Politics in the Church

June 23, 2004 | 97 comments
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Why is it that conversations about political and quasi-political topics among Latter-day Saints almost always devolve quickly into posturing and name-calling? And why, in my experience, does it seem that those who are conservative are more likely to head in that direction first? I admit that my perception may be biased by the fact that I’m “liberal” (read “middle-of-the-road” everywhere but among American Latter-day Saints). I may overlook more easily the faults of those who agree with me. Nevertheless, my impression is that because they are the mainstream of the Church, conservatives often tend to be smug about their position, assuming immediately that those who disagree with them are not only wrong (that follows by definition) but stupid, ill-willed, uninformed, and perhaps even evil. One need not respond to them, one need only dismiss them. And this is true even for many people who otherwise are intelligent and quite willing to engage in civil discussion of difficult topics.

One consequence is that many Church members who are not in that political mainstream are effectively silenced. We don’t say anything—or post responses to some of the issues that come up here—because we see no point in doing so; rather than engaging in a discussion, we’ll find ourselves having to defend our intelligence or testimonies. The pile-on by conservatives that follows any disagreement with their position is daunting, sufficiently to make those of us in the minority think that disagreeing is seldom worth it.

There are exceptions. For example, though I disagree with some of the other permanent bloggers on T&S, I find them always willing to engage in respectful discussion of the issues. But I think it is not difficult to look at some of the recent threads on this list and see that they really are the exceptions.

NB: If you’re not familiar with this site’s policies concerning posts and responses, please read them before you respond. We want to keep this discussion as civil as possible.

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97 Responses to Politics in the Church

  1. ronin on June 23, 2004 at 9:52 pm

    Which is why, despite being somewhat of a neo-con, I absolutely refuse to discuss politics with folks from Church – I do all my political discussions with my non LDS friends, some who are liberal , and way to the left (democratic underground-types), to folks who are really conservative, and think that given the beheadings of the 2 American s and the Korean hostage, nuclear strikes on the middleeast are called for!!!!!

  2. Clark on June 23, 2004 at 10:12 pm

    I wonder Jim if this isn’t so much a function of conservatives but simply that there are more of them in Utah – Provo in particular. Consider the odds that if liberals make up 20% that we ought to expect 4:1 ratio of name callers. Add to that the effect of being the minority and not speaking up as much and one really should expect that one will notice far more obnoxious conservatives than liberals in Utah. I’d expect that in Berkeley the effects would be reversed…

  3. Jim F. on June 23, 2004 at 10:19 pm

    In Berkeley, yes, but in the Church in Berkeley? I’m not so sure. Though I see more diversity of political types in wards outside of Utah but still in the U.S., I haven’t noticed a significantly larger number of liberals (with some exceptions) in those wards. I doubt that the conservatives on this blog who’ve fallen into trap of being dismissive rather than responding are all from Utah County.

    On the other hand, I have noticed more tolerance in wards where members are very much in the minority. Perhaps the need for everyone who shows up helps, even if they are outside the range of the norm, overcomes the problem.

  4. Eric James Stone on June 23, 2004 at 10:28 pm

    Jim,

    You may be right that there is a tendency among conservatives in the Church to assume that liberals are “wrong … stupid, ill-willed, uninformed, and perhaps even evil.”

    But I’ve noticed the same tendency among liberals in the Church. Since the (selectively quoted) scriptures show the liberal position is correct, liberals assume conservatives must be mean-spirited, disobedient people who don’t bother to study the scriptures.

  5. Jim F. on June 23, 2004 at 10:42 pm

    Eric James Stone: Perhaps you are right, though I don’t think I’ve seen that happen with the same percentage frequency that I’ve seen it happen from the other direction. As I said, however, my understanding of my experience may be prejudiced by my position. That said, it seems to me that what you describe I often see as a so-called liberal offering another possible interpretation of a scripture or showing that a scripture raises a good question with regard to a conservative position, only to have the discussion quickly turned from the passage in question to a question of the liberal’s testimony or obedience or intelligence.

    But I’d rather not go at each other with “you and yours do too.” So, assume that you’re right that liberals do the same thing. Why does either group do it?

  6. Randy on June 23, 2004 at 10:46 pm

    Jim, I wish I knew the answer to your question. Let me just say that my experience has mirrored yours. Perhaps there is something to the idea that there is comfort in numbers, and that conservative Mormons often assume that they have a receptive audience when talking to other members. I’ve noticed, for example, that conservative commentors on BCC generally tone down their rhetoric quite a bit, perhaps because they know that conservative views are generally out of step with most of the readers.

  7. Julie in Austin on June 23, 2004 at 10:48 pm

    I think part of the problem might be our rhetoric and discourse patterns that we learn/observe/use at Church. We all know how to talk when we’re all on the same page (“I’ve had a similar experience with prayer . . .”) but you must admit that church doesn’t give us a lot of practice at politely disagreeing with each other. Hence, when the discussion turns to a topic where we disagree . . .

    Also, I think most of us can’t get over the notion that, much as there is one correct way to baptize, or one correct pattern for prayer, there is one correct answer to questions about everything from poverty programs to foreign relations. It seems so painfully obvious to me that the logical extension of LDS thought to politics results in (my personal favorite position on any political issues).

    I think most of us are failing at an opportunity to exercise charity and Christlike love in our discussions of politcally charged issues, and that goes for some of what has been posted here recently.

  8. Randy on June 23, 2004 at 10:59 pm

    Julie, I’m not buying your first argument. I don’t know that my blogging discourse patterns are based primarily, or even at all, on the discourse pattern I use at church. I find I am generally considerably much nicer at church, even when I disagree with what is being said. This explanation also fails to take into account that we spend most of our time outside of church. We all learn to how to disagree (hopefully politely) with one another in our families, at school, at work, etc.

    Your second suggestion rings exactly true with me, however.

  9. Dan Burk on June 23, 2004 at 11:04 pm

    Jim — I don’t think this is necessarily limited to the Church, although within the Church, there seems to be an extra air of self-righteousness arising from the assumption that the conservative political view is somehow divinely inspired or at least Church approved.

    I have the same problem with many of my conservative non-member colleagues; as a consequence I typically don’t have political discussions with them — I already know what they have to say. There are exceptions to this, such as a very conservative colleague who is a Log Cabin Republican, and so is forced by his position in the party to be a little less sure about the proper order of things in the universe.

    One of the great joys of teaching at Minnesota Law, which has a fair sized LDS student cohort, is watching LDS students, mostly conservative, and mostly from very, very sheltered backgrounds, confronting for the first time the possibility that their pat Wasatch Front answers about abortion or same sex marriage or pornography might not be quite as obvious and complete as they had always assumed. They don’t necessarily change their views, and a few of them never quite confront the fact that there might be other answers than the ones they arrived with. But if we’re doing our job correctly, they go away a whole lot less smug and blindered than when they arrived. The point of higher education, after all, is to introduce alternative viewpoints, and the acceptance of alternative viewpoints is a fundamental tenet of liberalism — one reason for the empirical finding that the degree of liberalism rises with the degree of education.

  10. John H on June 23, 2004 at 11:05 pm

    Jim, others have already hinted or suggested this, but do you think it’s as simple as we’re used to the “one true” way of thinking in the Church that there must be “one true political party”?

    I think the attitude of some conservatives helps explain their way of thinking. People in my Sunday school class aren’t afraid to bring up political issues because they assume everyone will agree with them. They aren’t trying to advance an agenda or cause a fight, so they are genuinely caught off guard if someone challenges them. That makes them frustrated and angry because they see their position as not an opinion, but as truth. So comments from a liberal opposing school prayer might not be seen as all that different from a comment that challenges the prophetic calling of Joseph Smith.

    I’ve also long suspected that in the Church, majority rules. So even doctrine, which is supposed to be pure and come from heaven, can be influenced by what members think and believe. Since the majority, at least in Utah, are conservative, they control the discourse and get to determine what is “faithful” and what isn’t.

    I’d argue on the flip-side, there are two different kinds of liberals in the Church. There’s the Jim F. kind of “liberal” – those who probably aren’t too aggressive in defending their political ideals in fear of being “piled on” as Jim so aptly puts it. Then there’s the “Sunstone liberal” that is perhaps just as intolerant or quick to anger as the conservatives Jim is talking about. I think Lennie Bruce put it best – liberals can understand everything, except those who don’t understand liberals.

  11. Jim F. on June 23, 2004 at 11:20 pm

    John H: What I find interesting about the second kind of liberal you describe is that often they are not politically liberal, just liberal with regard LDS belief and doctrine. However, if they are politically liberal, then they are often extremely so, not only from a standard LDS point of view.

    I also think it true that people often bring up things in Church that ought to be discussed elsewhere because they don’t think anyone disagrees with them. I have assumed that everyone in my ward knows I’m a Democrat, but I am occasionally surprised by the comment in Gospel Doctrine class (I’m the teacher) that brings in politics and assumes that everyone, including me, is in agreement.

