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."

  • Telling the 2012 Story – Part Two – A Government of Laws, Not Men?

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 02:33 pm, May 7th 2013     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    The 2012 election, as I said in the opening post in this series raised a terribly important question:

    “Has the culture finally and fully changed?”

    For most people that question gets thought of in terms of whether the nation is still committed to “Christian values.”  Does it still believe in marriage, family, etc.  I do think there was a cultural question at the heart of the election, but I think it is on a much deeper level than stances on specific issues.

    So deep was the question, so fundamental that it seemed like the two campaigns were talking past each other.  Romney ran a campaign of leadership and issues.  Obama ran a campaign that was about, well, Obama.  Romney sought to differentiate himself from Obama on the issues of the day.  Obama chose to paint himself as the “good guy” and Romney as the “bad guy.”  Team Obama pledged early that they would have to personalize the election because they knew they did not have the issues in their favor.  But there is something about Obama’s personality and how they executed the campaign that made this more than simply a political strategy.

    The personal seems to deeply ingrained in all that Obama does, including his current governance.  The month of May, but five months into his second term, has seen Obama pretty much on the ropes.  Daniel Henninger:

    Tuesday’s meandering mess of a news conference exposed that his first term’s permanent campaign—attempting to reframe all issues to maximize him and minimize his opposition—is going to be inappropriate for the only thing Mr. Obama has got now: a mere American presidency.

    Whether Roosevelt, Nixon, Bill Clinton or George W. Bush, every second-term president must in time come to grips with the reality that it can’t be about just his agenda or just him. It, the presidency, is unavoidably about offering clear leadership for all the American people and a watching, always unsettled world. If Barack Obama insists it’s about something else, everyone, including him, will have their bags packed for a long 40 months.

    Peggy Noonan:

    Republicans don’t oppose him any less after his re-election, and Democrats don’t seem to support him any more. This week he was reduced to giving a news conference in which he said he’s got juice, reports of his death are greatly exaggerated. It was bad. And he must be frustrated because he thinks he’s trying. He gives speeches, he gives interviews, he says words, but he doesn’t really rally people, doesn’t create a wave that breaks over the top of the Capitol Dome and drowns the opposition, or even dampens it for a moment.

    Mr. Obama’s problem isn’t really the Republicans. It’s that he’s supposed to be popular. He’s supposed to have some sway, some pull and force. He was just re-elected. He’s supposed to have troops. “My bill is launched, unleash the hounds of war.” But nobody seems to be marching behind him. Why can’t he rally people and get them to press their congressmen and senators? I’m not talking about polls, where he hovers in the middle of the graph, but the ability to wield power.

    I think the key phrase in all those words is Noonan’s, “Democrats don’t seem to support him any more.”  “I’m a good guy, he’s a bad guy,” is as old as politics.  What is so startlingly different about Obama more than any other preceding player of that game is that a) Obama did not set it aside when it came time to govern, and b) enough people bought it to re-elect him even after four years of non-governance.

    These two factors were able to coalesce and function this time because of the rise of identity politics, and specifically the politics of race and religion.

    Race has become the thing that no one wants to talk about, but everyone is thinking about fromt eh 2012 election, and the 2008 for that matter.  An important fact emerged just recently:

    The Associated Press is out with a study of the 2012 election concluding that the black voter turnout rate exceeded the white turnout rate for the first time. It’s almost certainly true that black turnout was higher than white turnout last fall — but that also was true in 2008.

    Using census data and exit polling, the AP found that black voters were 13 percent of the electorate even though they make up only 12 percent of the population. White voters represented 72 percent of the electorate, outperforming their 71.1 percent share of the population, but not to the same degree they have in past elections. The total percent of voters in each ethnic group who turned out is not included. Census data on voter turnout will be released in May.

    Racial identity was a key player in this game – make no mistake.  And therefore it needs to be discussed.  The stats are out there, everybody knows them, they just are not discussed in polite company.  Although Michael Barone must be applauded for doing so recently in the pages of the Wall Street JournaL

    What helped the Republicans more than redistricting was the tendency of Democratic voters to be clustered in black, Hispanic and “gentry liberal” neighborhoods in major metropolitan areas. This clustering has produced huge majorities that have made many large and medium-size states safely Democratic at the presidential level.

    Even now I am hesitant to hit on this point too hard.  Rather, I am going to assume everybody more or less knows the story and I am going to comment on it.

    The thing that is most disturbing about the role of racial identity in the elections of both 2008 and 2012 is how utterly racist it really was.  I am not just talking about the “reverse racism” of blacks voting for blacks because they are black.  Rather I am talking about that line from Noonan, “Democrats don’t seem to support him any more.”  Democrats, in  a significant part elected Barack Obama because he is black, but once they have accomplished that goal, they have abandoned him.  Part of that is his lack of leadership, but part of it is they fact that all they really cared about was that he was black, and once elected twice, they had made their point and moved on.  Is that not the deepest definition of racism? – When all you see is someone’s color?

    This may backfire on them.  Said Peter Beinert recently:

    The point is that liberals need to realize that Democrats aren’t immune from racism. In politics, bigotry isn’t always connected to ideology; sometimes it simply stems from opportunism. And with more minority Republicans seeking high office, Democrats will have more opportunities in the years to come. Dick Harpootlian’s slur against Nikki Haley offers liberals the chance to show that Democrats won’t get away with it.

    Perhaps it is a trite point that the party which runs on civil rights so often is the most deeply racist, but it is here so clearly illustrated that it simply must be looked at.  But this too is an old story, race has been deeply ingrained in the politics of this nation almost since its founding.  From the North/South compromises of the Founding to the Civil War to the Civil Rights movement, race is a big part of who we are.  American is after all an attempt to forge a nation out of something different.  Prior to the United States, nations were accidents of geography and ethnicity.  We, for the first time tried to forge a nation from different stuff.  We tried to forge a nation out of ideas because we were virtually unlimited geographically and massively diverse ethnically.  It must be remembered that the small regional differences (both European and American) that now seem inconsequential to us were enormous gaps at that time.

    Prior to the United States, nations formed around men.  A leader that rallied a group.  The United States on the other hand was to be “A nation of laws, not men.”  The QuotationsBook web site attributes this phrase to John Adams as follows:

    JOHN ADAMS, Novanglus Papers, no. 7.The Works of John Adams, ed. Charles Francis Adams, vol. 4, p. 106 .Adams published articles in 1774 in the Boston, Massachusetts, Gazette using the pseudonym Novanglus. In this paper he credited James Harrington with expressing the idea this way. Harrington described government as the empire of laws and not of men in his 1656 work, The Commonwealth of Oceana, p. 35 . The phrase gained wider currency when Adams used it in the Massachusetts Constitution, Bill of Rights, article 30 .Works, vol. 4, p. 230.

    It seems the battle to maintain America is, at root, a battle to maintain this ideal.  Yet it is an ideal that even lefties like Beinart are beginning to see us abandon.  Such is the price of the politics that Obama chose to play in the general election of 2012.  But race was not the only identity factor that Obama played on in 2012.  There was also religion.  Obama in his “evolution” to the support of same-sex marriage, created a battle of the religious against the “non-religious” as a sub-text of the campaign.   A sub-text that rang the Mormon bell without having to overtly talk about it, thus not only energizing a good but of his base, but setting the Republican base at odds with itself.  But this is the topic for the next post or two in this series.

    One thing that is very important to note here is that Obama was setting the tone of the campaign throughout.  Gov. Romney assumed, most of us believed rightly, that his competence would so outshine this sort of identity pandering that he would carry the day.  Clearly such was not the case.  That is a serious messaging problem – one that must be addressed by those far more adroit at such things than I.  I’ll focus on what I know best – religion and politics.

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    Telling the 2012 Story – Part One – The Standard Stuff

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 04:34 pm, April 23rd 2013     &mdash      1 Comment »

    The Republican losses in the 2012 general election were some of the most disheartening in memory.   Especially disheartening, particularly for this blog, was the loss in the presidential election.  This disappointment was heightened in that it was very unexpected.  “After all,” we all thought, “the president is doing such a bad job, the American people will obviously vote him out.”  Measured as popular vote it really wasn’t even that close.  If viewed through the lens of the electoral college it was a very near thing; not all that many votes in a few very key states is all that told the tale.  But few people, especially media people, in the post Bush v Gore era pay much attention to the electoral college result.

    Given that the vote seemed and still seems so contra previous understanding of good old American commonsense, one is forced to question if there has not been a fundamental change in the nation:

    • Does the nation now, in majority, hold to the government forced redistribution of wealth?
    • Does the nation REALLY think Obamacare was a good idea? (As opposed to highly partisan legislation forcefully shoved down our throat by parliamentary sleight-of-hand.)
    • Does the nation understand or care about the constitutional limits of governmental power?
    • Does the nation care about the constitution?
    • Have the social issues (abortion, same-sex marriage) finally and totally been lost?
    • Is religion of value to the nation anymore?
    • Is religious freedom dead?

    Needless to say I could go on with many more questions.  These have all been summed up in a question that has been asked over and over and over again,  “Has the culture finally and fully changed?”

    Yet, if one examines history one finds that “good old American commonsense,” the culture if you will, has shifted this radically in the past.  Obama has, especially early in his presidency worked pretty hard to make Americans think that the economic downturn in which he took power was “the worst since the great depression.”  That, to this observer’s eye, very much accounts for the electoral patterns that we saw in the last election.  After all, FDR managed to get re-elected and re-elected again when his policies were exacerbating and prolonging the Great Depression significantly.  One need only read Amity Shlaes’ marvelous “The Forgotten Man” to come to understand this fact intimately.

    There is, seemingly, political magic in hard times for a politician willing to use them.  The magic lies in maintaining a feeling of helplessness in the nation and then offering to help them out.  It is a deep psychological  ploy something like Münchausen syndrome by proxy or it is certainly an effort to turn the nation into co-dependents.  It is this sort of deep psychology that has caused people to wonder about the culture.  After all, there really was no political means by which the FDR stranglehold could be broken.  The war broke it – an event so large and so staggering that it changed the culture out from under the Democrats.

    Since the time of FDR, we have tried on a couple of occasions to slip back into that deep funk (certainly Carter and to some extent LBJ), but when the world smacked us in the face, we pulled back from the brink.

