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."

  • Quick Hits 11/30/12

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 07:59 am, November 30th 2012     &mdash      1 Comment »

    David French notes how much Gd talk there was in public debate in history.  Sadly, it’s true, but it was also a time in history when MOST Americans were concerned about what God thought on a subject.  That is not true today.  I would say that concern is a prerequisite to such debate returning to the public sphere.

    Check the vote count again.  Romney lost, but he did pretty doggone good.

    How to make an alum wince in pain.  It may not explain their NCAA performance, but it does tend to take the shine off the appearance.

    Mormon persecution continues in Russia.  One must wonder about echoes elsewhere…?

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    An Open Letter To Christian Leaders Of All Kinds and Throughout the United States (Part 1)

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 10:18 am, November 29th 2012     &mdash      6 Comments »

    In the wake of the national election just past, most Christian leaders I know are feeling ill-at-ease.  There is an inescapable sense that the nation has changed in some fundamental sense.  It is true there are some that celebrate the results of the election, but they too sense the change, and I think if they analyze it properly they will also come to understand that the fundamental change is not necessarily good.

    It is not just that the nation has “turned left” somehow.  It’s not that same sex marriage prevailed in four states or that grass was decriminalized in two or even that Obama won reelection.  It is what underlies all that and more.  Consider the issues that are most important to Christians, and even some that are not so important.

    Abortion – in the end it is about whose life matters more, the mother or the child.  Spare me the distracting discussion about whether a fetus is really life or not, it’s a red herring.  On the bottom line when there is an abortion a life, or potential life if you must, is ended so that another life will not be too inconvenienced.  For the unborn an abortion is an ending.  Were the pregnant woman to carry the child to term her life would be massively altered, and yet her life would continue.  An unwanted pregnancy carried to term is a massive sacrifice, but it remains insignificant compared to the sacrifice made by the unborn in an abortion.  At base, abortion is a grossly selfish act.

    Same-sex marriage – this issue is most notable in the liberal side of things complete inability to compromise.  Most states, and civil people, agreed to civil unions pretty easily and with a minimum of fuss.  But that has not been enough to satisfy the LGBT community.  They insist to the point of civil disobedience and violence the the entire world simply blind themselves to the fact that on some level that community are indeed different from most of us.  (I carefully choose the word “different,” attempting to avoid any declaration of judgement.)  They insist that a word, translated in many languages for millenia, be stretched beyond all historical understanding simply for the sake of their own private illusion of normalcy, when in fact none of us are truly and totally “normal.”  Proponents of same-sex marriage wish to alter all of human history for the sake of their own desires – it is an ultimately selfish position.

    What about the decriminalization of marijuana?  At a time when the public health risks of tobacco products, which are not mind altering, are considered so high that billions in public money is spent to curtail their use, we chose to create a new class of legal, and higher, public health risk.  When the health care “pool” is being massively expanded beyond voluntary association to include the entire populace some places decide to create hundreds if not thousands of new individuals that will be taking from, rather than contributing to, the pool.  In a real sense this is those that enjoy marijuana demanding of the entire populace that they support their entertainment.  Yet again, at the bottom of the issue lies selfishness.

    When it comes to economic policy the nation seems to care more about the distribution of money than the earning of it through contribution to the common economy.  In the realm of foreign policy we seek to withdraw from the world, leaving injustice both moral and economic – not to mention more extreme and deep than anything our nation has ever witnessed internally, to “work on issues at home.”  Indeed we seem to worry about ourselves, individually, more than anything else, and regardless of the consequences to anyone else around us.

    The fundamental change that has created the melancholy so prevalent  amongst many today is that selfishness, not sacrifice, seems to have become the driving force in the nation.

    This is a nation built on sacrifice.  Until very recent time the mere act of immigrating here was sacrificial in terms of financial commitment and breaking of family and cultural ties.  No longer is that the case with modern communication and travel technology and so no longer does the immigrant arrive having decided to sacrifice to join, they instead come merely to “get their share” and often send a significant portion of it home.

    The sacrifice of the Founders was inordinate.  It takes but the briefest of visits to George Washington’s Mt. Vernon to understand that.  Despite the tremendous wealth that is apparent in that estate, Washington himself barely enjoyed it.   He was able to spend but a handful of years there spending that vast majority of his adulthood either at war or as a vagrant politician, including his presidency since the buildings of government were still under construction.  Washington gave up virtually every dream he had for himself and his family for the sake of the nation.

