It sometimes seems that this blog has had more reboots than it has had posts in the past year. Sadly, all my good intentions do nothing to add hours on to the day or ideas inside my head. As is fitting the New Year, I am once again resolved to post more regularly here. I’m shooting for weekly– no more and no less. Both for myself and others, I’ll be adding a short section to the bottom of each post linking to some of most interesting things I’ve read during the week, be it news articles, blogs, books, etc. If you already follow longform.org or The Browser, most of this will be familiar. We’ll call it the “Nightstand.”
Four years ago this coming October, I posted a very summary list of the reasons why I chose to vote for Barack Obama in the 2008 Presidential election. I have spent the past nearly three and a half years not exactly being bowled over by what he has achieved, and in other cases, deeply disappointed in particular choices made in the White House. I suppose that is par for the course. Like your high school prom, a highly anticipated and even idolized candidate cannot possibly live up to all of the expectations that one puts on it. Instead of trying to come up with a exhaustive list of pro-Obama talking points that continue to be persuasive for me, I have decided to create a not-exhaustive list of the reasons why I will (almost certainly) not be voting for Mitt Romney in November.*
– The most important reason is also the most easily explained. Our politics and policy preferences are simply too far apart. I remain a very liberal European-style social democrat, and Romney is…well, who knows, but he is at best a moderate Republican. I will not enumerate a point-by-point comparison, but suffice it to say that a Romney administration will be government of the 1%, by the 1% and for the 1%. Some readers may think it is naive of me to believe that we do not already have such a government under Obama and the current Congress, and I will agree up to a point, but I do not think that protecting and governing on behalf of the 1% is Obama’s raison d’etre, as it would be for Romney.
The following three reasons get at the relationship between a potential Romney presidency and our common faith of Mormonism. I have some very specific (and speculative) concerns about this relationship:
– The LDS Church gets blamed for everything that goes wrong in the US for the next four years. Now, you won’t find most people blaming Obama’s being black for everything he may have done wrong since 2008, at least in polite company. But you can certainly find that kind of rhetoric, particularly in certain circles on the Internet. And, as I suspect we will see later in the primary season as the other GOP nominees get more and more desperate, insulting and attacking Mormonism is, even in 2012, not as frowned upon as attacking racial minorities. If Romney is elected, I will always hope that he makes the right decisions and governs well on behalf of all Americans; however, mistakes will inevitably be made. I really do not want to see the mountain of articles and blog posts written in the next four years trying to trace every one of Romney’s policy decisions and missteps back to Mormonism, no matter how attenuated the link.
– My second and third concerns have nothing to do with the world outside the LDS Church, but rather with the people inside it. Though it strives to be perceived as an “American as apple pie” type of religion, Mormonism retains some authoritarian and theocratic “resources” in its theology and organization from other periods in its history. There are some members that one encounters from time to time who would be more willing to give free rein to those theocratic resources (i.e. to establish principles and rules particular to the Mormon faith as those that ought to govern the whole of society) if given the chance. It is embedded right in Mormon scripture: “We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.” (Doctrine and Covenants 121:39)
This kind of theocracy can be an ugly thing, particularly as it seeks to impose itself on a populace that is generally moving farther and farther away from the theocracy’s most cherished principles. Again, this has nothing to do with what Mitt Romney will or wants to do, but what certain members of the LDS Church will expect, hope, and urge him to do. Those hopes will inevitably be dashed. Romney will certainly have women in his Cabinet and his administration (in spite of the LDS Church’s counsel that women should remain in the home), will have coffee in the West Wing, and will serve alcohol at state functions (in spite of the LDS Church’s health code, the Word of Wisdom). This is to say nothing about what Romney will or will not do with regards to more sensitive political issues, such as LGBT issues, abortion/contraception, etc. The inevitable disappointment does not mean that the urging and the teeth gnashing afterwards will be any less ugly.
