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."

  • Swing Vote, Spoiler or Something Altogether Different?

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:28 am, September 23rd 2013     &mdash      1 Comment »

    Is it too early to talk about 2016?

    Not if you are Karl Rove and Hugh Hewitt.  They have defined a list of 11 Republican POTUS possibles in no particular order:

    • Ted Cruz
    • Rand Paul
    • Marco Rubio
    • John Thune
    • Scott Walker
    • John Kasich
    • Chris Christie
    • Rick Perry
    • Paul Ryan
    • Bobby Jindal
    • Rick Synder

    That looks like a reasonable list to me.  By the time we get there some may have decided to not to run, and a few purely-in-it-for-the-publicity types may have decided to join the fray, but in terms of who really matters, that seems like a list one can work with.

    So. if you agree with our analysis of what happened in 2012, the key question confronting us when trying to decide who of these people to back in 2016 is who will treat Evangelicals like a swing vote and who will treat it like a spoiler vote?   Or are they something new altogether?  In 2008, Evangelicals played spoiler for Mitt Romney so, reasonably, in 2012 that is how he treated them.  They responded in 2012 by staying home and spoiling in the general, not merely the primary, thus making themselves, functionally, the swing vote.  Of course, traditional wisdom holds that you cater to the swing vote, relying on your base to come along naturally – but candidates from Pat Robertson all the way to Mike Huckabee have shown that treating Evangelicals that way is a losing strategy.  It is possible we have a very different reality on our hands.

    Some are saying that evangelical political involvement is at an end – or very near it.  Some disagree.  Much of the debate here hinges on how you define “Evangelical.”  This last link comes from leading evangelical thinker Scot McKnight.  In the post linked he identifies four “beating hearts” of Evangelicalism.  Some are defined in purely theological terms, but the last is very important for this situation:

    The rise of the Religious Right formed a new heart beat: Fundamentalism withdrew from culture and society while the Religious Right reentered the public sector with vigor and with strong theories of how America should be run.

    Much confusion exists amongst reporters, pundits and political observers about the difference between Fundamentalists and Evangelicals.  The left and its media allies generally ignore the difference thus leaving Fundalmentalism as a brush with which all those of social conservative bent can be painted and therefore ignored.

    What really seems to be happening is that the left is pushing the issue bar to a place where Evangelicals are starting to look and act like Fundamentalists.  When the Religious Right appeared abortion and to a limited extent rampant divorce were the issues.   The issues in front of us today – same sex marriage, a total breakdown of family, euthanasia – are issues that the Religious Right on its founding could take for granted.

    This brings us back to McKnight and his four “beating hearts.”  Let’s examine two others:

    1. Conversionism: evangelicals believe a person must be born again to be a Christian and that means they have made a personal decision at some time.
    2. Activism: this isn’t so much social activism as it is evangelistic and missional activism.

    These are things that have traditionally separated Evangelicals and Fundamentalists.  Fundamentalists, by definition, hid behind their walls and decried the state of the world.  Evangelicals, by definition, reached out and tried to fix things – on a spiritual, social, and political level.

    Which brings me back to the Rove/Hewitt list.

    The POTUS possible I am looking for is the one that can reinvigorate Evangelical political activism while reminding them of their roots in spiritual and social activism and set them free to work hard on all three levels.  As I read through the list now, my mind divides them up into “appeals” and “doesn’t appeal” to Evangelicals.  What I am looking for is someone that leads Evangelicals.  Some say Evangelicals cannot be led; I disagree.  It just takes a good leader.

    Somehow, I have an inkling that Mormons are looking for much the same thing.

    And so we have laid a challenge at the feet of the list of eleven above.  Who will pick it up?

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    Despicable

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:22 am, September 17th 2013     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    From WaPo’s “Post Politics” blog this morning:

    Washington Mayor Vincent Gray (D) on Tuesday suggested that the cuts made by sequestration may have hampered the response to the shootings at the city’s Navy Yard on Monday.

    “It’s hard to know (what could have prevented it),” Gray said on CNN. “We’re continuing this investigation. But certainly, as I look at for example sequestration, which is about saving money in the federal government being spent, that we somehow skimped on what would be available for projects like this, and then we put people at risk. Obviously 12 people have paid the ultimate price for whatever — you know, whatever was done to have this man on the base.”

    I honestly don’t know what’s worse, the utter logical fallacy of such “reasoning” or the absolute disrespect for the lives lost and the tragedy that is still unfolding.

    I cannot help but reflect on my younger years when I would do or say such incredibly ignorant things and my parents or other authority figures around me would gently correct me.  I was told that learning the proper amount of respect from such a tragic situation was part of becoming an adult and that if I ever expected to “amount to anything” I would need to learn that lesson.  And yet this numbskull is the Mayor of Washington D.C.

    And then this came to mind:

    1 Cor 13:11When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.

    As we leave religion out of the public square, we lose more than a moralistic point of view.  We leave behind such simply admonitions to maturity.  We leave children in charge.

    Forgive me for preaching….