    As for fearing being piled on: I’m too arrogant to be afraid of it; I just find it such a waste of time that I don’t want to bother.

  12. Nate Oman on June 23, 2004 at 11:27 pm

    Dan: I am not so certain that conservatives in general are more dismissive or sanctimonious than liberals. I can certainly recall a great of left of center obnoxiousness at Harvard.

  13. Nate Oman on June 23, 2004 at 11:33 pm

    Another interesting thing that I noticed at HLS is that conservative students were often quite defensive. While I think that there was a considerable amount of left-of-center condecsenion, smuggness, and dismissiveness, I think that conservatives were far too quick to see an indeological slight in every interaction.

    A related point: I think that there is pretty good evidence that there is some subtle bias against the hiring of conservative academics at American law schools, but I also think that there are a fair number of second-rate conservative intellectuals who wildly inflate the problem of bias in order to justify their failure to secure academic jobs, etc.

  14. Randy on June 23, 2004 at 11:41 pm

    Nate, did you observe this same phenomenon in your ward in Boston? I think part (perhaps even the primary part) of what Jim is driving at here relates to the discourse between members regarding politics.

  15. Dan Burk on June 23, 2004 at 11:49 pm

    Nate — Having taught at both Berkeley and George Mason, and a few other places in between, I think I am pretty familiar with the possible iterations of law school political culture.

    I certainly agree that the left sometimes settles into its own kind of orthodoxy — but if you care to, you can shame them out of their rut by reminding them that they have supposedly embraced as a fundamental tenet diversity and tolerance of alternate views. Conservatism, by its nature, feels no such shame. Believe me. I spent two long years at GMU.

    I suspect that what you were detecting at least in part at Harvard was a complacency and arrogance that has nothing necessarily to do with liberalism, but let’s not get into that here.

  16. Bob Caswell on June 24, 2004 at 12:01 am

    I suppose I haven’t read the posts in the last couple days, but I generally make it a point to read Jim F.’s. There must have been a straw that broke the camel’s back… In all my many months of bloggernacking, I don’t think I’ve seen a post by Jim with quite so much fire in it (not that it’s a bad thing, I’m just pointing it out).

    By the way, I also feel the need to point out that words like “liberal” and “conservative” can really mess with someone’s mind if you don’t specify whether or not you are referring to the social aspect or the economic aspect. This may just be a token comment by a self-proclaimed pseudo-Libertarian. But I always get confused by which team I’m supposed to be on. I may be slightly more “liberal”, but someone please tell me where I belong. I feel like a fence sitter.

  17. Jim F. on June 24, 2004 at 12:04 am

    Randy, you said it before I got a chance to. I have no doubt lefties predominate in the academy and that they can be over-bearing, condescending, and dismissive (for a start). But I’m interested in the conservative-liberal relations in the Church.

    Nate: Good point about conservatives sometimes being too quick “to see an ideological slight in every interaction.” I think I see that too, though in the Church I think we often see the opposite: slighted liberals and sort-of-liberals, like me, are too quick to see an ideological slight in every disagreement.

  18. Jeremiah J. on June 24, 2004 at 12:07 am

    In my experience, many of the political-cultural dymanics that we are discussing are only readily identifiable among mountain west Mormons or mountain west transplants. In the ward I grew up in in the DC area (full of government employees, oddly enough) the trends and attitudes people describe in Utah valley are seen there pretty readily. But here in South Bend, IN, with many converts and few Utah transplants, it seems to me that many of the members do not perceive a common or majority political culture at all in the ward, let alone a conservative one. It takes a while for a die-hard Democrat to realize that he is in the minority, if indeed he is! So any intolerance or lack of moderation in political expression is usually interpeted as the problem of particular persons. This is my experience, at least.

    Nate: Not to disagree with your conclusion, but since Harvard is known in many circles as a center of left-wing sanctimoniousness, it may not be the best location from which to establish the general trend. :.)

  19. Jim F. on June 24, 2004 at 12:11 am

    Jeremiah J: I had noticed that the phenomenon wasn’t limited to the LDS west, but I hadn’t thought about the possibility that it is transferred to other areas, like DC, by people from that LDS west. That seems like a reasonable possibility.

  20. Kaimi on June 24, 2004 at 12:14 am

    Nate,

    I’ll agree that liberal hegemony can get pretty intolerant as well. In fact, I have (limited) experience in this phenomenon. I’m not exactly a hardline conservative (as anyone who reads this blog knows), and it may surprise readers that my biggest public confrontation at law school (to the extent that I had any public confrontations; my law school life was really quite boring) was with the Women’s Law Student group.

    Members of that group decided that it would be a good idea to vandalize posters of the (much smaller, though very vocal) pro-life law student group. So, they covered up that group’s posters with stickers with pro-choice slogans. I went balistic. I was not a member of either group, and not really invested in the debate — and I’m not that big of a fan of the pro-life position –but I take free speech and censorship issues very seriously. I printed up several dozen flyers denouncing the tactic and plastered them up all over the school. (I think I still have a few of them stashed away somewhere.) I can be a pretty good rheotoritician when riled, and as far as I heard, no one disagreed with me on the point anyway. The women’s group had gone too far, I had a clear moral high ground, and as far as I know the flyers were very effective at making that point. (I was wondering if they too would be vandalized; they weren’t). I did this anonymously, as in I didn’t put my name on the flyers, but it was pretty clear who was putting them up, I wasn’t exactly hiding.

    The next year, the women’s group tried to de-fund the pro-life student group. I thought that that was also outrageous. A friend at the law school newspaper asked me what I thought, and I ended up writing a pretty scathing op-ed about the idea. (In what I thought would be a particularly painful insult for a New York liberal, I compared the student group to Mayor Giuliani, who at the time was trying to de-fund museums he didn’t like). At some point — I like to think because of the effectiveness of my op-ed, but quite possibly just because it was a bad, dumb idea in the first place — that idea was also scrapped.

    So yes, I agree that liberals can be obnoxious. And I strongly dislike suppression of opinion by anyone, liberal or conservative.

  21. Randy on June 24, 2004 at 12:14 am

    Jeremiah J., having spent the better part of two decades on the Watsatch Front, I think I can attest that things are, well, different there. But I’m not sure that explains discussions on this blog, unless most of the conservative commentors here live in Utah.

  22. Ivan Wolfe on June 24, 2004 at 12:15 am

    It’s prevelant among everyone who has a majority.

    I’m studying for a PhD in English at UTexas – Austin, and the overwhelming liberalism of the english departments means that when I try and entertain a conservative viewpoint in class discussions, all the instructors and other students have to do is call my position “ridiculous”, “sophmoric” and “uninformed” (if they aren’t cussing and referring to George W. Bush as a “b*st*rd son of b*tch” – which by the way, I’ve had two instructors use those exact terms in class discussions).

    Conservatives have no corner on name calling. The liberals in the department seem fine to throw out ridiculous sound bites like “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” and then act as if the debate is closed. If I try to parse the statement out and try to debate its meaning, I get blamed for the Crusades and the explotation of women throughout history. It’s rather annoying.

  23. Eric James Stone on June 24, 2004 at 12:25 am

    > one reason for the empirical finding that the
    > degree of liberalism rises with the degree of
    > education.

    I don’t believe that has been empirically demonstrated, at least not the way you describe it.

    The relationship between education and liberalism is more of a curve, with liberalism associated with the lowest- and highest-educated ends of the curve. High school dropouts and people with doctoral degrees tend to vote the same way.

  24. Jim F. on June 24, 2004 at 12:30 am

    I don’t know what the curve looks like in general, but since church activity and education are highly correlated for LDS and most LDS in the US are conservative, it can’t be true that, for them, the degree of liberalism rises with the degree of education.

  25. Nate Oman on June 24, 2004 at 12:35 am

    Jim, Dan, and the broader bloggernacking community: I apologize for straying off topic. I just thought that I would throw out my two bit counter example to Dan’s experience at Minnesota. (I have no doubt it is a more open and less sanctimonious place than HLS.)

    Interestingly, I don’t think that in the Cambridge Ward, which has a reputation as one of the more liberal wards in the Church, conservatives felt especially defensive. In part, the demographic of the ward while I was there was heavily tilted toward MIT engineering students, who tended to be more conservative than the Harvard law students, who were more conservative than the Harvard grad students. The Harvard Business School students mainly synergized. Also, the MIT people tended to be mainly thinking about tensil strengths and the like. (I home taught a guy who could go on for HOURS about tunnel digging equimpment.) What was interesting is that though liberals were in the minority, they seemed to have a critical mass that made them more comfortable coming out of the closet from time to time. Also, their presence probably made the conservatives less vocal.