    But before we wander too far into the psychological roots of the election, there were some mechanical factors at play as well.  Most widely reported upon were:

    The Tech Effects

    Three articles tell the tale of the great battle between Orca and Narwhal:

    These stories have largely disappeared into the woodwork.  They have done for several reasons.  Firstly, subsequent developments have placed this specific concern into a larger context – that’ll be the next section of this post.  Secondly, this is really tall weeds kind of stuff and most people are just not that interested.  The final reason is that this story illustrate just how tight this election really was the the Obama-adoring MSM wants to paint the picture of an overwhelming mandate for their guy.

    This last reason deserves a little more discussion.  This tech stuff is basically the latest incarnation of GOTV efforts.  GOTV efforts work because the nation really is closely divided.  If the nation were overwhelmingly for Obama, no amount of GOTV effort would have been able to make a difference  There simply would not be enough Romney votes out there to drive to the polls to change the outcome.  As we move forward it is very important that we understand just how close this election really was.

    Efforts to paint this election as an overwhelming victory for Obama is part of an effort to create the impression that the nation really has turned a cultural corner – thus granting momentum to the efforts to get it around that corner, and destroying hope for those of us that do not wish it to do so.  That’s why this story is so very important – but for some computer glitches this presidential election could have gone the other way.

    Nonetheless, this technical issue was part of -

    The Larger Context

    The RNC has done a thorough and complete postmortem that it is keeping largely private.  The best synopsis I have read was at The Weekly Standard:

    Chairman Reince Priebus ran through a five-point “action plan” for moving the party forward. It’s a plan, Priebus said, of “bold strokes” that shows the GOP is “done with business as usual.” Per the recommendations of an internal review of “what went wrong” in 2012, the RNC will be working to improve in five areas: “messaging, demographic partners, campaign mechanics, technology, and the primary process.”

    Note that technology is one of those areas of concern, as just discussed.  But the other four areas are just as important.  Again, The Weekly Standard reasonable job of wrapping things in a nutshell, quoting Priebus heavily:

    Among the problems is the perception that the party is “narrow-minded,” “out of touch,” and “stuffy old men.” Also, rich and (reading between the lines) white. Those findings came from a focus group, Priebus said, and showed how poorly Republicans have communicated their principles. In addition, the party’s not seen as inclusive for people with other viewpoints. “Our 80 percent friend is not our 20 percent enemy,” as Priebus put it.

    That perception is a large part of the psychological ploy that was eluded to earlier. and it is a nice segue into the discussing the psychological issues in more detail – which we will take up in the next post in this series.

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    A Scholarly Look at Romney 2008 and Religion; the Huckster – Noise and Fury Signifying Little; and more…

    Posted by: Lowell Brown at 09:32 am, July 1st 2010     &mdash      3 Comments »

    John and I feel somewhat validated – but not at all surprised – by this report of a scholar’s analysis of Romney and religion in the 2008 presidential election cycle.

    The paper, entitled “Mitt Romney’s Religion: A Five Factor Model for Analysis of Media Representation of Mormon Identity,” appeared in the May issue of The Journal of Media and Religion. This paragraph will bring a smile to those who’ve followed this blog for a while:

    For many, the combination of Mormonism and Romney’s ‘flip-flops’ on many hot-button issues gave reason to oppose him. Conservative activist Brian Camenker’s report on Romney’s shifting positions gave ammunition to conservatives to withdraw support from Romney. Vanderbilt University researchers found Romney’s flip-flopper label was an easy cover for anti-Mormonism. In the end, it was the rise of Huckabee and the political primaries in the evangelical-dominated South that derailed Romney’s bid for the presidency. For many, Romney’s run represented a misguided attempt to curry the favor of evangelicals.

    That almost makes me think Professor Baker is also a regular reader here. ;) (Seriously, with this paper she has moved to the top of my list of “People I’d Like to Have Lunch With.”)

    Here is the article abstract from The Journal of Media and Religion (it costs $30 to see the entire piece):

    Mitt Romney’s religion accounted for 50% of all religion-related presidential primary campaign stories in 2007, and 30% of Romney’s total media coverage focused on his Mormon faith. This article reviews that coverage and considers it within the larger historical context of the complex relationship between media and Mormonism throughout the 180-year history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. A factorial model (the first in the area of Mormon Media Studies) is proposed by which to document and analyze the wider societal influences that are reflected in media representation of Mormon identity. The model’s 5 factors include the media, the Mormons, other religions, secular influences, and politics/government. The model assumes an interrelationship among the five factors. Factor influence and relationships among factors vary according to time, issue, and circumstance. The model relates to informational (not entertainment) media. Suggestions are made for application of the model to academic studies.

    As I jokingly note above, we documented and analyzed all of this as it occurred.  If you’re interested and want to save $30, be sure to read our “Telling The Story” series for our version of this same tale, minus the Smoot comparisons, which we examined in our five-part series reviewing and commenting on Kathleen Flake’s book “The Politics of American Religious Identity.”  You may recall that Flake’s book was about the Smoot seating hearings.  You can find our posts about that here - hereherehere and here.

    John Jumps On Board…

    ..Because The Huckabee “boomlet” has become a “Boom?!”

    In the words of Jacob McCandles when confronted with rumors of his death: “Not hardly.“  Here’s how this went down.  Huckabee did Fox News Sunday last Sunday.  If you read the transcript, this is what he says:

    I haven’t closed the door. I think that would be foolish on my part, especially when poll after poll shows that there is strong sentiment out there. I end up leading a lot of the polls. I’m the Republican that clearly, at this point, does better against Obama than any other Republican. You know, I’m not totally unaware of that.

    At which point the MSM and leftie blogs went ape – The HillHuffPoPolitics DailyThe FixUSAToday – one very right wing outlet sounded the trumpets – News Max.  His home town paper was a bit less impressed.

    Let’s analyze what’s really happening here.  Fox commentator Huckabee appears on FNS in a short segment.  That sounds more like a promotional appearance than a serious interview to me.  The idea was to generate some heat for Huckabee’s show and based on the coverage, I think they got it.  Secondly, Huckabee is prone to exaggerated claims.  He still claims to have finished “second” in the 2008 primary race despite the fact the delegate count, and his speaking slot at the convention, clearly indicate to the contrary, even though he stayed in the race far longer than the actual second place finisher – Romney.

    Huckabee is a media guy now – he has speaking fees to maintain, and his bread-and-butter constituency is not what it used to be.  The Huckster needs the possibility of a run to continue to make a living.  And of course, the MSM and non-team players are always willing to stir the pot on our side.

    There’s a lot of coverage here, but no meat on the bones.  Call me when Huck’s fundraising gets better and he loses at least 60 pounds, until then its all posturing for ratings and fees.

    UPDATE (7 hours after initial publication)Told ya so! I am neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet….  Back to the initial post.

    And Speaking of Lefties Doing Some Pot Stirring…

    What do you think Marc Ambinder is up to with this piece?  [Lowell interjectsI do not like his suggestion that Iowa and New Hampshire just be allowed to go ahead with their February primaries.   Why should those two quirky, small states, whose voting is so easily manipulated, be allowed to set the tone for the entire campaign?]

    Mormon Stuff…

    This is silly, and discriminatory – CNBC covering “Mormon” business.  Most business school graduates prefer to hire grads of the same business school,  Nothing to see here.

    This is just great read.  Would that other forms of Christianity were as open minded.

    Here’s another one with idiot commenters.  Why someone has to turn that story into a religio-political comment is beyond.

    General Religion Stuff…

    This is so utterly simplistic as to be annoying.  (In fact it is self-contradictory, but it is not worth the effort to demonstrate that fully here.)  One can judge a candidate’s character, or stance on issues, without reference to religion.  Religion does indeed influence those things, but it is not wholly determinative.  When you drag religion into it, it indeed starts to get about “us” and “them” instead of about the issues at hand.  And that leads to unnecessary conflict.

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    Telling The Story – Part V – ‘Stuck In The Middle With You’

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:00 am, January 29th 2010     &mdash      2 Comments »

    It is time for the next installment in our “Telling The Story” series wherein we try to review the primaries in ’08 as they relate to Mitt Romney’s candidacy and its relationship to his religion.  We have looked at the basic primary narrative, the bad actors on the left, and the bad actors on the right.  But who were the “good guys” in all this? – Were there any?  What even constitutes a good guy in a situation like this?

    We need to start with the proposition that there was an essential prejudice against Romney because of his Mormon faith.  Not all of it is anti-Mormon bigotry either.  For people of the left, Mormons are  viewed, essentially, as über-Christians.  That is to say that Mormons represent all the bad things about religious people in general (“sexual repression,” “lack of creativity,” insert your tired and untrue cliche here) taken way more seriously than even normal religious people take them.  This is the sort of “Oh, my gosh – Mormons really believe this stuff!” category.

    For people on the right, at least those who are not predisposed to declare all Mormons headed for hell right now, Mormons are just “weird.”  Even amongst the more reasonable there is just this sense that “Mormons believe strange things.”

    The Good Guys

    In light of that, can someone be said to be a “good guy” by simply ignoring religion in the campaign altogether?  Back in July of ’07 we contended that acknowledging the prejudices we just mentioned and then designing our political decisions in avoidance of them amounted to enabling bigotry.  Could simply ignoring the existence of those prejudices, without confronting them, amount to the same thing?  Must prejudice be directly confronted to be done away with?  The answer, frankly, is in how one “ignores” them.

    The Campaigners

    For purposes of this post, to be considered a “good guy” someone has to have been actively involved in confronting the prejudices and bigotries that were present in the campaign.  That confrontation took two distinctive forms.  The first, and most easily identifiable, were people, particularly religious non-Mormons, who directly supported Mitt Romney’s candidacy.  All such people by example, and many by argument, stood in the face of the prejudices and bigotries, looked them dead in the eye, and said, “No!”  We will call this group “The Campaigners.”

    The Principled

    The other form of such confrontation is much harder to pin down.  Many people, especially people in positions of religious leadership, do not, as a matter of principle, endorse candidates.  Such people can speak out, however, against religious bigotries.  This is a very sharp edge along which to walk.  To decry bigotry against those who are suffering deep bigotry is, seemingly, to endorse those people.  Thus in 2007-08, those decrying bigotry against Romney took the risk of appearing to endorse Romney, and violating their principles against endorsement.  We will call this group of people “The Principled.”

