I want to start out by saying that I do not think that the Mormon religion should be an issue in the presidential election, or any religion an issue in any election for that matter. It really makes me angry when I hear Republicans disparaging President Obama’s religious beliefs, claiming that they don’t believe that he’s a Christian. It makes me even angrier when someone like my own father, who claims to be agnostic, has the gall to say that he thinks that President Obama is the Anti-Christ. My father doesn’t believe that Jesus Christ is his savior, but he believes that President Obama is the Anti-Christ? That makes absolutely no sense. I have no religious affiliation, so I actually recently asked somebody I know who is a born again Christian about this. The response I received:
As for the Anti-Christ, Obama IS a possibility, but a very unlikely one. The Anti-Christ will appear as a great unifier and world peacemaker whom all nations will pledge allegiance. Only after he has everyone thinking he's the Messiah will he turn the tables to enslave humanity in evil. He will come on the scene as everyone's savior, so I don't really think Obama fits that bill!Also, generally speaking it’s just not a wise idea to use religion has as an issue in politics. Setting aside the whole separation of church and state concerns, last month I did a little research on Mitt Romney’s senatorial campaign against Ted Kennedy back in 1994 and read a lot of news clippings from that time period. When Romney first won the nomination in September 1994, the polls showed them nearly tied. Initially, Kennedy attempted to use religion as an issue, but quickly backed off because Romney was winning the argument using comments made by JFK:
Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass, has backed off, for the moment at least, from his attack on the religion of Republican opponent Mitt Romney -- none too soon.I think this is why we sometimes see articles about the Mormon religion, but we never see the President Obama's campaign talking about it. It is reprehensible to use religion to define a candidate negatively. Considering how much the GOP does it to President Obama, I admire the fact that he takes the high road on this issue and doesn’t use the same tactics. President Obama takes the high road a lot, and I suspect that is why so many people in the GOP hate him so much … he doesn’t stoop to their level.
After months of repeating that he would not make an issue of Romney's Mormonism (so often that some felt an issue was indeed being made of it), the senator wondered aloud recently about Romney's views on racial and gender justice: After all, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints began ordaining black men only in 1978 and still does not ordain women.
Romney shot back by invoking John Kennedy's stand against religious bigotry when he ran for president in 1960, addressing the "divided loyalty" question before the Greater Houston Ministerial Association. Romney said, "In my view, the victory that John Kennedy won was not for just 40 million Americans who were born Catholic, it was for all Americans of all faiths."
We want to know our political candidates as whole men and women. We want to know where and how they grew up, where they went to school, what traditions and experiences formed them. Religion, or lack of it, is part of that formation. To deny religious values a place in politics would leave the leaven out of the lump. To use religion as a shorthand to distinguish Like Us from Not Like Us is reprehensible.
Kennedy erred in making issue about Mitt Romney's religion
By Ruth Walker, The Christian Science Monitor, 6 October 1994
Anyway, back to the Kennedy vs. Romney campaign. Kennedy had built a sizable lead in the polls by Election Day, and ultimately won the election. He did it by shining a light on Romney's business career via negative ads:
Mr. Romney, who was even with Mr. Kennedy in polls just five weeks ago, has seen his support erode during the last month. A Boston Globe/WBZ-TV poll published today showed him trailing Mr. Kennedy by 55 percent to 37 percent.Maybe Romney learned something from that election, and that’s why his usual method of campaigning is to carpet bomb his opponents with negative ads as he did in the primaries, and has tried to do without much success against President Obama in the general election. I suspect the failure is largely because the ads bear little resemblance to the truth and people, other than GOP loyalists don't recognize the person Romney is describing in the ads.
The challenger, placing blame for his waning popularity on negative advertisements run by the Kennedy campaign, said he hoped to regain lost ground with his new half-hour television commercial. "It will give me an occasion to talk, once again, in some depth on the issues that I think people really care about," he said before videotaping the ad on Friday.
THE 1994 CAMPAIGN: Massachusetts The Last Weekend: Senate Races Where the Battle Has Been Intense; Romney Eclectic In Final Sprint
by Michael Cooper, The New York Times, 6 November 1994
I don't think President Obama would ever have considered using his religion to attack Romney. It's just not in his character to do something like that, But I do think President Obama’s campaign also learned a valuable lesson about what worked from the Kennedy vs. Romney campaign and used the tactics that did work for Kennedy early in the presidential race, before Romney had secured the GOP nomination, to define Romney before he had a chance to define himself. They put out ads about Romney’s time at Bain Capital, as well as ads about Romney’s experience and failures as Governor of Massachusetts, but they never made the mistake of bringing up Romney's religion as Kennedy first attempted in 1994.
