The Meaning of the Mormon Republican Majority II

July 4, 2004 | 11 comments
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Well, it’s not often I get called a sneak and sophist at the same time. :) But I have a thick skin.

As to trying to sneak something by anyone–as if that would actually be possible with this group!–I meant only to suggest that one possibility for the almost uniform dislike of President Clinton by Mormon Republicans might be that Mormons consider marital fidelity an indispensable quality of their public servants, because of the Church’s teachings. . . .

(Yes, “eclipse” was a bad choice of terms, but it looked so cool when I typed it.) Let me be clear: As a Democrat who voted for Clinton twice, I nevertheless found his personal behavior appalling, did not believe that it was an outrage for him to have been impeached, and further did not think that it would have been an injustice for him to have been convicted and removed from office. Lying and obstruction of justice strike at the heart of our system of justice, and should not be tolerated in anyone (regardless of one’s definition of “is”), especially the chief executive of our country.

But President Clinton did not lie in the course of abusing public power like, say, President Nixon did in the Watergate scandal. Whose conduct was worse? I believe that in a public servant, abuse of power is far worse than infidelity, even though as moral sins infidelity might be worse than abuse of political power (plus, think of all the figures in American History who have failed the fidelity test–Hamilton, Jefferson, FDR, Eisenhower, LBJ, off-hand). Yet one can still find many Saints who minimize President’s Nixon’s lying while villifying Clinton. Closer to home, I find it fascinating that the dissembling, lack of preparedness, and general hubris of the current administration re the Iraq War is easily overlooked by my neighbors–could it be that it’s because President Bush has the moral commitment and discipline that Clinton lacked when it comes to groupies?

As to Lyle’s comments, I respectfully disagree. Clinton spent political capital to get both bills passed, especially RLUIPA, when he dissed his base (which generally opposed it) and cut deals to get the bill through only six weeks before the 2000 Election. A commitment to religious liberty was something he cared very much about about which he was very well informed–he thought Smith was wrong, and that religious groups are constitutionally entitled to exemptions–and this commitment permeated his administration, notwithstanding the political realities that sometimes overrode it. By contrast, the Republican base has always been ambivalent about religious exemptions. The secular/business base generally opposes federal interference with state prerogatives, like RFRA and RLUIPA, and the religious base–overwhelmingly conservative Christian–has never been very excited about enhancing the religious liberty of nonChristians (other than Jews). It is impossible to imagine the current President spending political capital with Putin to get the Russian authorities to stop harassing Mormon missionaries–it’s simply not an issue he or his base cares very deeply about. (Faith-based funding, however, now that’s a different story.)

Fred

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11 Responses to The Meaning of the Mormon Republican Majority II

  1. lyle on July 4, 2004 at 12:04 pm

    Prof. Geddicks: Well…wont’ be the first time we disagree :)

    However, I think we agree on more than we disagree. Yes, Clinton had to oppose his secular/anti-religious liberal base to pass RIULPA [albeit when he was already a lame duck president & had nothing to lose]. As I mentioned, he even made it a litmus test with Ginsburg (found in his presidential papers). So, yes, Clinton did have a committment to religious liberty.

    Yet, that doesn’t erase that Clinton did not move on RFRA, nor expend _any_ political capital on RFRA, until he knew it would not hurt him with Catholic voters. Inferring Bush 41′ disapproval from due to his base is disengenious; esp. given the importance of the Catholic vote in the 96′ election.

    I’m not saying that Clinton did not spend political capital. I am saying that neither side was interested in the bill until _after_ the Catholic Church dropped its opposition.

    re: the quasi-Cheap shot at Bush 43′. I respectfully disagree. While some parts of the conservative Christian base maybe fairly pilgrimlike on their religious freedom meter, I can think of at least 5 reasons (Senators) & 1 attorney (Former Deputy Counsel Flanigan) who would dispute your claim that Bush 43′ wouldn’t go to the Floor w/Putin for the LDS Church. While I only interned for Bush 43′, given the people I worked for & their committment to their personal faith & faith being able to exist in the public sphere…I don’t find it hard to imagine at all.

  2. john fowles on July 4, 2004 at 8:07 pm

    Fred, your post raises some great points. Just for the record, I wasn’t calling you a sneak but merely wondering if the way that you phrased that third point on the other thread wasn’t “sneaking” a premise or two into the mix, which is a very common technique used by even the best writers and rhetoricians.

    As to your point that “Yet one can still find many Saints who minimize President’s Nixon’s lying while villifying Clinton,” I have often puzzled over this. In my view, Nixon is about as low you can get as far as former U.S. Presidents go. Conservatives have often extolled his virtues to me in explanation for this effect you are referring to–but I always forget what they are and only see how slimy he was on so many issues. Even more of a calculating politician than Clinton, I would say.

    By the way, I was pleasantly surprised by your condemnation of Clinton’s behavior and your approval of the impeachment. I can honestly say that I’ve never heard that from a democrat before. The usual line is that the horrible Republicans are behind it all and that they were just being mean-spirited in impeaching him.

