#1: Romney Provides a Real Hope of Change

In summary, you may want to consider voting for Romney if you desire change, and if you look forward to something better than the past four years has offered. You may want to vote for Romney if:

– You believe that Wahington is broken by partisan wrangling and you want a President with a proven track record of working with both parties
– You want to see a candidate who has a track record of creating a positive working environment for women within his Massachusetts administration, while his opponent who — although passionate about women’s rhetoric — created a hostile workplace for women in the White House
– You believe that a candidate with a proven track record as a problem solver is more likely to help the United States solve its budget crisis so we can avoid following the path of countries like Greece into economic chaos
– You believe that pursuing a pragmatic plan for energy independence would provide an economic dividend and a peace dividend
– You believe that a candidate with a consistent personal track record of compassionate and altruistic behavior is the kind of person who can be trusted with high office

If you look forward to a better, brighter future, Mitt Romney may be the candidate for you.

Republican or Democrat … Who Would Gain Your Vote?

If you could choose from any of the Republican candidates or the likely Democratic nominee, who would gain your vote?

Election Diversity: We’ve Come a Long Way … or Have We?

With the four leading candidates in this year’s presidential contest having been an African-American, a female, a Mormon, and a 72 year-old, the diversity envelope was certainly stretched this year. A USA Today/Gallup poll reported last year on the willingness of present-day Americans to select a non-traditional candidate for the presidency compared to responses to a similar survey 40 years ago. The results indicated that the percentage willing to vote for a black or a woman had increased signficantly in the last 40 years, moving from 53% to 94% for a black candidate and moving from 57% to 88% for a female candidate. Given that an African-American candidate and a female candidate were the top Democratic contenders this year, it would seem that we’ve come a long way.

The poll also delved into questions relevant to the Republican ticket, asking voters about their willingness to support a Mormon or a 72 year-old for president. The survey results indicated that the Republican front-runners also faced significant demographic obstacles, with only 72% of the respondents indicating willingness to vote for a Mormon and 57% indicating willingness to vote for a 72 year-old. Gallup reported that the sentiment about electing a Mormon was “essentially unchanged” in 40 years, which seems to indicate that maybe we haven’t come such a long way after all. Add to that the way the topics of race and sex played out during the primary campaigns and it would appear that even the poll numbers from the Democratic primary mask some uncomfortable realities.

Let’s look at some presidential trivia for starters. How many Americans know the middle name of any of the four front-runners, other than Senator Obama? (The other middle names are Diane, Sidney, and Mitt). How many Americans can name the former pastor of more than one of these presidential contenders? Or how many Americans can name any biographical facts about any candidate’s great-grandfather other than Mitt Romney?

Or, if you want even more ridiculous trivia that hopefully fewer Americans can actually answer, what brand of men’s underwear did one journalist claim had been spotted in Mitt Romney’s master bathroom? And, if that seems a bit too ridiculous to believe, a Washington Post staff writer treated us to a discussion of Senator Clinton’s cleavage, and an MSNBC anchor speculated that McCain would be comfortable switching from a discussion of the economy to a discussion about “buying more Depends.”

While we’re on the topic of age, how many Americans can correctly answer the question “Who was the oldest major-party presidential candidate?” If you go to WikiAnswers, you might think it was McCain, though it was actually Ronald Reagan. Or, how many Americans could name the last election in which the president who was elected died before reaching his 80s? (That would be 40 years ago, when LBJ was elected: Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan and G.H.W Bush all lived long enough to reach 80, though in fairness, the jury is still out on whether Bill Clinton and George W. will live into their 80s).

Of course, we have debates to help keep candidates focused on substantive issues, right? The only problem is that our debates are a bit different from the old-fashioned variety. One hundred fifty years ago we had politicians such as Lincoln and Douglas who, in their famous Senatorial debates, gave lengthy speeches on the pressing topics of the day – including slavery and its relationship to both the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, states’ rights, the Dred Scott decision, and racial equality. Lincoln collected these debates into a book of more than 250 pages which was published in advance of the presidential election of 1860. Today, by contrast, we allow for sound-bite answers in response to questions chosen by moderators or audience members. Questions this year have included ones such as the question posed to the Republican candidates regarding whether they believe every word of the Bible, even though one would think it might be more appropriate to ask a presidential candidate whether they believe every word of the Constitution or, even more simply, whether they would defend all the rights guaranteed in the Constitution. I think Clinton had it right when she proposed switching from moderated debates to a format more reminiscent of the Lincoln-Douglas debates. We can only hope that McCain and Obama adopt that idea during the general election.

A snippet from a John Quincy Adams campaign song shows the venom that played a part in historical elections:

Little know ye who’s coming if John Quincy not be comin’ … fears are comin’, tears are comin’, plague and pestilence are comin’, hatin’s comin’, Satan’s comin’ if John Quincy not be coming.

