“And again, we would suggest for your consideration the propriety of all the saints gathering up a knowledge of all the facts, and sufferings and abuses put upon them….And also of the all the property and amount of damages which they have sustained, both of character and personal injuries, as well as real property; And also the names of all persons that have had a hand in their oppressions, as far as they can get a hold of them and find them out. And perhaps a committee can be appointed to find out these things, and to take statements and affidavits; and also to gather up the libelous publications that are afloat; And all that are in the magazines, and in the encyclopedias, and all the libelous histories that are published, and are writing, and by whom, and present the whole concatenation of diabolical rascality and nefarious and murderous impositions that have been practised upon this people—That we may not only publish to all the world…” (Doctrine and Covenants 123:1-6)
Like just about anyone who follows politics closely, I spent the week parsing the results of the New Hampshire primary and its implications for the upcoming South Carolina primary this coming week. Until now, the conventional wisdom has been that Mitt Romney, a Mormon, could never win in the South. The politico-religious climate dominated by evangelical Christians was simply too inhospitable, and until not so long ago, downright violent (as discussed in Patrick Mason’s excellent book). Now, some polls are showing Romney with a growing lead in SC, and it is flipping that conventional wisdom on its head.
Some observers, and I count myself among this number, have been surprised at how much the Mormon issue has not been a factor in this primary season. Granted that conservatives have had plenty of other complaints to make about the frontrunner, no matter their failure to make the charges stick. Nevertheless, seeing as how a large group of evangelical pastors and religious leaders met this past week to discuss solidifying behind a single not-Romney candidate, my suspicions are that the more ecumenical stage of the race is over. (Those leaders denied that Romney’s Mormonism was a major point of discussion at the meeting, but if you believe that, I have a proverbial bridge to sell you) Not to mention that South Carolina is a state notorious for its dirty campaigning.
As quoted above, in 1839, while imprisoned in Missouri, Joseph Smith sent a letter to his followers instructing them to keep a historical record of the persecutions that they suffered. Its an idea that I would like to see revived during the 2012 election season, particularly in the South. First a disclaimer: I am not interested in grievance-mongering (a la the ADL) and this is certainly not an exercise in taking names for retribution (divine or human) later, as one portion of the above-quoted text might suggest. In fact, my preference would be that names are excluded from any publication. I am in full agreement with Joanna Brook’s idea that the LDS persecution complex is somewhat overblown and that LDS need to work on a different response to such negativity than a reflexive hand-wringing and finger-pointing.
That disclaimer aside, the purpose of the organization I am envisioning would simply be to catalog and organize incidents or manifestations of anti-Mormon sentiment in South Carolina. Ideally, the focus would be kept local, rather than statewide. Its far less important to me to find out what one of the other candidates or their surrogates said at a campaign rally, than to have some record of that conversation you overheard in the local diner, that letter to the editor in a small-town newspaper, or the Sunday sermon in a prominent local church. Reporters will catch some of this, but most journalists: a) have no particular personal interest in this issue, and b) have a million other aspects of the race that need to be addressed in limited time and on deadline. The organization should be a loose confederation of part-time volunteer individuals, independent from the LDS Church, creating and organizing a joint database, which could eventually be shared publicly (preferably online).
The 2012 election is an almost perfect natural experiment, and not one that is likely to reoccur in the near future. This research could eventually be used by scholars a hundred years from now to build on the work that Patrick Mason did in the book I linked to earlier.
Author’s Note: I swear I am not writing about Mitt Romney and the election every week, but it is the hot issue right now, so a more diverse reading experience will be coming your way soon.
The Nightstand (January 8-14)
– How Large the Huddled Masses?: The Causes and Consequences of Public Misperceptions about Immigrant Populations (John Sides and Jack Citrin)- see also Sides’ follow-up at the American Prospect and the Climate Progress series on the Debunking Handbook. What these articles represent to me is not confined to the issues of immigration or climate change, but a meta-issue of whether giving more (or better) information to people can help change their political opinions. This is a naturally liberal and optimistic view of human nature, but probably mistaken in my opinion. This approach neglects the importance of a priori values in filtering the information that they will accept, and the fact that some people simply are not persuaded by the “facts” as much as they are by the “truth.” It seems pretty hopeless to me.
– Giving Advertising its Due (Ezra Klein, WaPo Wonkblog)- on the convergence of news, information, and advertising (particularly online)
– Why Is Inequality Higher in America? (Henry Farrell, The Monkey Cage)- An interesting take on comparative political structure (rather than more directly economic factors) as a key cause of inequality.
– And for a less thoughtful take on inequality, see Mitt Romney’s statement discussed by Matthew Yglesias here.
– The Next Immigration Challenge (Dowell Myers, NYT Op-Ed)- Illegal immigration to the US is growing of a rate of about….zero. Now what to do to assimilate those already present.
– Arthur Brisbane and Selective Stenography (Glenn Greenwald, Salon)- Going forward, let’s just assume that something Greenwald writes will be worth including here each week.
– Lockdown: The Coming War on General-Purpose Computing (Cory Doctorow, boing boing)- Cory Doctorow weaves copyright, SOPA, and the fragmentation of the human-electronic experience together.
– The Rise and Consequences of Inequality (Alan Krueger)- This link will direct you to a set of slides from this presentation by the Chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisors. Mostly just graphs and they should be self-explanatory.
– Israelis Facing a Seismic Rift Over Role of Women (NYT)- From the front lines of a ridiculous fight between minority religious prerogatives and secular rights.
– We’re all guilty of dehumanizing the enemy (Sebastian Junger, WaPo)- If you have not seen it yet, time to watch “Restrepo”.
– Making It in America (Adam Davidson, The Atlantic)- If you don’t want to read the whole thing, just listen to the recent Planet Money episode that covers the same ground.