Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Glenn Beck: Mormon, Sadly

There is really nothing more to say about Glenn Beck. He is soulless. His every word is carefully chosen to illicit astonished reactions. But I'll take the bait and we'll discuss him here because, sadly, he is "Mormon." His latest erudite and intelligent bit of commentary is that he thinks Pres. Obama is racist:

Pres. Obama has a deep-seated hatred for white people and white culture. But he's not saying Pres. Obama doesn't like white people. But Pres. Obama is a racist. So it appears, in Glenn Beck's mind, that racism and hatred of white people and white culture are not the same thing as not liking white people. You can be one and not the other.

First, I'd love to know what white culture is. If anyone can define it, please step forward. But it sounds a little too much like white supremacy to me.

Second, Barack Obama is half-white. His mother is white. Half his family is white. His grandmother, who he talked about often, is white. As noted in the video, his presidential campaign was run by white people and his White House is run by a white man.

But Pres. Obama made a comment about a black man getting arrested in a white neighborhood, so Beck says Obama is a racist and has deep-seated hatred for white people. I don't know if Beck actually believes stuff like this that he says, I tend to think he does, but it doesn't matter. What Glenn Beck really thinks is that calling Pres. Obama a racist will be good for ratings. He knows he has a base of listeners who are ultra-conservative, angry, white, and easily agitated, and he plays to those people.

What Beck doesn't get, tragically, is that there are consequences to such hateful and vilifying speech. We live in a nation, fortunately, and I mean that, where you can call the President a racist. Plenty of people called Pres. Bush stupid, and as far as I know none of those people were waterboarded or tortured in any way. But its not as easy as just shouting "FREEDOM OF SPEECH! FREEDOM OF SPEECH!" anytime someone calls you out for your awful and offensive speech. We also live in a society where we try to be tolerant and peaceful and intelligent, and speech like Beck's only lowers our nation's level of discourse, breeds hate and intolerance, and can lead to real violence. Now, if Beck was just generally inane and insufferable but did not have a history of hate-filled and violent rhetoric, his Obama-racist comment would be forgotten and/or ignored. But that's not the case.

Glenn Beck said that stem cell research will lead to Eugenics and another holocaust. You don't think someone could hear that and decide to stop it at all costs? Glenn Beck espouses traitorous secession when you disagree with the President politically. You don't think someone could hear that and start something nasty? Glenn Beck said that his political opponents were vampires and that the only way to stop them is to drive a stake through their hearts. You don't think someone could hear that and react violently? Glenn Beck said he hates, "hates," the victims of Hurricane Katrina and 9/11. Glenn Beck demanded that the first ever Muslin Congressman "prove to me that you are not working with our enemies." Glenn Beck accuses Pres. Obama of leading the nation to socialism. Glenn Beck called Pres. Obama a communist. Glenn Beck (this link is a doozy) called Rosie O'Donnell a "fat witch," called Hillary Clinton a "stereotypical bitch," called countries from where immigrants are coming to the United States "dirtbag countr[ies]," made fun of Braille, said that we need to be "in the recruitment office lining up to shoot the bad Muslims in the head," called Cindy Sheehan, whose son died in Iraq and who became an anti-war protester, "a pretty big prostitute," and on and on and on and on.

If he had said just one of these things, and somebody internalized it and did something violent, we certainly couldn't look back at Beck and accuse him of having blood on his hands. But when he spews hate speech as consistently and radically as he does, when the time comes, which is inevitable, that one or more of his listeners acts on these hateful feelings and ideas, Beck will be guilty. He can say whatever he wants, but when the words turn to actual violence, he'll be guilty.

The big problem, though, and what this blog is particularly concerned about, is that Glenn Beck is Mormon. Do you suppose that Beck could go from his radio show where he calls Hilary Clinton a stereotypical bitch, or a grieving mother/anti-war activist a big prostitute, directly to the temple and feel good about that? Do you suppose he could be in the foyer after sacrament meeting and call the nations directly to the south of America, where the church is growing exponentially, dirtbags as a Honduran walks by, and feel good about that?

