Sunday, October 28, 2012

Political Perplexity

Craving Comments

I began to despair. According to google metrics, around 1 in 20 people actually post comments on my blog.

Then I had a Brilliant Idea.

I have decided to write provocative, controversial things and see if they elicit more response.

I have also decided to churn out more posts, worrying more about quantity than quality. And to highlight certain phrases for emphasis.

Let’s see what happens. 

Mister Mitt Mormon

I’d like Mitt Romney a lot better if either he weren’t Mormon, or I weren’t.

Five years and a few months ago, towards the beginning of the primary season for the 2008 election, a nice LDS lady met me and automatically assumed I was a Mitt fan.  I’m afraid I made a face.  When asked about my views, I explained, politely, “I like how he turned the Salt Lake City Olympics around. And I like how he opposed gay marriage as governor of Massachusetts. I really thought he tried hard and demonstrated political courage in that situation. I don’t like how he has changed so many of his positions (like on immigration and gun control and the environment) in an opportunistic way. And I’m not happy that he was ever pro-abortion, even if he claims to be pro-life now.”

I know Mormons want to assume that other Mormons are automatically nice, honest, and holy. In general that’s true. But I have known some crazy, abusive, or dishonest LDS people.

A few months after the incident above, as the primary season was starting to heat up,  I told a lay Catholic minister that I wouldn’t judge all Catholics by Rudy Giuliani if he wouldn’t judge all Mormons by Mitt Romney. We struck the deal.

Now, because I’m churning this post out, I’m not going to worry too much about niceties like research and documentation. Instead, I’ll just write down my opinion in a somewhat haphazard way.
In the years since then, I have further been unhappy by his carpet-bombing of negative ads in the primaries (both 2008 and 2012), his hypocrisy on Obamacare, and his pandering.

Apparently he showed remarkable leadership as a young missionary in France, stepping up and running the entire mission while his mission president was incapacitated. A very impressive feat for a young twenty-one-year-old kid.

I have some relatives, on both sides of my family, who lived in Boston back when Romney was the stake president there. I accept that he was a good stake president. Effective, charitable, even spiritual.  He does seem to have fantastic organizational management skills. In 2008, I emailed his PAC and suggested that he take over the post-earthquake disaster response in Haiti. Never heard back. Ah well.

All of that doesn’t necessarily translate to being a good president, though.

For one thing, as the CEO of Bain, or as a stake president, he would have faced a lot less argument then he’d get in the oval office. Members of the stake, in particular, might whine a little or ignore his requests, but they would be unlikely to go around actively subverting his initiatives, criticizing his character, organizing protests, issuing press releases calling him nasty names, and stalling his policy initiatives with dirty political tactics. That’s called “steadying the ark,” and it is NOT encouraged in Mormon culture. That’s also called “business as usual” in D.C. and is assumed to be fair game.
My sister Cheryl, who has a M.A. in political science and has specialized in Supreme Court and election issues, says that the skill set required to get someone elected does not overlap very well with actual governance. That’s why a new president tends to make his campaign manager chief of staff, only to fire the guy one to two years later.

I have seen a similar issue with Mr. Obama, who ran a superbly-executed 2008 campaign. Like him, love him, or loathe him, everyone agrees his team was extraordinarily disciplined and professional. He was less effective as president, though, because he had a wider scope and less control.

Another concern about a Romney presidency involves his shifting positions. I am annoyed that he pandered to the Republican base, then tried to reset the “etch-a-sketch” for the general election, then acts poised to “reset” again if he hits office.

My best guess is that, once he got into politics, it eroded his moral center. I can understand why it seems so easy to compromise—just a little bit—to win this one election. Because, once elected, the candidate can do so much more good…

The differences between principled compromise (which is necessary), and unyielding stubbornness (which is generally not helpful), and being tossed about by every wind of political opinion (which is morally empty and also destructive to everyone involved)—those are topics for a different blog post.
For now, let’s just say that since he has pandered shamelessly to the rabid right, I don’t see how he can expect to govern from the center. It’s ever so much easier to start a mob than to direct, or, especially, quell one. 