    My wife insists, however, that the fireworks in the Relief Society could be dramatic from time to time. Also, I think that the ward was more polarized before we got there and became less so as we were there. This, I think, was mainly a function of Cambridge real estate prices, which drove the grad students out.

  26. Jim F. on June 24, 2004 at 12:40 am

    Nate, did I miss something in your last two sentences? Let me put them in logical order and see if I’m missing something:

    1. Cambridge real estate prices drove grad students out.
    2. So the Cambridge ward was more polarized with our arrival and less with our departure.

    I assume that “we” (“our” in my rewrite) refers to you and Heather. No? What’s the connection between 1 and 2?

  27. Dan Burk on June 24, 2004 at 12:48 am

    “High school dropouts and people with doctoral degrees tend to vote the same way.”

    Yes, although for different reasons, having primarily to do with certain party alliances. Don’t confuse liberal political association with liberal thought.

    And Jim — I’ve seen references to education/activity correlation among Latter-Day Saints, and have long wondered about it, although not enough to try to sift the data. Most of the highly educated people I’ve known in the Church have a really tough time of it. I suspect there is something artifactual going on there.

  28. Nathan Oman on June 24, 2004 at 12:53 am

    Sorry Jim: The presence of substantial numbers of Harvard grad students seems to have meant that there were more outspoken members with “issues.” In the late 1990s, the price of rent in Cambridge soared. This meant that the grad students moved into the outer suburbs and got dispersed among family wards. Those who remained were largely conservative MIT engineers, who were in MIT housing, and a handful of Harvard students who were “hanging on.” And then, of course, the synergizers (HBS students). The result was a more ideologically homogenous ward, and less polarization. (Although perhaps there was more self-censorship by the belaugered contingent of liberals from the Cambridge ward’s semi-apostate glory days ;->)

  29. Jim F. on June 24, 2004 at 1:14 am

    Dan, I can’t put my finger on it right now, but in the early 90s, I believe, a couple of pretty good sociologists at BYU did the study from which that conclusion comes. I’m not a sociologist–big surprise–but the study looked pretty solid to me.

    Nate: Ah! I see. Thanks.

  30. Nate Oman on June 24, 2004 at 1:21 am

    As to education and liberalism: My understanding is that once you look at a longer time slice, the liberal effect of higher education more or less disappears. In other words, people tend to get liberal in college and grad student, but the longer they are out of school the more they tend to migrate away from the education induced positions and the more that other factors — SES, region, race, religion, etc. — seem to become the dominant determinants.

  31. Nate Oman on June 24, 2004 at 1:23 am

    As to education and liberalism: My understanding is that once you look at a longer time slice, the liberal effect of higher education more or less disappears. In other words, people tend to get liberal in college and grad student, but the longer they are out of school the more they tend to migrate away from the education induced positions and the more that other factors — SES, region, race, religion, etc. — seem to become the dominant determinants.

  32. Russell Arben Fox on June 24, 2004 at 1:37 am

    Since it’s come up, my two cents: the argument about the political bias(es) of academia is an old one, a complicated one, and one that is relevant and important to probably about 1% of all institutions of higher learning in the United States. Excellent universities both private (Harvard, BYU) and public (University of Minnesota, UT-Austin), are always going to be able to attract–and pay for–the sort of students and faculty that are preoccupied with, passionate about, and have the time to fight about, the deeper political meanings of this or that action by the administration, professors, fellow students, etc. The universities that most college-aged Americans will attend, by contrast, are profoundly apolitical, because the opportunity and/or energy to crusade on behalf of feminism or fetal rights or the war in Iraq simply will not be present. Only a genuinely paranoid ideologue would allow himself to get worked up over whatever bias, if any, is perpetuated through and by the faculty and/or majority of students at a place like, say, Arkansas State University; there’s no space for such bias to get any traction in the average student’s life, and consequently it simply isn’t on the radar screen. I used to be interested in this debate over the politicization of the academy, until I realized that it’s a tempest in a teapot.

  33. Russell Arben Fox on June 24, 2004 at 1:37 am

    Regarding the actual topic: I think it is indisputable that, in contemporary American political parlance at least, the church as a whole cannot avoid being “conservative” to the degree that it has committed itself institutionally to condemning behaviors and life choices that have become identified with the “liberal” faction (read: Democratic party) in the U.S. But that is a fairly slim reed; few people would choose to reduce their whole political self-understanding to positions on abortion or same-sex marriage. Why the broad identification of the church with the Republican party then? Why haven’t American Mormons, for example, played a role similar to the one Catholics played for so long (“liberal” in some respects, “conservative” in others)? Why has the popular association of Mormonism with conservative politics been so tight for a good 50-60 years now? I think Jeremiah is correct; it must primarily be a function of American Mormonism’s association with the government-distrusting, New Deal-opposing, Nixon-defending, vaguely libertarian, fervently patriotic American West. Our prophets were children of Utah, Arizona, and Idaho; our premier university was led by men like Brimhall and Wilkinson; Reagan loved us. For the majority of Mormons who grew up in or identified with the Mormon heartland, being a good country-loving, strong defense, law-and-order Republican was as natural as it would be for an African-American man or woman to identify with the Democrats, since after all it was the Democrats who actually ended up challenging segregation and bigotry in the American South.

    Of course, this means that Mormon Democrats are often marginalized or treated with suspicion, the same way (only not as bad) that black Republicans are often vilified. But it also means that once one severs any (self-)consciousness of that particular geographic-historical connection, so to are expectations severed, or at least minimized. Sure, Mormons are expected (by themselves and others) to maintain a “conservative” line regarding abortion, etc., but other than that, get away from the West and transplanted Westerners and things change. As Jeremiah notes, it’s not clear Democrats are in a minority in South Bend, IN. The same goes for Jonesboro, AR. By the same token, the black population in Great Britain or Canada (most of which is Caribbean in origin) doesn’t consistenly support “liberal” parties the way they generally do in the U.S., primarily, I think, because the geographic-historical experience isn’t there.

    What all this means, I suspect, is that American Mormonism will shake its entrenched dominant-conservative/bitter-liberal dynamic exactly to the degree that it becomes disentangled from Utah. Given the location of BYU and the number of “mission field” general authories called, I don’t think that’ll happen anytime soon, but in the end it’s probably inevitable.

  34. Jack on June 24, 2004 at 2:30 am

    Russell: I agree with you generally–that enviroment plays a major role in shaping our thinking. However, you may be putting the cart before the horse in suggesting that LDS in Utah are conservative merely because of the enviroment. The LDS settled Utah–the majority of whom were British. So whence the conservative tradition? I would ask, what is it about the culture that has attracted conservatism?

  35. Clark Goble on June 24, 2004 at 2:59 am

    Wow I go to the gym and suddenly the thread is full!

    Jim, perhaps I simply knew the wrong people from Berkeley. But I used to hang out with quite a people from there. Most I knew were fairly liberal, although they said there was a big “Wasatch Front” faction that made up half the ward and had the views associated with Utah. But since I only visited the ward (although I really liked it – I nearly went to grad school there) I probably shouldn’t speak too much.

    Regarding name calling. I think the problem is that at a certain point it stops being about politics or ideology and starts having more in common with sports fans. I’ve noticed this among my friends. One still harps about Bill Clinton and drives me nuts. But I tend to read and discuss with people opposite to me politically, and I notice a *lot* of it going on there as well. Both sides latch on to the smallest personal infraction. As this “go team go” mentality progresses, one is less likely to recognize ones own faults, as that is a sign of disloyalty to the team. It really bothers me.

    I say that because I honestly think, especially relative to the ideologies within the country and with respect to other nation’s political systems, that the differences between Democrats and Republicans really aren’t that great. The battles remind me of the fierce battles between Protestant sects in the 16th and 17th centuries in some ways. I don’t understand how such small differences lead to such heated rhetoric. Just look at the current election. I don’t care what the zealots of either side say – the differences in rhetoric between Kerry and Bush are minor. Where to target the tax cuts and perhaps the size of extended tax cuts. Slight differences in degree of international involvement. There’s obviously more at stake (i.e. the supreme court) but in terms of the rhetoric, I sure don’t see a lot of difference. Even going by my gut instincts (i.e. that Kerry plans a Kissinger styled realpolitic) the differences are still rather minor of degree. Yet everyone is going on about flame wars. Some of the most polarized debates (i.e. abortion, gay rights) are things that the president has limited control over. It really does puzzle me at times.

  36. Aaron Brown on June 24, 2004 at 3:28 am

    As is so typical these days, I find a post at T&S I really like, and about which I have lots of ideas, only to find that they’ve all already been said, and better than I would have said them.

