the “better angels of our nature” — another Lincolnism? Brody’s voice of sectarian suspicion?  Or the Obama campaign’s voice — the voice of those seeking to gain and hold power by any means necessary, however dishonest and cynical?

    When people say “this is the most important election of our lifetimes,” my initial reaction is always to think, “Oh, come on. People say that every election.”

    Then again, when I think about the voices we are hearing and the choice we will eventually make, one way or another, I think those people may well be right.

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    The “Dark Knight” Atrocity, Romney and Religion

    Posted by: Lowell Brown at 04:01 pm, July 21st 2012     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    By now most of our regular readers have seen this video of Governor Romney speaking about the “Dark Knight” shootings in Aurora, Colorado.  We invite you to watch it again:

    As I have watched and re-watched the Governor’s brief remarks, several thoughts come to mind:

    • This is a presidential statement.  It’s what I want in a president, at least.
    • It seems to have come from Governor Romney’s own hand and heart.  This doesn’t look like the work of a speechwriter.
    • Frankly, I hear in its language and cadences a deep faith and compassion, and yes, the voice of a former Mormon bishop who has probably presided over and spoken in more than one funeral, and who is comfortable referring to scripture.

    The MSM reaction has, sadly, been predictable.  CNN’s report was entitled “Romney strikes rare notes of faith in Aurora speech:”

    The Bible-laden references in Romney’s speech also signal to evangelicals who worry about his Mormon faith that he is drawing from a familiar text.

    Really? Now? At a time of national sadness and horror, when a candidate speaks from his heart, must we analyze the Mormon connection? Does anyone who hasn’t drunk too deeply from the wells of cynicism think Romney intended his words as a political signal?

    To CNN’s credit, they did go to one source who saw Romney’s remarks as something more than raw politics:

    “Moments like these call for our commander in chief to act as a theologian in chief, and Romney did that today,” said Stephen Prothero, a religion professor at Boston University and the author of the American Bible.

    “He offered a theology of comfort, compassionate conservatism if you will, consistent both with the biblical witness and with the needs of the country on tragic days like today,” Prothero said.

    Prothero said both Romney’s speech and Obama’s speech struck him in the same line of civil religion speeches as Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address or Ronald Reagan’s speech after the Challenger shuttle exploded.

    To Prothero, Obama’s speech sounded more pastoral and Romney sounded more presidential.

    He said Romney was trying to “bind the nation together” and the Romney speech was more “self evidently a theological speech.”

    We’ll let Professor Prothero have the last word.

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

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