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 Problematic Spin

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 12:15 pm, January 28th 2015     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    Yesterday, I tweeted out a WaPo piece that rang very much like the NYT piece we dealt with Monday.  That’s why I tweeted it with a snide comment rather than take the effort to dig through its inanity.   But today Chris Cillizza, in an obvious bit of intra-brand cross promotion, uses it as a springboard to make some points that I think need analysis:

    Mitt Romney still has a Mormon problem

    Cillizza digs up the usually cited stats and figures from ’08 and ’12 to make his case.  And it is a fine case indeed.  I would tend to agree that the issue this blog has focused on since ’06 will be as real in the cycle, if Romney gets in, as it has been since Robert Novak publicly acknowledged in back in ’06.  But there are two important things to note from the Cillizza piece.

    Start with this paragraph:

    Four years later, even as Romney was on his way to becoming the nominee, that skepticism among evangelicals was readily apparent. Romney lost every primary in 2012 in which exit polls found evangelical Christians comprised a majority of voters. In South Carolina, evangelicals were the decisive vote; they went for former House speaker Newt Gingrich by 22 points over Romney.  Across all primary contests in 2012, Romney did 13 percentage points worse among evangelical Christians than non-evangelicals. (Is it possible that evangelicals were reacting to something other than Romney’s Mormon faith when they voted for other candidates? Sure. But, it seems very unlikely.)

    What does that say about Evangelicals?  Looks to me like it says they are pretty close-minded.  We are currently in the midst of a cultural war over marriage in which the accusation of bigotry is being thrown at us with a particular vigor.  These kinds of statistics do not help us counter that accusation.  Sometimes we truly are our own worst enemy.

    And speaking of “own worst enemy” let’s turn to the second point, which comes from this paragraph in the Cillizza piece:

    I get Romney’s decision.  I was one of the people who thought he should talk more about his faith in the 2012 general election campaign as a way to counter the perception being pushed by the Obama campaign that he was a flip-flopping plutocrat with no core beliefs. His Mormon faith has always been central to Romney’s private persona so if the goal is to run the “real Romney” this time, then it’s the right move.

    Does “real Romney” trouble you as much as it troubles me?  The underlying WaPo piece contained this similar gem:

    “He feels very at home here,” said John Miller, a close friend in Utah who has been talking with Romney throughout his recent deliberations. “This is a very prayerful thing. . . . In the end, it’s really a decision between he and Ann and their belief system, their God. That’s the authentic Mitt.”

    “Authentic Mitt” sounds a lot like “real Romney.”  Lying at the bottom of most Evangelical objections to Mormons is a distrust.  They feel like the fact that Mormons redefine a lot of commonly used theological terms is somehow disingenuous.  (it’s a thing that goes on in theology discussion all the time, but when it involves Mormons….)  Remember the heinous “Mormons lie” meme from 2008?  Terms like “real Romney” and “authentic Mitt” do nothing but feed that suspicion.  They imply that in the last two cycles Romney was being disingenuous about himself, his policies, his inspirations and his intentions – just like the Evangelicals that created the statistics Cillizza cites suspect Mormons do.

    Two election cycles now have shown that these Evangelicals may not be able to win elections, but they sure can make sure those they distrust do not win either.

    It is smart for Romney to be more upfront about his faith this cycle if he indeed runs.  But he has got to find a better way to do it.  If he does not this “authentic” and “real” stuff is going to make “47%” look like a walk in the park.  Romney’s political strategy vis-a-vis his faith has to change this time, but Romney himself cannot.

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    Posted in Candidate Qualifications, Identity Politics, News Media Bias, Political Strategy, Religious Bigotry, Understanding Religion | Comment on this post » | Print this post Print this post | Email This Post Email This Post

    Mitt’s Mormonism Front and Center?!

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 10:22 pm, January 17th 2015     &mdash      2 Comments »

    This might have just gotten really fun.

