Saturday, April 14, 2007

How A Mormon Could Become President

A fascinating with a capital F article on this question ..

A slice or two from it .. this was written before Mr. Romney finally stopped testing the waters and made the plunge


AS MITT ROMNEY tests the waters for a potential 2008 presidential run, he’ll be able to tap a vein of affluent, motivated, activist supporters with considerable political experience — the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), a/k/a the Mormons. The Romney family is to the Mormons what the Kennedys are to the Catholics. Mitt Romney’s father, George, a former CEO of American Motors and governor of Michigan, himself ran for president in 1968. Marion Romney, one of Mitt Romney’s cousins, was once a member of the LDS Church’s First Presidency, a triumvirate of the world’s three most powerful Mormons. And then, of course, there’s Mitt. A former venture capitalist and Mormon bishop, Romney unsuccessfully challenged Ted Kennedy in a 1994 Senate campaign and then rescued the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah — the Vatican of Mormonism — from certain disaster before being elected governor here. Like John F. Kennedy, who played to the religious loyalty and ethnic insularity of his fellow Catholics, and Michael Dukakis, who appealed to Greek pride, Romney — if he runs — will surely look to his own religious base to give his campaign leverage and traction.

FOR A CRASH course in Mormon political power, consider the important role the LDS Church played in the defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment, which would have guaranteed women equal rights under the law. Passed by the House in 1971 and by the Senate in 1972, the ERA enjoyed widespread national support and seemed destined to succeed. By 1976, 34 states had ratified it; only four more were needed to make it part of the Constitution.

Then the Mormons got involved. In October 1976, the LDS Church’s First Presidency — consisting of the church’s three highest-ranking members — issued a formal statement opposing the ERA: the amendment, the First Presidency warned, might "stifle many God-given feminine instincts" and lead to an uptick in homosexual activity. This denunciation had a near-immediate impact in Idaho, home to a relatively large Mormon electorate. The Idaho legislature had previously given the ERA the requisite two-thirds approval, but this was undone by a January 1977 referendum in which a popular majority opposed the amendment.

Next, the LDS Church turned its focus to the state-level International Women’s Year (IWY) conferences taking place around the country. These gatherings had no formal role in the amendment process, but served as highly public barometers of female support for the ERA. As Mormon historian D. Michael Quinn recounts in a forthcoming anthology, God and Country: Politics in Utah (Signature Books), LDS women in numerous states worked to block pro-ERA resolutions at IWY conferences. The process was top-down, and controlled by the Church’s (male) leadership. In Hawaii, for example, Mormon women received these written instructions: "Report to Traditional Values Van, sign in, pick up dissent forms. Sit together. Stay together to vote. Ask Presidency for help if needed." At other state conferences, male Mormon coordinators staked out various rooms and informed their compatriots when a particular vote was pending; the Mormon women in attendance then rushed in to participate. This kind of discipline and cohesion allowed the Saints, as the Mormons call themselves, to dominate conferences in states where their total numbers were quite small. For example, Mormons represented about four percent of the total populations of Washington and Montana, but accounted for half or more of the women attending each state’s IWY gathering. And in both Washington and Montana, every proposed pro-ERA resolution was defeated.

In addition, under the guidance of Gordon Hinckley — then a special adviser to the First Presidency, and now the president of the LDS Church — Mormon-led civic groups were set up in a dozen states. Anti-ERA speakers were invited to speak in LDS Church buildings, and massive letter-writing campaigns were launched. Here, too, the Mormons’ limited numbers belied their ultimate effect: by one estimate, Saints generated 85 percent of the anti-ERA mail sent in Virginia, where they made up only one percent of the population. Ultimately, after a promising beginning, the ERA was defeated. And while it might be going too far to say the LDS Church killed it, it certainly put the amendment on life support. True, Mormons made common cause with conservative Catholics and Protestant fundamentalists in their battle against the ERA, a collaboration that paved the way for the political sector now broadly known as the religious right. But without the LDS Church’s timely intervention and efficient opposition, the amendment probably would have passed.

More recently, Mormons have devoted their political efficacy to the fight against gay marriage. In 1994, the First Presidency issued a formal statement opposing the marriage of same-sex couples. Soon after, fliers offering advice on how to create anti-gay-marriage PACs were distributed at Mormon congregations nationwide. In the mid ’90s, the LDS Church’s national headquarters tapped couples from Utah to participate in anti-gay-marriage endeavors outside the state, and gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to "traditional marriage" campaigns around the country. Meanwhile, local leaders used their wards (which are analogous to parishes) to coordinate anti-gay-marriage lobbying efforts. In 1996, for example, at every LDS chapel in Texas, meetings were held to urge Mormons to join the Coalition for Traditional Marriage, a Church-sponsored lobbying group. The necessary registration forms were provided in case they wished to do so on the spot.