Plus, I keep asking myself, “If he’s the kind of guy who will say anything, tack anywhere, or embrace any position to get elected, what makes anyone think he will suddenly discover his spine in office? And if he did, which set of positions would he use?”

My final objection is much more personal: I don’t want Mitt Romney becoming the worldwide face of my faith. 

I used to love it when President Hinckley went on national TV. He acted genuine, and his personality just came through for everyone to enjoy. I was proud to point him out to friends and say “That’s my prophet!”

I feel a strong responsibility to act as an ambassador for my religion. That doesn’t mean I need to pretend to be perfect, which is hypocritical. It’s okay to admit human frailties and failures. But, yes, people are watching, and it’s important to set a good example.

As a teen-ager, I tried especially hard to live the standards taught by my family and my faith. After all my efforts, I got very frustrated at the frequent variations of the following conversation:

Classmate: Gail, why don’t you lie/cheat/date/curse/smoke/drink/gossip/dress immodestly?
Gail: [sensing a great missionary opportunity] Oh, well, I’m a Mormon, and—
Classmate: [interrupting] –but Jack is a Mormon, and HE does it.
Gail: [cringing internally] Well, I can’t speak for his choices, but as for myself…

Now imagine having that conversation with a co-worker or neighbor about the first Mormon president.

Neighbor: So, I’ve noticed you’re really honest and never engage in nasty gossip.
Gail: Well, I'm far from perfect about it, but I do try hard to be uplifting. You see, I’m a Mormon, and—
Neighbor: [interrupting] But President Romney is a Mormon, and he flip-flops all the time. And he covered up a major scandal. And he smeared his opposition unfairly. In fact, he comes across as a cynical, dishonest jerk.
Gail: [cringing visibly] Yes. I know. And I’m really unhappy about that. [We then spend time in further apologetics, discussing how Nixon was raised Quaker, and the Quakers are awesome but Nixon certainly wasn’t. Or how Rudy Giuliani, Joe Biden, and Paul Ryan are all Catholics of very different stripes. And how you can’t judge an entire religion by one person, even if that person is one of the most powerful and famous men in the world….]

In a situation like that, I would want to be able to tell my neighbor, honestly, “I didn’t vote for him.”
See? I would like Mr. Romney a whole lot more if one of us weren’t LDS.

That’s funny, since very few people actually like him, and those who do are often Mormon. I am struck at how many people say “Well…he’s better than the other guy,” or “I don’t believe he’s Christian, but I mostly agree with his current set of moral positions” or “I don’t entirely trust him to stay true to his current set of moral positions, but we have strong watchdog groups who will lean on him to stay honest.” I paraphrase something Jon Stewart said earlier in this cycle’s primaries. “If Mitt Romney becomes the Republican nominee, Evangelicals will vote for him, but with the same level of enthusiasm with which you’d take your cousin to the Prom. They’ll do it, but they’ll be really unhappy about it.”

President Obama

I don’t intend to vote for Mr. Obama, either, though for different reasons. I rather like President Obama. He’s not perfect, but he has tried hard. He has been fairly consistent in his policy positions. I felt like he really made good faith efforts to work in a bipartisan way, only to be swamped by a highly obstructionist congress. Mitch McConnell stated his #1 priority was to deny the president a second term. Facing a fiscal cliff and rabid Republicans foaming at the mouth, Obama blinked. I was disappointed, but I was also not the person on the ground. I can imagine it looks a lot different when you’re sitting in The Chair.

Many people are much more disappointed in Mr. Obama, but that’s primarily because they had such unreasonably high expectations. I was skeptical of his campaign promises, simply because I knew that a president can’t, single-handedly, reform my local school district or change the culture in Washington D.C. or write and pass comprehensive immigration reform. All candidates promise major changes, and it annoys me, because either they’re pandering or they have no concept of how the system works. Well, the system doesn’t work all that well. Let’s say they have no concept of how Washington operates.

The next time a politician, at any level, makes a “pie in the sky” promise, ask yourself, “He's either dishonest or incompetent. Or maybe crazy. Which is it?”