And it's not like I'm trying to divine the intent of his heart, he purposefully and publicly made these and many other statements just like them for all to hear.

But because he is "Mormon" and conservative, he is treated like a General Authority. Check out the comments section to the Deseret News article, "Question: Is Glenn Beck a Mormon?" Members of the church revere him. They will defend him at all costs. They take his word as gospel, all because he is a prominent "Mormon" conservative commentator/entertainer. It sickens me. He is a terrible, terrible, example of Mormonism. He is affirmatively bad for our church, and I don't want his crying, hateful face associated with my religion.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Constitution Hanging By A Thread

Ever since Mitt Romney came onto the political scene as a serious (ahem) presidential candidate it seems like we've heard a lot more talk about the famous White Horse prophesy of Joseph Smith. There is no exact quote from the Prophet, but the jist of it is that one day the Constitution will hang by a thread, and the nation itself will be in peril, and will be saved by the elders of the church.

With Pres. Obama now in charge of the nation there has been no shortage of idle chatter that the Constitution will soon, if not already, be hanging by the thread and need saving by someone like brave Mitt Romney. I enjoy the mental picture of hero-esque Mitt Romney on a valiant white steed, hair perfectly coiffed, sword in hand, riding in from the East to save the Constitution.

But I don't want to make the impression that it is a silly prophesy, or that there is no need to be vigilant in protecting the Constitution. In fact, these last few years we've come closer than ever before. We just learned that in 2002 the Bush administration, at the urging of (surprise!) Dick Cheney, considered sending the military to Buffalo, New York to make domestic arrests of suspected terrorists.

The Bill of Rights, which is part of the Constitution, protects us from "unreasonable searches and seizures," which has been universally interpreted to ban the use of military for domestic purposes, like making arrests. There is also the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 which prohibits the military from acting as law enforcement. There is also the very spirit of Democracy and Freedom itself which informs normal Americans' fear of tyranny and unrestrained executive power.

Now, I've been to Buffalo and I consider it to be part of America. I also think that if the military showed up in my neighborhood to arrest a neighbor I might have some serious doubts about the health of our Constitution and our nation. For once we can praise the good sense of Pres. Bush who nixed the idea and sent the FBI.

As far as recent Constitutional thread-hanging, lets not forget the holding of American citizens in Guantanamo without charges or trial (Fifth and Sixth Amendments), or Richard Cheney claiming that the vice president is not part of the executive branch (Article II) or really the legislative branch (Article I) with the implication that the Constitution does not apply to him (seriously, gasp), or warrantless wiretaps (Fourth Amendment), or any of a number of other offenses against our core document.

Bush's snippings of the proverbial fibers from which the Constitution is suspended are just the latest in a long line of anti-Constitutional laws passed in times of war from the Alien and Sedition Acts to the suspension of habeus corpus; from the oppression of freedom of speech to the internment of Japanese Americans.

Here is the difference I see, though. In the previous cases (we're talking the War of 1812, the Civil War, the World Wars) the wars were discrete engagements with clear goals and obvious starting and ending points. The war on terror, as defined by the Bush administration, was open-ended and poorly defined. Bush was not the political equivalent of the Anti-Christ, intent on destroying America, but he, and more overtly Cheney, laid the blueprint for how it could be done.

First, identify a legitimate threat of terror or some other nefarious non-state actor. Second, exploit Americans' fear of this threat. Third, declare a war against it with poorly defined boundaries, goals, and strategies. Fourth, enact tyrannical anti-Constitutional laws in the name of protecting Americans from this threat. Fifth, pour a martini, sit back, and enjoy the fruits of unfettered power.