    I was unable to listen to Romney’s RNC address Friday night, but found this ABC story the most interesting of all the post-speech analysis:

    In a speech here Friday night, Mitt Romney reminded the world that he’s a Mormon – and made clear that it would be a key part of his presidential campaign if he does decide to run for a third time.

    Romney put his faith, something he rarely spoke about or demonstrated on the 2012 or 2008 campaign trail, front and center while addressing Republican National Committee members aboard the USS Midway in San Diego, saying that those closest to him, including his wife Ann, know him not only as a businessman and politician but as a devoted leader in the Mormon church.

    “For over ten years, as you know I served as a pastor for a congregation and for groups of congregations. And so she’s seen me work with people who are very poor, to get them help and subsistence. She’s seen me work with folks that are looking for better work and jobs and providing care for the sick and the elderly. She knows where my heart is,” Romney said.

    I think ABC might be overstating things a bit, but I do think that if Romney is to run again it would be wise for him to embrace his faith more actively than he has in the past.  But I think he has to be careful how he does it.  It things are allowed to devolve into discussions of theology, it will get weird fast.  As everyone knows by now (especially Mike Huckabee), the Mormon faith is quite heterodox in the world of Christian theology.  But religion is more than theology.

    There is a term that has descended in faith discussion from sometime in the 19th century – orthopraxy - “correctness or orthodoxy of action or practice.”  In the world of the daily practice of faith, Mormons are little different than Christians of most other stripes.  That is to say, Mormon are quite orthoprax.  (There are, of course, significant liturgical differences, but outside of the confines of the church, temple, etc., we have so much in common.)  It is here in orthopraxy that Mitt should dwell if he does indeed run again.  Here bridges can and should be built.

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    Posted in Candidate Qualifications, Identity Politics, Political Strategy | 2 Comments » | Print this post Print this post | Email This Post Email This Post

    If We Are Going To Talk About It – Let’s Talk About ALL Of It

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 07:24 am, January 14th 2015     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    Mitt Romney’s near announcement last weekend has brought out piece after piece about his “weaknesses” as a candidate.  The Wall Street Journal and Howard Kurtz trot out some pretty tired lists of failings.  With a tweet Jim Geraghty makes his first thoughts painfully and sarcastically clear.  This is all reasonable criticism, but then every single candidate ever has weaknesses and can be so criticized.  The point of politics is not to be the perfect candidate, but to be the best possible candidate working with the hand you have been dealt.  These much delineated weaknesses do not have to be viewed as disqualifiers so much as guideposts in designing a new campaign.  But these analyses also all miss a vitally important element, one that is almost completely out of Romney’s control – identity politics.

    Mitt Romney was a very religious man running for president in a nation where the opposing party is, to a great extent, opposed to religion generally and a significant portion of his own party finds his particular religion off-putting to say the least.  In the last election, the one that really matters to evaluating him as a candidate,  he ran against the first president of color in our nation’s history – an incumbent.  These things were not, and are not being, discussed amongst the punditry, it feels like bad form to do so.  But I can promise you they were discussed at the kitchen tables and in the coffee shops around the nation, and they most certainly were present in the minds of millions of voters.

    For these latter and undiscussed reasons, this writer has had his reservations about another Romney run.  I wonder if Romney’s religious identity would ever allow him to, post the primaries, unite and rally the party behind him.  Not due to a lack of capability on Romney’s part, but because a significant branch of the party would just flat out refuse.  There is strong indications that such happened in 2012.   I wonder if the efforts necessary to try and unite the party under these circumstances would leave the party severely weakened?

    That said, this blog believes what it has believed for a very long time – Mitt Romney is uniquely and outstandingly qualified to do the job of POTUS, perhaps more so than any other potential currently under discussion.

    And so since it is now clear that Romney is strongly considering a run, the discussion of strengths and weaknesses must happen.  But let’s not ignore the elephant in the room.

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    Posted in Analyzing 2012, Candidate Qualifications, Identity Politics, Political Strategy | Comment on this post » | Print this post Print this post | Email This Post Email This Post

    President Hardhead or Cultural Portent?