This strategy came to fruition in California during the fight over Proposition 22, an initiative to ban gay marriage in that state. In the year before the election, LDS leaders mobilized local congregations to support the ban, formally asking California Mormons to raise money, knock on doors, send mailings, and staff phone banks. It worked. In 2000, California voters approved Proposition 22 by a 23-point margin.

AT THIS POINT, of course, it’s all still hypothetical. Romney hasn’t committed to a presidential run, and his fellow Mormons haven’t lined up to support him. Until he does — and until they do — two caveats are worth noting.

First, Romney wouldn’t be the first Mormon presidential candidate. Joseph Smith Jr., the founder of the LDS Church, declared himself an independent candidate for the presidency in 1844. More recently, George Romney, Mitt’s father, made an attention-getting run in 1968 (see "Here Comes the Son," News and Features, September 17, 2004), and Utah senator Orrin Hatch launched a bid of his own in 2000. The collective Mormon genius for politics wasn’t enough to put any of these candidates over the top.

Then again, none of these candidacies really gave Mormons a chance to flex their political muscle. As the founder of a widely distrusted new religion and a perceived threat to the federal government, Joseph Smith was perhaps the least-viable presidential candidate in American history. George Romney’s appealing candor hobbled his campaign early on, and he was essentially finished by the New Hampshire primary; furthermore, the elder Romney made his run before the LDS Church waged its formative battle against the ERA. And Hatch — burdened by profound blandness, and running against John McCain and George W. Bush — never managed to gain traction in the 2000 race. If Romney runs in ’08, he should be the most nationally viable Mormon candidate yet.

The other point is more problematic. Veteran observers of Mormon politics believe that the LDS Church will not formally endorse or support Romney if he runs. Kim Farah, an LDS spokeswoman, says this is correct. "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a longstanding policy of political neutrality," Farah said via e-mail. "The Church does not endorse political parties, candidates or platforms."

This raises a perplexing question: is top-down guidance necessary to shift the Mormon machine into high gear? Some believe it is. If Romney runs, Quinn argues, "you’d have independent firebrands with great organizational skills working in Memphis or Tallahassee or Boston, but their organizations wouldn’t be connected. It would not represent a coordinated campaign." He adds that the endorsement of the LDS Church president — who, in addition to being the Church’s top administrator, acts as its living prophet — carries profound weight: "Mormons can be critical thinkers, and skeptical, until they receive instructions from the ‘living prophet.’ Then believing Mormons act like army ants under orders from headquarters." This jibes with the conclusions of Monson and Campbell, who suggest that top-down direction is crucial to ignite the "dry kindling" effect.

But is it? First off, overt neutrality on the part of the Mormon hierarchy might well co-exist with quiet support for Romney’s candidacy. "I very much doubt that they would publicly support Romney in an official way," says Ed Firmage Jr., a liberal Mormon political activist in Salt Lake City. "The Church is very skittish about appearing too political. But while it would be completely unofficial, in every invisible sense, [Church support] would probably be pretty strong." Again, the case of the ERA is instructive: while LDS leadership publicly condemned the amendment, it also worked to obscure the Church-directed nature of its members’ opposition. Even if Church leaders were to remain formally neutral, comparable surreptitious support for Romney might be forthcoming.

Furthermore, there’s something faintly ridiculous about the notion that, if Hinckley and lower-ranking Mormon authorities remain publicly neutral in the face of a Romney run, the Mormon electorate won’t be able to discern their private preferences. Think about it: Romney saved the Salt Lake Olympics, which doubled as the LDS Church’s chance to re-introduce itself to the world. His father remains a revered figure among Mormons; to a lesser extent, so does his cousin. Factor in some additional Romney attributes — his squeaky-clean image, his business success, his photogenic family — and it becomes clear that our governor is a paragon of Mormon virtues. "Honesty and integrity play well in Mormon culture," says J. Bonner Ritchie, an emeritus professor of organizational behavior at BYU. "Mormonism has become a true pro-business culture; successful businesspeople have credibility, and he’s a successful businessperson. He has a good family — he has a beautiful wife, and sons, some of whom are in school here, who look like they’re strong and good and behave well. All those things carry weight." Would Mormon voters really see their religious leaders as agnostic between Romney and the pro-gay-rights Rudy Giuliani? Between Romney and the libertarian McCain? Between Romney and Hillary Clinton? It seems unlikely.

clippers down

It's a huge article. Enjoy .. think .. and pray .. Personally, I always thought Mitt Romney will definitely run for President. Here's what I wrote about Mr. Romney's political and spiritual assets and liabilities.


The big question is, however, when he will announce his desire to seek the GOP nomination.