I’m not voting for Mr. Obama because I can’t bring myself to support someone who favors broad abortion rights and same-sex marriage. But, despite our honest difference of opinion, I respect the man.

Libertarian Loonies!

I’m voting for Gary Johnson, the libertarian party candidate. The libertarian party is awesome on most issues and insane on others, but that’s okay. I don’t actually want him to get elected.

Every election cycle, we hear “A vote for a third-party candidate is a spoiler. Go with the lesser of two evils and don’t waste your vote. Ralph Nader cost Al Gore the 2000 election, and then look what happened with President Bush.” Or "Ross Perot cost George H. W. Bush the election in 1992, and then look what happened with Bill Clinton."

I see that argument. The problem is that “the lesser of two evils” choice perpetuates the pathetic paradigm.

Thinking only in the immediate term, thinking only as far as the next four years, is what got America into a huge mess. Budget issues (like states deciding whether or not to implement health care exchanges) or diplomatic issues (as in our current holding pattern regarding Iran) keep getting booted down the road, until after the next election. We’re lucky to get 18 months of actual governance these days.

If more people decided to ignore the immediate “lesser of two evils” crisis and focus on a long-term agenda, it would take a generation, but we could see a more robust, multi-party system. The Republican party really ought to be three different organizations, anyway.

In a more diversified, multi-party system, maybe we would have genuine policy debates and less pandering. The third-party candidates debate last week was awesome. Crazy, but awesome. They discussed issues that neither Mr. Obama or Mr. Romney wanted to touch with someone else’s twenty-foot pole.

Granted, stronger third and fourth parties might lead to even more gridlock. But given our current situation, I doubt it could get much worse. Let’s give it a try. Third party revolution!

Given the options “A or B,” I generally write an essay and end up choosing G. (Not C, which is still too cliché.) Go gamma girls!

This year, I’m choosing G again, for Gary Johnson.

Controversial Comments

If you disagree with me, that’s fine. The comments section is below. Be passionate, but be polite. Preferably with punctuation. No cursing and no vilifying. 
Allowed: "No offense, Gail, but I think you're crazy. Here's why..."
Frowned upon: "I'm not voting for a Obama. He's Muslim!" [I frown upon it because it's not true and because it implies that being a Muslim is inherently bad.]
Definitely not allowed: "obama is a *#&%* terorist muslim commie come on guys seriously who would vote for such an evel person romney isn't grate but hes better than the other guy at least hes american your a traitor for even saying he has any good qualities"

Let's see what happens.


Mark D. Griffis said...

While I concur with your choice of candidate in Gov. Gary Johnson, I must disagree with the end goal. I want Gary Johnson to become the next President of the United States. While I acknowledge that for a variety of factors his chance of success this year remains practically nonexistent, I choose to vote for him on the issues and his proven track record of results.

Merinda Cutler said...

Love your post, Gail. You put into words exactly how I feel about Mitt. I'm so nervous about him representing our religion, and so disappointed in his pandering. I think if he weren't a Mormon, I'd like him better because I wouldn't hold him to such a high standard. You changed my thinking about him slightly by pointing out the hostile environment he'll be entering in contrast to the authority-respecting leadership positions he's held in the past. I'm still stuck in undecided land, wishing as I always do, that I had taken more time to make truly educated choices on election day.

There. I commented!

Cheryl Moody said...

So, even though I agree with the whole Mitt-Mormon thing, I will still vote for him. He impressed me in the debates. My biggest problem with President Obama is that when he was touting Obamacare, he claimed that fixing healthcare would fix the economy, which was blatantly ridiculous. As far as Mitt pandering to the base and then trying to move to the center, that doesn't bother me because the primary system requires that behavior to get a win. Nearly every presidential candidate in modern times (post FDR) has had to do the same thing. I don't like it, but it is a systemic problem more than a personal failing. I reccomend that you watch two movies, State of the Union with Spencer Tracy & Katherine Hepburn deals with many of the same issues, and The Candidate with Robert Redford does the same thing 30 years later. They are entertaining and will make you yell at the tv, what could be better?

Gail said...

