Saturday, August 11, 2007

Ames Speech


Thursday, August 09, 2007

McWhorter's Romney Problem

Browsing the internet today, as I normally do to bring you all the riveting content and commentary that spews forth from my humble laptop, I came upon this article in the New York Sun. In it, John McWhorter describes the conflict and angst of two Mormons that he knew were gay, but who decided to follow Church doctrines rather than their sexual orientation. He then goes on to describe LDS doctrines against homosexuality. McWhorter makes his point:
What I cannot abide is Mormonism's starkly official revulsion at the simple fact that some humans are sexually attracted to other humans of the same gender.
He then continues by tying Romney to this discussion in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” way:
How could someone proposing himself as the steward of our great nation concur, in 2007, with views on homosexuality which in the future will look as blinkered as witch hunting does now?

If Mr. Romney does not concur with this primitivism but lets it pass, I see this as thoroughly ugly as well.
I bring this up not just because McWhorter’s stance is incredibly silly, but to educate supposedly educated people, like McWhorter, about the mental necessity of separating Church and State in the presidential politics of the day. Hugh Hewitt and others have tried to do the same, to little avail, and so I don’t expect much in the way of success in convincing others.

The United States government is a secular instrument. Its nature and function are secular. Its origins are secular. The executive of that government, the President, performs secular duties. His responsibilities include such things as providing for the common defense, promoting general welfare, and defending the Constitution. None of these things require a theology. They can be performed ably by someone without religious beliefs or by a deeply religious person. Because the duties are secular, the Constitution is indifferent as to the religion of the person performing them.

There is, however, a tension in our presidential politics. The electorate wants a person of faith. This is not so because we wish them to believe in a particular theology. Such a proposition would make it impossible to elect a President with any sort of majority of Americans. The multiplicity of religions in America would fracture the vote. Not only would it make a national election difficult once the candidate’s religion was known and the specific tenants examined, but it is the kind of thing that our pluralistic founding fathers sought to avoid. No, America understands that it is not a religion that is desired in our elected officials, but faith.

We desire faith because it is a desirable quality in and of itself. Despite the advance of science and the scientific method, which has certainly been a benefit for society, there still comes a point of the unknown or unknowable. It is at that point that science and logic alone are deficient. Faith provides direction and understanding where science and logic cannot. Indeed, it would seem unreasonable for someone to rely purely on logic and science where those cannot provide the answers. Thus, as voters, we desire a leader who has faith when reason alone does not provide guidance.

Faith should not be confused for religion in electoral politics. Many people make the mistake of using the two words interchangeably when they really mean one or the other. Indeed, it has become common usage to call religion faith and faith religion. In presidential politics, the two should not be confused. To do so is to cynically confuse the hearer or reader.

Despite this, the prevailing way to look at Romney (and it has been especially apparent of late) has been to look at his religion, not his faith. This is an invidious way to present Romney. McWhorter is especially explicit about it. He notes that in spite of the glowing reports he hears about Romney, he doesn’t like him because of a policy of the church Romney belongs to. This makes the argument about the church policy and not about Romney. It is not Romney’s individual faith that is being discussed but the tenants of his religious affiliation. It is identity politics. No longer is it important who Romney is or what he believes, but what group we label him into. That’s why so many of the pundits of the day have come to the same conclusion as McWhorter “damned if he is, damned if he isn’t” because they’ve given him a label and they can’t get beyond it. That’s why in the radio interview, the host claimed better knowledge of Mitt’s beliefs than Mitt himself did. The host had labeled him and wouldn’t budge.

For those of us with more sense, we realize that it is faith, not a particular religion, that is the desireable quality in a president. Thus, the endless crowing about LDS doctrines serve not a bit to enlighten the hearers about Mitt Romney anymore than having LDS missionaries in your home would. The nation has gotten that message. Somehow it is the press that hasn't.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Fred Thompson, waiting too long?


Friday, August 03, 2007

News round-up

There are a few things out there today:

First, countdown to the Ames Straw Poll: 8 days

Second, Michael Gerson has an op-ed in the Washington Post today discussing whether Romney should make a Kennedy-like speech. His conclusion:
Romney, however, should not make Kennedy's mistake and assert that all religious beliefs are unrelated to politics. What Mormonism shares with other religious traditions is a strong commitment to the value and dignity of human beings, including the unborn, the disabled and the poor. This conviction is unavoidably political, because it leads men and women to act in the cause of justice, not in order to impose their religion, but to protect the weak.

I tend to agree with Gerson. I wrote back in March:
I believe, however, that Romney is better off not making a speech about the role of religion in his candidacy. While Wilson makes the point that religion is central to character and should therefore be explored, I think that character is inferred from the way that a candidate speaks and acts. The religious principles that underlie that behavior and speech are less important than the result. By injecting religion into character, Romney runs the significant risk of having the LDS standards of behavior (as much as I believe in them) become more important than Romney’s actual behavior. No, I think that emphasizing the commonalities that Romney has with people of other faiths is the right direction. It gives voters the more palatable choice of accepting Romney alone without having to swallow the entire LDS Church as a whole. I think that making a Kennedy-like speech forces voters to make a much bigger leap than Romney alone presents.
Third, there was some debate over at the Corner about Romney’s comments about Hezbollah’s tactics in gaining political legitimacy. Lisa Schiffren had this to say:
So it is really horrifying to think that a man of Mr. Romney's intelligence would make the a serious diplomatic mistake of citing a radical terrorist group as a model for U.S. policy. This is where being a techno-guy, without any real foreign policy experience, (or ear) begins to matter.

KJL posted the Romney campaign’s response. Then Andrew Stuttaford gave this rebuttal to Schiffren:
Lisa, Romney was not (of course) praising or in any way endorsing Hamas or Hezbollah. All he was saying is that, judging by their experience, the provision of some form of social services is not a bad way to win support. He's right (of course it's not a particularly novel insight: I believe there's something called the Peace Corps that was founded on pretty much the same idea), and it's an encouraging sign that he is taking a serious look at what has worked politically in a region where US policy has not, recently, been marked by a great deal of success. There's such a thing as learning from the enemy (in fact it's a hallmark of many successful counter-insurgencies). Romney has just given a sign that he is smart enough to do that. Good for him.

Fourth, there will be a televised debate on Sunday on ABC.

Fifth, Brownback and Huckabee are having a little exchange over religion. After Jason’s nice summation of the Brownback campaign, it’s nice to know that others are seeing the same. Huckabee’s campaign manager Chip Saltsman said the following:

It’s time for Sam Brownback to stop whining and start showing some of the Christian character he seems to always find lacking in others.