    Many people similarly have a difficult time making the distinction between speaking out against religious bigotry and endorsing the religion that is the object of the bigotry.  I find myself personally often accused of thinking Mormon doctrine is “correct” because of my eventual support of Romney, and my longstanding fight against bigotry aimed at him.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  In the interest of preserving my friendships with Mormons, I do not speak of it often, but Mormon doctrine is distinctly aberrant to my way of thinking.  But that fact does not preclude Mormons from a place in the public square.  Should I ever differ with my Mormon friends on a policy matter we will do political battle in the finest traditions of the American political system.  Which means we will argue the merits of the situation, we will not sling accusations of religious mind-muddling at each other.

    What Went Wrong?

    The list of names we have assembled as “good guys” is impressive, a virtual “Who’s Who” of religious right activism.  And yet clearly they were not nearly as effective as one would hope.  Before we sing their praises, we need to devote a few paragraphs to their failings. This list should have meant an almost automatic win.  What went wrong?

    Two factors seem most salient.  Number one, the depth of anti-Mormon prejudice was grossly underestimated.  This is not unreasonable because the mainstays of that prejudice are not typically politically active.  The average political consultant and religion watcher are not going to have this group on their radar.

    Which brings us to the second factor: New media.  It gave this “off the radar” group a platform for both voice and organization.  We made the case early in this series that Mike Huckabee was the spoiler for Romney and Huckabee ran, in a very real sense, a “virtual” campaign.  Operating practically without budget and with a grassroots organization to-speak-of only in Iowa, Huckabee relied heavily on the Internet.   We have previously discussed the heinous nature of comments that found their way to the Huckster’s official campaign web site.  That web site is now gone, and what remains is “unofficial,” but when you combine it with the anti-establishment sentiment that has come to the fore at formerly great conservative sites like Free Republic and Red State, it is clear that the Republican party in general, and Mitt Romney in particular, need to formulate an effective, highly active, and well-funded new media operation, or else the party runs the risk of being rendered ineffective, or – more likely -  hostage to its own extremes, which is the situation the Democrats now find themselves in.

    So, who are the “good guys?”  We’ll look at them in the groups we previously defined.

    Some of the Campaigners

    Hugh Hewitt - Do we really need to talk about Hugh Hewitt on this blog?  He’s why Lowell and I are here and his encouragement of and friendship with us is the base on which we stood when we started.  Hugh wrote THE book on the Romney/religion issue (we interviewed Hugh on the release of that book here) as well as being downright prophetic in another book about the role new media would play in politics generally.  Hugh did C-Span on the issues at hand.

    Hugh has said in speeches we have heard that he underestimated the anti-Mormon forces that came into play in the campaign.  He had thought that those forces were far enough removed from the mainstream that they would be relegated to a sideshow for the press.  Perhaps by the time he got to this issue, he had forgotten the lessons of his prophetic book on blogging, which had come out several years earlier?  But regardless of having missed that call to some extent, Hugh more than almost anyone else saw the issue of religion as it related to the Romney campaign.

    We stretch things a bit in calling Hugh a “campaigner.”  He did not formally endorse a candidate until it was time for him to cast his own vote in the California primary, via absentee ballot, several weeks before Super Tuesday.  Hugh was also the primary example of fighting the prejudice without necessarily endorsing the candidate.  Which brings up an interesting issue.  Virtually none of Talk Radio endorsed in the primaries.  They refrain from doing so for practical reasons.  They want all the candidates to appear on their shows throughout the campaign; if they endorse, they run the risk of alienating and losing the interview(s).  Yet, on the day before Super Tuesday almost all of conservative Talk Radio sounded dangerously close to endorsing Romney – Bill Bennett – Laura Ingraham – Sean Hannity – Dennis Prager – even Rush Limbaugh himself – not to mention the hundred of others out there with local or smaller audiences – all emphasized with great zeal the advantages of Romney over McCain.

    Talk Radio walks a fine line between information and activism and one wonders what the future holds in terms of endorsements for this bunch.  Formal endorsements earlier in the game could have made a huge difference in the outcome.  In the new media age of niche marketing, endorsements might not be as alienating as typically thought.  Certainly they could be more active in fighting the prejudice without endorsing the candidate.

    In Talk Radio, Hugh Hewitt led the way regarding this issue.

    “Evangelicals for Mitt” – David and Nancy French and Charles Mitchell ran this aptly named blog and frankly garnered the lion’s share of the “whom to call when you want to write a story” action as the MSM tried to cover the issue.  As such they probably had the largest profile, other than the aforementioned Hugh Hewitt, on this issue.  David French as a regular contributor to National Review had a particularly high profile, only enhanced by his service in Iraq during a significant portion of the campaign.  We did an interview with David and Nancy that was never published due to any number of failures on our part.

    What was most fascinating to watch was that they covered the campaign largely as any normal  political blog would.  They freely acknowledged that Mormons were quite different in their beliefs than traditional Christians and argued a “big so what.”  Then they went about covering the campaign.  In some ways it was a very different approach than the one we took here, but to analyze that in depth would definitely take us into the tall grass and outside the main thrust of this piece.

    What matters most, though, is that there were few of us in the new media that tackled this issue head on and EFM was one of the few and one of the effective.  As we have said, new media mattered a lot on this issue.  If will be interesting to watch New Media’s role as things move forward.  EFM as a site is still occasionally active, and we hope it will become increasingly so.  The name alone is worth gold.  It would be great to see it become the kind of on-line community center that we saw develop in the anti-Mormon forces.

    Mark DeMoss – When it comes to public relations among Christian organizations and in Evangelical circles, Mark DeMoss is THE MAN.  His DeMoss Group handles the PR for everything from PromiseKeepers to Franklin Graham’s Christmas Gift Child operation.  Mark went to Mitt Romney early in the process and told him, as Mark describes it in our interview with him:

    I said, “I’d like to help you.  I’m not a political consultant but I do know this evangelical world pretty well.  So, I would like to help you.  And secondly, I am not for hire.  You can’t pay me.  Now or ever.”  And that was a beginning of a friendship and a respect that we have for each other now.

    Mark’s initial action was to set up a meeting for Romney with a number of highly placed and influential Evangelical leaders.  Then throughout the campaign Mark served to make introductions, provide advice, and do whatever else he could to help Mitt Romney get elected.  Mark was a “campaigner” for Romney in the truest sense of the word and he stood on the front lines of the campaign in the Evangelical world.  Mark was very succinct when he said (again in our interview with him):

    I think this has really become a passion of mine of late, and that is, what got me interested in this particular man to begin with was this conventional wisdom that actually a national religion reporter posed to me, a year and a half ago and that was in the form of a question:  Did I think evangelicals could ever support a Mormon?  Or did I think a candidate’s being Mormon would automatically disqualify him from considerations by evangelicals?

    And that really bothered me.  That whole mindset troubled me.  So I began to look into Mitt Romney and his life and his record and everything I could find out about him.  And I finally reached this conclusion, and that was, to ask whether I could support a Mormon is the wrong question.  I think the question should be: Could I support this Mormon, this particular Mormon.

    That about sums it up as well as it can be summed up.

    Wayne Grudem – is a highly noted and influential Evangelical Theologian.   He came as perhaps the most significant of traditional Christian endorsements that came Mitt Romney’s way around the fall of ’07 Values Voter Summit.   (Some of the links in that piece are broken, you can hear Hugh Hewitt’s interview with him, if you are a “Hughinverse” subscriber, here.)  Grudem matters more than many of the other endorsement precisely because he was not a “leader” in the political or ecclesiastical sense, but because he was a theologian.

    When people talk about the differences between Mormons and traditional Christians it always ends up focusing on the theology, because frankly, that is the only significant difference.  Grudem’s endorsement said almost nothing about theology and a lot about political and organizational savvy and a lot about values  – placing theology in a proper perspective, something only a  theologian can do, when it comes to electing presidents.

    The fact that Grudem’s endorsement, along with so many others, did nothing to really move polls, or even the straw poll at the Values Voters Summit, remains one of the more fascinating facts of that campaign.  It says, at least in part, that the Evangelical world can be divided into a couple of distinct groups – those that use religion as a political tool and those that use politics as a religious tool.  For the former group, a proper understanding of the place of theology did not matter, what mattered was being able to use theology as a tool to help their candidate or eliminate one they do not like.  For the latter group, theology was placed in its proper perspective and did not matter much as the campaign proceeded.

    In the category of “might have beens,” it would have been great to see someone like Grudem enter into the countless debates about “what Mormons believe” that occurred around the Internet, or at least have his work up earlier and an army of people quoting it in those discussion.  The recurring mantra, “Yes, but this theologian says it is immaterial as to whom to vote for,” could have had an interesting effect.

    But we get a bit ahead of ourselves.  Evangelical leadership, particularly political leadership, is examined in detail and pretty much as a group in our next entry in the list of “good guys.”

    Jay Sekulow/James Bopp/Gary Marx – The campaign’s Faith and Values Steering Committee – As we have eluded to, Romney was backed by most of the big names in Christian political activism.  They coalesced into his campaign’s “Faith and Values Steering Committee.”   (Please note that link is to leftie coverage of the formation of the committee – a fact to which we will return in a moment.)  Heading the group were the three names just cited: Jay Sekulow,  Chief Counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice; Gary Marx, Executive Director of the Judicial Conformation Network; and James Bopp, probably the preeminent anti-abortion attorney in the nation.  Also on the committee were names like Lou Sheldon, Matt Spaulding, Barbara Comstock and groups like the Alliance Defense Fund and Citizens for Traditional Values were represented.  These people worked hard to elect Mitt Romney and the fact that in the end Romney was not successful has more to do with the state of religious activism in politics than it does with their extraordinary efforts.

    There are three things to note about this group, aside from their outstanding credentials.  First, they are lawyers or judicially active, not necessarily legislatively active.  Secondly, they garnered little press save from the lefties, as we noted above.  Finally, they did not bring much in the way of grassroots Evangelicalism along with them.  This is worthy of a bit of discussion.

    The fact of the matter is that most of the “action” with regards to the erosion of traditional values in the society is judicial in nature, Roe v. Wade being the classic example.  In light of sweeping court decisions of this type the legislative and executive branches of the government can do little to change things except trim the edges of the law a bit.  Under such circumstances there is little for the average concerned voter to do but send money to guys like these, and the average concerned voter in America likes to do more than write checks.  Romney, in working with this particular group, was typical Romney – he put effectiveness in front of votes, expecting the votes to come when people figured out what he was up to.  This is not something that is going to change – Mitt Romney is who he is.  However, the actions of the current administration are rapidly bringing into focus the value of substance over style, emphasizing that effectiveness is what counts.  Votes should follow.