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    A New Take On 2012, And Why The Press Won’t Talk About It

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:33 am, September 13th 2013     &mdash      5 Comments »

    I have just concluded my reading of “Collision 2012: Obama vs. Romney and the Future of Elections in America” by Dan Balz.  After reading it, I have a very different conclusion about what happened in 2012 than the conventional wisdom.

    The conventional wisdom, even amongst most conservatives is that the nation has turned a corner; that the nation no longer enjoys a conservative majority.  There is nothing ahead but continued liberalization.  I disagree, I think what we saw in 2012 was the deep divisions with the the Republican party, between fiscal/national security conservatives and social conservatives, costing the Republicans the election.  These divisions when in play, give liberals the majority, but the nation as a whole is not majority liberal.

    The press does not want to discuss it this way.  Whether they are ideologically liberal or simply want to be the ones to report “historic, sweeping changes,” they have a vested interest in presenting a narrative that says the nation has truly shifted.  Balz himself did not discuss it this way, yet the data is present in his book.

    Consider the primary campaign to which Balz dedicates a large portion of the book.  The primary was really a story of “not Romney” after “not Romney” rising and falling, some rising again.  From Herman Cain to Rick Perry to Newt Gingrich to Rick Santorum, it was clear there was a large portion of the Republican electorate that did not want Mitt Romney as the nominee.  They kept looking for someone else and they kept getting let down.  Of the “not Romney’s” only Perry and Santorum had the actual chops to hold the office and of those two only Perry came close to having the organization to win the primaries.  But Perry got in too late and could not crystallize that organization in time to overcome his liabilities as a candidate, most notably his awful debate performances in a primary season dominated by debates.

    So where the division inside the Republican party?  Balz starts the book discussing the fact that Romney has a “flip-flop” problem dating from ’08.  But we learned in ’08 that “flip-flop” was often code for “Mormon.”  By the end of discussing the primaries Balz drew the distinctions that we quoted at length in our last post and quote more succinctly here:

    If evangelical Christians accounted for more than 50 percent of the primary or caucus electorate, Romney lost the state.  If they accounted for fewer than 50 percent, he won.

    Then there is the data that we looked at on this blog not long after the general election.  Socially conservative ballot propositions significantly out-polled Romney.

    You put this data together and you see not a nation that is majority liberal, but a nation where the conservative majority is divided upon itself, giving the liberals the functional majority.  And to repeat the point – this is not the narrative the MSM want to discuss for it indicates that if Republicans can repair the rift, power quickly flows back to them.  And so they tell the story of a corner turned.  And so many I talk to on our side of the fence seem to be buying it.  Hammered, in the wake of the election, with Supreme Court decisions that seem to favor same-sex marriage, we hang our heads and figure we have to take what is coming to us.  I read stories and blog posts every day about and from Evangelical leaders discussing how to remain true to faith in a nation that does not share our faith – giving the liberal minority exactly what they want.

    And yet this evidence indicates that there is a great deal of self-fulfilling prophecy going on here.  If one equates social conservatives with Evangelicals, a reasonable generalization, one soon sees that such schism lies at the heart of Evangelicalism in it modern expressions.  It is a faith virtually defined by schism.  It is a faith built on church shopping in the pews and running off and building new churches at the first sign of conflict within a congregation.  The mega church is largely born of people leaving the traditional denominations as they liberalized rather than stay and fight the liberalization.

    Evangelicals are quick to counter that the nation has continued to socially liberalize even with Republicans in power.  This seems undeniably true.  But the pace of liberalization is always greatly slowed and there is often a “two steps forward one step back” effect when Republicans are at the reins.  And as we have discussed on this blog countless times, for Republicans to take things further in the political/governance arena, the churches have to do a much better job of gripping the hearts and minds of Americans in other arenas.

    It must always be remembered that our political system is designed to be a mirror.  But like all mirrors, there is much interpretation involved in understanding the image.

    So the question for Republicans moving forward is less about technology gaps, ethnic demographics and the other factors that Balz chooses to emphasize and more about healing the division between social and fiscal/national security conservatives.  Romney, with his Mormon faith, clearly exacerbated this division – to the shame of Evangelicals for the cost of such, as we currently see in the abhorrently feckless Middle East policies of the current administration, is exorbitant.

    What I see in the Evangelical community at the moment is that no candidate can close the gap because Evangelicals are simply retreating.  Again, this is shameful as their faith should serve to embolden them.  Not to mention give them higher. not lower, levels of tolerance for disagreement.

    But if there is hope, I think it starts with not allowing the MSM to get away with the corner turning narrative.  As distasteful as it is to discuss this, as much as it risks sending away social conservatives, if we let the corner turning narrative stand unchallenged, it carries the day. So the first question in how to bridge the intra-party gap is how to discuss it without alienating one side or the other. And we better figure out how fast.