    Additionally, I too have observed this odd tendency of Republicans to be ambivalent about religious exemptions. More pointedly, I agree with you that “the religious base–overwhelmingly conservative Christian–has never been very excited about enhancing the religious liberty of nonChristians (other than Jews).” I think that this has something to do with being in the majority. I agree that “[i]t is impossible to imagine the current President spending political capital with Putin to get the Russian authorities to stop harassing Mormon missionaries–it’s simply not an issue he or his base cares very deeply about. (Faith-based funding, however, now that’s a different story.)” After all, remember who Bush’s base is–I remain convinced that evangelical Christians maintain a profound intolerance for other religions, particularly Latter-day Saints (if any of you want to change my mind on this, you have a hard job ahead of you–I grew up in Dallas, TX). Thus, I do not think that Bush would go to bat for the Latter-day Saints any more than would his Methodist preacher.

    But the faith-based funding is a different story, again precisely because of the role that these religious groups play in the United States. So Republicans, who overwhelmingly belong to this religious majority, favor faith-based funding for obvious reasons. But I don’t think that the Church would participate in such a program; that is, I would think that the Church would want to avoid letting the federal government in through the front door by accepting federal funds for its humanitarian and welfare projects. Just as the power to tax is the power to destroy, the power to fund is the power to control policy. So in a discussion of the Republican majority in the LDS Church, I don’t think that faith-based funding is really an issue. Something else must be attracting Church members to the Republican party, and I agree that it must be the party’s stance on abortion and sexual morality. I disagree, however, that Latter-day Saints somehow have less interest in social or economic justice as a result of the high importance of these issues to them. I even think that it is a misguided view to think that Republicans generally have less interest in an egalitarian society than do Democrats. It seems that implementation is the big difference. From many Republicans’ point of view, Democrats want to achieve this through hand-outs and a perpetuation of victim mentality. Many Democrats seem to think that all Republicans care about is big business and money. If Democrats were honest, however, and abandoned their desire to demonize Republicans, I don’t think that they could seriously argue that these things are the end for which Republicans are striving. Rather to the extent that they are important to Republicans at all in and of themselves, it is as a means to an end.

  3. clarkgoble on July 4, 2004 at 10:25 pm

    Eisenhower fooled around? I didn’t know that. I’m somehow very disappointed…

    I think with Clinton is was more than just infidelity – it was the manner of infidelity which often entailed abuse of power. That’s not to say I’d have given a blank check for mere adultery. (If mere could in any way be considered an appropriate modifier) Merely that Clinton seemed to have a pathalogical problem with sex that often descended into sexual harrassment or worse.

    With regards to Nixon, who defends him? I honestly haven’t heard any conservative defend him. Most conservatives are still very embarrassed about him. (I’d note that in his biography, Pres. Benson only slams two people – a mission companion and Nixon) Still even bad people can do good things, and Nixon did many.

    Which brings us back to Clinton. I think it unfortunate that he was demonized so badly by conservatives as he was much more of a moderate Democrat than you typically find. Certainly far more mainstream than Kerry or his expected running mate. He certainly irritated his base quite often on things from welfare reform to gays in the military to cutting government. (Just like Bush has often irritated his base – although I tend to think Clinton got more out of his breaking with tradition)

  4. Ivan Wolfe on July 4, 2004 at 10:33 pm

    Or we could talk about Democrats who minimize Clinton’s problems to “mere” adultery, when in fact it extended to lying under oath, and, as Clark has pointed out, Clinton was also likely guilty of widespread sexual harrassment.

    Nixon was a low man, so was Clinton. I know very few Mormons who actually defend Nixon (actually I don’t know any at all).

  5. lyle on July 4, 2004 at 10:36 pm

    Oh…and don’t forget that Clinton’s latest book; while not disclosing all of his infidelity/abuse of power…does contradict his sworn testimony on several points, namely:

    when his abuse of office officer w/Monika began; i.e. namely while she was an intern! Where are the civil rights lawyers sueing for abuse of power & sexual discrimination/hostile work environment when you need one?

  6. john fowles on July 5, 2004 at 12:52 am

    They’re looking the other way because it was their God Clinton violating the rights.

  7. Adam Greenwood on July 5, 2004 at 8:54 am

    Remember the Clinton Rule for Rabid Right-Wingers like You and Me: take ten deep breaths before discussing Bill Clinton.

    Otherwise one is apt to say regrettable things.

  8. Rob on July 12, 2004 at 2:50 pm

    Just for the record, numbers on percentage of LDS who belong to each party can be found at:
    http://www.gc.cuny.edu/studies/images/image040.gif

    LDS members are 55% Republican, 14% Democrat, 26% Independent, and 5% none or other. Only Assemblies of God (59%) and Evangelical/Born Agains (58%) have higher percentages of Republicans. Check out the table, some interesting numbers–eg. Jewish party affiliation is almost the exact opposite of LDS.

    So, why are we politically closer to Evangelicals than Jews (you know, those other Israelites)?

  9. Nate Oman on July 12, 2004 at 6:58 pm

    Rob: I suspect that your data understates Mormon Republican strength. Very few of those who identify themselves as independents actually are independents for voting purposes. They overwhelmingly tend to vote as partisans of one party or the other. Hence, I suspect that most of the 26 percent of Mormons who identify as indepedents are really closet Republicans.

  10. James Q. Muir on October 6, 2004 at 12:44 am

    Just wanted to let people know that the stone cut out without hands has now smitten the kingdoms of this world.

    James

  11. Jack on October 6, 2004 at 8:44 am

    James, are you prophesying after the manner of Caiaphas?

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