    People don’t like feeling powerless, something most of us feel when confronted with judicial activism.  Thus powerlessness does not sell papers, and people like those on this committee don’t generate a lot of press.  Court rooms are not dramatic places, unless you see the ones in TV fiction and they have little connection to reality.  There are no polls, no big crowds to take pictures of, argument is done in increments too small for the average person to follow without taking notes.  The fact of the matter is Jay Sekulow may have done more to try to limit or eliminate abortion in this nation than any other single person, but very few people that are not insiders know who he is.  Abortion will only even be able to be made illegal in this nation when Roe v Wade is overturned and that means myriad court cases until a sufficient mass is built to attract the Supreme Court’s attention.  That does not really make good ink, or even electrons.

    The average Evangelical just does not understand this. They want press, they want heat, they want to march in front of abortion clinics and they want something to happen now.  Thus they gravitate to the agitators with media outlets instead the slow and effective types like those represented on Romney’s committee.

    What emerges is an interesting picture.  The “agitators with media outlets” (think James Dobson) did not line up behind Romney because they feared backlash from their constituencies due to the Mormon thing.  This bunch did line up behind him because they knew his effectiveness and they knew it was the best path to actually getting things done.

    There is a political circle here that needs to be broken somehow.  Either Evangelicals need to learn where real effectiveness lies or Romney has got to find a way to attract at least one of the loudmouths.  Better, maybe the loudmouths need to educate their audiences on where genuine change can be made.   This problem does not just apply to Romney; virtually any politician that wants to be effective on these issues faces the same political conundrum.  Romney’s conundrum is complicated by his Mormon faith, but the fundamental misunderstanding of the legal situation with regards to many social issue remains.

    Frankly, this is where new media can have the best positive effect in terms of a potential future Romney run.  As new media gave the bigoted a place to organize, so it can the truly effective.  If I am a Romney political adviser, the Faith and Values Committee of a future campaign is going to have a huge new media presence.

    romneynationalreviewNational Review and NRO – While a diverse group, the heart of National Review is Roman Catholic.  Their endorsement of Romney should have been a much bigger deal to the election than it ended up being – a fact that illustrates that the Mormon issue is, in some ways, less about “being Mormon” and more about “not being Evangelical.”  This endorsement just did not move the polls much.  It likely reflects that Evangelicals were not interested in who was best, but who was most like them.   Since the editors of NR are not like them either, they ignored.

    It would be very interesting to see how things would have worked were there not a candidate in the race who was so much “like them.”  Under such circumstances would Evangelicals have gravitated towards Romney?  My thinking is not likely – they would have stayed home.  Prior to the emergence of the Huckster that seemed to be the handwriting on the wall.  Now, that could very well have resulted in a primary victory for Romney, but would not have boded well for the general.

    In its various online outlets NR covered the religion question to an extent but tended towards straightforward reporting and political analysis.  With a few notable exceptions they did not argue its merits or lack thereof.  This author would have very much liked to have see the formidable intellectual talent that resides there address the issue in deep detail.  But they did fight hard for the Romney candidacy and they did so with a largely religious audience.

    John Mark Reynolds – Dr. Reynolds heads the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University.  In August 2006 he published at his blog what has become the classic apologia for an evangelical Christian voting for a Mormon.  He allowed us to reprint that piece in May of 2007.  He continues to reassert and defend the arguments he put forth then in any venue available to him where the issue arises today.

    On the intellectual level JMR did most of the heavy lifting for the issue of Romney and religion during the entire campaign.  He was in early and he worked hard.  He has not gotten the credit he deserved for a couple of reasons.  For one, those opposed to Romney on religious grounds are generally not of an intellectual bent.  (There are notable exceptions.)  Secondly, since most of the real grunt work of the issue happened in the virtual netherworld of blog post comments, etc., it does not lend itself to the kind of extensive reasoning Dr. Reynold brought to the fore.

    Reynold’s work was largely complete before Grudem’s endorsement, which garnered much more attention.  Grudem is a theologian and Reynolds a philosopher, which also made a big difference in who attracted attention.  But Reynolds work had a “real world” quality to it that should have made it much more effective than it was.  Once again testament to the fact that prejudice is generally about the absence of reason.

    Also, of course, it is testament to the fact that the New Media activity on this issues fell well short of what was needed that Reynold’s work did not spread farther.  Reynold’s work should have been linked, reprinted, discussed and commented upon throughout the online world.   Romney supporters need to get active across the Internet.  See our online activism page for what YOU can do.

    Some of the Principled

    Richard LandDr. Land is essentially the political face of the Southern Baptist Convention, which is the biggest denomination in America today.  As a matter of course Dr. Land does not endorse candidates.  Therefore he never said “vote for Mitt Romney.”  In fact, if one were to look at the uncountable times he was quoted in the press on the issue of Romney’s faith, one would suspect he opposed Romney on religious basis.  But that was just the press at work.  Dr. Land speaks extensively on the issue in the Article VI movie, and that is the only place we saw him quoted at sufficient length to know that he in fact thought it would be fine to vote for Mitt Romney.  It should also be noted that we never attended a Romney event of nationalland scope where Dr. Land was not present.  In fact the photo that appears here is one that Lowell took of Dr. Land at Romney’s “Faith in America” speech in December of 2007.

    Dr. Land did suffer from “theology first” syndrome and whenever he did say it was OK for a Baptist to vote for a Mormon, he lead with the observation that Mormons are heterodox – although he usually used stronger terminology than that.  This, frankly, is why he was so often misrepresented by a press eager to show a problem with Romney and religion.  The quotations never extended beyond the heterodox point, even though Dr. Land routinely went on to put that observation in a broader context.

    It would be very interesting to interview Dr. Land at this point and see if he might not adjust how he makes comments in the future, should Romney elect to run again.  It would be fascinating to have a discussion with him not on Romney per se, but on religious bias generally and the role of religion in the public square.

    Regardless of this singular weakness, Dr. Land supported Mitt Romney’s candidacy as best as the constraints of his position would allow him too.  Even if his presentation was not perfectly honed, Dr. Land did stand for the right of an American of minority faith to stand for election and perhaps win.  And for that he is one of the good guys.

    Charles Chaput – Like Richard Land, Roman Catholic Archbishop (Denver) Charles Chaput does not do candidate endorsements.  But he is probably the most politically visible and active of all the Roman Catholic hierarchy in the United States, and he is staunchly conservative.  He was one of the first and most extensive interviews Hugh Hewitt went after when he did his Romney book.

    Funny, he did not get much press after that.  Probably because he is so identifiably conservative.  When it came to Roman Catholic comment, the press tended to turn to the late Father Richard John Neuhaus who is a bit more politically moderate, and far more “theology first.”

    Regardless, Archbishop Chaput’s comments in the Hewitt book, and his few press comments later in the campaign were right on.  One would think that Roman Catholics, with their long history of suffering similar political bias in America, would have a well formed and unified view of such things.  But the divide between Neuhaus and Chaput demonstrates most likely is that the Roman Catholic church does not have a unified view on much of anything.

    A hypothetical Romney campaign cannot stand “the principled” up because such people do not do endorsement and do not wish to be perceived as Romney, or any other candidate, partisans.  What is a more interesting question is why the cause of anti-religious political bias in politics has not become a movement unto itself.  There is such a clear bias from the left against any religious voice in politics that one would think it would become a cause célèbre amongst the religiously motivated and politically active.  Any such movement would have to defend all religion, not just its own.  And therein, I think lies the problem.  The Lands and Chaputs of the world are far more rare than the people who are interested only in protecting their own religion.  Such a movement just cannot seem to get any traction.

    As I review this list of “good guys,” I am heartened.  Religion was indeed problematic for Romney 2008, but this list of people gives one hope.  They are the smart people – not because they supported Romney directly or indirectly – but because they are the people that do politics, or comment upon it regularly.  They are leaders and opinion makers.  Such talent and ability may not have the instantaneous gratification of pop cultural impact, but it seems to always prevail in the long run.

    As the political ground is shifting under our feet,  as those of us who are religiously motivated and politically active find ourselves increasingly “on the outs,” substance will begin to matter more than flash, and this is a group of much substance.  It gives one hope that regardless of what decision Mitt Romney comes to, there is a good conservative future for America.  People like this cannot help but make it happen.

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    Telling The Story – Part IV – ‘Jokers To The Right’

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:32 am, November 2nd 2009     &mdash      19 Comments »

    As we continue Telling The Story of Romney, religion and Campaign ’08, we turn our attention from the battleground shaping attacks that emanated from the left to those that came from the right.  You will recall that in the narrative of how the primaries went down, Huckabee played the role of spoiler, but he could do so only because the ground work had been laid by pundits, commentators and operatives on both sides of the aisle.

    The attacks from the left were awful, bigoted things.  By analogy, they were sledge hammers.  They lacked any subtlety.  But then they did not need to – the issue was a win-win for the left.  Divide out the most formidable opponent (Romney), therefore weakening him significantly, while painting the rest of the opposition as closed minded and bigoted.

    The story from the right is a very different one.  It is a story of deft strategy, surgical skill, memes that overlapped to become codes, and simple misguided attempts to differentiate too strongly when unity was called for.  With a few notable exceptions, most of the problem on the right was not an attack so much as placing religion and/or religious identity in front of politics.  Most of the problems came not from people who thought Romney’s religion disqualified him, but more from those who just wanted to make sure everyone knew Mormons were not like other Christians (although most such people would not call Mormons “Christian”).  We call this group “religion firsters.”  Probably they never realized that in so doing, they were cutting Romney from the herd, forcing him to have to work so much harder than anyone else to win the electorate’s trust that the task became impossible.

    The people that used the religion issue on the right can be divided into four groups.  The first are those that are not necessarily religious bigots, but were not the least bit opposed to using religious bigotry to reach their own political ends.  The second group are essentially the same but their ends were/are other than political.  The third group are misguided “religion firsters.”  The final group are the outright religious bigots – there were far less of them on the right than there were on the left.

    The reasons the attacks from the right could be far more subtle were twofold.  Firstly, “sledge hammer” attacks would be destructive of the entire right – as they attempted to be from the left.  This is an effort to stay within the boundaries of Ronald Reagan’s 11th Commandment.  Secondly, because the strategic goals of those attacking from the right were very different than the goals of the left, different attacks were called for.  In most cases people attacking Romney for his religion from the right were not doing so in an effort to stop Romney (though undoubtedly some were) as they were in it to try and bolster themselves in some fashion, as a candidate or otherwise.

