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 Flippin’ Mormon…”

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 07:54 am, January 28th 2014     &mdash      3 Comments »

    Last night I was able to watch the newly released documentary on Netflix, “Mitt.”  For anyone that cared about the campaign and even remotely cared about the individuals involved it is a gut wrenching experience.  I told a friend just after I watched it that my Twitter review should be “It tore my heart out and left it beating on the table in front of me.”  These were amazingly decent people, without an ounce of cynicism.  To watch their stoicism in the face of all the assaults, grounded in their faith, was inspiring,  It also made me hurt for the nation.

    Even noted lefties have found the Romney of this film appealing.  A fact that caused me to tweet:

    @NYTimesDowd, It was there if you had just been willing to see it – Peeling Away the Plastic http://nyti.ms/1cG5CCl

    Others have noted that it was Romney’s very discomfort with the process that resulted in his loss.  Note how both of these criticisms cling to a narrative that Romney was somehow “false” during the campaign.  There is, of course, some standard film criticism of the documentary.  I would make one brief note – It quickly passes over the primary of 2012, feeling I am sure it was repetitive of the well covered primary of 2008.  The 2012 primary was grueling and ugly.  I really would like to have known more about the family discussions surrounding the many failed “not Romney’s.”

    Which brings me to what I really want to say about the film.  In a sense it is book-ended by comments on Romney’s Mormon faith.  I am not talking about the much discussed scenes of the family praying together.  These were incredibly powerful, but they were a bit voyeuristic.  Romney said on Hugh Hewitt last night that he is not ashamed of his faith or his prayer life, but he has also said he wishes the scenes were not in the film.  I honestly think it would have been enough to show the family briefly at prayer, but exclude the content and depth of the prayer.  Somethings are best left between the family and God.

    No, the bookend’s I am discussing come during the 2008 primary when Romney says quite tellingly, “I’m the flippin’ Mormon…” when discussing the narrative that surrounded him and at the end of the film, after the loss to Obama, when he says to at campaign HQ, “You know, we kind of stole the primary…Our party is southern, Evangelical and populist and I’m northern, Mormon and rich.”

    In the discussion of “flippin’ Mormon,”  Romney says “I can’t change the Mormon part, but I can change the flip-flop.”  I wish he could have changed the “flip-flop,” but I thought when he said it that I wished I’d been there -  The two are deeply linked.   I would never ask Gov, Romney to consider changing his Mormon faith, but the argument that he needed to make was that there is nothing about his Mormon faith that makes him untrustworthy.  His faith sort of sat there at the bottom of everything, a hidden bigotry, giving people a reason to latch onto any narrative that called into question the veracity and genuineness of this most truthful and genuine candidate.

    I doubt that Joel Belz has enough readers to have formed the nucleus of this anti-Mormon sentiment, but he is the only one on the right to give voice to it:

    It’s not a trivial matter that Mormonism, as a cultic movement, has a bad reputation when it comes to getting its own story straight. Check out the public record, if you will, including fairly recent interviews with Mormon officials in venues like Larry King Live, 60 Minutes, and Newsweek. Do these officials hold to the fantastical 1827 golden tablets of Mormon founder Joseph Smith—or not? Well, they seem to say: We believe it when we want to, and we don’t when it’s less convenient. Where Mormonism isn’t shrouded in deliberate secrecy, it is covered with confusion.

    So when folks tell me they’re satisfied that Mitt Romney won’t try to drag his Mormonism into his politics, and that he would never ever impose his theology on the American people, I have to worry whether that’s exactly what he’s already done. When, in a relatively short space of time, he seems to be on both sides of the same issue—and when such a deviously confusing approach seems to be consistent with his faith rather than counter to it—that sets off alarm bells for me.

    Only a few weeks ago, I sat a dozen feet from Romney as he compellingly spelled out his convictions and credentials. He was winsome and persuasive. On the surface, he said almost everything I want to hear my candidate say. On the issues that matter (except for choice in education), he was as convincing as any politician I’ve heard in recent years.