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    Worth Quoting

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 12:49 pm, September 9th 2013     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    From Dan Balz’ “Collision 2012,” chapter 17 concerning the primaries:

    The fault line was most easily understood by one single category of voters in the exit polls from all the major states that had voted or would be voting.  If evangelical Christians accounted for more than 50 percent of the primary or caucus electorate, Romney lost the state.  If they accounted for fewer than 50 percent, he won.  The pattern from Iowa through Super Tuesday showed no variation.  Romney had won New Hampshire, Florida, Nevada, Arizona, Michigan, Virginia, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Ohio – all with electorate in which evangelicals accounted for between 22 and 49 percent of the voters.  He had lost Iowa, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Georgia.  Evangelicals made up anywhere from 57 to 83 percent of the the voters in those contests.  Romney was criticized through for his seeming inability the primaries to win over the conservative base of the party.  In realty, where he found resistance was among those who described themselves as very conservative, not conservatives in general.  The only states where he won a plurality of those voters were, generally, states that were more moderate or less socially conservative. Among roughly one-third of Republican voters who described themselves as “somewhat conservative,” he was an almost universal winner, as he was among those that said they were either “moderate” or “liberal.”

    While I have yet to read the entire book, why does Balz, along with the entire rest of the press, ignore the religious aspects of the startling conclusion?  Why, mid-paragraph, does he switch from a discussion of Evangelicals to a discussion of levels of conservatism.  Is” very conservative” and “evangelical” interchangeable?  If so, does he not need to make the case for that?

    I find this extraordinary evidence for something we concluded here long ago.  Romney suffered based on his Mormon faith.  It weakened him in the primary and it weakened the base in the general.

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    Syria – Questions of State and Morality *UPDATED*

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 09:55 am, September 1st 2013     &mdash      4 Comments »

    Few periods in western history are more disheartening to read about than the period between WWI and WWII.  My latest reading on it is the second volume of William Manchester’s soaring three volume biography of Winston Churchill.  It is a period when the world and its leading nations (most especially Great Britain, as the US was yet to assume it’s current role) simply turned a blind eye to the evil that was building in central Europe.

    Today there does not appear to be evil on the horizon that will rise to the level of a Hitler, or a Stalin or a Mao, but there is much evil present in the world.  A nuclear Iran would be capable of immense cruelty and destruction, though probably not to the level of those three.  But the world continues to produce its share of homicidal despots, lesser only in scale but certainly not in intent.  To a list that includes the likes of Saddam Hussein and Robert Mugabe, we can add the name Bashar al-Assad.

    There are two levels of questions that should be asked in the wake of such evil – questions of State and questions of Morality.  The questions of State revolve around the central issue of what are nations of good intent and will to do about such evil?  Frankly at this point on matters of State, the more I think about the situation, the more I realize there are no good options, only better or worse of generally poor options.  That is testament to the absolutely abysmal leadership of our current administration.  Admit it or not, like Britain of the ’30′s for we are very much to the world now as they were then, we have stood by and closed our eyes to the building evil.

    The polls would indicate there is not nor has there been the national will to do anything.  That may be true, but there are times when our political leadership must shape, not follow, the national will.  Evil like this is one of those times.  This bunch, like the Baldwin government of 1030′s Britain, cannot shape Play-Doh.  I am not alone in seeing these parallels.  Good leadership would have a) found a way to cut this off before it got this far out-of-hand and b) used those efforts to inform and stir the nation.

    But here we are.  And with no good options open to us, how do we decide what to do?  This is where the Moral question comes into play.

    Hitler comparisons are almost always overwrought.  Nonetheless, ask yourself this question – What represents the greater evil? – The organized and highly, if disgustingly, targeted application of poisonous gas or the indiscriminate use of same amongst an entire populace?  Is evil measured purely in numbers?

    Some might argue that we cannot condemn the use of WMD lest we condemn ourselves.  Nonsense.    Any reasonable read of history reveals that the culture and society of Japan during the war was such that there were no innocents, no “mere civilians.”  Nor did we use WMD in the context of a civil war.  We did not turn them upon our own populace.

    Some would argue that we have let gas attacks pass before.  We certainly have claimed a lack of intelligence for Assad’s earlier and smaller gas attacks.  The same is said about Husein’s gassing of the Kurds.  With regards to Assad’s early attacks, that would appear a dodge.  The current attack leaves no doubt.  With regards to Hussein and the Kurds, given that people are still combing through intelligence materials to make a final determination it seems more reasonable.  But such precedent does not make the attack any less evil, it only gives us a stake in the evil.

    The bottom line is that what has transpired in Syria is wrong; it is evil.  Good nations cannot sit idle.  The answer to the Moral question demands that while the question of State has no good answers, it cannot be allowed to go unanswered.

    The moral authorities of our nation, its churches and synagogues and temples, seem to be sitting and watching, claiming these things are purely a matter of state. – Or WORSE.  Again I say – Nonsense!  Much that is the decline of western culture can be traced to similar claims of the church in Hitler’s Germany, and similar sideline sitting by the church in Britain when it should have been prodding its government to action.  In it’s hand washing, the church sacrificed its moral authority and has been losing it ever since.

    The question of what to do is indeed a matter of state, but the question of “Should we do something?” is not.  The time for idleness is at an end.

    Regarding what to do, I think Bret Stephens has the best idea I have heard to date.  Remember, we have backed ourselves into a place where there are no good options.

    But the moral fact remains – we must act.

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