We are still at a point where we see unconsitutionality and call it out and fix it. We are still vigilant. I have no doubt that the day will come when the Constitution and the nation are threatened from within, but we are nowhere near that point now, we are further away from that point than we were in the previous eight years, and Mitt Romney will not be riding in on a White Horse any time soon.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Summer of Blah

I'm not sure if I've said everything I want to say as a Mormon liberal, but I do have to admit that I am completely uninspired by politics and politicians right now. Maybe it is the vacations and scout camp and personal issues, but this has been a summer of blah, as far as politics go.

We are a nation of people that want the military out of the Middle East, and yet we can't get out. There seem to be no new ideas about how to "win" or even "make progress." At least before we knew what the goal was, make a democracy in Iraq and get rid of the Taliban in Afghanistan. They were sloppy goals, to be sure, but we did them -- kind of. Now our military is stuck in a no man's land having achieved those goals by the letter of the law, but not by the spirit of the law. And so, blah.

We are a nation of people that want health care reform and a public option, and yet nothing is being done about it. Despite all the rhetoric and vitriol saying it wouldn't be this way anymore, we are a nation still run by special interests and neat little political one-liners of dubious veracity. Opposing political parties are more interested in torpedoing good ideas for political wins than listening to the American people and getting results.

Tens of millions of Americans, including millions of American children, are without basic health coverage. Millions are forced into bankruptcy as a result of catastrophic illnesses and injuries. Premiums are rising three times faster than wages. The system is broken. It doesn't work. But the insurance companies, those very faces of evil itself, are so rich and powerful nothing is getting done. All we talk about is how socialist health care reform would be, which of course is code for "don't you dare hurt the insurance companies!" I find it all despicable.

Plus I went from the Oregon coast (temperatures: 60s and beautiful) back to Salt Lake (temperature: 350 degrees).

So its the summer of blah. The American people appear to be completely powerless to ensure that the programs and goals they want accomplished are actually realized. Is there enough frustration out there to make a difference? Is Obama the president that can shake us from our funk? I thought the answer to both questions was yes a few months ago, but now I'm not so sure. Maybe I'm just in a bad mood.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Will moving to the Right work for Republicans?

The Republican party appears to have doubled-down on the idea that ideological purity is far more important than poll numbers. With congressional Republicans polling as low as 12 percent (as of July 9), one has to wonder if the strategy will work. I've read elsewhere that this is based on "lessons learned" from Democrats during Bush's presidency; that sticking to their ideological guns was the saving grace that finally got Democrats into their current electoral position of strength. Certainly the culturally relevant voices in the Republican party are enforcing a sort of discipline, such as is happening in Florida with moderate Charlie Crist facing a primary challenge from Marco Rubio.

I picked that article about Rubio because it highlights some of the challenges facing Republicans. With approval numbers as low as they are, fundraising will be a problem. More importantly, I think fundraising for primary elections will be particularly tough for challengers without a strong base of financial support. It's an interesting conundrum; on the one hand Rubio has lots of "grass roots" support and very vocal support from the cultural Conservatives. On the other, that support isn't translating into real dollars. Ultimately, I think, one of the great successes of the Democratic "surge" is the mobilization of small-dollar donations. Not just offering that option, but actually getting large numbers of people to donate money. This is the kind of thing a "populist" campaign like Rubio's could take advantage of, but people don't seem to be talking with their money (or at least not yet). I've seen it happen over and over again, anecdotally, all around the Internet. Generally speaking, Conservatives haven't been able to really draw the small-dollar donors in large numbers. Now, it's true that campaigns aren't all about money -- after all, McCain won the Republican nomination even though his campaign was pretty much bankrupt. But if the lack of small-dollar donations continues, then I suspect the war within the Republican party will not be won by the ideologues unless the corporate Conservatives suddenly change sides (they seem to support the established party leadership, which means Crist in this particular election).