Will it be in the next Presidential race? I'm not sure but I would suspect that it's not likely. The Grand Old Party is going to get a pasting in 2008 if 2006 is any indication (and you didn't to be some political commentator to have figured that out) and the party is still largely in disarray, no matter how "unified" the PR tries to make it sound. The closest thing to a front runner in the GOP is John McCain and his maverick politics that have often been at odds with the Bush administration will be a model for all of the presidential candidates across the nation who will seek to distance themselves from their monstrously unpopular national platform. The national groundswell turned to the Democrats (surprise) and it's a good sign that we will likely get a Democratic president in 2008.

So I don't think Romney, who is a member of a very shrewd and cagey political family, is going to weigh anchor and run for presidency in the present political firestorm of transition our country is now facing.

I think Romney will wait for a Democratic presidency to arise and then run. They will wait for all of the national political circus to run for a few years, establish a new political climate and then test the winds to see if his ship will sail. I think he will then correctly gamble that the non LDS consitutuency of the GOP - including Evangelicals - will be longing for a Moses to lead them to the Promised Land of electoral deliverance and be willing to look the other way about his religious conviction.

Evangelicals have been looking the other way about a lot of things like financial scandals, immorality in leadership and questionable doctrine/practice. Mormonism will be the next asherah we'll tolerate. We won't burn babies there (of course not, we're all "Pro Life") but we won't cut those damnable things down and will let them tower into the sky ..

Remember what the Bible said about the "high places" of idolatry in Israel and Judah during the years in which kings ruled there .. and learn ..

A Year Later: Why The DaVinci Code Freaked So Many Out

The buzz over Dan Brown's runaway best seller "The DaVinci Code" has long cooled down. Frankly, I've always been amazed at how many gazillions of people out there actually bought the book and how many of them became immediately caught up in the frenzy of discussion over the themes it hammers home. Clearly, Brown walloped a grand slam of controversy over some very sensitive subjects. The Passion of The Codebecame a part of the brief but stentorian belch of cultural hot air last spring that sharply cut through the normal level of room noise in Western Society.

Why is this? The book is popular for all the hot buttons it pushes. Whether Dan Brown is a Christian or not, I cannot say. I personally don't know. I do know that his posited worldview in the book is utterly antichristian, that's for sure, appropriately irreverent in its postmodern rationalistic prose, trying to strike a medium between true crime and apocalyptic religious thriller.

The book is popular because Brown's tale - which I found to be contrived and not particularly well written - weaves so many well known elements embedded in the pop consciousness of Western society into the story. God alone knows how many people have written book after book combining various combinations of these plot elements. It was only a matter of time before a Dan Brown would hit the right balance to tip the jackpot into his lap.

There's religious scandal, conspiracy theory, the murky doings of vast, multinational organizations, love, murder mysteries and secret societies doing unspeakable things to protect the "truth" of what Jesus and Christian faith is about. There's the deliciously engaging belief that "truth" isn't what we think it is and we MUST, at all costs, uncover the reality which culture and tradition has buried with the status quo - a heady rush that seizes the imagination. There's a hero fighting a battle in that battlefield in which the lines between good and evil are intentionally blurred. You got rigorous investigative intellect facing down established European intrigues based on thousands of years of "tradition. And you even got Opus Dei, so byzantine and powerful that the Jesuits look like a bunch of bumbling Friars Tuck. All stitched in a tale set against the tragedy of tragedies in today's postmodern credulity - the possibility of forever missing out on getting down to the bottom of the "truth that's out there."

Some Christians made a lot of hay about trying to harness the attention of the masses by advocating Mars Hill styles of dialoguing outreach from Christians wanting to reach for Christ their non believing friends who entertained the book's skewering of Christian faith. If these were "witnessing" opportunities, I'd say they'd be about the nature of what is true and how we know what is true. In a day and age in which absolutes are optional claims true for one and not necessarily someone else, this is a BIG question. It's how we come to know truth, which is called epistemology, that is a big arena to explore questions in. And epistemology is ultimately what we stand or fall on. Brown's book makes Christian faith to ultimately be the sumtotal of a religious crapshoot between warring factions of Christian mystics, scholastics and conspiracies. That plays VERY well into the hands of an already thoroughly skeptical Western mind who've been imbued with that spirit since the Enlightenment.

And I fear that most Christians will be ill prepared for the kinds of questions their friends may ask about it. The homework on the banal claims set forth by the Da Vinci code plot has been done for years, but most Christians haven't a clue on this. They'll just take it by face value and try to deal with the demoralizing implications it sows. And once more, an assault by the artistes of the day on the Faith went down in cineplexes in a few days, reinforcing the printed words that have preceded it. Just another day in paradise. God alone knows how well the Church and the Christian faith stood when tested in a million anonymous and unseen courts of public and private opinion in the hearts and minds of those tempted to consider the truthclaims made by Brown's book outside its context.