Mark--bless you for commenting! It's been so long. Aren't you happy now that your self-imposed moratorium on political speech has ended?

Gail said...

Merinda--Bless you for commenting! And here you are doing DI and adjusting to the new role of Bishop's wife. (Ewww.)

Also, in fairness, Mitt spent two terms as governor of Massachusetts, so he does have experience dealing with an opposition legislature. I just don't want Mormons to be naif/naive about the relevance of his stake presidency as a qualifying leadership position.

Gail said...

Cheryl--I'm guessing that I quoted you accurately since you didn't correct me. Yay!

What you say is true. I recall Barack Obama tacking well to the left in the primaries in '08 but putting out feelers saying "Wink wink nod nod." And then getting called on it and trying to split the difference.

That's why Mitt's Mormonism annoys me more. I do want to hold him to a higher standard, and I'm not able to. I accept he is following the traditional political trajectory, but...bleh.

I have watched State of Union several times, and I love it. Katherine Hepburn has some of the best one-liners. I'll look up The Candidate now on your recommendation, thanks.

Gail said...

Also, Phil Porter agrees with me. He posted "Amen" on my facebook post instead of in this space, but I'll count it.

Four people who usually don't comment have now done so. Joy!!!

I think my next post will be about the deficiencies of Mormon culture. Or our educational system. Or something else inflammatory. Huzzah!

Jan said...

I suspect that you don't really want any illicit responses.

Far more likely that you meant to _elicit_ some responses, but of course, that might be why you chose to use that word: you were certain to elicit a response from an English major. :-)

Jan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gail said...

Sister Grambo--Aaah, you're right. *Gail blushes furiously* That's what I get for finishing up in the middle of the night, after four iterations of the toddler having night terrors. Thank you for correcting that point.

As a homeschool assignment, I give English credit to Eric and Daniel if they can spot typos. They missed that one!

Heather said...

This is fantastic Gail. I chose to vote for Obama, but I totally get your position on Romney!

My take was this: I don't see how you can reconcile being an active, temple worthy member and make the decisions necessary of a president who must follow the will of the people. For example, if the majority of the population decided to keep abortion laws but the president chose to follow his faith and veto it, it would be devastating to the political process and/or the representative of said faith. There has to be some gray available to someone with that power and the Mormon faith is too black and white to fill that type of leadership role.

Jessica Brown said...

I'm black and mormon. Try that on for size this election!

That said I go with Obama all the way. He's middle of the road reasonable.

I wasn't fond of Mitt before the 47% comment but after that I despised him - he is not a man for the people. Just for the interests of the few lucky ones like him.

Gail said...

Heather--I keep thinking about your comment. I want good people to get involved and make a positive difference. But then it seems that it's impossible to get involved and stay good.

That's the big argument in favor of term limits. If corruption is inevitable, let's limit it's extent. But then, in order to get elected president, you either need someone with no experience, or someone who has already made tons of unpleasant compromises.

What you said about the will of the people is very true. The Book of Mormon is full of examples of what happens when the majority of the people desire something bad. (There are also examples in the Bible, like when the Israelites whine for a king and Samuel warns them it's a bad idea.)

Provided they have basic checks and balances, almost any form of government (judicial, executive, or legislative) can work well if most people are righteous. And no form of government can work well when people aren't. If the majority want something wicked, there are no good options. You can either give them what they want, which is destructive, or deny them their agency, which is even worse.

Being involved politically is important, but the more I think about it, the more it seems that the best way to help is to do lots of missionary work.

Gail said...

Jessica--I don't watch Jon Stewart much. No, really. But people keep sending me links to video clips.

I remember one he did about "The Black Mormon vote" which you might find amusing.

In the 2008 election, I kept saying to Jon, "I can't quite bring myself to vote for Barack Obama--but I also can't help rather hoping that he wins..."

I had been a big McCain supporter all through the primaries, but after the Republican convention that year, he lost me. I found it odd that McCain seemed to pander more /after/ the convention, but it was as though his campaign was suddenly taken over by extremists making snide racist remarks, which Senator McCain mostly disavowed, but not as strongly as I would have expected.