So what does all this stuff have to do with the Mormonism or politics? Well, at some point in time a new Republican leadership will emerge from the ashes of these battles. And, at the moment, moderate (relatively speaking) Mormon Republicans such as Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman are looking very attractive in comparison to their potential competition (i.e. Ensign, Palin, Sanford, Jindal, etc). More importantly, they seem to have the support of some large-dollar donors, or a large fortune of their own, or both. Is it possible that a moderate Mormon Republican leadership could be the end result? As I contemplate the current political playing field that seems to be much more likely.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Ugly Cap-and-Trade Logic

I think the worst argument against a cap-and-trade system to lower greenhouse gas emissions is the China-India argument. It goes like this: Since China and India are not going to do anything in the near term to reduce their GHG emissions, it would be a waste of time for us to do anything. Unless everyone does, nobody should do it.

Think if we used this (non) logic in other areas of our lives. Unless everyone at my place of employment starts working hard all day long, I'm going to slack because my effort is worthless on its own. Until every other nation on earth ends human rights violations, we are going to keep oppressing our citizens because we are just a drop in the bucket. Unless all the other people around this child at the ballpark stop swearing and cussing, I'm going to keep on doing it because it won't really make a difference if I stop.

I find it absurd. We don't do the right thing only when it is popular or common, we do the right thing because it is intrinsically good. And yet conservatives accuse liberals of moral relativism.

Conservatives want the U.S. to be the shining beacon of democracy and justice and fairness, to lead the way in creating democracies. I and other liberals agree with them. But they don't want to be the leaders global warming reduction and other environmental causes which are just as important, or maybe more important, than democracy building. In that case they want to be the followers, the last person through the door after everyone else ensures it is safe. I say we should lead out on the issue and, if so, China and India will come along too.

And we shouldn't be deluding ourselves that our emissions are just a drop in the bucket, or that our reduction of GHG emissions alone is too small to make a difference. The US emits more GHG by total emissions and per capita than any other nation in the world. We account for almost one-fourth of the total GHG emissions worldwide. We are the big fish.

Lets not wait around for everyone else to do the right thing before we act, lets be the world leaders that we are expected to be.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Effect of Liberal Dominance on Mormon Voters

Liberals and progressives have a lot on their plate right now. The House just passed a cap-and-trade bill for greenhouse gases, which now moves on to the Senate. The Senate is debating a health care bill and whether or not it should include a public option. Al Franken just became the 60th Democrat in the Senate making Democratic bills, in theory, filibuster-proof. And Pres. Obama has begun drawing down troops in Iraq, much to the pleasure of Iraqis.

With firm majorities in both the Senate and House, a popular president, and strong public support for its policies on everything from the environment to health care to immigration, Democrats appear to be heading for something of a modern golden age of liberalism. The question I'm asking myself, though, is if this will have an effect on Mormon politics.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s when Republicans were dominating national politics, Democrats took several steps toward the center. They abandoned gun-control as a major issue, they moved toward fiscal responsibility, they became more hawkish in foreign policy, and the like. As they made this move Republicans also shifted towards the right on foreign policy, morality politics, and tax policy. Because of this, and the morality politics in particular, Mormon conservatives were able to re-entrench and solidify the base.

But Republicans seemed to have gone too far to the right and then, as all politicians are liable to do, became drunk with power, embroiled in scandals, and rank with hypocrisy. They also were in power when the largest economic downturn since the Great Depression punched the nation in the stomach. The natural result was big Democratic gains in both elected leaders and public support of policy. The big showdown in Republican circles now is whether to reinvest in pure conservatism or to moderate and become a big-tent party. The latter worked for Democrats until public opinion swung to the left in the past five years, the former appears to be winning out for now, as the dominant conservative voices are Limbaugh, Gingrich, Hannity, Beck, and Cheney.

Will all of this shake Mormon voters loose from the firm grasp of ultra-conservatism and allow them to morph into a more moderate and diverse demographic? I think the current political climate is almost guaranteed to have such an effect. Polls show that young people and minorities are identifying overwhelmingly with Democrats, and that is also exactly where the growth of the church is coming from.

So while this may be the beginning of a fairly lengthy run of liberal domination like the Republicans enjoyed recently, it might also be a time of significant shifts in Mormon political demographics. Time will tell.