    My two cents are these: I don’t think there’s anything inherent to the psychology or temperament of “conservatives” or “liberals” that more easily lends itself to intolerance, arrogance, posturing or the propensity for name-calling. Members of both groups can display these qualities without much effort, and often do. But I think Jim F. is right that in the Church, conservatives are more likely to be guilty of these offenses (certain symposium sessions at Sunstone excepted). This is, I have always believed, a function of the fact that conservative political positions tend to be majority positions among LDS members. It is easy to confuse religious orthodoxy with political orthodoxy when large numbers of people you know embody both qualities. However intolerant a “liberal” may be, it is harder for him to fool himself into believing that his political opinions are incontrovertibly “religiously correct.” He’s likely to be surrounded by other LDS members whose outspoken existence constantly reminds him otherwise.

    A brief autobiographical note: I grew up as a rather rabid conservative. I was a big Wally George fan (those from Southern California might know who he is) – a Rush Limbaugh fan before there was such a thing as Rush Limbaugh. I was never particularly religiously dogmatic, even as a teenager, but I was pretty faithful, and I grew up in a ward where being a Republican seemed like one of the first 5 principles and ordinances of the Gospel. Since my politics and my religion seemed unquestionably in synch, there was no real reason to spend a lot of time trying to separate them conceptually.

    BYU cured me of this (ironically enough, since it seems to have the opposite effect on many others). I definitely turned left (relatively speaking), due in large part to the mindless conservatism I perceived in so many around me, and the lack of intellectual inquisitiveness of so many towards topics and issues for which they already possessed the “right” answers. My more “liberal” BYU friends — because they were swimming against the tide and constantly having to play defense – were so much more interesting and articulate. At least that was my perception.

    For what it’s worth, I now consider myself fairly politically conservative/libertarian, but quite religiously liberal. The latter is fairly obvious. The former is probably less so, since I don’t blog on political topics very often. What is interesting to me is how many people have emailed me over the last few years (since I’ve been a denizen of online Mormon discussions) assuming that I’m a lefty. Jim F. points out that many who are “liberal with regard to LDS belief and doctrine” are not necessarily politically liberal. True as that is, many members have yet to grasp it.

    Aaron B

    P.S. Nate, I always figured the degree of “conservative” or “liberal” views in the Cambridge 1st ward was largely a function of who was Bishop at any given time. Many have commented on the correlation…

  37. Aaron Brown on June 24, 2004 at 3:29 am

    As is so typical these days, I find a post at T&S I really like, and about which I have lots of ideas, only to find that they’ve all already been said, and better than I would have said them.

    My two cents are these: I don’t think there’s anything inherent to the psychology or temperament of “conservatives” or “liberals” that more easily lends itself to intolerance, arrogance, posturing or the propensity for name-calling. Members of both groups can display these qualities without much effort, and often do. But I think Jim F. is right that in the Church, conservatives are more likely to be guilty of these offenses (certain symposium sessions at Sunstone excepted). This is, I have always believed, a function of the fact that conservative political positions tend to be majority positions among LDS members. It is easy to confuse religious orthodoxy with political orthodoxy when large numbers of people you know embody both qualities. However intolerant a “liberal” may be, it is harder for him to fool himself into believing that his political opinions are incontrovertibly “religiously correct.” He’s likely to be surrounded by other LDS members whose outspoken existence constantly reminds him otherwise.

    A brief autobiographical note: I grew up as a rather rabid conservative. I was a big Wally George fan (those from Southern California might know who he is) – a Rush Limbaugh fan before there was such a thing as Rush Limbaugh. I was never particularly religiously dogmatic, even as a teenager, but I was pretty faithful, and I grew up in a ward where being a Republican seemed like one of the first 5 principles and ordinances of the Gospel. Since my politics and my religion seemed unquestionably in synch, there was no real reason to spend a lot of time trying to separate them conceptually.

    BYU cured me of this (ironically enough, since it seems to have the opposite effect on many others). I definitely turned left (relatively speaking), due in large part to the mindless conservatism I perceived in so many around me, and the lack of intellectual inquisitiveness of so many towards topics and issues for which they already possessed the “right” answers. My more “liberal” BYU friends — because they were swimming against the tide and constantly having to play defense – were so much more interesting and articulate. At least that was my perception.

    For what it’s worth, I now consider myself fairly politically conservative/libertarian, but quite religiously liberal. The latter is fairly obvious. The former is probably less so, since I don’t blog on political topics very often. What is interesting to me is how many people have emailed me over the last few years (since I’ve been a denizen of online Mormon discussions) assuming that I’m a lefty. Jim F. points out that many who are “liberal with regard to LDS belief and doctrine” are not necessarily politically liberal. True as that is, many members have yet to grasp it.

    Aaron B

    P.S. Nate, I always figured the degree of “conservative” or “liberal” views in the Cambridge 1st ward was largely a function of who was Bishop at any given time. Many have commented on the correlation…

  38. Aaron Brown on June 24, 2004 at 3:31 am

    As is so typical these days, I find a post at T&S I really like, and about which I have lots of ideas, only to find that they’ve all already been said, and better than I would have said them.

    My two cents are these: I don’t think there’s anything inherent to the psychology or temperament of “conservatives” or “liberals” that more easily lends itself to intolerance, arrogance, posturing or the propensity for name-calling. Members of both groups can display these qualities without much effort, and often do. But I think Jim F. is right that in the Church, conservatives are more likely to be guilty of these offenses (certain symposium sessions at Sunstone excepted). This is, I have always believed, a function of the fact that conservative political positions tend to be majority positions among LDS members. It is easy to confuse religious orthodoxy with political orthodoxy when large numbers of people you know embody both qualities. However intolerant a “liberal” may be, it is harder for him to fool himself into believing that his political opinions are incontrovertibly “religiously correct.” He’s likely to be surrounded by other LDS members whose outspoken existence constantly reminds him otherwise.

    A brief autobiographical note: I grew up as a rather rabid conservative. I was a big Wally George fan (those from Southern California might know who he is) – a Rush Limbaugh fan before there was such a thing as Rush Limbaugh. I was never particularly religiously dogmatic, even as a teenager, but I was pretty faithful, and I grew up in a ward where being a Republican seemed like one of the first 5 principles and ordinances of the Gospel. Since my politics and my religion seemed unquestionably in synch, there was no real reason to spend a lot of time trying to separate them conceptually.

    BYU cured me of this (ironically enough, since it seems to have the opposite effect on many others). I definitely turned left (relatively speaking), due in large part to the mindless conservatism I perceived in so many around me, and the lack of intellectual inquisitiveness of so many towards topics and issues for which they already possessed the “right” answers. My more “liberal” BYU friends — because they were swimming against the tide and constantly having to play defense – were so much more interesting and articulate. At least that was my perception.

    For what it’s worth, I now consider myself fairly politically conservative/libertarian, but quite religiously liberal. The latter is fairly obvious. The former is probably less so, since I don’t blog on political topics very often. What is interesting to me is how many people have emailed me over the last few years (since I’ve been a denizen of online Mormon discussions) assuming that I’m a lefty. Jim F. points out that many who are “liberal with regard to LDS belief and doctrine” are not necessarily politically liberal. True as that is, many members have yet to grasp it.

    Aaron B

    P.S. Nate, I always figured the degree of “conservative” or “liberal” views in the Cambridge 1st ward was largely a function of who was Bishop at any given time. Many have commented on the correlation…

  39. Aaron Brown on June 24, 2004 at 3:35 am

    T&S rulers, please remove my stutter. Thanks.

    Aaron B

  40. Steve Evans on June 24, 2004 at 3:44 am

    I have to agree with Jim’s and Aaron’s comments that most liberal Mormons, as I know them, are liberal only with regards to policies and doctrine, but find themselves centrist or conservative on the map of political regimes. That’s certainly how I would define myself, and while I’m hesitant to chaulk it up to an overall conservatism in mormondom, I’m not sure what else could produce such an effect.

    Plus, I’m not sure why I’m blogging at 3 AM…

  41. Kristen on June 24, 2004 at 10:29 am

    Steve- I think the reverse is also true. Some of us who are proud democrats are often uncomfortable with the “liberal” mormons’ treading on things we hold sacred.

    I agree with Jim – conservatives feel more comfortable speaking up because there’s the assumption that they speak for everyone. And it isn’t just a Utah-native thing. One anecdote: An ultra-conservative friend from church volunteered to make a quilt for her family reunion, even though she didn’t know how to make a quilt and she didn’t have a sewing machine. In a panic, she called and asked me to “help” her make this quilt (“help” meaning she would drop off the fabric pieces and then pick up the finished product from me). When it came time to tie the quilt, we were setting up the frames in the primary room and another member of the ward came in the room to clean it. Both knew I was a democrat, and they took this opportunity to start ripping on all democrats. I was amazed that, sitting over the quilt I had spent two weeks making for her, my friend felt okay with this. I just quietly said that there were many things I could say in response, but that, in my experience, it tended to create bad feelings between friends. The experience turned out to be a positive one – neither woman has tried goading me since.

