Thanks for the introduction and the opportunity, Rosalynde. I feel lucky to have a big sister who precedes, exceeds, but includes me in just about every important thing.
Last November 2nd around 9 p.m., a friend from my Georgetown University institute class led an excursion of FHE group members to walk around the White House and imbibe the atmosphere of that contested residence. The conditions were the following: you had to have voted, and you had to wear a hat of your candidate’s color, red for Bush, blue for Kerry (evidently no one requested green, yellow, or rainbow striped). I didn’t join this outing, but I wondered afterward what color my hat would have to be. I’ll disclose without apology or equivocation that I voted for Bush in the last election. But I will also disclose–with a slightly shame-faced glance to see if my father is reading–that this red hat would have a distinctly purple cast in certain lights. And I don’t think I’m alone in this.
It’s actually quite ironic that politics should be the calling card of my debutante post. Although I live in Washington, D.C. and attend all of the big-name Georgetown lectures I can get tickets to, I also let my father cast my ballot for the first two presidential elections of my voting life (and all the state and locals in between) and I’ve been known to believe that the Balkan states are somewhere in the vicinity of West Virginia. So when campaign ads and bumper stickers began descending like a plague of locusts around last May, I felt slightly panicked. Suddenly friends and colleagues were demanding political opinions of me, front pages charted like complex equations the candidates’ respective standings, and even before-Sunday School conversation consisted of who was out on what campaign trail, where Bush was palm-pressing next, and how many more volunteers the Republican National Convention needed. I felt like an English major at a finance convention, a Baptist in American Fork, a country cousin at a cocktail party. And this is when I started to conceptualize my Theory of Political Confusion.
Like any other sort of identity formation, our political identities emerge from a subtle negotiation between past experiences, social influence, family inheritance, access to information, deeply-felt conviction, and perhaps sheer personality. I would imagine that our political identities also reflect, react to, or are mediated by our socio-economic standing, our religious affiliation, our place of residence, even our sexual identity. But while I am without doubt a middle-class, Mormon, Southern Californian heterosexual, I cannot say with the same self-assured certainty that I am or will always be a Republican. In fact, the only thing I can say with full confidence is that I’m politically confused. And by turns troubled, anxious, torn, and utterly indifferent. I’m thrilled that the Iraqi elections proceeded without serious disruption, but I’m pessimistic that our Western, Judeo-Christian, capitalist leadership will yield long-term, positive change in that area. I’m deeply concerned about the self-perpetuating cycle of poverty that governs so many inner-city families and welfare recipients, but I also believe that permanent solutions lie in hard work and taking individual responsibility. I vote Republican, but I listen to NPR.
So what do you think? Is this theory relevant to the LDS political experience? Can we graph a spectrum of Mormon political identity that starts with confusion and trifurcates toward the true and living GOP, a Moses 7:18 consecrated liberalism, or the adamantly apolitical? How is political identity formed among the Latter-day Saints? And what types of political behaviors do we engage in? (My Rush Limbaugh-listening father might be distressed to know that my most consistent political behavior is tuning into Morning Edition and the Diane Rehm Show) One of my sisters once quipped that Latter-day Saints are in the perfect political position: progressive but morally grounded, educated and industrious but compassionate. I took great comfort in that until she told me that she was poking fun the whole time. But is she right? Or dead wrong? What advice would you give new voters about how to form their political identities? Or perhaps I should drop the guise of detachment: what advice would you give me?