    Perhaps the biggest problem with many of the attacks from the right was the unwillingness of people to examine carefully what role religion may have played in forming an argument that was overtly non-religious.  The classic example of this is the “flip-flop” charge that played against Romney almost endlessly.  Some of this was rooted in the left wanting to use it against the right in general since it had worked so effectively against John Kerry in 2004.  But something had to be there to make it take hold.  It never really meant much against John Kerry until the now infamous “I actually voted for the 87 billion before I voted against it” sound bite lent an amazing reality to the charge.   Politicians not only do, but in some circumstances must, change positions.  If they didn’t they would not be reading, learning or responding to changing conditions in the nation – a recipe for one-term service.  Changing positions is only a problem if it plays on a deeper mistrust of the candidate.  In Kerry’s case he sounded like a fool  (John Kerry is not foolish by the way, wrong, but not foolish – that is just how he sounded) that could not make up is mind.  In Romney’s case it played on the inherent distrust that many people have for Mormons – a distrust evidenced in the past violently, and now politically.  That distrust got only occasional overt mention (Huckabee’s quip to the NYTimes in Iowa and Joel Belz’ piece we examine below) but that was enough to remind people that “Mormons were not necessarily trustworthy.”  Thus a flip-flop charge resonated where it otherwise might have been written off as standard political banter.

    The word that has most described Romney’s failures in the last cycle in the various postmortems is “inauthentic.”  This too is a word that resonates more with an image of the man than the man himself, and that image is formed, as we documented in the last post in this series, by a press that relentlessly made sure the thing most associated with Mitt Romney was his Mormon faith.  “Inauthentic” is a good word – it covers the flip-flop thing – it covers the “too perfect” charge – and it all resonates because people just have a hard time believing that Mormons are really the way they are.  (Aging myself, I have a large collection of Donny and Marie jokes that date back to the ’70′s and all play on the apparent “inauthenticity” of that family.)

    How much do those stereotypes play into people’s voting?  Well, only the individual can answer ultimately.  However, There was one study out of Vanderbilt University that indicated they were important.

    Bias against Mitt Romney’s religion is one of the reasons that the tag “flip-flopper” sticks with the former Massachusetts governor but not his Republican opponents, according to Vanderbilt political scientist John Geer. “There is no question that Romney has changed his positions on some issues, but so have some of the other candidates,” Geer said. “Why does the label stick to Romney but not his opponents? At least some of the answer lies in Romney’s Mormon beliefs.”

    Geer and colleagues Brett Benson of Vanderbilt and Jennifer Merolla of Claremont Graduate University designed an Internet survey to assess bias against Mormons, how best to combat it and its potential impact on the nomination process and general election campaign.

    “We find that of those who accuse Romney of flip-flopping, many admit it is Romney’s Mormonism and not his flip-flopping that is the real issue,” Benson said. “Our survey shows that 26 percent of those who accuse Romney of flip-flopping also indicate that Mormonism, not flip-flopping, is their problem with Romney.” Benson noted that the pattern is especially strong for conservative Evangelicals. According to the poll, 57 percent of them have a bias against Mormons.

    Twenty-six percent is more than enough to alter the results of a primary.  We torture ourselves when we want to vote against an African-American candidate; we take to sackcloth and ashes to make sure we vote for, or against, the man, not the color.  Yet when it came to the Mormon candidate, it just seems like too many were unwilling to enter into those same levels of self-examination.  Thus the quip, or even the mere distinction, could be the weapon of choice.  And sadly, it worked with at least enough people to prevent Romney from winning the 2008 Republican nomination.

    So, who were the bigots, who were the quippers and who were the distinguishers?

    Religious Bigots

    Genuine bigotry was actually pretty hard to come by on the right hand side of the aisle.  But there were a few –

    John McCain’s mother – They only let her out in public once, but when they did, she embarrassed her son to the point where he had to deny her viewpoint immediately, on live television.  You can see the video at the link preceding – it was on Hardball with Chris Matthews.  This incident disappeared as fast as it appeared and in the end it was of little consequence.  McCain’s immediate move away from the comment was an astute political maneuver, and kept this from becoming a major issue.   Nonetheless, it was a brief and revealing glimpse into the world of anti-Mormon bigotry that is out there.

    Joel Belz – Mr. Belz, founder and Editor -in-Chief of the influential evangelical magazine, World, put to pen the bigotries that inhabit the hearts of at least enough to affect the outcome of a national election.  His now infamous op-ed appeared in November of ’07 (subscription required)  The heart of his argument is truly troubling:

    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.

    In other words, “Mormons lie.”  We have refuted this argument time and again on this blog and will not endeavor to do so again in this piece, it’s purpose is different.  What we have not examined was Belz attempt, in the next issue of his magazine to justify his very below the belt attack.

    Indeed, his very thoughtfulness makes me want to be very careful when I raise the question: How does a person’s Mormonism affect his or her possible role as president of the United States?

    But just because I’m obliged to ask the question carefully doesn’t mean I’m out of bounds in asking the question. I applauded when Romney stressed: “[Some] would prefer it if I would simply distance myself from my religion, say that it is more a tradition than my personal conviction, or disavow one or another of its precepts. That I will not do.” Nor should he; that is part of his personal character.

    But this integral and holistic nature of the person is also exactly what makes it not just right, but necessary, to ask—even in detail—just how what this man believes “religiously” affects all the rest of his behavior.

    So it’s not bigotry for Americans to ask of Mormons they know: “Why so secretive? Why the necessity to hide so much?” One of the hallmarks of the historic Christian faith—as opposed to some of the cults it has spun off—is its eagerness to say: “Check us out! We may have embarrassing moments in our past, but we have no secrets.” We’re like Jesus saying to Thomas: “Feel the nail prints. Thrust your hand into my side!”

    I am going to sound very much like a civil rights attorney here, but this justification for bigotry is bigoted on its face.  It presumes a view of religion and its effects on a person and their character that is distinctly evangelical, and one that another religion may not, and many do not, share.  I will not speak for Mormons on this matter, that is for them to do, but what I will say is that we cannot measure another religion by our religion’s yardstick.  Needless to say, no religion other than our own will “measure up” under such circumstance.

    That, frankly, is the entire point.  We have to take people as they present themselves, unless we can show them to be liars in fact.  Presumptions, based on other factors including religion, are the definition of prejudice.  No other word but bigotry can possible apply.  What you see here, placed into stark words and print is the intellectual roots that underlie the results of the Vanderbilt study cited above.  Such logic will inevitably lead us down a path where no one but ourselves, since only ourselves can possible “measure up,” will be suitable for office.  That’s something beyond libertarianism – that’s chaos.

    Using Religious Bigotry To Achieve Political Ends

    Cindi Mosteller – Ms. Mosteller was a McCain person in 2000, and her allegiances were unclear when she launched her religion attack on Romney in September of 2006, but she ended up working formally for Fred Thompson.  By the time Romney left the election, this tiny vignette seemed tame by comparison, but at the time it was big news around here.

    At an executive meeting of the South Carolina Republican Committee (a private affair, we must note), Mosteller “cornered” Romney about polygamy and  Mormon attitudes on race.  There are two things to note in the confrontation itself.  First, somehow, this exchange, which occurred in the context of a private meeting, made it into the political press, and Mosteller was clearly the one that took it there; she is quoted directly.  Secondly, her “issues” with Mormonism were rooted decades, even centuries, in the Mormon past.

    When you combine that with Mosteller’s past of being a paid staffer for McCain and that she ended up being one for Thompson in the ’08 cycle, it seems clear that her objective here was either to back her presumed future employer (McCain) or alternately establish her credentials with some candidate other than Romney.  Either way, she wanted headlines and was not afraid to use the “Mormon issue,” even if extraordinarily ignorantly so, to get them.

    She was heard from a few times after that as things proceeded, but by that time, she had little impact – everybody had figured out her game.  What she did do, however, was illustrate that the effectiveness of the Mormon issue played not in somehow proven Mormonism to be a problem for Romney, but rather by simply using it as a wedge between Romney and others.  She did not really “lay a glove” on Romney, but she did make it known, in a manner similar to Huckbee’s NYTimes comment before the caucus’, that it was OK to be suspicious.

    Using Religious Bigotry to Achieve Other Ends

    Mike Huckabee – It was quite difficult to decide whether to put Huckabee into this category or the one to achieve political ends.  In the end the distinction comes down to how seriously one thinks he takes his own candidacy.  Huckabee’s behavior in the 2008 primary clearly indicated that he was after something other than the nomination.  What it was  we may never know, and whatever it is might indeed be political in nature, but given that he ended up on TV and not in politics in any direct fashion, and that he seems to put his personal income in front of political goals, this category seems most appropriate.

    We have thoroughly documented Huckabee and his shenanigans in the post linked by his name here.  But one thing we have not discussed is the tolerance his campaign’s web site showed for comments that were personal, vindictive, bigoted, hate filled, not to mention discriminatory.  All traces of the web site have disappeared.  We cannot find even a Google cache.  But you can get a basic idea if you go to web sites like this one.  This site features pieces written by notable Huckabee supporters – so you do the math.

    That the world has haters in it is undeniable.  That presidential candidates of any stripe tolerate such people on their web sites in unconscionable.  Suppose the Obama site tolerated comments about how “Whitey just wants to keep the black folk down,” or McCain’s site had comments like, “We can’t let a n&^%%$ in the White House (unless he’s serving coffee.)”  How long before the press crushed either of those candidates?

    I’ll even bet a few such comments made it into the approval queues of those sites, but no one let them through – we’d have heard about it.  Huckabee, of course, talks about his lack of staff for such things as comment approval, which only proves the point that he had no chance of winning and was in the race for other reasons.  Any candidate that had an actual shot would have had sufficient staff for such an exercise.

    But enough about the Huckster, he was far from the only bad actor.

    Jim Dobson – Our conclusion that this is the category in which to discuss James Dobson was not an easy one to reach.  During Campaign ’08, Dobson was the single most-heard voice in Evangelicalism generally.  He may be the Evangelical leader we have discussed the most on this blog.  But it must be remembered that he is/was neither pastor nor political leader – his credentials were as a psychologist and he made his living as a radio host.

    Dobson has flirted with “making friends” with Mormons for a long time, dating to before the last election cycle and they have continued since. And they have usually resulted in Dobson getting beaten up by his listeners/constituency/audience – whatever word seems most appropriate.  Dobson never actually said anything negative about Mitt Romney, nor did he ever say one should not vote for a Mormon, but he never endorsed Romney except by process of elimination (he said “never” about both McCain and Giuliani).  When you combine these facts with things we have heard on the grapevine from un-nameable sources and second and third hand, it seems obvious that Dobson feared a listener revolt if he actually came out for Romney.  This fact, more than anything else, seems to have motivated his prevaricating, hot and cold, non-leadership.