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 07:32 am, November 7th 2014     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    The punditry in reaction to the presidents reaction to Tuesday seems to be pretty unanimous.  The Washington Examiner says, “It’s still Obama’s way or the highway.”  Howard Kurtz surveys the pundits and writes, “Still, the media consensus was that the president had blown it.“  Leave it to Peggy Noonan to quote Chris Matthews:

    This is not just poor strategy, it seems to me to be mildly delusional. Chris Matthews erupted on MSNBC: “There’s something in this guy that just plays to his constituency and acts like there’s no other world out there!”

    One must ask in the wake of this utter repudiation how the man got reelected.  We know how he got elected, he lied.  But his character was obvious even before his reelection (remember “I won”?) though less blatantly so than the last two years.  His crack about the two-thirds that did not vote reveals much not only about his character, but about the nation.  His much vaunted GOTV effort was very much cult-of-personality based and definitely attracted the low information types.  And that, frankly, is what scares me.

    Many of the low information types also reflect a personality type that is so self righteously self-absorbed that they rise to the level of “mildly delusional.”  Obama is, in more ways than I really want to contemplate, representative of his core constituency.  “I do not care what the facts are, I want (am entitled to,  should have)….”  I don’t know about you, but I have experienced this sentiment in so many big and small ways in my daily life of late, that with a president that loudly proclaims it I must conclude what I am experiencing is more than purely anecdotal – it is a serious societal trend.

    It’s a recipe for chaos.  From the very small things (barging in line, for example) to the very large (Obamacare being Exhibit A) our society cannot survive if everyone thinks the way they see things is the only way, and their desires are the only desires that matter.  Anyone with any Christian insight should have alarm bells ringing right now; Christian thought being full of everything from wisdom sayings, to admonishments, to outright commands to “regard one another as more important than yourselves.”  That being true, our nations troubles run much deeper than politics.

    This election tells us that the nation clearly wants something different than what it is getting, but an election will not fix it.  Yes it may fix some of the big things but until the little things get fixed, this ugly, unsurvivable viewpoint will lie there, just below the surface waiting once again to assert itself in large and unhappy ways.  It takes more than politics to fix this.

    Education and religion are the two great cultural shaping institutions in our society.  They affect the little things in ways that politics just cannot address.  They cannot be turned as quickly as politics.  It takes far more energy, effort and commitment to fix our educational and religious institutions than it does our political institutions.

    We should enjoy the hard fought victory from Tuesday night through the weekend.  But come Monday there is much to be done.

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    Posted in Candidate Qualifications, Culture Wars, Evangelical Shortcomings, Governance, Identity Politics, Political Strategy, Understanding Religion | Comment on this post » | Print this post Print this post | Email This Post Email This Post

    If It Is To Be, Must It Be With The Same Old Cliches?

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:25 am, October 2nd 2014     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    FACT:  Mitt Romney insists that he is not going to run in 2016, publicly and privately.

    Fact: The press is full of speculation that Romney might run in 2016.

    Fact: Romney is in high demand as a spokesperson/endorser in mid-term elections.  As the last presidential candidate for the party, he is its senior statesmen, save for the former presidents and tradition holds them above politics.  (Except, of course, for Bill Clinton which is a matter for another time.)

    Conclusion: Mitt Romney is under enormous pressure from party insiders and money people to run in 2016, hence the massive amounts of press speculation, driven by these people applying pressure as opposed to the Romney himself.  Hence, Romney has begun to soften his public stance ever so slightly.  One would think this softening is more a nod to those that are so loyal than it is any actual change of heart, given the definitiveness of earlier statements.

    All of that is fair enough.  But one would think after two election cycles, the Mormon card would be played out or someone would come up with a far more imaginative way to play it.  But based on this FoxNews story it seems the playbook on this one has not changed at all.

    …a former Mitt Romney ad guru has made little reminders like this the centerpiece of a strange new social media campaign aimed at softening the public image of his Republican Party.