    The nation rose to its ascendant position in world affairs on the ultimate sacrifices of the myriad soldiers of WWII.  The sacrifice of those that survived were tremendous as well, as were those of the home front.  Those that stayed home sacrificed in so many small ways to support the war effort and those they loved that were serving.  In these times even in those rare instances when all agree the nation should be at war we expect it to have as little impact on all but the self-selected warrior class as possible.  When war does come home to us, as it did in NYC now 11 years ago, we want to “move on” as rapidly as possible.

    The ethos of sacrifice as an individual for the common good seems little heard of and hard to find in our nation today.  We do hear of it when someone wants to take money from us, but even then money is the easiest sacrifice to make and enforced sacrifice is no sacrifice at all, its just brute force.  Which proves that this ethos is not something that government can build – it must exist culturally.  We cannot lay the lack of this sacrificial ethos at the feet of government.

    Religion alone, and I will argue uniquely Christian religion in its various expressions, is the single best force for the construction and maintenance of this ethos in a culture.  The founders realized this and thus protected it in the constitution.  I will argue that it is this sacrificial ethos that defined this nation as “Christian” in some sense (certainly it was not theology) and that it is the church that is largely responsible for its loss.

    But this is enough for one post.  We have figured out what it is we have really lost that makes the mood in the wake of this election so moribund.  In the next post in this series we will look at how we lost it and the church’s role in that loss.

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    What To Do About Evangelicals?

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 07:35 am, November 27th 2012     &mdash      2 Comments »

    Evangelical political leader Ralph Reed took to the pages of the Wall Street Journal yesterday to plead for the political life of Evangelicals.

    Republicans have now lost four of the six presidential elections since the Berlin Wall came down in 1989. A season of soul-searching will be healthy, and it is needed to retool and rebrand the party.

    Yet despite the stinging defeat and a post-electoral narrative that suggests otherwise, Republicans need not abandon their principles. They must resist the temptation to form a circular firing squad, especially one with evangelicals and their social-conservative allies in the middle.

    [...]

    Conservative evangelicals are arguably the largest single constituency in the electorate. According to a postelection survey by Public Opinion Strategies, self-identified conservative evangelicals made up 27% of voters in 2012, voting 80% for Mitt Romney compared with 19% for Barack Obama. This represented a net swing of 14 points toward the GOP ticket since 2008 and made up 48% of the entire Romney vote. Mr. Romney, a lifelong Mormon, actually received more evangelical votes than George W. Bush did in 2004.

    Reed has a point here, but then again, he is missing and ignoring some important ones as well.  The real problem I have with the piece is that Reed gets into identity politics of all sorts – religious, racial and otherwise.  He is combating an argument that has been put forth by the libs that the GOP and Evangelicals by extension are a rich white man’s club.  Having that argument by those rules is playing into the hands of the libs and Dems.

    There are two fundamental ways to look at things.  One way, the Democrat way, is that the nation is a coalition of different identity groups struggling over which group gets the biggest slice of the pie.  The other way, the Republican way, is that the nation is a land of opportunity in which anyone can succeed, regardless of identity, if they are willing to work hard and be decent people of good character.

    Instapundit points to a James Taranto piece in which Taranto points out just how far Dems are willing to go with identity politics.  It is a losing game.

    One way of holding together such a disparate coalition is by delivering prosperity, so that everyone can feel he’s doing well. Failing that, another way is by identifying a common adversary–such as the “white male.” During Obama’s first term, the demonization of the “white male” was common among left-liberal commentators, especially MSNBC types. The Post has now lent its considerably more mainstream institutional voice to this form of bigotry.

    [...]

    The danger for the country is that a racially polarized electorate will produce a hostile, balkanized culture. In 2008 Obama held out the hope of a postracial America. His re-election raises the possibility of a most-racial America.

    As the Dems push this discussion, look for the data we analyzed yesterday to be brought to the fore to support the Dem argument.

    Evangelicals need to be bigger than this, we do not need to sink into it.  We have done so for the last two cycles and look where it has gotten us.  Much of the blame for this belongs with Evangelical leadership that has branded Evangelicalism as a marketing concept rather than embrace it as a religious movement.  Much of the blame for this belongs to pastors that value affiliation over character and seek to build a congregation, but not a Christian.

    The place where Republicans need to hold their core is precisely the one that Taranto names:

    The reason for the absence of a “Whites” category is that white identity politics is all but nonexistent in America today.

    Until the last two cycles the same could really be said for Evangelicals.  Until the last two cycles Evangelicals cared about the issues, not the identity.  Now Reed must distinguish between Evangelicals and social conservatives, proving the point that Taranto made:

    The trouble with a diverse coalition based on ethnic or racial identity is that solidarity within each group can easily produce conflicts among the groups.