  42. Jeremy on June 24, 2004 at 11:12 am

    I second Kristen’s comment. There are those of us who are a little more to the left than “centrists” politically, but who are somewhat conservative when it comes to doctrine. This frequently puts us in situations where theology or gospel living is discussed amicably among like-mindeds, but a sudden veer into the political can get ugly.

    Also, I know a number of politically liberal/doctrinally conservative Mormons who have very strict personal views when it comes to their own or their family’s behavior (no R-rated movies, no caffeine, steady dating discouraged among their teenaged kids, etc.), but are very wary of imposing moral positions upon others through legislation. Also, these members tend to have very strong opinions about political issues that effect the poor, and consider concepts like trickle-down economics and wealth distribution in very religious terms.

    I once worked for Congressman Wayne Owens’s senate campaign, and recall him and his staff fielding questions about the touchy issues, esp. abortion. This devout Mormon and former mission president usually responded that he was personally very opposed to abortion, but felt uncomfortable with most of the legislative approaches to controlling it. (I certainly don’t want to point this thread in that direction–I just bring it up as an example of how people like-minded religiously can diverge so pointedly in political matters.)

    To bring this back somewhat to Jim’s original topic–I also recall hearing Owens personally vilified in the nastiest ways in the Letters to the Editor, in the foyer, and even, once, by my seminary teacher, because of his political positions, even though those speaking out against him shared his religious beliefs. In fact, it brought out a kind of meanness that I rarely encounter among Mormons otherwise, in discussions of any topic.

  43. Nate Oman on June 24, 2004 at 11:17 am

    Aaron: I don’t know. The bishop while I was there (Sean Warnick) was fairly “liberal,” I think, but on the other hand, he was so soft-spoken and genuinely charitable that I don’t think he did much of anything to push an ideological agenda.

  44. John Mansfield on June 24, 2004 at 11:51 am

    Russell Arben Fox’s comment brings to mind a data point I can add. In 1985, four of Clark County, Nevada’s seven commissioners were Mormons. Of those, three (Bingham, Hayes, and Christensen) were Democrats. To my memory, most Las Vegas LDS politicians at that time were Democrats, as were most registered voters. I recall a couple of races, such as the 1978 lt. governor race, where the general election was between two Mormons. Unless Las Vegas was an anomally, a preference of Latter-day Saints for the Republican party is not a decades-long phenomenon.

    This is a little off the topic of why conservative Latter-day Saints are mean.

  45. John Mansfield on June 24, 2004 at 11:52 am

    Russell Arben Fox’s comment brings to mind a data point I can add. In 1985, four of Clark County, Nevada’s seven commissioners were Mormons. Of those, three (Bingham, Hayes, and Christensen) were Democrats. To my memory, most Las Vegas LDS politicians at that time were Democrats, as were most registered voters. I recall a couple of races, such as the 1978 lt. governor race, where the general election was between two Mormons. Unless Las Vegas was an anomally, a preference of Latter-day Saints for the Republican party is not a decades-long phenomenon.

    This is a little off the topic of why conservative Latter-day Saints are mean.

  46. John Mansfield on June 24, 2004 at 11:53 am

    Russell Arben Fox’s comment brings to mind a data point I can add. In 1985, four of Clark County, Nevada’s seven commissioners were Mormons. Of those, three (Bingham, Hayes, and Christensen) were Democrats. To my memory, most Las Vegas LDS politicians at that time were Democrats, as were most registered voters. I recall a couple of races, such as the 1978 lt. governor race, where the general election was between two Mormons. Unless Las Vegas was an anomally, a preference of Latter-day Saints for the Republican party is not a decades-long phenomenon.

    This is a little off the topic of why conservative Latter-day Saints are mean.

  47. Russell Arben Fox on June 24, 2004 at 12:08 pm

    John, I strongly suspect that what you’re observing is a consequence of the idiosyncratic development of the major political parties in the state of Nevada. Between the gambling industry, the sparse population, the enormous and somewhat oppressive military presence in the state, etc., Nevada Republicans and Democrats don’t quite fit the mold of those common to the rest of the Mormon-dominated intermountain west (i.e., Idaho, Utah, and Arizona), and the Mormons which have settled there have similarly adapted. New Mexico, because of its very large Hispanic and Native American population, is similarly a variation on what is other otherwise typical of the American west.

  48. Austin Frost on June 24, 2004 at 12:20 pm

    Ironically, at least in my married student ward at BYU, most of the people are apathetic when it comes to politics. I suppose that everyone is so busy with school, work, baby-making etc. that it simply isn’t a priority. However, I have had several discussions with classmates regarding politics, and I find that I am usually outnumbered 3 or 5 to 1 (I’m a Democrat). Unfortunately, the conversation almost always digresses to a Clinton bash (did anyone read the Daily Universe article about his new book?).

  49. Nate Oman on June 24, 2004 at 12:32 pm

    Let me suggest an idea: This may largely be the fault of the Utah democratic party. Prior to the 1980s, the Democratic party in Utah was fairly healthy. Prior to the rise of Hatch there was always at least one Democratic senator, and Democrats regularlly inhabited the governor’s mansion. Think about this: In 1964 Johnson — not Goldwater — carried Utah. The McGovern Commission reforms moved the national Democratic party to the left on a variety of social issues, which put Utah democrats in a difficult position. At this point, the leaders of the Democratic party in Utah made an important decisions. At the time, Utah was growing rapidly from move-ins from out of state. The Dems figured that their problem in the post-McGovern Commission world was Mormons. Rather than seeking to aggressively moderate their image, they decided that they would bank of demographic shifts in Utah. Non-Mormon move-ins would dilute Mormon power and they could capitalize on these voters by casting themselves as the check on over-weaing Mormon power. The Utah state GOP gleefully helped the Dems in their redefinition, casting them as the Gentile party. The problem is that the demographic gamble was dead wrong. Many of the move-ins were Mormons. Mormons continued to have larger families. Twenty or thirty years on the state is more Mormon than previously, and the Dems have to climb out from under self-inflicted wounds exacerbated by willing help from the GOP. There is a generation of Utah Mormons who have basically never really seen lots of high-profile Mormon democrats. Utah Mormons are obviously not the same thing as Mormons in general, but there are enough of them that they can have a huge impact in setting the tone of discussions, particularlly at BYU, which often acts as a subtle definer of what is or is not “faithful” and “orthodox.”

  50. Russell Arben Fox on June 24, 2004 at 12:44 pm

    Nate, that’s an interesting and helpful bit of historical info. You’re probably correct that, despite the increasing “fit” between Utah Mormon rhetoric and the Republican Party going back to the New Deal or even earlier, the complete transformation is more recent, given that the West (and now the South) didn’t capture the infrastructure of the Republican Party until after the Goldwater debacle in 1964. But at the same time, I wouldn’t stretch it out until the 1980s. By the late 60s and early 70s, the backlash to the counter-culture and the Sagebrush Rebellion was in full swing. Nixon was a Californian, remember. Just think about how strong the Mormon-GOP identification was by the time of the ERA battles in the mid-70s. I’d say that the Utah Democratic and Republican parties had cast their dice long before Reagan arrived on the scene.

  51. Adam Greenwood on June 24, 2004 at 1:03 pm

    “the acceptance of alternative viewpoints is a fundamental tenet of liberalism — one reason for the empirical finding that the degree of liberalism rises with the degree of education.”

    It took me a little while to convince my Mormon grad student friends that I really was conservative and also thoughtful, not just faking it. I think lots of the education/liberalism correlation is simply a function of coming from conservative roots where people aren’t getting all that profound and deciding that the two are correlated.

    And as far as acceptance goes, I find that liberal friends are far more likely to introduce controversial political topics than I. I usually save it until I’m among the likeminded.

  52. Nate Oman on June 24, 2004 at 1:07 pm

    Russell: I agree but…Matheson was a figure in the sage brush rebellion, and there is no a priori reason that Utah Dems couldn’t have capitalized on the anti-centrist, anti-fed spirit in the West of the 1970s and 1960s. I agree with you that Mormons were tending conservative and GOP long before the 1980s. My point is that it use to be pretty standard for there to be prominent Utah democrats who were prominent and well known Mormons. Wayne Owens was the last of that breed, and I think that he found it difficult to play the Mormon card while also keeping the gate keepers in the state party happy. Even non-Mormons or jack Mormons like Matheson were, I think, seen as being very friendly toward Mormons. They certainly didn’t pander to disaffected SLC gentiles.