I do not know enough about the Mormon religion, or any religion for that matter, to be comfortable passing judgment on the religion or somebody associated with it. I do have Mormon friends that I care about and like very much. In fact, there are two young men in their twenties that I know who are Mormons. Recently each of them has posted on their Facebook walls that they do not care if anybody says they are throwing away their votes; they will not vote for Mitt Romney. They won’t vote for President Obama either. They plan to write in Ron Paul’s name on Election Day. Certainly, Romney sharing their religion hasn't swayed them to vote for him.
Now that I have cleared that up, and hope everybody will follow my lead when commenting in this diary, I did find interesting an interview that Lawrence O'Donnell conducted on his show The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell on Thursday night with Gregory A. Prince, Ph.D., who as a Mormon and knows Romney personally. Dr. Prince found the revelations in the Romney fundraiser video from May to be appalling and not a demonstration of his faith. He also agreed with a quote in a Washington Post by Kathleen Flake (professor of religion at Vanderbilt Divinity School and a Mormon) describing Romney’s thinking as “twisted” and adding, That’s Republicanism; that’s not Mormonism.
I found the revelations from this interview to be comparable to the Catholic bishops who wrote a letter to Paul Ryan criticizing his budget for failing to meet certain “moral criteria” by disproportionately cutting programs that “serve poor and vulnerable people.” This draws me to the conclusion that both Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan put their Republican idealism ahead of the values they were taught by their respective religions. The ideals they are most faithful to go against the teachings of Jesus. As I never get tired of watching the Will McAvoy character say near the end of the video from the season finale of HBO’s The Newsroom: “It's ironic because the biggest enemy of the phony Republican isn't Nancy Pelosi or Harry Reid or Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, it's this man [displays picture of Jesus]. He said Heal the sick. Feed the hungry. Care for the weakest among us. And always pray in private.”
Then I watched President Clinton’s guest appearance on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart tonight. Talking about his speech at the Democratic National Convention, President Clinton was explaining what his goal was when writing the speech which was basically to explain to the American people what's been going on without talking down to us, and why President Obama's plan is the right plan for the country. Then he went on to discuss Mitt Romney's plan when Jon Stewart mentioned that Mitt Romney refuses to release any details. President Clinton responded:
If I come to you and I say we have this terrible national debt and here's my opening gambit. First thing want to do is increase by $5 trillion over a decade by doing another round of tax cuts that mostly benefit the people we benefited in the last decade, even thought it didn't produce jobs. Now we're in a really deep hole, much bigger than this clock I just showed you, now let me tell you how we're going to get out of it. Well, what about the details? See me about that after the election.What Romney said at that fundraiser back in May were expressions of his Republican ideology and had nothing to do with his religious values. I think the writer of the first quoted article from 1994 had a valid point:
So I wanted to try to explain that in very simple terms. No one else would do that; no one ... unless you were being driven by ideology instead of by evidence. This is a practical country. We have ideals. We have philosophies. But the problem with any ideology is that it gives the answer before you look at the evidence. So you have to mold the evidence to get the answer that you've already decided you've got to have. It doesn't work that way. Building an economy; rebuilding an economy is hard, practical nuts and bolts work.
We want to know our political candidates as whole men and women. We want to know where and how they grew up, where they went to school, what traditions and experiences formed them. Religion, or lack of it, is part of that formation. To deny religious values a place in politics would leave the leaven out of the lump. To use religion as a shorthand to distinguish Like Us from Not Like Us is reprehensible.I really don't care what religion Romney or any other candidate practices. It's never been something I've thought about when deciding who to vote for. What I find disgusting are Romney's Republican values that demonstrate he does not care about nearly half this country who he views as freeloaders. You might find the interview as interesting as I did, so I have included the video and full transcript below the fleur-de-orange. For those using an iPad and can’t see the embedded video, you can watch it at the MSNBC site.
Kennedy erred in making issue about Mitt Romney's religion
By Ruth Walker, The Christian Science Monitor, 6 October 1994
Video of Romney May FundraiserLawrence O'Donnell: When the news of Mitt Romney's Florida video broke on Monday evening, I was incensed -- but not for its political implications.. So says the first line of a post by Dr. Gregory Prince on Huffington Post. His arrogant and out-of-hand dismissal of half the population of this country struck me at a visceral level, for it sullied the religion that he and I share -- the religion for which five generations of my ancestry have lived and sacrificed, the religion whose official mantra is "to take care of the poor and needy throughout the world." My first impulse was to rent an airplane towing a banner: "Mitt Romney is Not the Face of Mormonism!" [See Mitt Romney Is Not the Face of Mormonism, by Gregory A. Prince, Ph.D., The Huffington Post, September 19, 2012.]
Attendee: I mean people talk so much about this ... and somebody over their said, "Oh, many people think of you as a rich -- rich guy." And those of us who know you know that that's, you know ...
Mitt Romney: You know I'm poor as a church mouse, right?