    It could be asked, “How was this ‘using’ bigotry?”  Simple – he refused to stand against it.  Based on all I have heard, I presume that Dobson voted for Romney in the privacy of the voting booth, but that is just a presumption.  It is understandable in his position if he did not want to endorse anyone, but he did do negative endorsements (which he later had to renounce as McCain was the nominee) which creates a significant bit of cognitive dissonance.  Moreover, one can stand against a bigoted or biased vote without endorsing.  He did not even attempt to do this.  He was apparently more loyal to his audience than he was his political conscience.  He was willing to stand with the bias and bigotry in order to keep his audience size and reach.  (Lowell interjects: I would say Dobson was mostly loyal to his own self-interest.)

    It is no wonder that Dobson has resigned the Focus on the Family ministry in the wake of the conservative disaster that was Election 2008.   (It is possible the revolt he most feared has occurred anyway, in which case we are seeing the rabid self-segregate as they have done away with the the largest voice in Evangelical history.) Dobson failed to lead, and in so doing he condoned and coddled the bigots out there.  I don’t know James Dobson personally, he is apparently a good man, but in this instance he made a terrible mistake.  He has apparently tried to make amends in comments related to Proposition 8, and he is to be applauded for that.  He can be forgiven, but what happened in the campaign is fact, undeniable, unchangeable fact.

    Religion Firsters

    People use presidential campaigns as a template on which they impress all sorts of things.  The wide national discussion they engender, the massive media coverage – in other words the buzz they generate – creates a circumstance in which people bring many agendas into the mix that have little or nothing to do with electing a president.  I mean the resemblance between Pepsi’s new logo and Obama’s campaign graphics is not coincidental.

    And so many Evangelicals came to the candidacy of Mitt Romney and before they discussed Romney’s merits as a candidate, his stance on the issues, his leadership skills, his impeccable business credentials, his term as governor of Massachusetts, they had to make sure, in no uncertain terms that anyone paying any attention knew that Mormons were not like them.  In many cases they had to make sure the term “Christian” was not applied to Mormons.  In other words it was a religious feud imprinted on the presidential campaign.

    The problem, of course, is that with that imprinted agenda, they never really got to the meat of the matter:  the whole electing the president thing.  I grew up in a farm state – Indiana.  The State Fair was and is a huge deal there.  But I also grew up in the city of Indianapolis, and as such, I thought the midway was the reason for the fair and the ag exhibits were the sideshow.

    The people we are going to discuss here are people that let the sideshow become the main event.  It played out in many different ways and on different levels.   Three prevalent names from the ranks of talk radio come to mind when we discuss this category.

    Al Mohler – Mohler is the President of one of the leading Baptist seminaries in the nation and he hosts a radio talk show.  Way back in September of ’06 he hosted a panel discussion on the “Mormon Question.”  We examined it in great detail at the time.  There are two real problems with the approach taken on his show.  One was the name calling that occurred in the context of the discussion.  Words like “cult” and “aberration” were thrown around like candy from a parade float.  Mohler remained inconclusive on voting for a Mormon throughout the campaign, but when words like that, with their extraordinary negative connotations,  are heavily in evidence such apparent “neutrality” seems little more than a posture.

    The other problem with Mohler’s approach was his concern that electing Romney would “mainstream” Mormonism.  Mohler’s seminary is in Kentucky, and his concern about “mainstreaming” certainly confirms that.  Out here in the “Jello Belt,” Mormons are pretty mainstream already.  It also forces me to wonder if Mohler has ever flown Jet Blue or stayed in a Marriott?

    The problem with both of these points are that they are religious concerns, not political ones.    Rather than being concerned about who is equipped to lead the nation, whose stances on the issues will come closest to representing their own, they are concerned about which religion “wins” the battle of religions.  When you break it down that way, you come to see that such completely defies the basis on which America was founded.  There is real religious conflict between Baptists, and most of orthodox Christianity, and Mormons.  That is as it should be, but that conflict cannot and will not be won based on who is elected President of the United States, to think that it could be is to imprint the religious conflict onto the political one – and it means losing the political one.

    Frank Pastore - By all accounts, former baseball great and now Christian talk radio guy Frank Pastore is a really nice person.  But when it came to discussing Romney, religion, and the election he had to “hold his nose” to discuss Romney in anything like acceptable terms.  To my way of thinking, the most egregious example of Pastore’s rhetoric here was in December of ’07 when he implied that I — not yours truly, mind you, just any orthodox Christian who would enthusiastically back Romney — was a less devoted Christian than he was because of an acceptance of Romney in the political arena.

    It is very hard to sort Pastore’s religious concerns from his political ones.  Consider this paragraph from that December ’07 time frame:

    Like I said, I’ll vote for Romney—if I have to—since it will mean keeping a Democrat out of the White House. But should he become president, I, along with millions of other Christians, will expose each and every attempt by the LDS church to advance their false religion into the world, for we are aware of the potential spiritual challenges of having a Mormon in the White House.

    My initial response to such thinking was, and remains, “Did the presidency of George W. Bush cause the United Methodist Church to mount some sort of religious offensive?”  And on a more religious level, when the first Christians and early church thrived under a persecuting pagan Roman Emperor, to be concerned about an elected democratic official of a different religion harming one’s faith is to have a very weak faith indeed.  Even today the Christian church thrives under regimes that routinely persecute it.  I have a hard time understanding what “potential spiritual challenges” a Romney, or any other Mormon, presidency would present.

    Kevin McCollough – We had what ended up being a pretty cordial exchange with radio talker Kevin McCollough.  You can read all about it by following the links from the link naming him.  McCollough is the classic and, frankly, least harmful of the “religion firsters.”  He just wanted to make the point that “Mormons are not Christians.”  Now, in the end, that is a theological question, not a political one.  But when it is asked, how it is asked, and other contextual concerns can give it enormous political impact.  Such was our concern when McCollough brought it up, and it is the problem with religion first in politics generally.

    Mormons are religiously quite distinct from more orthodox forms of Christianity.  However, given the breadth of expressions, theologically, institutionally, and culturally that is generally considered within orthodox Christianity they are not nearly so far off the mark as any particular expression might want to make you believe.  One traditional Christian group might pick on one thing, and another might pick on something different, but taken as a whole, you can probably find someone inside traditional Christianity that is only one step away from the Mormon expression, even if they may be miles from other traditionally Christian expressions in that area.

    But that is not really the point here; the point is, when that is what you choose to discuss, when the question really is who to vote for as POTUS, you are one, changing the subject and two, emphasizing differences when similarities are more important.  If one thinks that a Mormon candidate is a good, even great candidate for the job, when religion is not considered, to “worry out loud” about religion is to essentially look for a reason not to vote for a highly qualified candidate.  And even if you arrive at the conclusion that you will vote for him/her, your public worries have by that time given many the opportunity to opt out.

    In the end, that’s the problem with all the “religion firsters” we have discussed here – its creating difference where likeness is called for.  There is one simple question when deciding whom to vote for – who will best advance my concerns.   All other questions are important and meaningful and maybe even religiously significant, but they are secondary in the political arena.

    And The Rest…

    In our summary here, we have just hit the highlights of what came out of the right wing side of the aisle.  We have not mentioned people like Gary Glenn, or the recently appearing, but undoubtedly in the background then, Conservatives For Truth.  We engaged with many during the course of the campaign, often not because we wanted to convince them (we knew we couldn’t) but because we thought the discussion would help us sharpen our arguments on a particular point, or simply formulate them to begin with.  But here we have tried to limit our discussion to encounters and attacks that had national significance and drew national press.

    It is hard to judge the impact of these regional and local skirmishes with The Question.  In the end it may be on them, and not the big national things that an election really turns, but such is very hard to tell from this perspective and available data.

    In Sum…

    When it came to religiously-based attacks from the right that hurt the Romney ’08 campaign, it was something of a perfect storm scenario – death by a thousand cuts.  For some this was strategic, but for most it was simply an accident of the pursuit of other agendas, some personal, some religious, and some political – but few were in actual open opposition.

    All these factors will exist in Campaign ’12 as well, should Romney elect to run.  But this observer thinks their effects will be radically different, not because of any change in the people, but because three years of a radically left-wing administration and at least two years of a radically left wing Congress.  There is nothing like watching the opposition work to place things in proper perspective.

    After being out of power for several years, the differences between Mormon and Evangelical theology will not be nearly so important. Should Obamacare become a reality, we will be far more concerned with turning back as much of it as we can as opposed to making sure Mormons do not gain a greater level of “cultural acceptance.”

    But a discussion of the future needs to wait for one more post.  We next turn our attention in this series to “the Good Guys.”  Who were those traditional Christians that backed the potential for “A Mormon in The White House?”  We’ll find out in the next post in the Telling The Story series.

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    Telling The Story – Part III – ‘Clowns To The Left Of Me’

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 05:36 am, September 29th 2009     &mdash      18 Comments »

    In our last post in the series “Telling the Story” we looked at the chronology of events in the primaries that lead to Mitt Romney’s withdrawal as a candidate for the Republican nomination for POTUS.  In reviewing those events we determined that Mike Huckabee played the role of “spoiler.”  Huckabee employed a strategy that was at best self-serving, and possibly designed specifically to prevent Mitt Romney from winning the nomination.  Unless he becomes far more forthcoming than he has been to date, Mike Huckabee’s reasons for utilizing that strategy will never be wholly apparent.  Nonetheless, we can conclude that religion was an important part of the mix.

    But for Huckabee, or his advisers, to devise and execute that strategy the playing field had to be in a certain condition.  A general might call it “shaping the battlefield.”  Of course, in this case, Huckabee did not shape the battlefield so much as devise a strategy that most effectively responded to the existing conditions.   Even so, those conditions played perfectly into using religion as a weapon and nobody was better suited to wield that weapon that Mike Huckabee.

    In point of fact, Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith became, as a result of relentless press coverage, the defining characteristic of his effort.  It was discussed and written about in enormous volume, and with incredible repetitiveness, in virtually every news publication in the country.  How it was written about varied significantly based on the viewpoint of the publication in question, but all of them felt compelled to write about it – and then write about it some more.