    I did my senior paper in the BYU poli. sci. department on why the democrats always lose in Utah (I focused on the 2d district, where they are most competitive), and I had a couple of very interesting interviews with state democratic party officials, as well as some Utah democratic politicians, such as Palmer DePaulis (former SLC mayor in the 1980s and a great guy) and Rocky Andersen (current SLC mayor and a sanctimonious fruit cake). What I learned is that if you are an active Mormon who wants to run in Utah as a Democrat, you can expect a lot of fairly nasty opposition getting on the ballot. At this point, I think that the state party leadership would love to run an active Mormon, but they institutionally have very little power at this point, ie they can’t go to the pro-choicers, gay rights activists, union leaders, etc. and say “Shut up and get in line. We need this guy in order to win!” The result is that they lose. There are Mormons who would like to run, but frankly they are frightened of getting pounded by the interest groups in the primaries (any idea what turn out for a Utah Democratic primary is, and who turns out?) or the convention. I think one of the best things for Mormon Democrats would be if the Utah Democratic party were to completely trash the primary system and the open convention system. They desperately need a boss Tweed.

  53. Kingsley on June 24, 2004 at 1:16 pm

    “the acceptance of alternative viewpoints is a fundamental tenet of liberalism — one reason for the empirical finding that the degree of liberalism rises with the degree of education.”

    I really think this idea needs to be put to rest. It’s a nice thought, but (as Lionel Trilling spent half his career mournfully pointing out) it just ain’t so. Liberals, like conservatives, celebrate alternative viewpoints just so long as they basically correspond with their own. Note that this isn’t an attack on liberals: it’s simply been my experience, especially in school, that liberals are as quick as conservatives to protest vehemently whatever they deem to be political & cultural heresy.

  54. Eric James Stone on June 24, 2004 at 1:18 pm

    Democrats lost control of the houses of the Utah legislature in 1976 and 1978, but retained control of the governorship until the 1984 election. Since then, it has been Republican control.

  55. Russell Arben Fox on June 24, 2004 at 1:24 pm

    “I think that the state party leadership would love to run an active Mormon, but they institutionally have very little power at this point, ie they can’t go to the pro-choicers, gay rights activists, union leaders, etc. and say ‘Shut up and get in line. We need this guy in order to win!’ The result is that they lose.”

    I can see your point. However, I notice you include “union leaders” on the list of Utah Democratic Party activists who would presumably shoot down active Mormon primary candidates. The reason gays and abortion-rights supporters would oppose such a candidacy is obvious, but would union workers give a flying fig about a candidate’s religion? Easy–because institutional Mormonism, thanks to the anti-commuinist fervor of many LDS leaders from the 1950s-70s, has long since absorbed the GOP’s western anti-union sentiment. Which means that, however badly the Utah Democratic Party may have played its cards in the 1980s, it’s not as though the western-influenced Mormon culture around them wasn’t already marginalizing them to a significant degree.

  56. lyle on June 24, 2004 at 1:28 pm

    As Kaimi so fondly points out (in re: the _liberal media_), their is a selective perception bias. Jim, you wrote about a conservative “pile-on”. Yet…the only pile-on I see or experience here is the opposite; & others have emailed me comments noting a “liberal” pile-on trend at T&S.

    Also, while Dan takes glee in making conservative MOs less “blindered,” it makes me wonder how his joy of diversity meshes with not needing to talk to conservatives cuz he already knows what they think. I may be conservative, but I certainly don’t ignore/avoid leftist folks simply because “I already know what they are going to say.”

  57. lyle on June 24, 2004 at 1:30 pm

    p.s. I’ve already told T&S re: my experience holding an affirmative action bake sale. Given the sheer _hate_ that I was subjected to…Kingsley’s comment seems to have some traction re: “as long as it agrees” with their view. Sounds like a NIMBY-esque problem.

  58. Frank McIntyre on June 24, 2004 at 1:32 pm

    Are unions a big player in the Utah democratic party (besides the teacher’s union, which is presumably big everywhere)?

  59. Frank McIntyre on June 24, 2004 at 1:37 pm

    I checked the BLS and unions represent 6.8% of Utah workers, with only 5.6% of workers as members. This is quite low, I think the national number is in the teens.

  60. lyle on June 24, 2004 at 1:38 pm

    Frank: No. They would like to be, but…because Utah is a Right to Work state, the # of union monopolies on jobs are relatively few. As part of my Senior PoliSci paper at BYU (same class as Nate, btw) I interviewed several union leaders to determine what influence different groups had on the selection of state legislative candidates. Ans: slim to none.

  61. danithew on June 24, 2004 at 1:43 pm

    I suppose if a person feels strongly enough about it, civil disobedience might be used as a tactic against abortion clinics. I never joined Operation Rescue as I didn’t think I agreed with their perspective on the abortion issue… but I wasn’t sad that the abortion clinics were inconvenienced either. That’s just one issue. There are probably some others.

    Civil disobedience certainly has its place in China, Iran, just about any other country in the Middle East, to name some places.

    Recently I saw that bloggers are being encouraged by another blogger at sinosplice.com to help Chinese bloggers thwart the Chinese governments attempts to block free speech on the internet. I think that would count as a form of civil disobedience as well, even if its not our own government (I have a link/image to this effort posted at the bottom of my blog).

  62. Nate Oman on June 24, 2004 at 1:45 pm

    The unions have influence because there is so little grass roots involvement in Democratic politics in Utah. Virtually no one votes in the Democratic primary and even fewer people become state party delegates. The result is that the candidate-choosing machinary is controlled by a very small group of idealogues.

  63. lyle on June 24, 2004 at 1:52 pm

    Nate makes a good correction. While Unions are small, the lack of lots of other Democratically inclined groups raises the comparative influence of Unions, esp. given their capacity to “coerce” cooperation. However, to clarify my comment…they don’t donate alot of money. In the fundraising sense, they have little influence (unless Nate got access to secret data that the Union’s wouldn’t share with me?)

  64. Kingsley on June 24, 2004 at 1:52 pm

    “And why, in my experience, does it seem that those who are conservative are more likely to head in that direction first?”

    I tend to think that this is, plain & simple, a result of being outnumbered. Conservatives, even middle-of-the-roaders, at overwhelmingly liberal institutions feel exactly the opposite.

  65. Jim F. on June 24, 2004 at 4:57 pm

    Kingsley, a number of people have made a similar point on this thread, but it seems to me to be a problematic answer, for it amounts to no more than “we’re no different than anyone else on this score, though the polarity is reversed.” Since we are different than others in so many other ways, why aren’t we different in this part of our lives? Why do we assume that “business as everyone else does it” is the norm in political discussions but not in classes (academic and otherwise) or in other discussions where we go, I think, too far out of our way to be agreeable?

  66. lyle on June 24, 2004 at 5:01 pm

    ok: no one was stated or tried to defend the other possibility: That the Gospel actually does lead to a fairly coherent political vision; i.e. there is a _correct_ political paradigm for Latter-day Saints. I’m launching latterdaypolitics & mormonpolitics.com
    to discuss this. Coming soon to a blog near you.

  67. Kingsley on June 24, 2004 at 5:02 pm

    Just had a funny & (very loosely) applicable experience: I went over to the Pita Pit (a little sandwich shop just west of the Y) for my daily falafel fix, & was just settling in when a black-braided tanned outdoorsy-looking girl approached me & said, “You’re not actually buying that s***, are you?”–referring, not to my sandwich, but to a tattered copy of the latest Weekly Standard lying open in front of me. I asked what she meant: Did I purchase the mag or did I share the mag’s politics; she said both; & then we had a fairly pleasant little chat, wherein she gave me a pin that says “I liked Bush better as a pothead!” on it. I guess the moral of the story is that you can find aggressive lefties in Provo, even without looking for them.

  68. Jim F. on June 24, 2004 at 5:10 pm

    Lyle: “Jim, you wrote about a conservative “pile-on”. Yet…the only pile-on I see or experience here is the opposite; & others have emailed me comments noting a “liberal” pile-on trend at T&S.”

    I just reread through several of the threads that initiated this thread. If you can’t see that your responses to Dan and others were qualitatively different than the responses you’ve made in the last day or two–dismissive and sometimes insulting then, engaging the argument now–then I don’t know what to say. In fact, I take the obvious improvement in the tone and argument of your recent posts to be a sign that you do see that difference. And you are hardly the only one who engaged in attacking Dan, Julien, and others rather than really engaging their claims.

    I found some of Julien’s remarks to be hasty and unthought out, bordering on insult if not insulting. And he wasn’t the only “liberal” (in Russell’s sense) to have that problem, just perhaps the most obvious one. So I’m not making this a matter of good guys and bad guys. But it seems quite obvious to me that on those threads the most common conservative response was not a counterargument, but instead a dismissal or an accusation (sometimes explicit, most often implicit). My judgment (hardly an unbiased one) is that the behavior in question was more often the behavior of conservatives than liberals.

  69. Kingsley on June 24, 2004 at 5:28 pm

    Jim F.: I guess I was addressing your second question more than your first (i.e. why is that conservatives seem to be more aggressive, etc.)–& I think my answer (shared by others, as you pointed out) is probably near the mark; as to your first question, why are we LDS not tolerant of our political differences, my immediate (& pat) answer is, We’re only human. Political differences (large & small) often pull even the closest friends & families apart (Norman Podhoretz wrote a really interesting book on this called Ex-Friends) as violently & tragically as religious differences do, so it’s no surprise that you find the same thing occurring in Sunday School (or on campus), just like it’s no surprise that many LDS businessmen leave their faith at the office door, etc.