Joining me now for an exclusive interview, Dr. Gregory Prince, the author of Having Authority: The Origins and Development of Priesthood during the Ministry of Joseph Smith. Also, Power from On High: The Development of Mormon Priesthood, and he's co-author of David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism. Dr. Prince, what was your feeling when you were first hearing these comments on that video tape of the Romney fundraiser?
Dr. Prince: It both grieved me and mystified me because we have a lot in common. We were missionaries in foreign countries at the same time period; he in France, I in Brazil. I had worked very closely with the types of offices he has held; that of bishop and state president of the Mormon Church. I know that Mormon bishops often will spend as much time on their church duties on a volunteer basis as they do in their professional lives, and much of what they are doing is involving the poor and the needy. That's where the real work of the bishop is done in this church.
Lawrence O'Donnell: Let's listen ...
Dr. Prince: And I just couldn't understand how he could turn away from that.
Lawrence O'Donnell: Well, for the purposes of this discussion, let's listen once again to that statement that changed this presidential campaign this week.Video of Mitt Romney at fundraiser: There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it. That that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what. (break in tape) These are people who pay no income tax. Forty-seven percent of Americans pay no income tax. So our message of low taxes doesn't connect. So he'll be out there talking about tax cuts for the rich. I mean, that's what they sell every four years. And so my job is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.Lawrence O'Donnell: In your piece, Dr. Prince, you write The very basis of Mormon community, stretching back to the earliest years of Mormonism nearly two centuries ago, is that the more able have a sacred obligation to assist the less able.
Dr. Prince: Yes, that's correct.
Lawrence O'Donnell: And when you ... I want to go back to your history with Mitt Romney. You actually were a support of Mitt Romney's in his first presidential campaign, weren't you?
Dr. Prince: I was; financially.
Lawrence O'Donnell: And you tell a story in this piece about actually personally approaching Mitt Romney, having a conversation with him about Mormonism when PBS was doing that documentary [See The Mormons, PBS], you suggested to him it would be very useful for both him and the documentary to appear in it and have a sane and sensible discussion of his religion there. How did that conversation go with Mitt Romney?
Dr. Prince: Well the producer of that documentary who is not a Mormon had worked with me on the documentary and she initially made the suggestion. She was intrigued by him as well and she is not a Republican. And I said, well it's possible that I will be seeing him and she said please take this message to him that I will put him on PBS for one hour nationally if he will allow me to interview him about his religion. He was very polite. We met him in a reception line; talked to him very briefly about this. He had heard this before through other emissaries and he politely said we have made the judgment that the religion issue is going to go away on its own and he declined the offer.
Lawrence O'Donnell: There is some speculation that Mormonism actually has something to do with what we heard on that tape about the 47%. There's a post in The Washington Post tonight; posted on the website saying, linking that to the notion that the church, I'm quoting it now the church happens to have a historic horror of dependency on the state [See Mitt Romney’s hard-hearted twist on the Mormon work ethic by Lisa Miller, The Washington Post, September 20, 2012]. What's your reaction to that?
Dr. Prince: Well, I think you're referring to a column that was in The Washington Post today. That's half right that the church does work very hard to encourage its members to be self-sufficient. But that being said; they also work even harder to make sure that those that don't achieve that level of success in life are not left behind. And very often you'll see the bishops as the frontline troops trying to help these people wherever they are and for whatever the cause that they are in that position. They certainly don't condemn them and they certainly don't write them off and walk away from them. That's why I was so upset that he would make that off handed statement that at least to the way I interpreted it was writing off half of the country.
Lawrence O'Donnell: In that same column, by the way in The Washington Post, Kathleen Flake who is a professor of religion at Vanderbilt Divinity School and also a Mormon herself, actually refers to Mitt Romney's thinking in what we heard as “twisted” and what she says, she's quoted in The Washington Post piece as saying, That’s Republicanism; that’s not Mormonism.
Dr. Prince: I agree with that. Actually, if you look at the social aspect of Mormonism, it is a surprisingly to many people, a progressive religion, but you wouldn't guess that by some of the things Mitt Romney has said.
Lawrence O'Donnell: And Dr. Prince, before you go, I just want to talk about the politics and Mormonism. I think Mitt Romney, and possibly for other reasons I think that people generally think that Mormons probably line up very heavily Republican. What is your experience with that and is there anything in Mormonism that would tilt a voter one way or the other, toward the Democratic Party or Republican Party?
Dr. Prince: The irony Lawrence is that over a century ago one of the apostles of the church was sent out to try and convince the church members that it was possible to be a good Mormon and a Republican. So the pendulum certainly has shifted over the years. Two weeks ago we were in Charlotte for the Democratic National Convention, and had the first ever meeting of the LDS Democrats Caucus. So I think it's safe to say that at least Mormon Democrats have been removed from the endangered species list.
Lawrence O'Donnell: Dr. Gregory Prince thank you very much for joining me tonight.
Dr. Prince: It's been a pleasure, thank you.