    For the left, in which we will here include the MSM, discussing Romney’s faith was a win-win.  With persons self-identifying as traditional Christians making up a huge segment of the Republican primary vote, discussing Romney’s faith served to: 1) emphasize that Romney was not the same as most Republicans, and 2) paint the picture of most Republicans as close-minded religious non-thinkers.  Romney, because of his extraordinary organizational skills, was widely viewed as the front runner.  The Democrats viewed him as the most formidable candidate they could face in the general election.  It was in their best interest to have anyone other than Romney as the Republican candidate.  By dividing him out, using religion as the wedge, from the “average” Republican they could not help but lessen his chances in an age when identity politics are on the rise.  By painting the average Christian, especially Evangelical Republicans as close-minded and discriminatory, they also lessened the chances of the Republicans generally in the general election.

    It should also be remembered that one of the primary tenets of left-leaning thinking is that religion is purely a divisive force in the political arena, and hence should be excluded from any voice in the public square.  If they could create a religious rift inside the conservative movement, it would be evidence greatly strengthening their case that there is no room for the religious in the public square.

    In this post, and the one following, we examine the battleground-shaping attacks on Romney as related to his faith.  In this post we examine those attacks as they came from the left.  Our discussion breaks down into two essential threads.  In the first we discuss the “MSM Memes” that took hold and seemed to shape virtually every story written about the matter.  In the second, we examine the most egregious of the hit pieces and commentary that came from the left – naming names and revisiting our debates with the protagonists in the drama as their pieces were published.

    The MSM Memes

    “Mitt Romney, a Mormon . . . .” Events have clearly demonstrated that the left was right – that at least among some Republicans, Mitt Romney’s religion was divisive.   In our next post, where we discuss the “battleground shaping” attacks that came from the right, we will see that much of the divisiveness did not come from Mormonism, but from traditional (or “creedal” as the Mormons like to say) Christians who felt it important to make sure everyone knew Mormons were not like them.   This meant that the simple mention of Romney’s faith could produce the desired effect.

    In April of 2007, an e-mailer to this blog did a simple Google hit count survey and found that the vast majority of articles published on Mitt Romney mentioned his religion.  This compared  to articles about other Republican candidates where their religion was barely mentioned – in the case of McCain only a fraction of a percentage.  The work was done long before anyone took Huckabee seriously so data on him do not exist, but I certainly do not recall anything like the volume of mention Romney “enjoyed,” and Huckabee, after all, is Baptist clergy!

    Most pieces did not discuss Romney’s faith directly; rather, they referred to it in passing.  “Mitt Romney, a Mormon . . .” was certainly the most direct and likely frequent formulation.  However, also common were throw away sentences like, “Some doubt Romney can win over the critical Evangelical vote because of his Mormon faith,” or “Romney’s Mormon faith makes his climb extra steep.”  Articles simply discussing poll results or campaign appearances felt it necessary to mention Romney’s faith.   Such was not the case when discussing other candidates, but with Romney it seemed that the word “Mormon” had to appear within a paragraph or two of the first mention of his name.

    newsweekMost notable of these efforts would be the Newsweek cover story of October 1, 2007.  The cover featured a picture of Romney and over-titled the piece and the magazine, “A Mormon’s Journey.”  The piece itself appeared in the magazine under the far less religiously-identifying title of “Campaign ’08: The Making of Mitt Romney.”  But of course, it was that cover, which did little but associate Romney and his faith, that appeared on newsstands and in grocery checkouts throughout the nation.

    For the millions of Americans who saw it – the vast majority of Americans that do not eat sleep and breathe political writing – this would define what they knew of Mitt Romney – that he was a Mormon.  (As a side commentary, the news weekly is leading the decline of dead tree media and episodes like this make me ever more grateful for that fact.)

    “What Mormons Believe . . . .” We were also treated to countless articles attempting to summarize Mormon belief.  And when I say “countless,” I mean I lost count somewhere late in 2006 – my calculator ran out of digits.  I beg your indulgence regarding the lack of linking to exemplary pieces in this section.  There was just too much material to get through to find suitable examples.  There were three characteristics that seemed to mark these pieces.

    The first characteristic was that few of them quoted either LDS officialdom or LDS material, and those that did seemed to always make sure and “fact check” those representations against some traditional Christian source.   Let’s set aside for a moment the question of whether one actually believes all that Mormons do or not, it should be remembered that I do not.  Such an approach presumes that Mormons would misrepresent their own beliefs.  Does one “fact check” a Papal encyclical against the president of a Baptist seminary?  When Osama Bin Laden tells us what he believes of Allah, do we run off to the comparative religions department of some university to see if he got it “right?”  When it comes to matters of faith, how can anyone other than the holder of the faith be “the expert?”

    The CJCLDS is nothing if not prolific in publishing what it believes.  Just check the references section of this blog.  It is an interesting characteristic of “journalism” that it requires the interview.  Reporters have to talk to somebody.  Book research never seems to be enough to write a journalistic article.  Well, most of the LDS I know tend, when asked what they believe, to point to the various LDS resources.  Those that do talk about it, always preface it with, “What I believe does not necessarily represent the official teaching or belief of the church.”  But traditionally Christian experts in “cults” always seemed just a little too willing to tell the average Mormon what they really do believe.

    The second characteristic that marked these pieces was that they tended to emphasize the peripherals of Mormon belief, not its center.  Most religions have a core set of important beliefs and then a large peripheral body of literature that the average believers rarely concerns themselves with, if they are even aware of them.  For Protestants there is glossolalia.  For Roman Catholics there is an enormous body of near ‘mythos’ regarding angels and demonology.  For Jews there is numerology.  For Mormons there are the statements of some early Mormon leaders and the long-abandoned practice of polygamy.  This is not to say that each of these things are not seen as sacred by some adherents of those religions, but it is to say they are not things that enter into the daily lives or even daily practice of those adherents – or at least most of them.  It is also to say that to outsiders these things appear a bit strange.

    Yet, when we read stories about Roman Catholics we hear not of angels and demons, unless we are reading a Dan Brown book.  These things do not define the average Roman Catholic.  Nor do beliefs about how the Book of Mormon came to be, or where Jesus appeared define  the average Mormon.  The heart of Mormon belief is a story of sin and redemption, different in detail but not generality, from any of the other western monotheistic religions.  Yet the press, in discussing Mormon belief focus’ not on that primary core, but on the peripheral “oddities.”

    The third characteristic of these pieces is that they were often sidebars, or side boxes, to articles that were discussing Romney or some other aspect of the presidential campaign.  Rarely, at least in major outlets, is Mormon belief written about on its own terms.  Rather, it appears in some sort of context, as if they need an “excuse” to discuss it.  This has three effects.  One, given the second characteristic we just discussed, it serves to link those oddities with the primary discussion at hand, so in the case of the ’08 primaries, it linked Mitt Romney and Mormon “oddities.”  The second thing it does is sort of erase the piece from the record.  Articles are often carefully archived.  Sidebars and snippets are a different thing altogether.  Finally, such short bits can never do justice to the totality of belief for any religion.  It’s a pot shot, not an examination.

    There was a classic example of a piece that combined all three of these characteristics.  It was a Newsweek side box from August of 2007 on celestial marriage.  When I went looking for it, I found where this blog linked to it, but when I followed the link it was “dead,” it was in fact a side box, and not an article, and therefore not subject to archiving.  I could not even find it as a cache somewhere.  Thus this piece meets our third criteria.   I frankly cannot recall whether the piece cited official Mormon sources or not, but I do recall it cited traditional Christian experts “interpreting” the ramifications of the doctrine and being quick to point out that Mormons therefore still believe in polygamy.  Thus we meet our first criteria.  And of course, almost by definition, after-life marriage issues are peripheral to he core of a religions doctrine.  There was no examination of anything to do with sin, atonement, behavior in this life – things that affect how a religion functions in the here and now.

    The net effect of all these pieces carrying these two memes was to set Mitt Romney apart as some sort of “freak,” or at least a little “weird.”  There is an old joke about women in the south – they use the phrase “bless their heart” as cover for just about any insult imaginable.  “My that’s an ugly baby – bless his heart.”  That seemed to be what the press was trying to do with Romney – act the carnival barker (“Come see the amazing two-headed baby”) but do it in a fashion that at least lacked the appearance of being discriminatory.  And yet, like the blessed ugly baby, that word “ugly” just hangs there.  Of course, they would argue that it was news because most Americans know about Episcopalians and Baptists, but most do not know about Mormons, and it is the press’ job to inform.  If that information had a negative effect, the problem is with the average Christian, not them.  There’s that win-win we talked about early in this post.

    In point of fact, Mitt Romney’s faith was hardly news.  Mormons dating all the way back to Joseph Smith have run for president.  If Americans don’t know about Mormons, it is not for lack of information – that is plentiful.  For most of us it is as available as answering a knock at our door politely.  Certainly by the time Iowa got serious the word on Romney’s faith was out there – but then the continuing coverage at that point may be more Huckabee’s fault than the press’ fault.

    Hit Pieces and Comments

    While the press coverage of Romney’s religion was relentless, the left-leaning punditry was downright mean – in some cases the fact that they are still allowed their positions of influence is a stunning condemnation of the left.  In this section we are going to look at the worst of them.  In most cases there is specific article or piece they wrote that we link to in the boldfaced opening to the paragraphs dedicated to the discussion; in one case, however, it is a body of work.

    Amy Sullivan – We are fond of saying that Robert Novak, as presented by Hugh Hewitt, gave us the idea for this blog.  But Novak was not the very first to write on the issue of Romney’s faith.  He certainly was the one who wrote about it the most, and he certainly was the one that wrote about it from “inside sources,” but the honor for the very first piece on the subject belongs to Terry Eastland at the Weekly Standard in June of ’05.   Eastland’s piece was straightforward political reporting, examining a real issue of consequence to a potential run.  It did not try to fan the flames, just point out that there was an issue.

    But the next piece that appeared was Amy Sullivan in Washington Monthly in September of ’05.  By the time this blog came into being, this piece was water under the bridge so we never examined it in close detail, but Sullivan, a self-described Evangelical liberal, clearly set the mold for the “win-win” left-leaning treatment of the subject that was to come.  Sullivan had an axe to grind with her conservative Christian siblings and was more than wiling to use Romney as the whetting stone.