So, how far have we come? If the Voting for Satan website is used as a yardstick, it seems we haven’t entirely outgrown the type of political venom in the John Quincy Adams campaign. Admittedly, that website was not an officially endorsed website. However, through the miracle of modern technology, that website probably had more hits than the John Quincy song had listeners. But perhaps there has been some progress after all: our modern electronic media do allow far more people to be reached by debates and written content. Now, if we can only figure out how to spend more time on the Constitution, civil rights, and the economy than we spend on briefs, Depends, and cleavage.

Ferraro, Obama, and Mormonism

My last post, which dealt with misunderstandings about Mormons, made me think back to an article written after Gerarldine Ferraro commented that Obama was “lucky to be who he is” and that the country was “caught up in the concept.”

In a Newsweek/Washington Post article (“You’re Wrong, Ms. Ferraro”), Rev. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite leaned toward judging that Geraldine Ferraro’s comments about Senator Obama represented the sin of “willful ignorance” rather than simple lack of historical understanding. She strongly argued that we need to honestly look at our nation’s history to overcome a “national case of ‘willful ignorance.'” When I read her passionate argument that Ferraro should extend her vision beyond women’s issues to include African-American issues, that caused me to wonder whether Rev. Thistelthwaite had also weighed in on the Mormon question during this year’s presidential contest.

I found that she had addressed the issue (“Mainstreaming the Mormons”) but discovered statements in the article that leave historically inaccurate impressions of Mormons. One such inaccuracy was the statement:

‘Plural marriage’ is still practiced by the more ‘fundamentalist’ segment of the Mormon church.

Plural marriage is, in fact, practiced by offshoots of the Mormon church – churches which have a membership and leadership completely separate from the Mormon church. For many years, the Mormon church itself has had a practice of removing from membership anyone who has more than one spouse.

A second misleading statement in the article is contained in the assertion quoted from Gloria Steinem:

If the Mormons had supported the [Equal Rights Amendment], it would have passed. They were enormously powerful in opposing it because there are certain key state legislatures which they control.”

A claim as bold as this, even if merely being quoted, should be accompanied by data to allow the reader to judge the accuracy of the claim. Let’s look at the data. In 1979, the deadline year for ratifying the ERA, Mormons represented more than 10% of the population in only two states, Utah and Idaho. Short of resorting to a conspiracy theory, it would be quite a stretch to claim that Mormons controlled any state legislature outside of those two states. The ERA fell eight states short of being ratified. It is, therefore, a historical fantasy to claim that the Mormons could have single-handedly tipped the balance. On the other hand, the largest territory in a map of ERA holdouts was the Southern US. The majority of the twenty states that rejected the ERA are located in the South, representing more than enough states to close the gap needed for ratification. It would be more historically accurate to claim that the Bible Belt, rather than the Mormons, held the balance of power in ERA ratification.

A third misleading statement in the article was the claim that:

For American culture as a whole, the advent of the women’s movement along with the freedom the pill gave women to plan their reproductive lives, was socially disconcerting. For the Mormons it was a direct threat to their core value of family.

Let’s evaluate the simplistic impression left by this statement that Mormons felt threatened by the women’s movement and birth control. First, it is instructive to note that the first woman who was elected as a state senator in the United States was Martha Hughes Cannon, a Mormon physician who earned her M.D. degree in 1880. Regarding birth control, let’s turn back again to 1979 and a quotation from an article in the Ensign, an official magazine published by the Mormon church:

If for certain personal reasons a couple prayerfully decides that having another child immediately is unwise, the method of spacing children – discounting possible medical or physical effects – makes little difference.

This statement followed a tradition of leaving reproductive decisions to the discretion of the married couple and doesn’t seem to square very well with the notion of a religion threatened by birth control.

Hopefully, the above review provides the reader an improved basis for making informed judgments regarding some of the claims in Rev. Thistlethwaite’s article. However, this discussion does not in any way detract from the need Thistlethwaite expressed for Americans to learn from our collective history in order to help combat oppression and, I would add, to help combat all the offspring of prejudice. Unfortunately, anti-Mormon prejudice was one of the forms of prejudice evident in the current election cycle. One website still features the headline “Vote for Romney is Vote for Satan,” while Mike Huckabee’s official website carried for over 3 months a blog entry stating that Evangelicals must not allow “Mormon garbage” to be elected. Though I felt it was important to correct some of the inaccuracies in Rev. Thistlethwaite’s article, I believe that her prescription for increased historical and cultural knowledge could be quite salutary, whether we’re talking about knowledge related to African-Americans or women or even Mormons.