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.

Advertisements

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.

“We’re Not Going to Violate Their Civil Rights until We Get an Outcry”

State of Texas 45, King George 28

45. In what has to be one of the most notable quotes of the Eldorado fiasco, the Schleicher County Sheriff said, “This is the United States…. We’re not going to violate their civil rights until we get an outcry.”

Here’s a little more context for the quote, as reported by the Tucson Citizen:

I have no regrets because we never received any outcry, a complaint. There was no evidence of illegal activity nor an offense in plain view. You can always suspect something, but until you get something that puts you on that property, there’s not a whole lot you can do…. But there again, this is the United States. We are going to respect them. We’re not going to violate their civil rights until we get an outcry.

If he had said, “We’re not going to move against the FLDS until we have evidence” or “We’re not going to ask for a search warrant until we have a credible complaint,” I would have been right with him. Or even if he had said, “You cannot go in and bust in someone’s house if there’s not probable cause to do so,” as the Texas attorney general said, I can still see the imprint of the constitution in such a statement. But, if you take the Sheriff’s quote literally, he’s essentially saying that after there’s an outcry or a complaint, it’s OK to violate civil rights. I can only hope that comment didn’t come out the way he intended.

The sheriff’s statement, even in the form it came out, is not as scary as some of the comments about his statement. I have found multiple posts on the internet by people complaining that the sheriff felt constrained to wait for an outcry. These sentiments remind me of Lincoln’s great speech at the Young Men’s Lyceum in which he addressed the subject of “the perpetuation of our political institutions”.

When men take it in their heads today to hang gamblers or burn murderers, they should recollect that in the confusion usually attending such transactions they will be as likely to hang or burn someone who is neither a gambler nor a murderer as one who is, and that, acting upon the example they set, the mob of tomorrow may, and probably will, hang or burn some of them by the very same mistake. And not only so; the innocent, those who have ever set their faces against violations of law in every shape, alike with the guilty fall victims to the ravages of mob law; and thus it goes up, step by step, till all the walls erected for the defense of the persons and property of individuals are trodden down and disregarded.

But all this, even, is not the full extent of the evil. By such examples, by instances of the perpetrators of such acts going unpunished, the lawless in spirit are encouraged to become lawless in practice; and having been used to no restraint but dread of punishment, they thus become absolutely unrestrained. Having ever regarded government as their deadliest bane, they make a jubilee of the suspension of its operations, and pray for nothing so much as its total annihilation.

While, on the other hand, good men, men who love tranquility, who desire to abide by the laws and enjoy their benefits, who would gladly spill their blood in the defense of their country, seeing their property destroyed, their families insulted, and their lives endangered, their persons injured, and seeing nothing in prospect that forebodes a change for the better, become tired of and disgusted with a government that offers them no protection, and are not much averse to a change in which they imagine they have nothing to lose. Thus, then, by the operation of this mobocratic spirit which all must admit is now abroad in the land, the strongest bulwark of any government, and particularly of those constituted like ours, may effectually be broken down and destroyed-I mean the attachment of the people….

I know the American people are much attached to their government; I know they would suffer much for its sake; I know they would endure evils long and patiently before they would ever think of exchanging it for another-yet, notwithstanding all this, if the laws be continually despised and disregarded, if their rights to be secure in their persons and property are held by no better tenure than the caprice of a mob, the alienation of their affections from the government is the natural consequence; and to that, sooner or later, it must come.

Yes, those who don’t want the government to wait for an outcry are justified in expecting that the FLDS honor the laws, but we must also insist that the government honor its own laws. Otherwise, if it becomes popular for the government to move against unpopular groups without being restrained by law or constitution, we will be reduced to government-sponsored mobocracy, which – as Lincoln reminded us – in only a step away from anarchy.

Texas-Sized Double Standard in Dealing with FLDS

State of Texas 44, King George 28

44. The State of Texas just can’t make up its mind whether teenage sexual activity is right or wrong.

The Texas Supreme Court minority opinion cited a psychologist’s testimony indicating that:

The pregnancy of the underage children on the Ranch was the result of sexual abuse because children of the age of fourteen, fifteen, or sixteen are not sufficiently emotionally mature to enter a healthy consensual sexual relationship or a “marriage.”