Yes, the 47% comment was stupid. Mitt has made so many unforced errors. I know I said that a skillful campaign might not transition to good governance, but I suspect that a disastrous campaign almost certainly won't.

When typing that, I realized something. In the post, I was criticizing Mitt for his insincerity, but now I'm criticizing him for being stupid. Here he makes a comment he might actually believe, and instead of embracing his honesty, I attack him for not pandering more effectively. I guess this makes me a hypocrite, too. Oh dear.

(Though by "pandering" in this sense I mean "He should at least pretend to respect people. Even if he has a low opinion of them, basic politeness is still a form of respect," instead of "He should insult the electorate further by lying to them even more!")

Krenn said...

I stopped reading halfway through to say that the use of highlighting for emphasis is really, really, annoying. I keep trying to click on those sentences as a link, since that's the convention for highlighting on HTML pages.

please stop doing that.

Krenn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Krenn said...

Ok, I finished reading now.

I'll probably vote liberatarian too, for much the same reasons; I'd prefer a universe where liberatians were one the major parties, even if i wouldn't actually vote for them in a close election.

Romney doesn't really annoy me on abortion: his stance on abortion when he was governor of Massachusets was not insane, and his platform now isn't that different: his policy all along seems to have been "I'm not happy about abortions, but I'll let the other branches of government find a solution instead."

As for shifting positions and lack of honesty... From my perspective, he's mostly just been strategically vague, and while he changes the focus of his speeches, and the emphasizes different aspects of governance, depending on his audience, he really hasn't made concrete but conflicting policy promises.

I don't LIKE a policy of strategic vagueness, and I think He's overdone it to the point of hurting his campaign, but I can undestand why vagueness is a neccessary tactic in our political system.

Mitt Romney has a lot of flaws, but I'm not willing to say that he would be a bad president or a bad mormon. He's just a bit too technocratic to campaign well, and is relying on the usual curse of 'well-meaning' campaign staff with varied viewpoints.

Now Harry Reid... that's a famous mormon who creates problems. but that's another story.

Gail said...

Ronald--I appreciate your input. I tried the colored text as an experiment, and was aware it looked kind of juvenile. I was just so desperate for comments and thought that perhaps it would increase readability if key ideas popped out at you. The "link" issue hadn't occurred to me, since normally links show up as blue for me, not green or purple. But it's a very valid point and I repent. In future, I'll handle it differently.

Gail said...

Ronald II--I also appreciate your political comments. Thanks for not foaming at the mouth or simply dismissing everyone as idiots.

Gail said...

@ Everyone: I must say, you have all been remarkably calm, clear, and polite. I respect all your various (albeit different) opinions and appreciate that so many people shared. Don't you wish more politicians could have this level of public discourse?

Jon said...

I think you pretty well summed up my issues with Mitt becoming president. In our current political climate, anybody who can get close enough to be on the ticket for the election has had to make so many moral compromises that they can't be trusted anymore. Some of the comments that he's made in his ads and speeches leaves me wondering how, if he's willing to tell outrageous lies so comfortably to get elected, he could possibly make a complete turnaround and be totally honest once in office. And then in another year or two, he'd just start all over again as the three-year campaign for his re-election gets started.

Personally, I think there are plenty of ways to get involved in politics at the local level, but they typically don't involve actually running for office. Just let your friends and neighbors know how you feel and where your priorities are and encourage them to stand up for their own values. If enough of us did this, I think the situation might improve a little.

Finally, I like the colors. Maybe you could take Ronald's idea and make them hyperlinks. Just don't do anything annoying like using a different color for each letter of a word or making it flash.

Krenn said...

Gail: We're only clear and polite because we don't have a vested interest in successfully convincing others to support us, and aren't overly concerned about what abuse of power by other people who read your blog.

If politicians were placed in this position, they would have to either obfuscate to avoid alienating large portions of the electorate, or would be forced to declare open war against each other to prevent the nation from making irrevocable changes.

Although a McCain - Obama knife fight following a brutally honest discussion of health care plans would be kind of cool....