    This answer is as unhelpful & problematic as my last one (everybody does it!), I know. I have an uncle that regularly sends me piles of extreme right-wing stuff as a sort of anecdote to my literary interests, & he frequently tells me, in all sincerity, that he’s praying for my soul, which he feels is in great danger because of my more “liberal” interests. On the other hand, I’ve been accused of literally turning my back on Christ for supporting war as a sometimes necessary thing. & then I find myself responding tit-for-tat on T&S (as you mentioned to Lyle). I can only think of this behavior as a sort of sinfulness that plagues the whole human family, LDS included.

  70. Adam Greenwood on June 24, 2004 at 5:32 pm

    Lyle,
    Why start new websites? Shouldn’t lds4bush largely be devoted to showing that the American gospel ought to lead us to political positions that are more or less republican?

    Jim F.,
    If I may accuse you of generalizing, isn’t it a bit hasty to go from the content of a few recent threads to the behavior of conservatives over all? Please, please, please, admit I’ve caught you out!

  71. Bob Caswell on June 24, 2004 at 5:46 pm

    Adam,

    I think Jim focused in on a few recent threads, which support what seems like a lifetime of Jim dealing with this phenomenon.

  72. Davis Bell on June 24, 2004 at 6:26 pm

    I’m with Kingsley on this one (btw, is that your real name? If so, I love it). While we’ve restricted ourselves (for the most part) to talking about members of the Church, this phenomenon is found in any group or institution where there is a majority view and a minority one.

    Unanimity tends to radicalize the views of the group, and make them both less aware of opposing views and less sensitive to those views on the rare occasion they encounter them. Believe me: conservative Mormons are no less dogmatic, self-assured, and intolerant than are liberal, gay HIV/AIDS activists with whom I used to work at USAID. It’s a fact of life.

    Of course, one would hope for a little more from members of the Church in the way they treat their co-members. In my view, it’s extremely important for everyone at least once in their life to be part of the minority; it dramatically changes how one handles one’s majority status )or at least ought to).

  73. lyle on June 24, 2004 at 6:40 pm

    adam: the lds4bush site is partisan & only good for about the next 130 days til the election. After that, presuming Bush wins, then it will just be a fan site.

    on the other hand: the latter-day politis/mormonpolitcs site is intended to be apartisan. a group once tried to get ldscitizen.com going…and were doing well for awhile (mostly ex BYUSA presidents, some friends of mine) but they are currently defunct, dont’ return phone calls, emails, etc & are not doing anything…sad. So…I’m going to take up the gauntlet.

  74. lyle on June 24, 2004 at 6:42 pm

    Jim: yes, some of my remarks were rather rude…and your perusal of past threads probably included my explicit apologies.

    However…I can’t count the number of times that I’ve been piled on, my questions ignored, my piercing points laughed off…and yet, I don’t make any broad accusations about “not having to listen to liberals cuz I know what they think already” OR “conservatives are meaner/nastier than liberals”. :)

  75. Kingsley on June 24, 2004 at 6:51 pm

    David Bell: No, Kingsley’s not my real name. When I stumbled onto T&S I happened to be reading a rather massive book of Kingsley Amis’s letters, & walla! & “anecdote” should read “antidote”–Doh!

    http://cnnstudentnews.cnn.com/2001/fyi/news/06/15/new.words/

  76. Kingsley on June 24, 2004 at 7:02 pm

    Davis Bell. Geez, I’m going for broke today. Cool first name, though.

  77. Jim F. on June 24, 2004 at 7:18 pm

    Adam, Bob has already offered my defense: the threads in question were a good example of what I have seen on many occasions in a variety of LDS fora. I was already irritated by a couple of recent instances of the phenomenon, so the threads were all that was needed to push me to say what I did.

    Kingsley and Davis Bell: neither of you deal with the question of why we are overly polite and avoid argument at all costs in almost every arena of our lives except politics. I have difficulty getting students in philosophy classes to disagree with me, with the text, with each other, with anything because our culture is one in which disagreement is confused with contention and, properly, we avoid contention. But somehow when we are talking politics, that goes out the window.

    Perhaps conservatives and liberals in the Church are equally guilty. That’s not been my experience, but that isn’t as important as the question of why we feel free to treat each other as we do when we are talking politics.

    My suspicion is that Lyle has touched on the reason: no one has said so, but we assume that there is a a correct political paradigm for LDS *and that it is our political paradigm,* whatever it happens to be. As a result, those who disagree with us aren’t just disagreeing. What they are doing is closely equivalent to denying the Gospel.

  78. lyle on June 24, 2004 at 7:29 pm

    I think Jim’s thread has been productive in highlighting the need for civility. However, I’ll also point out that my respect for others & their ideas has nthing to do with “my” political paradigm (which is more varied than any 4D model).

  79. Chad too on June 24, 2004 at 7:29 pm

    I ask a sincere question: Do those who have researched find any demonstrable connection between Ezra Taft Benson being appointed to the Eisenhower cabinet and the surge of Republican popularity among the LDS? Sort of a “He’s an apostle and he’s a Republican, therefore good Mormons must lockstep with the Republicans?”

    Of course, throw Elder Faust into the ring and we’re back to dueling apostles again…

  80. Jim F. on June 24, 2004 at 7:39 pm

    Lyle, more than the need for civility (I’ll let Kaimi be the one who reminds us of that) I want us to think about/talk about the passion with which we hold our political opinions, the same kind of passion that we reserve for few other things, mostly the Gospel. Why?

  81. Kingsley on June 24, 2004 at 7:48 pm

    “Kingsley and Davis Bell: neither of you deal with the question of why we are overly polite and avoid argument at all costs in almost every arena of our lives except politics. I have difficulty getting students in philosophy classes to disagree with me, with the text, with each other, with anything because our culture is one in which disagreement is confused with contention and, properly, we avoid contention. But somehow when we are talking politics, that goes out the window.”

    My (limited) experience in philosophy class is that (1) students are intimidated by philosophy & (2) there are always a few who are willing to dispute hotly nevertheless. Political science class is a different matter, where students feel more sure of themselves & jump in more frequently (& where incurable hotheads sometimes go to outrageous extremes). My (less limited) experience in the Church is that the Saints are anything but “overly polite and avoid[ing] argument at all costs in almost every arena of our lives except politics.” What is & what is not correct doctrine, cultural things like facial hair, etc., often result in intense “discussion,” to say the least. I think you are right when you identify the problem in the “[denying my politics] is closely equivalent to denying the Gospel” mindset. Politics & religion are so closely intermingled in most minds that heresy in one is heresy in the other, & heresy is a damnable offense.

    In the Church, contention arises over all sorts of things. Bishop X did so & so, Sister Y offended so & so, there’s gossip, there’s money, all the little human things typical of humans. I don’t think we try especially hard to avoid contention & simply let loose when it comes to politics. We’re contentious about all sorts of things, including politics.

  82. lyle on June 24, 2004 at 7:49 pm

    Jim: [here is my passion & civility ;) ]

    I think there is a distinctly “Mormon” politics, one I’ve explored before (on my personal blog, http://www.speaker4theliving.com). It has recently been elaborated upon by Richard Eyre.

    Mormon politics should be aimed towards:
    1. Creating a society which will tolerate, if not foster, the creation of Zion.

    To that end, political parties/candidates/policies should be evaluated based upon their effect upon:
    A. The family (1 mom, 1 dad)
    B. Personal Agency & Accountability

    I’ve found that most of our disagreements, with gentiles & mormons, is that we disagree over the effects of externalities. Once, 2nd hand smoke was seen as nothing to worry about…a mere ‘nuissance’. latter, it was seen to have health effects upon others.

    This mirrors the debate among those who are pro/anti- SSM. Some feel that it will have _second-hand_ effects on others who shouldn’t have to bear the price of others sins. Others feel that there are no _second-hand_ effects & it is merely intolerance & paranoia/imposing religious morals on others (i.e. the plan of the adversary).

    So…we will continue to be divided politically until some type of agreement on these issues is reached.

  83. Kingsley on June 24, 2004 at 8:18 pm

    Does anybody have any thoughts on the phenom. that church-going folks in general, & not just LDS, tend to vote Republican? The New Republic has run stories on this recently, as well as USA Today & a few other places. It seems that Democratic leaders are worried that a large part of the public perceives their party as anti-traditional family, anti-church, anti-life, etc., & so they’ve been brainstorming on how to reverse (or at least stem) the tide. It doesn’t seem to be a merely LDS phenom.