I happen to agree that 14, 15, and 16 year-old children should not be engaging in sexual relationships, but it appears that a double-standard is being applied: the government classifies such activity as sexual abuse if it happens within the FLDS community, while the government feels the need to subsidize the activity if it happens in the mainstream community. According to statistics provided by the Texas Department of Health:

211,596 [Texas] teenagers aged 13-17 were in need of publicly supported contraceptive services” in 2001. [emphasis added]

By the state’s own logic – as cited in the Supreme Court’s minority opinion – that amounts to state-sponsored sexual abuse.

The Texas government could have found me supporting its actions relative to the FLDS, if the state had collected evidence legally and proceeded against specific individuals based on specific evidence. However, given the manner in which the State of Texas has proceeded and the credibility of the evidence the state has produced against the FLDS, I find myself more shocked by the State of Texas than by the FLDS.

After reaching a high of CPS claiming there were 31 underage FLDS mothers, the state now claims that there are five underage mothers. According to a Salt Lake Tribune article, these underage mothers consist of the following:

  • 3 girls who were 16 years old last year when they gave birth
  • 1 girl who was 17 years old when she gave birth
  • 1 pregnant girl who will be 17 years old in August

The link to state statistics that I provided above indicates there were “19,754 births to teens 17 and under in Texas in 2001.” It looks like the state of Texas would have made wiser use of its money by not allocating the millions of dollars it spent illegally taking all of the FLDS children into custody but instead trying to address the larger issue of reducing teen pregancy and teen sexual activity in the state as a whole. In a previous post, I cited an early estimate of $7.5 million for the state’s expenses for the FLDS raid. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram recently reviewed over 400 pages of state records and concluded that the tab has already hit 14 million dollars and that invoices for many other expenses remain to be submitted. Based on the above figures, the State of Texas has already accumulated expenses at a rate of $2.8 million for every alleged underage FLDS mother. If the state were to spend at the same rate for every underage mother in the state, the total tab would be $55.3 billion. Given that $82.5 billion of funds were projected to be available for all state expenses in the 2008-2009 year, that rate of spending would be unsustainable. Hence, by the manner in which Texas has chosen to spend its money, it has significantly limited the impact of its efforts in combating teenage pregnancy.

Not only does the state’s handling of the FLDS case pose significant constitutional problems, the state also seems to be operating on a basis of impaired common sense.

Texas Governor Not Worried about “Fine Legal Lines”

State of Texas 39, King George 28

39. Texas Governor Rick Perry says he is more concerned about the welfare of children than observing “fine legal lines.” According to a Dallas Morning News article, Perry said:

If responsibility needs to be taken for [court edicts] saying that we stepped across some legal line, I’ll certainly take that responsibility. I am substantially less interested in these fine legal lines that we’re discussing than I am about these children’s welfare, that’s where my focus is.

Governor Perry is essentially stating that he doesn’t mind if the government exceeds the limits that the law places upon the government, provided that the government has good intentions. Or, more bluntly, Perry is essentially arguing that – in the case of the government – the ends justifies the means.

As I observed in a previous post, Governor Pyle credited the Short Creek Raid of 1953 with ending his career as governor of Arizona. If the electorate of Texas makes the same judgment of the Eldorado Raid of 2008, Governor Perry has gone on the record saying that he accepts the consequences.

Perry has already stated that he plans to run for re-election in 2010. Hopefully, the voters of Texas are less proud of him than Machiavelli would be…

Virtual FLDS Petition

Below I’ve listed links to writings that express concern about the way the state of Texas has dealt with the FLDS. Although one of the below entries is an actual petition, the remainder were not written as petitions but nonetheless do express significant concerns with the events in Texas. Of course, I don’t necessarily agree with all of the positions taken by these authors, but I think the discussion of public policy issues involved in this case is healthy. And, as this case progresses, I’ll continue to provide additional links for this “Virtual Petition”.

A few of the below are so significant to understanding the current FLDS case that I’ve marked them as “required reading”.

If you have some favorite links of your own, please post them below.

