Friday, August 31, 2012

How not to root for a Mormon, when you are one

My grandfather was a Norwegian, a steelworker, a union man, and a life-long Democrat.  As such, he believed that Walter Mondale was the finest man ever to run for national political office.  Of course, a lot of that had to do with Mondale's strong support for unions, but a lot of it was Mondale's Norwegian ancestry.  Mondale's grandparents were from Sogndal; they moved to Minnesota in the mid-nineteenth century.  That was close enough for my grandfather; he loved the guy.  He walked on clouds for most of the '84 election; well, all except for the result part.

I thought about that last night, as Mitt Romney accepted the Republican party's nomination for President.  A Mormon: a major party nominee.  I thought, of course, of Missouri and Governor Boggs, and Van Buren of 'your cause is just' fame, and of the humiliations of the Smoot hearings.  Of the colossal unconstitutional farce that the Smoot hearings even happened.  I thought of Joseph Smith's quixotic run for the Presidency back in 1844.  He had no chance of being elected, of course, but a platform of internal improvements, compensated emancipation for slaves, and prison reform could well have headed off the Civil War, if implemented.  I thought of the great Mo Udall, such a great mixture of ironic distance and passion, for the poor, for an end to Vietnam; still my favorite Mormon politician ever.

And I thought of Barack Obama, and what his victory meant to my African-American friends.  The idea that he could win was inspiring in ways I can hardly imagine.

A Mormon, one vote away from the Presidency, and the validation that would mean.  It's an awesome thought.

We all have these words we use to describe ourselves, and we all feel close to people who describe themselves similarly.  I am a father, I am a baseball fan, I am a playwright, I am an American, I am a liberal.  When watching the Olympics, we find reasons to root for or against certain athletes, and of course, one major rooting interest is patriotic. As an American, I root for Americans.  As a Norwegian-American, I also root for Norwegians.  I am a Mormon, and a Mormon is now the Republican candidate for President.

But boy am I torn.

Because another word I use to describe myself is 'liberal.'  And I go with liberal, not 'progressive' or 'left-leaning moderate' or whatever.  Ever since the Fox News commentariat started treating 'liberal' as a dirty word, I'm got even less interested in backing down from it.  In my ward, at Church, I've heard people use the word 'liberal' as an epithet; I call 'em on it, and it hardly ever happens anymore.  I'm a liberal.  I'm also really into politics, really into policy; being liberal is something worth defending, I think. I'm an L-word liberal, in other words, and the more I'm attacked for it, the more tenaciously (obnoxiously) I cling to it. 

So Mitt Romney is the Republican nominee for President, and a self-described conservative.  (This week: snap!).  I think he's a good guy--I still have very fond memories of the Salt Lake Olympic Games, and give him full credit for stepping in like he did.  I think that's a genuine accomplishment, something to be proud of.

But I don't want him to win.  I think the policy positions he has chosen are uniformly awful.  I think he'll make a terrible President, if elected, not because he's a bad person, but because he believes in policies that have no chance whatever of working.

So I'm conflicted.

I have a Dad and a brother who love Romney like my Bestefar loved Mondale.  And my Dad seemed genuinely puzzled the other day.  I have a lot of misgivings about the Obama presidency--so why wouldn't that make me a Romney supporter?  What I did not explain carefully enough is that my difficulties with the President are precisely why I'll never vote for Romney.  It's not that Obama is too liberal--he's not liberal enough.  I have reservations about Obamacare not because it's a step towards socialized medicine--I have a problem with the fact that it's NOT socialized medicine.  That's what I want: a single-payer system.  Of course, it's possible that Mitt Romney is not actually the die-hard tea party conservative he's campaigning as.  That's frankly the only reason to not move to Canada if he wins (as my daughter threatens to do.)  He might actually not be completely horrible.  He might even be a slightly less inept President than George W. Bush.  That's a thin hope to cling to.

But he's running against Barack Obama, a man who I also genuinely admire, and who holds policy positions that, though somewhat to the right of mine, are reasonable and thoughtful and likely to work, somewhat, at least.

I want to warn people against Romney, warn them against the perils our country faces if he wins.  But I have to do it without warning them against a man I admire, a kind of man I also sort of am.  The approach has to be: "Don't vote against the Mormon! Do! Not!  Uh, for policy reasons, mind.  He's actually a really good guy.  But don't vote for him!  Oh, and I'm a Mormon too, as it happens. . . So. . . ."

What do you know about the Church and would you like to know more?"     


  1. Hear, hear! Thank you for articulating what I have been thinking. Your words give me courage to speak up more in my (mostly conservative) family and church circles.

    Last paragraph + last line left me chuckling. Especially the last line. :)

  2. This made me laugh out loud, and then stop as quickly as I could because it is NOT a good day for my back. My insides are cheering this post on, just a quiet, statue kind of way.