– Finally, I fear that, if elected, many Mormons will regard President (Brother/Elder) Romney as a sort of de facto sixteenth Apostle, with all of the deference that that entails. It is disturbingly common to hear that General Authorities of the Church are not to be questioned, and that, when they have spoken, “the thinking is done.” Just this morning, a member of my congregation said from the podium that is was essential that “the Priesthood become part of the Government, or the country would fall, and I would be happy to cast my vote this way.” This quote is not an exaggeration, and was said in the most solemn tones. The implication was clear. It was not just that a member of the Church would rise to a position of visibility and high responsibility, but that “the Priesthood” (for Mormons, God’s power delegated to men on the earth) would take the reins of government. Will this same criteria of deference and conformity be applied to policy decisions made by Romney, even if not closely related to Mormon principles? Will those members of the Church who do not display sufficient loyalty to and admiration for President Romney subject themselves to ostracism, or be passed over for church callings (positions or jobs) or other ecclesiastical responsibilities on that basis? Will one’s heterodoxy on political issues single that individual out for suspicion by the rest of the membership? It is already difficult to be a liberal in the Church. I do not complain vocally or publicly about this, though I confess that my eye muscles have received quite the workout over the years from how many times I roll them during Sunday meetings. But I do not want to see one Church member’s worldly success in the political arena to adversely affect my ability to worship weekly within the body of the Church or to navigate the various institutional gatekeepers that permit one full participation in the Church.
Some readers may think that this is all a little overblown and speculative. That may be, and I would dearly, dearly love to be wrong about all of it. But what I want most dearly is to never have to find out.
*I will confine this to Romney since he is the consensus front-runner and there is only a small (and ever-shrinking) possibility that he will not be the eventual nominee. I also give myself a caveat simply because truth is stranger than fiction and I can imagine some circumstance that would cause me to abstain from voting or switching to Romney– like Obama personally shooting a person at point blank range at halftime of the Super Bowl. Even then, I might give him the benefit of the doubt depending on the identity of the person he shot.
The Nightstand (January 1-7, 2012)
– Iowa: The Meaningless Sideshow Begins (Rolling Stone, Matt Taibbi)- Per usual, an angry and witty Taibbi points out that not only the Iowa caucus, but the entire electoral process, is a sham created to cover up that our candidates are all vetted, paid for, and subservient to the 1%.
– The Decline of the Public Good (Robert Reich)
– Chemerinsky on Texas Election Cases (Erwin Chemerinsky, ABA Journal)- I took a civil rights law class from Chemerinsky in law school (Duke) and there is none better. Also, being a Texas (at least for the moment), these cases have an important effect on the value of my vote come this November.
– Migrants’ New Paths Reshaping Latin America (Damien Cave, NYT)- Being a former missionary in Mexico, I’m fascinated by what goes on in Latin America.
– The Global Revolt and Latin America (Roger Burbach, NACLA)- With the various protest movements ongoing in the US, Europe and the Middle East, this is the first coverage I’ve seen of similar social and economic protests in Latin America.
– What Americans Keep Ignoring About Finland’s School Success (Anu Partanen, Atlantic Monthly)- I love some of these ideas, but to make them happen, we’d basically have to deport 90% of the adult population of the United States and replace them with Finns. That might be reason in itself to give it a try.
– Exploration of Experiences and Psychological Health of Same-sex Attracted Latter-day Saints– These are the initial results coming out of a relatively large (1500+) study being run out of Utah State University. Extremely interesting, though I find self-reporting always a little less reliable. Nevertheless, there is no more scientific test for this. But it is always better to have some kind of broad statistical evidence over anecdote.
– Reversal of Fortune (Patrick Radden Keefe, Vanity Fair)- I’ve been working on the Chevron-Ecuador case in my day job for the past year, so its probably best that I leave this without further annotation.
– How Many Stephen Colberts Are There? (Charles McGrath, NYT)- Love Colbert. I wish this article had delved a little more deeply into his personal life, but still very interesting.