Mormon and Undecided

The presidential election of 1992 was the first for which I would have been eligible to vote.  However, I was in the middle of my two-year Mormon mission and I was not registered for absentee voting, nor did I seek it out.  As part of my commitment to this mission, I tried to maintain a complete focus on my service and would not have carefully studied out the issues.  But this did not keep the election from creating a significant impression on my memory.

I was serving in Billings, Montana, and a number of the church members that I interacted with regularly were fervently opposed to Bill Clinton.  They were convinced that a vote for the Democratic candidate were votes for evil.  Some of their arguments were persuasive to me, for the emphasis was on platform issues that would clearly show some conflict with my conservative religious background.  The night of the election, I heard the poll results declare that Clinton would win the election, and I literally felt a sense of forboding for the future of my nation.

I share this background because I think that this experience—associating the Democratic party primarily with their platform's liberal positions on important moral issues—helps explain why less than 20% of Mormons in the USA identify as or lean Democratic.  The Republican party, on the other hand, bills itself as patriotic, God-fearing, and defenders of traditional morality.  And Mormons find much common ground on these points.

Twenty years have passed and the Republican party has nominated one of our own, Mitt Romney, as its candidate for the president of the United States of America.  On Facebook and in the halls of the church, but never officially—The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not endorse parties or candidates—I hear many individual church members enthusiastic about Brother Romney's campaign, along with the same religious fears over another term by a Democratic president.

So let me start by saying that there is much that I like about the Romney candidacy.  I believe he is very sincere about his motivation in seeking the office as being a desire to serve our nation.  In spite of news reports about the public not relating to him, I actually find him likable.  I share most of his values.  I think the executive branch of the government would do well to have a business executive, and I would be happy to see the size and scope of the government reduced.

So it would seem that I should already be on the Romney bandwagon.  Except that I voted for John Kerry in 2004 and Barack Obama in 2008.  It may be just as correct to say that I voted against George Bush and John McCain. If things don't change in the Republican party's philosophy and campaign strategy, it is quite likely that I will again vote for someone other than a Republican.

My transition to voting for the Democratic candidates occurred when I realized that I was tired of feeling primarily motivated to vote Republican over fears—fears about moral issues, fears about government spending, fears about the secularization of society, fears about immigration.  As I thought about specific issues, I found more common ground with the Democratic positions than I had expected.

At present, the Romney campaign is following a course similar to my recollection of the McCain campaign.  The campaign asserts that the slow recovery and government dysfunction are consequences of President Obama's plans and policies, and that we can not afford four more years of the same.  I have two major gripes with this.

First, I have not forgotten that the government's dysfunction is the Republican's fault as much or more so than the Democrats.  For a party's congressional leader to state that the highest priority is to cause a sitting president to fail is a terrible position to take.  In his nomination speech, Mitt Romney stated, "That president [President Obama] was not the choice of our party but Americans always come together after elections. We are a good and generous people who are united by so much more than what divides us."  And later, he said, "I wish President Obama had succeeded because I want America to succeed."  But in light of the Republican congressional delegation's obstructionist intent and actions, these words sounded particularly hollow.

Second, just as with McCain's campaign, the Romney campaign refuses to come out with specific proposals.  He'll simplify the tax code?  His running mate, Representative Paul Ryan came up with a very specific budget that he Democrats love to criticize.  But that's not the Romney proposal, so you can't criticize it?  What is the Romney proposal then?  I'm an educated voter.  I don't want catch phrases, sound bites, and broad brush strokes.  Government is more than economy, even if the election is about the economy.  I want to understand what you actually propose, not just that you'll reduce the tax burden and close loop holes.  I want to know how it will impact citizens, education, the environment, the nation's defense.  I'm interested in how you plan to balance the competing priorities more than just saying we'll shrink the size of the government.  Please, treat me like a citizen.  Let me make an informed decision.

So what aspects of the Democratic platform appeal to me?  Here are some of the more prominent points.