    And hence we, at a minimum, lose elections.  All the debate about “authenticity” and who is an is not a Christian is this sort of label fight in spades.  And now they are trying to draw us into it on an even larger scale with questions of race.

    What do we do about Evangelicals?  Nothing.  Evangelicals need to quit worrying about who is and is not an Evangelical.

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    The Evidence Analyzed

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 04:00 am, November 26th 2012     &mdash      6 Comments »

    You’ll remember that before the Thanksgiving holiday we were looking at some work from the social issue types showing that social issue propositions outperformed Mitt Romney.  The data was just percentages, and it need further massaging, primarily because the issue was same-sex marriage and same sex marriage always performs well in the African-American community, while Mitt Romney most assuredly would not.  So we have decided to do that work.  Here’s the initial breakdowns:

    Now , like I say we need to remove the African American vote from that last column.  So we checked the exit polls and came up with a percentage of black vote in each of the state.  We then simply decreased the votes in that last column by that percentage and came up with what we are calling the “Corrected” number of votes. Now remember there are votes that should seemingly have been “natural” Romney votes that either voted for Obama or abstained on the presidential election on their ballots.  Those percentages of votes cast are huge and would have been enough to change the outcome of the election if you project that average across the nation.  I had hoped the “correction” for the African-American vote would have made this seem less stark, but it does not.  The only state with a significant black population is Maryland, and yet, the Romney/issue gap remains very large even after removing the black vote.

    Most troubling to me is that Montana, the most conservative state on the list, is the state where Romney performed farthest behind the proposition in question.

    So what can we conclude?  Well, there is a lot of discussion of the decline in turnout and that is important, but for the election that happened with the turnout that happened it seems clear that Romney did not effectively capture the social conservative vote.   Even with the whole on-line GOTV thing and the amazing declining turnout, Romney could have won handily if these social conservative votes had been his.  Was it anti-Mormon bias?  Well, there are no data to enable us to come to a conclusion on that, but one would have to presume such bias figured into the results somehow.

    I think what is most troubling about this analysis is that it means social conservatives are really missing the big picture electorally.  It means that they were willing to re-elect Obama which means the HHS ruling stands until the courts likely intercede.   In other words social conservatives were willing to elect a president who seeks to seriously restrict religious expression.  Further they are willing to rely on the courts to keep that restriction from happening, when the courts have been the bane of social conservative existence since Roe v Wade.  I simply cannot believe that any social conservative that was thinking about this stuff would have voted like this, which means they were not thinking about this stuff.

    In other words, this result is highly unreasonable, and such unreasonableness is usually rooted in strong prejudices, thus enhancing the presumption of anti-Mormon bias playing a significant role.

    Jay Cost did an interesting analysis at the Weekly Standard:

    This suggests that the identity politics explanation is insufficient to explain Romney’s electoral problem. It was not merely a failure to attract Hispanics and, to a lesser extent, African Americans into the GOP coalition (preliminary data actually suggest that Barack Obama won fewer African Americans in 2012 than he did in 2008). There seems to have been an overall hesitation among many types of voters—white or not—about entering the GOP coalition. It looks as though many backed Obama over Romney, and many more simply chose not to vote.

    An examination of the exit poll makes it easy to see why. Obama’s campaign against Romney, which portrayed him as an out-of-touch plutocrat, appears largely to have been successful.

    This caused Powerline’s John Hinderaker to comment:

    Cost’s analysis suggests to me the devastating effect of the Obama campaign’s personal attacks on Romney during the months after Romney sewed up the GOP nomination. The Obama campaign turned Romney into dead man walking.

    The Romney campaign had no funds to respond to those attacks. Prior to the convention, Romney was prevented by law from accessing the funds he had raised for the general campaign.

    I would look it it this way.  2008 demonstrated that Romney had a hard time with social conservative voters.  In essence it was a trust issue rooted in his faith.  Apparently we, and those that joined us in this fight, suppressed the issue but we did not kill it, and Obama knew that and capitalized on it.

    I know I relied on the fact that social conservatives might find Romney less than ideal, but that they certainly would not torpedo the Republican ticket given what Obama was up to.  Apparently I was wrong.  Frankly I don’t know what’s worse, that social conservatives acted this way or that Obama, the man who supposedly broke down the bias barrier, was willing to play upon it.

    Once again, we find social conservatives playing “spoiler.”  That’s one thing in the primary because it still leaves Republicans with a candidate that they can fight for and perhaps prevail.  But in the general election it is a form of suicide.  All that has happened here is that the social conservatives that voted for these propositions, but not for Romney, have given Obama four more years to lead the nation in decline both economic and cultural.