    The campaign is called “Republicans Are People, Too.” Right now, it’s a low-budget endeavor, with an online and social media presence on Facebook and Twitter.

    The man behind the push, Vinny Minchillo, told FoxNews.com he’s trying to “catch a wave” of interest by launching “Republicans Are People, Too” shortly before the midterm elections – though he’s not advocating for any particular candidates.

    [...]

    It also recycles a phrase once used by a pro-Republican drive in the wake of Nixon’s resignation, and bears a striking resemblance to the 2011-2012 “I’m a Mormon” ads, which stressed the ordinary-ness of Mormons — Minchillo said he never noticed the similarities.

    OK – is this mention the “I’m a Mormon” campaign not entirely gratuitous?  Can it serve to do anything other than try to link the Romney campaign of 2012 to the “I’m a Mormon” campaign?

    This Fox story carries a byline for Alana Wise, but googling her turns up almost nothing.  There is a LinkedIn Profile for an NBC Intern, but I have no idea if it belongs to the Alana Wise that wrote this piece, nor do I have anyway to tell the time frame of the profile.  But I am going to guess that Ms Wise is very young, still learning the ropes, and got thrown this story on a lark.

    What is stunning is that the story has garnered more than 2000 comments and seen a little under 1000 social media shares of some sort.  A very quick scan of the comments would indicate that while no one mentions the Mormon shot explicitly, the now equally tired “Romney is not a real Republican” canard (Often the Mormon card in code) does rear its head.  This last observation should go a long way towards explaining Romney’s unwillingness to run again.   Political opinion can shift with a headline, but this kind of bigotry is a deep seated mistrust that cannot be overcome so readily.

    I do not look for Romney to run again unless the party fails to coalesce around someone; leaving him the only individual capable of carrying the party banner forward in some form.  But I am profoundly saddened that given his current status in the party, this kind of stuff still shows up.  It does not bode well for the party or the nation.

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    Posted in Evangelical Shortcomings, Identity Politics, News Media Bias, Political Strategy, Religious Bigotry | Comment on this post » | Print this post Print this post | Email This Post Email This Post

    This Is How History Is Rewritten

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:44 am, May 28th 2014     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    Politico Magazine has published a featured piece by Randall Balmer entitled “The Real Origins of the Religious Right,” that illustrates first hand how history gets rewritten.  His thesis:

    One of the most durable myths in recent history is that the religious right, the coalition of conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists, emerged as a political movement in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling legalizing abortion. The tale goes something like this: Evangelicals, who had been politically quiescent for decades, were so morally outraged by Roe that they resolved to organize in order to overturn it.

    This myth of origins is oft repeated by the movement’s leaders. In his 2005 book, Jerry Falwell, the firebrand fundamentalist preacher, recounts his distress upon reading about the ruling in the Jan. 23, 1973, edition of the Lynchburg News: “I sat there staring at the Roe v. Wade story,” Falwell writes, “growing more and more fearful of the consequences of the Supreme Court’s act and wondering why so few voices had been raised against it.” Evangelicals, he decided, needed to organize.

    Some of these anti-Roe crusaders even went so far as to call themselves “new abolitionists,” invoking their antebellum predecessors who had fought to eradicate slavery.

    But the abortion myth quickly collapses under historical scrutiny. In fact, it wasn’t until 1979—a full six years after Roe—that evangelical leaders, at the behest of conservative activist Paul Weyrich, seized on abortion not for moral reasons, but as a rallying-cry to deny President Jimmy Carter a second term. Why? Because the anti-abortion crusade was more palatable than the religious right’s real motive: protecting segregated schools. So much for the new abolitionism.

    His evidence is, that a) Evangelicals were slow to wake up to the problems inherent in the Rose v. Wade decision, and b) that some began organizing in the wake of a Supreme Court decision that removed tax-exempt status from some church related schools in the south that were segregated.  This are both facts long in evidence and denied by no one.  However, Balmer weaves these facts, along with some others, into a narrative that makes the rise of the religious right appear to be some Machiavellian scheme, foisted upon gullible, thoughtless Evangelicals solely in order to preserve segregation.