    But still.

    More than anything, I want a president who tells the truth. And I worry deeply when people are overly ready to believe a man whose religious upbringing, of all things, suggests that the truth is a negotiable commodity.

    Belz makes a theological argument that Romney is essentially a liar – because of his faith.  Note how easily this blends with the left leaning narrative which hates his faith simply because it opposes the entire left-leaning social agenda.  The left simply believes that anyone that “straight” must be lying; otherwise, much of their worldview comes crashing in around them.

    The Romney’s never seem to acknowledge this problem directly.  Romney failed to see that “Mormon” made “flippin’” stick and it made “northern and rich” insurmountable.  This, in the end, is what makes Mitt Romney such a compelling and endearing figure.  He simply refused to believe the worst of the American people.

    That’s what makes his loss in 2012 so much more than just another political loss.  That’s what makes some fear that the nation has turned a fundamental corner.  That’s what drives many to their knees in prayer on a regular basis — the fact that we may no longer be able to rely on the right and best in the American people.

    This film is extraordinarily compelling and extraordinarily hard to watch.  My personal acquaintance with many of the players on the screen makes me celebrate with them they fact that they still have each other.  The emotional factor that makes this film so hard to watch is what is says in the larger context.  The nation rejected deep and real decency when it rejected Mitt Romney as its president.

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    A Question For Our Readers

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:36 am, January 10th 2014     &mdash      1 Comment »

    On Hugh Hewitt yesterday Mark Steyn said this discussing Chris Christie:

    “The bigger lesson of this is there is a kind of permanent political class of operatives, who regardless of the front man at the top of the pyramid, carrying on, pulling a whole lot of stunts – regardless of whether it’s a focus grouped blow-dried phony politician at the top of the pyramid, or Mr. Authentic, like Chris Christie,” Steyn said. “And that gets to an interesting question about American politics – what’s the point of having a super-authentic candidate if he just hires the same old lousy campaign operatives as everybody else?”

    Do you know enough about how the campaign operates to know what were operatives and what was the candidate?  Do you think Romney’s selection of operatives hurt him in the last cycle?  Other comments?

    Comment moderation remains in place because some of those operatives might just try to involve themselves in this discussion, but I’ll try to stay on top of it and get comments through quickly.

     

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    More Data On The Pile

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 07:58 am, October 19th 2013     &mdash      1 Comment »

    We have been accumulating data on the effect of Mitt Romney’s faith on the last election.

    To date we have three very significant data points:

    We now have another point for the stack of data.  There is a blog post from a Benjamin Knoll @ HuffPo:

    Using a logistic regression statistical estimation procedure, I analyzed how individual-level attitudes toward Mormons affected the likelihood that someone would vote either for or against Romney in the 2012 general election. This procedure estimates the effect of a single variable (attitudes toward Mormons and Mormonism) on another variable (likelihood of voting for Romney), statistically controlling for a host of other factors including political ideology, demographics, and socioeconomic status.

    [...]

    It appears that most attitudes toward Mormons did not affect the likelihood of voting for Romney one way or another, with the exception of one key factor: whether or not a voter considers Mormons to be Christian. These results suggest that about 1 out of every 20 Republicans decided to stay home instead of turning out to vote for their party’s nominee because they don’t perceive Mormons as Christian.

    After that, rigor disappears fro the analysis and Knoll concludes, rather obviously:

    While I have provided evidence that Romney very likely did lose some (mostly Republican) votes as a result of negative attitudes toward his Mormon faith, this was ultimately not the decisive factor in the outcome of the election.

    There are no “decisive” factors in elections, despite the press’ never-ending attempts to turn the enormously complex into the stupefyingly simple.