  • An appeal to humanity and compassion, and not just financial success and wealth
  • An emphasis on the importance of nuanced diplomacy in world affairs and an acknowledgement that other nations' perceptions of America has been influenced by our past actions
  • A recognition of the value of science in understanding our world and the impact of our actions on the environment
  • A willingness to apply the power of the government to protect resources that are tempting to be exploited for short term gain but that will be necessary long-term, even if this leads to greater immediate expense
[Edit: Brian Jackson's comments -- see below -- address many of the subtleties that I decided to skip in favor of actually finishing the post.  My bullet points above are not saying these values are exclusionary to the Democratic party, but that I find the emphasis as found in that party more immediately persuasive to my feelings.  Same goes for the good things I like about Romney's candidacy; they are not exclusively Republican.]

Now, this does not mean that I agree with everything about the Democratic platform.  But I very strongly resonate with these values, and the corresponding positions in the Republican platform (or at least how they come across) very much disturb my sensibilities.

I am an independent.  There is no party that represents the whole me.  The challenge every election has become a weighing of priorities.  Deciding how important the different issues will be ultimately tips the balance.  Right now, I am undecided but leaning toward voting for President Obama.  I am waiting for the Romney campaign to persuade me that they do have a plan, and that it will address issues humanely, rationally, responsibly and cooperatively.  

Unfortunately, I am skeptical that this will happen.  The Romney that I definitely would have felt comfortable voting for was the moderate who ran for Senate and governor of Massachusetts. When Governor Romney made the switch to try and obtain a nomination for President, he had to appeal to the very elements of the Republican party that bother me the most.  I don't begrudge him this too much, even if it did require some flip-flopping.  This is the party he needed to nominate him.  The same thing happened to John McCain.  I would have voted for the McCain that ran in 2000, but he was also forced to shift to the whims of the party to gain the nomination in 2008.  By appealing to the party, they lose my confidence.

If only there was an Undecided party.

Comments

  1. Brian, I loved loved loved this. Thanks, cousin, for stating how I feel so clearly for me. :)

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  2. I’m not Mormon, rather an Eastern Orthodox Christian, who is also not particularly happy with either of the candidates. I’m friends with Kerri, who directed me to your post (via FB). I appreciate your thoughtfulness, but I have some differences with a few of the summaries you listed regarding the strengths of the Democrats vs. Republicans:

    “An appeal to humanity and compassion, and not just financial success and wealth.” I think that if one party clearly appealed to wealth and consumerism vs. the other, I could see your point. However, I see both parties fairly beholden to Wall Street (and President Obama is certainly no exception), willing to bail them out and even shield them from prosecution (Jon Corzine ring a bell?). Consequently, I would reword this as “an appeal to feelings of (or the illusion of) humanity and compassion…” I would also point out that there are targets of compassion promoted by Republicans and opposed by Democrats: the lives of the unborn, vouchers for the poverty-stricken to allow them to leave failed schools and improve their future prospects, etc. Last, I think that most conservatives do not oppose certain programs, or entitlements, because they’re compassionate, but rather because they are unsustainable—which is not compassionate toward anyone—or because they appear to make the problems they purport to solve even worse (look at all the disaster of "urban planning"). To make critiques of this sort does not necessarily connote that one has less compassion.

    “An emphasis on the importance of nuanced diplomacy in world affairs and an acknowledgement that other nations' perceptions of America has been influenced by our past actions.” This I would like to say of either of the parties, but I cannot. While I cringe at the neo-con hawkishness now displayed by Republicans (an inheritance, BTW, from old-style progressives) which seems consistently to lead to instability and oppression for my brothers and sisters—Eastern Christians who always bear the brunt of American blundering throughout the world—I am frightened by the naivete displayed by the current administration, with Clinton recently expressing surprise at the attack on our embassy in Libya after all we’ve done for them…. My goodness, the place wasn’t even guarded! What kind of strange fantasy do these people have of the world we live in? Nuanced diplomacy is only effective if one has a realistic view of world events and the motivations of nations. Yes, we’ve apparently rid ourselves of the taint of waterboarding…in favor of drone attacks which leave no one alive to be waterboarded. This is an improvement? Again, the Democrat appeal to our desire for nuanced diplomacy is again an appeal to emotion, and therefore, as far as I can see, largely an illusion.

    To be cont...
    Brian Jackson

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  3. cont...