    What does Balmer not consider? Well, for one, Green v Kennedy (the SCOTUS segregation/tax case) and Nixon’s subsequent policy decisions for the IRS represented a significant step by government into defining what was and what was not religion and religious training.  Having much family in Mississippi, I am well aware that many of the church schools that sprang up in South in the wake Brown were racist to their core, but that does not change the fact that these moves represented a significant move on the part of the federal government from telling public institutions what to do to telling private and ostensibly religious institutions what to do.  These moves represented as big an (or perhaps a bigger?) intrusion by government into religion as the intrusion posed by Obamacare’s abortion coverage provisions today.  While the racial admission practices of these schools was not highlighted, the legal ramifications of these decisions was widely discussed and to my memory played a role in galvanizing religious people across the nation to political action.  Abhorrent as the racial admission policies of these schools were, if the government could attack their tax exempt status based on that policy, what other policy might they also someday decide warranted such an erosion of the separation of church and state?  There was a very real danger in these decisions and Obamacare’s abortion coverage provisions are front-and-center example one.

    Balmer makes this sound sinister:

    Although Bob Jones Jr., the school’s founder, argued that racial segregation was mandated by the Bible, Falwell and Weyrich quickly sought to shift the grounds of the debate, framing their opposition in terms of religious freedom rather than in defense of racial segregation. For decades, evangelical leaders had boasted that because their educational institutions accepted no federal money (except for, of course, not having to pay taxes) the government could not tell them how to run their shops—whom to hire or not, whom to admit or reject. The Civil Rights Act, however, changed that calculus.

    Balmer adds no facts to the historical records here.  All he does is assert motivation and weave a narrative worthy of a Bilderberger theorist.  Religious freedom was, and remains, a very real issue in all of this.

    Balmer’s “art” sees its highest expression in this paragraph:

    Between Weyrich’s machinations and Schaeffer’s jeremiad, evangelicals were slowly coming around on the abortion issue. At the conclusion of the film tour in March 1979, Schaeffer reported that Protestants, especially evangelicals, “have been so sluggish on this issue of human life, and Whatever Happened to the Human Race? is causing real waves, among church people and governmental people too.”

    “Machinations?” — “Jeremaid?”  My goodness, I had no clue that Hydra had hidden itself inside Evangelicals and Protestants just waiting for the time when it could assert its dangerous philosophy and with the aid of the computerized Armen Zola conquer the world.

    There is no question that the desire to educate their children outside of the presence of African-Americans played an early role in organizing Protestants and Evangelicals to political action.  But the movement that became the Religious Right outgrew that small and particular aspect of its beginning quickly.  Balmer offers no evidence, or even narrative, that connects the religious freedom narrative to the abortion narrative other than chronological coincidence.   (Well, in fairness there are unfootnoted references to the archives of Liberty University)  And yet it was the abortion issue that caught the concern and energy of the religious nation.

    The game that Balmer plays in this atrocious piece could be just as easily played by looking into the Communism derived motives of some early leaders in the liberal movement.  Most people of the left, even those I disagree with strongly, are good people seeking what they view as best for the nation.  The same is true for people of the right.   Every political movement, left, right, and middle, has its opportunists and less than purely motivated players.  They do not define the movement.  The movement is defined by the millions that join it and where they take it.

    Balmer here attempts in the grossest of manners to call into the question an entire movement based solely on sinister assertions surrounding facts known to anyone that was either there, or that bothers to look.  This is not journalism, it’s not spin, it’s not even agenda journalism.  (It is certainly not historical research.)  This is crafting a conspiracy theory – pure and simple.

    Such things are written and published on the Internet daily.  No surprise there.  It is; however, shameful that Politico has not merely published this tripe, but featured it.

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    Posted in Culture Wars, Evangelical Shortcomings, Identity Politics, News Media Bias, Political Strategy, Prejudice, Religious Freedom | Comment on this post » | Print this post Print this post | Email This Post Email This Post

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