    More work needs to be put into this question, not so much to understand Romney;s loss, but to help understand what is at root in the divisions that just cost the party such an enormous loss in the shutdown/debt limit debate.  How much did Romney’s candidacy contribute to the widespread impression among Christian voters that the Republican party has abandoned them?  What will it take for the party to woo them back?

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    The Roots Of The Divide

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:33 am, October 15th 2013     &mdash      2 Comments »

    Conor Friedersdorf @ The Atlantic is best described as a leftie provocateur.  His writing and arguments, while left-leaning, are generally cloaked sufficiently in reason to warrant a read.  And he usually gets read because his real stock in trade is to take on right-leaning media icons, thus “stealing” their audience, at least for the life of his most current piece.  He is the consummate counter-puncher.

    That is again the pattern in his latest:

    The Tea Party Gets Its Information from Enablers of Bushism

    This piece, cloaked in reason (and a discussion of a recent Ross Douthat piece) if not necessarily born of it, is really two things.  First it is a shot at Rush Limbaugh.  Not much of a surprise really – now he has the attention of all those Limbaugh listeners out there and his click rate skyrockets.  Secondly it is an attempt to separate the “Tea Party” from the “Republican Establishment.”  Which is, of course, an effort to permanently weaken the Republican party, turning the natural factions inside any party into mortal enemies.

    But inside this piece is a question worth examining.  Consider:

    Yes, Tea Party supporters regard the Republican establishment as having been thoroughly discredited during the Bush years. Yet they’ve continued to vest extraordinary trust in the cable news and talk radio personalities who spent the aughts slavishly supporting the GOP establishment. They get their information from erstwhile purveyors of pro-Bush propaganda, taking their cues come from the same people who enabled George W.  

    If the White House staffers, Washington, D.C., think tanks, and establishment media figures who enabled Bush-era excesses have all lost credibility, why not the movement conservative talkers who carried water for the same flawed governance?

    Let me rephrase this observation a bit.  “Gosh darn it, the ‘Tea Partiers’ just are not turning as whacky or moving away from the mainstream of American as much as I would like.”  Yet I must agree with Friedersdorf that there is a certain level of irrationality to the divides inside the Republican party.  The internal party conflicts seem out of proportion with the actual differences between the factions.

    Some of that sense is, of course, the MSM portraying it that way in an effort permanently cripple Republicans.  But I think there is an elephant in the room that no one is discussing.

    Religion.

    The Tea Party was born out of one really bad presidential candidate (John McCain) losing the election and in protest to the incredibly left leaning policies of the victor of that election.  McCain is no friend of the Religious Right.  What we are now seeing, which is a bit ugly but not nearly so ugly as the MSM would have us think, is born of a candidate that many of the Religious Right viewed as antithetical to their faith.   This latter fact is a crying shame because Mitt Romney, while a Mormon, came much, much closer to representing the Christian Right than John McCain could ever dream of.  But because he was a Mormon, many viewed him as McCain writ large.

    Religious talk was suppressed in the last election.  It was destructive to Romney in the 2008 primary and therefore sidelined in 2012.  The opposition left it lying because suppressed it provided a hidden lever that could be used in the general.  Even after the Civil Rights movements and its legislative results, African-Americans in the South had a difficult time obtaining office because while race was never discussed, it was whispered.  Romney’s Mormon faith was whispered throughout 2012.  Many a conservative vote was idle when it got to the presidential portion of the ballot.

    The reason the divide inside the Republican party seems irrational is because no one is willing to discuss its roots.  The current crisis is too immediate and too consequential for such a discussion now – but once past, the discussion must begin.  You cannot solve problems that you are not willing to stare in the face.

    Tradition holds that a failed candidate like Romney is supposed to fade into the woodwork, but maybe he is the only one that can start this discussion?  Maybe the Limbaughs of the world that Friedersdorf paints as the irrational bridge between the two factions can get the job done?  I am sure there are other and better ideas on how to get this working again, what I know is we have to acknowledge the elephant.

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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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