    In point of fact, her treatment of the subject in the piece, and in her subsequent several years of TV panel appearances, belie one of the more important political sub-texts of the campaign.  Mike Huckabee’s populist stance represents the middle ground in the current Evangelical political spectrum – socially conservative, fiscally liberal, and confused on national defense.  There have always been left-leaning Evangelicals, but they have always been relatively quiet.  As press coverage of conservative Evangelicals has risen to the point that the words “conservative” and “evangelical” seemed synonymous, they have grown less and less quiet.  Some say they are responsible for the election of Obama – he does have the numbers in that regard.

    Nonetheless, Romney presented these left-leaning Evangelicals with a golden opportunity to paint the right-wing Evangelical siblings in the public eye as  country redneck bumpkins they have always thought them to be.   Rereading Sullivan’s piece, that is the real subtext.  Romney found himself caught in a serious case of Evangelical infighting.

    This piece by Sullivan set the mold for much of the reporting that was to come, the “win-win” for lefties.  As such it is worthy of mention here.

    Andrew Sullivan – It is virtually impossible to put your finger on a single piece by Andrew Sullivan that is the piece.  Apparently shaping his entire life around that fact that he is gay, Sullivan simply despises religious people in general (unless they unquestioningly accept homosexual practices), but saves a special animus, even before Prop 8, for Mormons, and for Mitt Romney in particular.  And yet he has not strayed from the now tried and true win-win formulation for the left writing about Romney.

    It continues even to this day.  Consider this post he wrote in the wake of the recent Values Voters summit:

    Alas, the only thing less credible than Mitt Romney as a Christianist is Mitt Romney as a populist.

    Note how in that single sentence he manages to slam conservative Christians with the use of his by now patented “Christianist” term, separate Mitt Romney from the general herd of conservative religious folk, and go on to describe Romney as not credible.  The “not credible” charge even resonates with the “Mormons lie” meme that we alluded to in the last post in this series and that we will examine in detail in the next.

    Although witty, there is a bile that drips from virtually every word Sullivan writes on the subject that is extremely effective in shaping public opinion, even if it says nothing of substance.  Sullivan’s distaste for conservatives Christians, inclusive of Mormons and Romney, is apparent – but there is no actual engagement in the realm of ideas.   That is sad because Sullivan first rose to wide public notice as a leftie who supported the anti-terrorism actions by the Bush 43 administration.  Sullivan is clearly a very smart man, but when people differ with him on matters concerning his sexual orientation and practice – especially gay marriage– his reason seems simply to leave the building.  Utter contempt takes its place.

    If he stopped there, Sullivan’s rhetoric would be understandable, even personally sympathetic – albeit still wrong – but he doesn’t.  By insisting on singling out Mormons and Romney in the fashion he does – not to mention that incredibly ugly term “Christianist” – he descends into the very bigotry he postures so to  oppose.  This clear bigotry, as it became more and more shrill during campaign ’08, has reduced Sullivan’s importance as a commentator.  But he remains a significant and widely read blogger, although increasingly to a niche market.

    Jacob Weisberg – Far and away the most bigoted, nastiest religious attack to come from the left side of the aisle was Jacob Weisberg’s December 2006 Slate piece.  This was the piece that included the now infamous phrase, “the founding whoppers of Mormonism.”  This piece went on to become one we cited again and again and again on the blog as pure, unthinking, left-leaning bigotry, but as I reviewed our comments at the time, we went awfully easy on it.  But then there was not much meat there to argue with.

    Weisberg’s “reasoning” was: 1) It’s acceptable to discriminate based on religion because religion is irrational; and 2) Mormonism is especially irrational because it is so young; therefore, 3) discriminating against Romney based on his faith is not only acceptable, but necessary.

    Once again, we see the “win-win” strategy that went on to define so many of these attacks from the left.  Pit the religious conservatives against each other (Mormonism is especially irrational) and at the same time show that religious people in general should not really be seriously considered (all religion is irrational).

    This piece was so blatant in its anti-religious fervor and so up-front in its anti-Mormon bigotry that it is amazing that Jacob Weisberg still works for Slate.   Imagine in this racially charged electoral period if he had written, “Well, some discrimination on race is acceptable, there are real genetic differences in the races, and discrimination towards blacks is particularly reasonable because we all know they have extra muscles.”  How long would he keep his job after something like that? Less than a minute would be my bet.

    Some day this piece will be preserved in a museum, like some of the op-eds in southern newspapers that appeared during the Civil Rights movement.  People will read it and shake their heads in amazement that anyone actually thought that way, let alone said it out loud.

    Ken Woodward – There is not much to say about Woodward’s April 2007 New York Times piece “The Presidency’s Mormon Moment,” that we have not already said.    In the piece Woodward attempted to describe why Americans might be uncomfortable with a Mormon president.  All he really succeeded in doing was angering a bunch of Mormons and other Christians that like them, spreading ignorance rather than helping to end it, and proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was lazy.  (Lowell called him “clueless.”)

    Few of the pieces we will examine here got a more thorough examination at the time of publication than this one, primarily because Woodward consented to a near hour long interview on The Hugh Hewitt Show the next day.  (Sadly, the transcript is no longer available for linking – but it is quoted extensively in our post.)  Essentially he did two things.  One, he addressed what he referred to as “common perceptions” about Mormons.  Not facts – he took people’s prejudices and misconceptions at face value and then proceeded to try to justify them.  The other thing he did was not bother to do any actual journalism.  Woodward more or less came out of retirement on the religion beat for the NYTimes to write the piece.  It was clear he did not a bit of original or new research for it.  He just sat down and started typing one day until he could hand in some copy and get paid.

    While certainly not the most prejudiced piece written in the course of events (see Jacob Weisberg on the left or Joel Belz on the right for that honor), this piece was by far the least journalistic, even as an op-ed.  The saddest thing about this particular piece was that it appeared in the New York Times, the nation’s purported “paper of record.”  That Woodward attempted to cash in an easy buck in retirement is understandable, that the editorial board of this once great newspaper let it out is unconscionable.  Given the ever-dwindling importance of the daily metropolitan newspaper, it is difficult to say if this piece had much impact or not.  It certainly had the widest circulation of any of the pieces we discuss in this post, which in some ways makes it the most offensive.

    We could go on about this piece for hours, but why?  Just follow the links.  It was like shooting fish in a barrel then and still is.  Shame on Woodward and the NYTimes.

    Damon Linker – In January of ’07, The New Republic published a piece by Damon Linker called “Taking Mormonism Seriously – The Big Test.“  The piece required a subscription to access initially and now the link appears to be dead altogether, so we have linked to our discussion of it.  The piece was huge news at the time it appeared – the guns had, by that time, been loaded and cocked to respond to something on precisely those lines – but as the campaign proceeded, this piece and argument appeared to fade into the woodwork.  In retrospect, it was a blunt instrument attempting to do surgery – a scalpel was needed.

    In essence it examined Mormon belief and then attempted to say, “If you really believe this stuff, then . . . .”  The piece suffered from two enormous problems.  One was it ignored the political realities of the United States, and two it confused religious adherence with religious fanaticism.  The piece assumed that a president could somehow run roughshod over all action of the US government, as if we had no checks and balances.  The fact of the matter is, if the nation did mess up tremendously and elect a president with a nutcase agenda, there is Congress to balance the scales.  Further, while the president of the CJCLDS is considered a prophet, adherents to that faith are very different than fanatical Muslims following the edicts of a crazy Imam.  And even Imams generally only have a few fanatic followers.  There are fanatical Mormons, as there are fanatics of every faith, but then Romney had an established record as governor of Massachusetts.  I doubt we were in for any surprises.

    Linker’s piece, in part, drew a great deal of reaction because it used an argument expected from the right.  We all, including people like me of the right, expected a theological attack to occur, but we expected more from the hinterlands of the far right of the Religious Right than we did from a source like this.  But we had the ammo and we were ready to use it.  But then it is also possible that by jumping on this piece so hard, those on the right became wise to the fact that such a blunt attack would not be helpful.

    Despite a very different approach to the topic, this still fit the win-win mold of all the journalistic coverage from the left.  If these accusation could be made to successfully stick to Mormons, they could to anyone that claimed their religion really mattered to them.  Though more of a slippery slope approach to the win-win than the triangulation of other left side approaches, this piece stood to harm Evangelicals and the Religious Right in general just as much as any other piece from the left that attacked Romney on the basis of his religion.

    Gary South -In April of ’07 the then-fledgling Politico published a piece by self-described “Democratic Strategist” Gary South.  He claims a fundamentalist Pentecostal background in the course of the piece.  He goes to great length to establish his Christian bona fides.

    This piece got little attention from the wider community watching this issue because frankly, South brought a rock to a knife fight.  He was so blatant in his attempts to drive a wedge between Romney, Mormons and other Christians that it made even the fanatical Religious Right types nervous.

    His argument was essentially that because the CJCLDS believes themselves to be be the church restored, and therefore find all the rest of Christianity inferior, that Romney would be view all other faiths as illegitimate for participation in the public square.

    Frankly, the argument itself made me buy into South’s claims of being a fundamentalist Pentecostal because I have had way too many fundamentalist Pentecostals tell me that I was going to hell as an Evangelical Presbyterian.  There is a great deal of the pot calling the kettle black in this one.  Perhaps that is why it got very little attention, it was an attempt at murder-suicide.  Regardless, it stands out as one of the uglier pieces written through the entire course of the discussion and campaign and is therefore worthy of note here.

    Al Sharpton – The final entry in our list of left-leaning attack dogs is a man who makes a living by crying “VICTIM!”  In May of 2007, the Rev. Al Sharpton was debating Christopher Hitchens on the validity of faith when, as reported in the New York Times, and recorded on YouTube, he said:

    “As for the one Mormon running for office, those who really believe in God will defeat him anyway, so don’t worry, that’s a temporary situation.”

    Lovely, just lovely.  Said Hugh Hewitt at the time, “If Al had declared that a Buddhist, Hindu or Muslim candidate would be defeated by those ‘who really believe in God,’ how great would the outcry be?”  We pointed out that there was a clear case of double standard in the press coverage because Sharpton largely got a pass.

    This incident also proved to be a win-win for the liberals – the attack on Mormons obvious and the attack on orthodox Christians evident in how utterly bigoted Sharpton looks.  Which also points out another important lesson.  He who spends his life guarding against bigotry can become the most bigoted.

    As Christians of all stripes grow increasingly worried about the voice of religion in the public square, this last important lesson may be the one to hold onto tightest.  As we fight for our voice, we cannot do so at the exclusion of others that should share in the freedom we demand, or else we come off exactly like Sharpton.  But that is the subject for another post in this series – in fact the very next one.

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