  1. W. Kenneth Law, Bob Pemberton, Alan Waldrop – Justices of the Texas Court of Appeals, Third District (required reading)
  2. Mental Health Worker #1 (required reading)
  3. Mental Health Worker #2 (required reading)
  4. Mental Health Worker #3 (required reading)
  5. Mental Health Worker #4 (required reading)
  6. Mental Health Worker #5 (required reading)
  7. Mental Health Worker #6 (required reading)
  8. Mental Health Worker #7 (required reading)
  9. Mental Health Worker #8 (required reading)
  10. Mental Health Worker #9 (required reading)
  11. Mental Health Worker #10 (required reading)
  12. Mental Health Worker #11 (required reading)
  13. 2583 signers and counting – “Free the Innocent FLDS” Petition
  14. Nicholas Lollini – Editor-in-Chief of The Spectator
  15. Michelle Rollins – Author of editorial letter to Salt Lake Tribune
  16. Pamela Jean – Citizen Journalist
  17. Scott Henson – “Grits for Breakfast” Blogger
  18. David Bernstein – Professor at George Mason University School of Law
  19. Ben Stein – CBS Contributor
  20. Kristin Wright – posting on ParentalRights.org
  21. Linda F. Smith – Professor at University of Utah College of Law
  22. Nicole D. Hoff – Certified Lactation Counselor
  23. Joseph Farah – Nationally Syndicated Columnist
  24. Guy Murray – “Messenger and Advocate” Blogger
  25. Laura Gough – Author of editorial letter to The Dallas Morning News

Sanity of a Court, Insanity of the State of Texas

King George 28, State of Texas 28

As the insanity continues, it’s now a tie game…

26. The Texas Court of Appeals, Third District, found that evidence to support the CPS claim that the FLDS community constituted a single household “was not legally or factually sufficient.” The court summarized the CPS reasoning as follows:

All 468 children were removed from the ranch under the theory that the ranch community was “essentially one household comprised of extended family subgroups” with a single, common belief system and there was reason to believe that a child had been sexually abused in the ranch “household”.

The court then proceeded to demolish the foundation of the CPS position, based on statements from CPS witnesses:

The notion that the entire ranch community constitutes a “household” as contemplated by section 262.201 [of the Texas Family Code] and justifies removing all children from the ranch community if there even is one incident of suspected child sexual abuse is contrary to the evidence. The Department’s [Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, the parent organization of which Child Protective Services is a division] witnesses acknowledged that the ranch community was divided into separate family groups and separate households. While there was evidence that the living arrangements on the ranch are more communal than most typical neighborhoods, the evidence was not legally or factually sufficient to support a theory that the entire ranch community was a “household”.

The simple fact, conceded by the Department, that not all FLDS families are polygamous or allow their female children to marry as minors demonstrates the danger of removing children from their homes based on the broad-brush ascription of every aspect of a belief system to every person living among followers of the belief system or professing to follow the belief system.

The appeals court ordered the district court to “vacate its temporary orders granting sole managing conservatorship of the children of the Relators [the 38 women who participated in the appeals case] to the Department [of Family and Protective Services].” In spite of this blunt and well-reasoned legal rebuff, CPS is pressing forward and has appealed the decision to the Texas Supreme Court.

27. After announcing publicly that Dale Barlow was wanted for the rape and physical assault of “Sarah,” Texas officials later dropped charges against him, without even having the decency to state why the charges had been dropped. By 2 May, the charges had been dropped, but the Texas Department of Public Safety was not willing to admit the date when the charges had actually been dropped.

If the charges were dropped because there is no evidence that Dale Barlow abused “Sarah” or because there is no evidence that “Sarah” even exists, that should be publicly stated, if not incorporated into a public apology. Simple human decency dictates that Dale Barlow’s name should be publicly cleared if, in fact, the Department of Public Safety knows him to be innocent of the offenses that they alleged against him in public.

By 19 May, CPS had also withdrawn the legal case aimed at protecting “Sarah”. A CPS lawyer stated: “We’re not saying that the child doesn’t exist, but at this time we don’t believe she’s in our custody.

If CPS has reason to believe the calls that triggered the raid were hoaxes, they have a moral obligation to admit that fact. As a material fact that is relevant to the legal cases currently being heard, CPS has a public duty to reveal the information in their possession related to those calls.

28. Although the district judge who presided over the initial custody hearing permitted nursing mothers to stay with children who are twelve months old or younger, she did not grant that same privilege to mothers nursing infants older than twelve months. What possible motivation could the state have for not permitting the health and bonding benefits of nursing to continue for these very young children? The state has argued that, within the FLDS community, young girls were married to older men and that they were taught to accept such early marriage. I find it ludicrous to believe that these nursing infants were on the verge of being married off to older men and, unless the state makes the equally ludicrous argument that nursing mothers were singing lullabies of underage marriage to these infants, it is very challenging to understand why the state would think that it was helping rather than harming these infants by not enabling their mothers to continue nursing them.

Click image to enlarge