    “A recognition of the value of science in understanding our world and the impact of our actions on the environment.” Yes, and no. I don’t see Democrats responding very readily to the findings of science regarding the living reality of the unborn. I also believe that a certain amount of skepticism regarding “the science” of any particular issue is indeed warranted. Scientists are not above falsifying data in pursuit of agendas, and scientists have left quite a few shipwrecks over the past decades regarding doomsday scenarios which have not come to pass…how long ago was it that we were told to prepare for an ice age? This is not meant to devalue the responsible pursuit of scientific knowledge or the use of solid findings in our deliberations regarding policy…but I have yet to read of a single prominent Democrat willing to express some skepticism about climate findings; whereas, Republicans are across the board on this, which I think is more healthy. Last, the experimentation on human embryos seems to cross so many lines of ethical and moral import, that I appreciate the Republican willingness to confess that science must be pursued within certain moral limits.

    “A willingness to apply the power of the government to protect resources that are tempting to be exploited for short term gain but that will be necessary long-term, even if this leads to greater immediate expense.” Yes…except who can bear this burden right now until the economy really begins to recover? The “greater immediate expense” you speak of is actually a very regressive, noncompassionate tax which would affect the lives of the poorest among us the most. The cost of fuel rising too quickly is its own burden, but this affects the costs of home energy, food, public transport, etc. The very wealthy have many progressive representatives who could bear this burden easily…but the middle class could be devastated. One must always consider, “Who, exactly, will pay this ‘greater immediate expense’?” The money must come from somewhere…and the costs are ALWAYS passed on to consumers.

    Just some thoughts. I appreciate the calmness with which you wrote. The only silver lining I can see with the economy in the condition it is, is that, just maybe, Romney and his compadres’ neo-con plans will necessarily have to be scaled down to focus on domestic issues, but if so, I think they have a chance to be more successful than Obama’s administration has shown itself to be. I find it appalling that for Obama’s first two years, when Democrats had majorities in both the House and Senate, a full budget was never passed. And Obama’s most recent proposed budget was so ridiculous he gained not even a single Democratic vote. Wealth and consumerism aside, failing to have a budget for almost 4 years now is a serious dereliction of duty.

    Brian Jackson

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  4. To the other Brian:

    Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts. You bring up many excellent points. In order to prevent this post from becoming unendingly long, I chose to gloss over the subtleties. My summary of values that I share with Democrats was not an exclusionary statement, but my best attempt to summarize why I do find common ground.

    Regarding the morality and science issues that you discuss, this is one of the areas on which I really need to dedicate a separate post. That and what would be in the platform of my third party.

    Let me make just one point. One of the most significant issues that I see in relation to science and policy is that I think that our society does not know what to make of science. On the one hand, some want to say that science should dictate policy. On the other, some people completely ignore scientific evidence because it contradicts their moral position. The balance point I wish could be found is to let science state its evidence, but then apply our value systems in light of that evidence to determine policy.

    Thanks for making a meaningful contribution to the discussion.

    - Brian Walton

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  5. While I appreciate your opinion I question your logic. What is Obamas vision for America? When he whispers to the Russian diplomat that after his reelection he will "have a lot more flexibility" what does that mean? Flexibility to do what?

    Why have Obamas major influential persons been largely ignored? Frank Davis, Rev Wright & Bill Ayers.

    We seem to have suffered from our white guilt and elected the most unvetted person we've ever seen.

    You want details from Romney and give Obama a pass? Where's the budget? How is it moral to spend $1T in deficits w/o so much as a budget? WE WILL NOT SURVIVE.

    Obama has been the President for the past 4 years. Not Mitt Romney.

    If there has ever been a LEADER that was prepared for these times its Mitt Romney. Compare his resume to Obamas and there's only one logical choice.

    Again, what is Obamas vision for America? Too many people have projected themselves onto Obama and ignored what he says when his mask comes off. People get so excited about a well spoken black man that isn't filled with hate. Nobody looked into who this guy is and where he came from.

    Have you watched 2016? Being an independent I would assume you would gather as much background info on Obama as you could.

    Good luck with your decision.

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  6. I don't see a need to do the kind of tea-leaf gazing crashomatic calls for: Obama has been president; we can see what he's about.