    Leaders in the social conservative movement need to learn certain political realities.  Government generally reflects culture, it does not establish it.  Such establishment of culture is the job of other institutions like the universities and the church.  The job of those institutions is made easier by a government more conservative than liberal, even if they compromise on some issue we consider important.  As the HHS mandate proves, the liberals want to fence us in.  At least under someone like Romney we can be assured that we can operate to change the culture through non-governmental means.

    These numbers truly stagger me from the standpoint of the self-inflicted wound they represent.  We do not yet know if the wound is fatal, but we do know it is going to be a long and difficult recovery.

    Lowell adds . . .

    In a way I find these numbers encouraging. The election results left me worried that the country has reached a tipping point at which those who think a government-based economy is just fine and outnumbered those who supported free markets and economic liberty as our fiscal foundation. I’m still worried about that, but it may be that our real problem is simpler: We need to win over social conservatives, to get them to vote in the first place, and also to get them to vote for economic conservatives. That seems doable. Not easy, but doable.

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    Arizona shows us the red-blue divide

    Posted by: Lowell Brown at 07:50 am, November 25th 2012     &mdash      2 Comments »

    I found this CNN clip striking. There’s so much to say about it — and we invite your comments — that I hardly know where to begin. Watch:

    That Kyrsten Sinema, the liberal Democratic congresswoman-elect, is a bisexual former Mormon isn’t the point; it’s that she was elected in Arizona. The reporter, Miguel Marquez, who has a long MSM pedigree, seems to love listing examples of that state’s conservatism on hot-button issues, then pointing out how remarkable it is that Sinema was elected in Arizona — of all places! Marquez notes at the end of the piece, with what seems like optimism, that Sinema is “a new voice in a state that may be changing.”

    The real significance here is the way Ms. Sinema’s election illustrates the country’s cultural divide. She was elected in Phoenix, the most urbanized area in Arizona, in a district described as composed of “parts of Phoenix and several suburbs, including an affluent town where [her opponent, Vernon Parker] was once mayor.” Meanwhile, in statewide voting, Jeff Flake was elected to Arizona’s open seat in the Senate — the only bright spot in an otherwise bleak senatorial election for the Republican Party. Jeff Flake is a conservative Republican and a committed Mormon — the first Mormon ever elected to the Senate from Arizona.

    So you have a politically conservative active Mormon elected to the Senate, statewide; and a liberal Democrat, ex-Mormon, reportedly atheist, openly bisexual candidate elected to Congress from the big city in the same state. How much more perfectly can the cultural divide between middle America and the more culturally elite urban areas be exemplified?

    I don’t have any profound thoughts to offer, but I think that in light of the same divide in the presidential election we all have a lot of thinking and acting ahead of us.

    John’s Quick Initial Take

    The divide between urban areas and non-urban areas has long been noted in political trends.  There is a huge difference int he role church plays int he life of the urbanized individual and the non-urbanized individual, Mormon, traditional Christian or Buddhist.  The sociology is fascinating, but too deep for comment this morning.  I do have a few initial thoughts.

    1) Energy. A lib in office emboldens other libs, and gives we conservatives a sense of defeat.  We are getting out worked.

    2) MSM. In addition to Lowell’s point about the liberal crowing in the report, where is the coverage of conservatives elected in, say, NYC?  Where is the reporting on the overwhelming victory for parental notification in Montana?  Reporting such as this aids and affects item 1).

    3) Compromise. The key to our democracy lies in bridging the divide, not in one side or the other winning.  But increasingly the other side is unwilling to ever compromise.  Civil unions are not enough.  “I won.”  The HHS mandate.  These are not compromise.  Which leads me to…

    4) Humility. This personal attribute is born uniquely in Christianity (in what other religion does the deity die for the sake of creation?) and is the key to Western Civilization and democracy.  In humility, compromise can be born.  In humility, service matters more than the office obtained.  In humility is the simple understanding that there are other, valid points of view.

    Politics must work in conjunction with other societal forces for our form of government to work well.  Right now, I do not look to politics to resolve this kind of issue.

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    The Conservative Soul

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 04:00 am, November 23rd 2012     &mdash      3 Comments »

    Thanks to Rick Moran at American Thinker for linking to this piece from New York Magazine:

    Obama Slipped a Nate Silver Joke and a Romney Jab into His Turkey Pardon

    Obama also made a possible reference to Mitt Romney’s “gifts” comment, saying “in the spirit of the season I have one more gift to give,” and ignored a reporter’s shouted question about Gaza.