    This is my first election cycle in this ward, and since I have been on bedrest since most of the primaries started, I haven't interacted much with my ward. My husband has been a Republican since birth, but even he can't see the Ryan/Romney ticket as a good idea. He really missed Reagan. A lot.

    Given that I haven't been at church, and I have never actually talked to her before, it was kind of weird to have a ward member call me and ask me which of several days I wanted to come make calls at their home. I was confused and asked her what activity she needed to have calls made for. She then went into a long speech about God, church, country, the terror of Socialists and how wonderful it was to help Sister Romney. I finally stopped her and asked what exactly she had called about.

    Well it turns out she is the chair of a republican subcommittee of something or other, and she was calling all the republican women on "her list.". (I knew as soon as she said it that she was talking about the ward list, but since we aren't supposed to use the ward list for business or political reasons I decided to play dumb.) I asked her which committee list I was on, and she said she wasn't sure, that she had just been appointed and given a list of women in our area. I asked if she was sure, since we had recently moved here (15 months ago) and I hadn't voting in anything other than the primaries. (We vote by mail I Oregon.)

    She then made some paper noises on the other end of the phone while she said she would check. She asked me what committee I had been on previously. I told her I had been PTA secretary, scout and cub committee chair and advancement chairmen. (She now seemed very confused.) She pulled herself together and told me that we could figure out what paperwork I needed when I came over, and then rattled off the names of several Oregon lawmakers who would be joining them on a few of the night's if I wanted to pick one of those times. (At this point, I just wanted off the phone.)

    I told her that I was pretty sure there was a mistake and that she must have the wrong list. She then read my address off to me and said she was pretty sure she had the right person. I then told her that I have never been registered as a member of a party, so I was positive the Republican party did not have my contact information. (Now she was mad, and probably feeling trapped.) she asked me is I was one of the gay tree huggers. (I am pretty sure she didn't know how badly worded the question was.) I told her that like liked my husband and my trees. I giggled, she harrumphed (sp?) and told me that if I was going to be that insulting I did not deserve to meet (Oregon republican lawmaker) and then hung up on me.

    I have to admit, I am kind of hoping that she remembers who I am when (Oregon republican lawmaker) tell her Hi from me next Thursday. She is right, I don't deserve to meet him at her house, we both have much more fun playing Scrabble when we get the chance. (Although to be fair his wife and I often play Scrabble without him.) ;-)

    1. Wow. This conversation is hilarious to read, though probably less so when it happened. Are you a gay tree hugger? I have no idea which of my trees is gay. . . .

  3. Actually she called at the "magic time" when the pain pills were actually starting to work, and I wasn't totally loopy. The fact that I thought I might know who she was, but we hadn't even had a conversation, and I could tell she had no idea who I was, made it easier to be patient at the beginning. I also REALLY hate it when someone uses church lists for political purposes. I wish this had been a first time, or first ward. (Don't get me started on the bishop who received a "revelation" about who the Lord wanted the entire ward to vote for, in a city council race. Really? No clue to the prophet for president, but yes to a city councilman? That is the race it is worth breaking the church's stand of issues not individual politicians? Sheesh. Okay, deep breath, calming down.)

    I hadn't thought about the fact that I might have gay trees in my yard. (We have a lot of trees on our acreage, so as a percentage of the population, there have to be some. Since they haven't been advocating for gay tree marriage, do I just love the tree since I can't find a sin to hate? Wow, the theological possibilities are staggering. Now I just have to find the "tell" so I know which ones to make sure are dressed appropriately. Hmmmmmm.........)

    I have found that NOT belonging to any party makes me hard to quantify in wards were there are usually only Nephites (Republicans) and Lamanites (Democrats). It is really difficult for people when I say I am generally more conservative on social issues, and very liberal on economic issues. When I try to tell people that I am about the opposite of a Libertarian, they usually look at my like I am the slow witted child, and helpful tell me that there is no such thing. I try not to get cranky as I explain that we don't have a party with that mix of ideals, not that someone can't believe in them. Unless some time in their lives a PoliSci class or two fell into their lives, they don't really understand, but decide I am not like them and should be avoided when having future Nephite-Lamanites wars (sorry, political debates) in the church hallway. Since I partially agree with parts of both "sides," I am particularly dangerous (confusing) which makes their poor children (interesting and interested teenagers who don't necessarily *want* to join a political party they don't understand) who could so easily be led astray (taught to think for themselves) so that they might have the curse of the Lamanites (Democratic Party Voting Cards) or even worse they might become something truly damaging like a Gadianton Robber (Green Party Member).

    Okay, I am done riffing now. Giggle