  84. lyle on June 24, 2004 at 8:24 pm

    And given the fact that the U.S. is one of the most Christian-identifying countries, i.e. voters who self-identify as using Christian beliefs to orient their lives/votes…they should be worried. Although, as others have pointed out here…it could just as easily change in a decade or two if the Democrats champion a better or new morality/Republicans keep on pushing guys like Ryan in Illinois.

  85. Keith on June 24, 2004 at 8:50 pm

    Just a quick thought to throw in the mix. Perhaps one reason politics in church discussion is usually uncivil is in part because of the nature of political beliefs, including the way they are formed.

    In religion, our fundamental beliefs (though they may be supported by evidence) are not formed fundamentally by argument. Though beliefs aren’t necessarily irrational, they are not formed primarily by reason. We aren’t argued into beliefs and we don’t convert people by argument. In some sense, while I might give an account of why I believe, or how I came to believe, the issue really isn’t up for argument.

    Since political beliefs may come to one in a way more similar to the way religious beliefs come, rather than through a reasoned argument or a scientific analysis, they then aren’t often up for debate. While some may hold beliefs only after careful and considered thought, most hold political beliefs because of circumstance, family bias, etc. And even with beliefs or general orientation (conservative or liberal) formed after careful thought, there is still a leap at some point where one believes one thing (that may be well argued) as opposed to another thing (that also may be well argued).

    With the religious beliefs, we usually have the civility to acknowledge that they aren’t rational in the sense that anyone with half a brain would have to belief this or that. We have learned to be civil (we hope) and deal with otherness here. With politics we start talking and we see that others may not see or agree with what we hold to be true. So we state again what should be obvious only to find that someone else is ‘unreasonable’ and doesn’t hold to the same belief. But when we think about it, we see that our own belief that we thought was so obvious _isn’t_, and that in some sense our fundamental reason for our political orientation is not self-evidently rational. Somebody really can see things in a different way and neither they nor we are likely be argued out of a fundamental orientation.

    So I wonder if at bottom of much of the uncivil nature of much political discussion among LDS folks arises out of this uncertainty (including the fact that we can’t give incontrovertible reasons for our political beliefs) and having to deal at some level with otherness. And since persuasive efforts to convert the political other don’t often work, we simply roll over others either by a kind of “Well, as we all know. . .” or by dismissing them through insult or characterization. I find myself (and I assume others) arguing most heatedly and insultingly when I am uncertain or feel that things are not as certain as I might hope.

  86. Jim F. on June 24, 2004 at 9:34 pm

    Keith, welcome to T&S! Thanks for your comment. Like everything else you say, it is perspicacious.

  87. Davis Bell on June 24, 2004 at 9:39 pm

    Jim,

    I agree with you that politics is one of the few topics on which LDS are willing to contentiously disagree. Why is this an exception to our general nicemaking? In Argentina, there’s a folk saying that says people should talk about anything besides religion, politics, and soccer; to me this indicates that everyone in the world has really strong feelings about politics and religion, if not soccer.

    Since LDS already more or less agree on religion (although the extent to which they don’t can spur some fairly contentious discussions; see: Times and Seasons), we’re left with politics. I would imagine the reason your students don’t disagree with one another lies more in the fact that they probably don’t care that much about philosophy (when they understand it).

    In summary, politics brings out depth and intensity of feeling like few other topics; it is therefore unsurprising that LDS have a hard time being polite when discussing them.

  88. Jim F. on June 24, 2004 at 9:54 pm

    Davis Bell, interestingly the students who seem most to care, namely those in upper division courses–mostly majors–are those who argue the least. I don’t have too much trouble getting freshmen to disagree with me because for most of them I’m unlike anything they’ve ever met–and they are excited about being in college.

    I do have some trouble getting my first-year students not to think I’m an apostate. I think part of my job is to give the philosophers we are talking about the best presentation possible, to assume for purposes of our discussion that each is right, so students sometimes mistake my defense of philosopher x as a statement of personal belief. The fact that some of my beliefs about certain scriptural passages aren’t standard LDS views also worries them. They will try to use a scriptural passage as a response to a philosophical position and I’ll have a completely different take on that passage than they are expecting. Though by the end of the semester I think they all come to understand that I’m not on my way out the Church door, initially I am sometimes a shock for them, the kind of shock they feel they have to argue with.

    I should add, however, that I think BYU students are easier to teach philosophy to than students at most other institutions. They have reasons to believe that these are important questions. Even if they don’t care, though many of them do, they believe they are supposed to care.

    I should also add that I don’t think teach by confrontation. Re-reading what I’ve said may make it seem that I do. I certainly don’t intend to since I think that is wrong.

  89. Bryan Warnick on June 25, 2004 at 12:09 am

    Jim, I wonder if part of the problem we have discussing politics is due to our discursive exemplars. Rush Limbaugh has become for many people the model for how to conduct political discourse. He has been followed by a multitude of imitators, mainly on the right but also on the left. Perhaps the degradation of ordinary political discourse you point to could be called the “Rush Limbaugh Effect.”

  90. Jim F. on June 25, 2004 at 12:36 am

    Bryan Warnick: I think there is substance to your remark. Limbaugh didn’t invent harsh and accusatory political discourse, but he made it fashionable and, in a weird way, respectable and may have set a norm for what we expect political discourse to be like.

    As a side note, I find it odd that some people who are upset about Martin Luther King’s adultery, JFK’s affairs, etc. are not much bothered by Limbaugh’s serial marriages, drug addiction, etc. I have the same difficulty with other prominent Republicans who seem to get away with things condemned when done by Democrats. It is an obvious double standard. I don’t think such behavior is praiseworthy in either case, but if it doesn’t make a difference politically in one case, I don’t see why it should in the other. Or, vice versa, it ought to make a difference in both cases.

  91. Frank McIntyre on June 25, 2004 at 2:00 am

    Jim,

    You have made some good points about the difference in rhetoric, but to say that Republicans with indiscretions get off easier than Democrats seems strange. First off, serial marriage, though not good, is hardly the same as adultery. Second, as I recall, Newt Gingrich and his immediate successor in the House both left the political stage when their adultery became an issue.

    It is true that people overlook bad behavior when the person involved is on their side. But an adulterous Republican is going to take a much stronger hit to their base of support than the equivalent Democrat. Perhaps you have examples of free passes for Republicans that I missed. But if Bush were to have a string of affairs proven as Clinton did, I believe he would be in serious trouble with his base in a way Clinton never was.

  92. lyle on June 25, 2004 at 2:15 am

    Bryan: Agreed…although I don’t think you can blame him for it all. HOwever, let’s make a deal. I’ll _knock off_ limbaugh if you get rid of his impersonators; i.e. maureen dowd (i.e. all of the NYT editorial staff, except brooks, safire & friedman), al franken & esp. michael moore. if limbaugh has a ‘style’ son…it is michael moore.

  93. clarkgoble on June 25, 2004 at 3:06 am

    I certainly agree that Limbaugh, O’Reilly, and Hannity have hurt the level of discourse. However lets be honest. The level of discourse was hurting way back in the early 90′s before those guys became popular.

    I think it happened for two reasons. One, the mainstream press in the early 90′s was fairly liberal. Then the conservative shift in the populace freaked out democrats. This then trickled down through talking points and the like. Under Clinton some Republicans brought out the dirty trick book. Then things really spiraled down, both because of Clinton’s actions as well as conservatives who truly came to hate him. (Both for justified reasons and for conspiracy reasons)

    While I’m willing to say rhetoric has suffered, compared to what I read of rhetoric of the late 60′s and early 70′s, it seems like things really aren’t that bad.

  94. Jim F. on June 25, 2004 at 3:12 am

    Frank, touché. I let my fingers get ahead of my brain when I typed that.

    Clarkgoble: I don’t claim a great memory for these things, but it seems to me that the rhetoric of the 60s and 70s was, indeed, often harsh, but (unless the war was the topic) mostly between the politicos. That harsh rhetoric has seeped a long way down and I think that the Limbaugh and Michael Moore types have a lot to do with why it has.

  95. lyle on June 25, 2004 at 10:06 am

    Living proof that there can be mormon liberals who are ‘somewhat’ centrist:

    http://www.dropcheney.com & http://www.dropcheney.org

    will shortly be launched.

  96. chris r on June 25, 2004 at 12:36 pm

    American discourse of politics has always gravitated toward the extremes long before the rise of Limbaugh and Moore. A quick read of the Federalist Papers, Common Sense, and other essays of the founding period of America indicates that the rhetoric of the era pointedtoward extreme positions and extreme danger to society if the Constitution were not ratified, the country had not broken away from England etc.

  97. Kingsley on June 25, 2004 at 12:50 pm

    Cheney drops the F-bomb on the floor of the Senate! Read all about it!

    http://news.myway.com/top/article/id/411298|top|06-24-2004::18:30|reuters.html

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Times and Seasons is a place to gather and discuss ideas of interest to faithful Latter-day Saints.