    As Moran said, “You stay classy, Mr. President.”  The list of stuff like this from the president’s mouth is getting pretty long.  You know, the kind of stuff that just strikes you as classless and demeaning of the office.  Of course, we can all hear the cries of “Romney started it, what with the 47% crack and the gifts comment.”  Yet such protests completely ignore the fact that for both of those comments Romney had every right to presume privacy – that the comments were in fact obtained either by subversive means (the clandestine taping of the 47% comment) or by someone betraying a confidence (someone on the conference call leaked the contents.)  Do we really want to get into “Who was a jerk first?”

    When you put together the illicit means by which these two hammers to Romney were obtained and the classless comments by his tiny little majesty Obama it is really not a pretty picture – and yet, electorally speaking, it is a winning picture.  It is very tempting for conservatives to want to not merely respond in kind, but to change entire electoral strategies to go and do likewise.  The temptation is to be petty and personal and small.  That seems to be where the minds of Americans are right now or else Obama would not have won.  It is the only thing that makes sense, right?

    And yet, while my reason tells me that is the way to go, there is something deep inside that demands restraint – something that says how you win matters as much as simply winning.  Indeed, following Obama’s political lead could very well lead to short term political gain.  But it does strike me that it would be at the long term cost of the nation.

    More, or at least deeper, than just issues if you asked me what the difference is between Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals,   it would be that Republican/conservatives want people to better themselves and Democrat/liberals want to cater to people in their misfortune.   To play “obamaball,” would be to give up on that bottom line identity.  Whether it is the big money giveaways of the stimulus package or Obamacare, or petty concessions to our lesser nature in the classlessness that has come to mark this administration, were we to start playing the game by this set of rules, we might win the game, but we would have done so by becoming them.

    We find ourselves at what seems like a tipping point.  To restore the nation to our kind of ball seems a long term game.  It means not just attracting votes but shifting the values of the nation so that we are attractive to them without changing who we are – that just does not happen in four years.  Until you analyze the situation more carefully.  It is only less than half a million votes in four states that we needed to win this election.  That many kids will come of voting age in the next four years and high school is the perfect time to affect these values.  The task is not as daunting as it may seem.

    If you have kids – take good care of them.  If you do not, consider taking one under your wing.

    But before you do that, check your soul and make sure you are not tempted to “go and do likewise.”  Yes, we have to learn how to talk to “kids these days,” and yes we have to learn more about this new media thing than we thought we did.  And to some extent the medium affects the message.  But in all of this we have to figure how to retain our souls.  We have to figure out how to make Americans better so America will be better.

    UPDATE, 6:50AM the same day: RCP carries and article by Heather Higgins and Alex Cortes:

    The response options were “Strong Leader,” “Shares Your Values,” “Has a Vision for the Future,” and “Cares about People.” Among folks that chose one of the first three responses, Mitt Romney won between 54-61% of their vote. But, among folks who chose “Cares About People,” Romney lost dramatically – 81-18%.

    “Cares about you” is the single phrase that lost Romney the election. Those for whom empathy was the most important candidate quality clearly did not get a sense that he cared about people and worse, many even thought he was antagonistic towards many Americans.

    [...]

    You might ask, could not a rational voter get beyond whether they felt a candidate cared for them, and ask which candidate’s policies would best care for them and future generations? Such a purely rational decision-maker, often referred to as homo economicus, is rare among human beings that are first driven by their moral intuitions, like compassion, before their strategic reasoning.

    In The Righteous Mind, moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt presents volumes of research demonstrating the primacy of moral intuitions which “reason” is then used to buttress. It includes his in-person interviews where, of the 1,620 times that the interviewees were told of a repulsive story that explicitly stated no one was harmed, 38%, to justify their revulsion at the outcome, nonetheless said that someone was harmed. The interviewees’ moral intuitions immediately led them to condemn the repulsive story, claim there was a victim, and then use their strategic reasoning to support their position rather than truly consider whether there was a victim.

    If you do not meet people’s moral needs, their strategic reasoning will not be unlocked to consider your arguments, but instead used to search for reasons to reject your arguments. This reality led Jack Kemp to say “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Mitt Romney may have had the better plans for America, but before voters were willing to consider them, they first had to think that he cared about them, which too many did not.

    That stings – a lot.  Romney not caring is about as big a lie as I have ever heard in politics.  I know Romney and I know the people around him – he cares deeply.  Some of this is messaging, but I think there is something deeper too.  We have  come, as a nation, to think of “caring” as “give me stuff when I need it.”  One of the reasons Obama was able to out-message us on this was because we made the mistake of believing that people knew the difference between genuine caring and bad, divorced dad caring.

    This is one of those check your soul moments.  If we begin to warp our understanding of caring to this clearly prevalent understanding, we lose and we stop being true to ourselves and our principles.

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