Carolyn said...

So I empathize with your emotions surrounding both Romney and Obama, Gail. And I would love it if the Libertarian party achieved greater prominence in American politics. Especially if they were led by brilliant people like my moot court partner Josh.

But that being said, I must say something irritates me. You're #1 objection to Obama was on the moral issues -- abortion/same-sex marriage. Do you understand that the Libertarian position on those issues is, if anything, even more liberal?

The key aspect of Libertarian philosophy that trips up both Democrats and Republicans that find certain Libertarian positions appealing is that Libertarians are BOTH UBER-fiscally "conservative" AND UBER-socially "liberal" (so "uber" in fact, that they hate using those terms at all.)

Both Democrats and Republicans are used to seeing the government as THE tool for accomplishing societal change, if they can just get their people in power and pass the right policies. Government is seen as the solution to: (a) legalizing/funding abortions or not, (b) giving marriage certificates to same-sex couples or not, (c) banning "hate speech" (d) enabling "religious viewpoints" in politics, and --steering away from the hot-button issues-- (e) whether to "deregulate" the economy or regulate more strictly to avoid compliance, (f) determining the role of the Federal Reserve in managing cash flows and interest rates, and (g) setting taxes / giving tax credits in order to encourage specific behaviors (energy tax credits, hybrid car tax credits, health insurance tax penalties, sin taxes, gasoline taxes, etc.) (And so much more).

What you have to understand about the Libertarians is they get rid of all of that. To them, there should be NO POLICY. There should be NO GOVERNMENT INVOLVEMENT IN 'MARRIAGE' (or any other sexual decision). There should be NO FEDERAL RESERVE. There should be NO TAXES. No entity should be able to manipulate government, lobby for preferential policies, or engage in regulatory capture because there should be NO GOVERNMENT.

So therein lies the question you have to ask yourself: what are the contours of YOUR social policies?

Is the issue that you find it morally reprehensible that anyone, anywhere, might be able to engage in the dreadful "sins" of same-sex married or have an abortion -- in which case you want to criminally and/or civilly ban it through the coercive power of government? If so, no candidate right now credibly supports such bans.

Is the issue that you do not want government support or funding of individual decisions you find personally reprehensible, but you are OK with individuals making contradictory decisions at their own cost and expense? i.e. No civil support but no criminal liability? In such a case, Gary Johnson is a fine choice. (And Romney/Obama are not).

Or is the issue that you find it morally reprehensible for you, personally, to vote for any candidate whose views on these issues contradict your own, regardless of that candidate's ultimate ability to affect policy? (Which frankly, is very low on social issues). If that's true, then you should vote for none of the three candidates.

Which is it?

Gail said...

Jon--I find myself playing devil's advocate. No matter what someone posts, I start thinking of ways to argue with it, even if it contradicts something else I've already written. Maybe I have issues with indecision, or maybe I, too, am a serial flip-flopper. And to think, I lured you into marrying me under false pretenses. If I'd been a more honest candidate, I would have told you up front what you were getting yourself into.

Regarding the compromises thing--I agree with you, mostly. But as Cheryl said, it's a systemic issue. The entire paradigm basically demands it. Which stinks. I'm trying to encourage multiple parties so that candidates can stake and and KEEP positions instead of tacking to the primaries.

There are absolutely ways to get involved locally that don't require moral compromises. On the other hand, someone has to be president. And I guess I would rather have a person who is eighty percent honest instead of a person who is only at forty percent on the integrity rubric.

This reminds me, for some obscure reason, of a line from a book about how doctors are trained. I paraphrase from "Complications," by Dr. Atul Gawande. "Nobody wants to be the guinea pig, but a young doctor has to perform his first tracheotomy on /somebody/."

I'm glad you like the colors. But what would I link them to? I sometimes do relevant links, both to external websites and to internal archived posts. In this case, I can't think what I would link random purple words /to/ though.

Gail said...

Ronald--so it sounds like you agree with Cheryl that it's a systemic problem.

Your comment about a knife fight was amusing. I knew your inner bloodthirsty Klingon would surface eventually.