    When I look at his record, I see what used to be moderate Republicanism: He took Romney's Massachusetts healthcare plan national, he aggressively went after our enemies, he has protected Wall Street from retribution after the 2008 crash. The stimulus was the consensus of economists, and it was a balance of spending and tax cuts.

    If there were still moderate Republicans -- Charlie Crist, say, -- they would claim Obama. But the party has gone crazy and shifted so far right that they think Obama is a socialist.

    What really needs tea-leaf-reading is what motivates Republicans these days. Why have they abandoned the heritage of Dwight Eisenhower and Teddy Roosevelt?

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  7. Brian:

    I have to agree that I definitely have a hard time with the extreme right of the Republican party too. However, I have an even harder time swallowing the extreme left of the Democratic party. I also wish we had a more neutral independent party mostly because the endless bickering in Washington has caused so much needless suffering in this nation.

    The unending tax and spend philosophy of the Democrats always seems to take me back to the 8th Chapter of Mosiah where King Noah's reign is outlined. His 1/5 tax of all his people's possessions seems pretty light compared to the 50% I pay in income, payroll, and property taxes each year. If we were back in the Clinton years, I'd be paying closer to 62%.

    I know times are different now, but I tend to believe that a government that cannot operate on less than a 20% tax on its citizens is no longer serving the needs of its citizens, but is burdening them unnecessarily.

    Putting money aside, I do think we could always be more compassionate. But I also don't think the government is the right place for such compassion to be provided. I always get a sour taste in my mouth every time a Democrat starts talking like they are the compassionate ones and Republicans are just greedy evil monsters.

    I believe whenever government gets involved in providing for the poor and needy, the whole benefit of providing is lost. When you force people to give to the poor, those forced to give lose all the blessings attached to giving. I've never met someone who doesn't pay their taxes grudgingly, and we know that such a gift is not counted to us for righteousness.

    While I do agree with many of the facets of the Democratic party that you outlined, I do not agree that government should be involved in most of them. However, finding the proper vehicle to promote and encourage such ideals is problematic.

    I thought George W. Bush's approach was promising by creating a fund that religions could access to promote good moral principals and compassion, but Democrats quickly began to scream about separation of church and state, and that ended it rather quickly.

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  8. Brian, great read. I like clear discussion of what form's people's political opinions. I too identify more with a non-existent party. Maybe you should form the “Brian Party”!

    Lots of comments I could make, but will only throw out two here:

    1) I can appreciate your desire to get specifics about the “plan” that Romney has. I too would love to hear some grist. But, I guess I would ask, what type of specifics do we ever get? For these missing details, do you feel the Obama administration has provided you with these same details for their plan(s)?

    2) When it comes to science, I agree with you that the public at large does not know how to entreat science. I lay a large part of that blame on popular media that continually bombards us with not-fully-vetted scientific findings, or controversial findings that make splashy headlines. I also believe part of this issue is because most of our politicians come from the legal world, so are more prone to finding “truth” more through how something is argued versus data-driven decisions (if that makes sense).

    In my view, a large swath of conservative people are willing to wholly discount science because some portion of science “contradicts” their moral or religious beliefs. But, it has been my observation that what is interpreted as “contradictory” many times is not.

    On the liberal side, I find many who believe they truly understand the science and are willing to argue points that they do not know the meaning of. They also seem to be fully on board with scientific findings that agree with their view of things, and are sold from the start.

    But, I think this all stems from what you state, “our society does not know what to make of science”.

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  9. Sorry for two posts Brian, but I thought I would just post about why I am voting for Romney. It's not because he's a Mormon, though I think I would be kidding myself that this doesn't impact my decision at all. Knowing a lot of Mormons that have served the way Romney has served tends to color my judgment about his sincerity and moral core with a positive light.

    However, most of my reasons for voting for Mitt Romney are more pragmatic as follows:

    1. He supports limited government.
    2. He is adamant about equalizing the playing field economically with cheating countries like China.
    3. He is opposed to waste.
    4. He actually works hard and does what he says he will do.
    5. He understands the actual economy as well as Wall Street.
    6. He has proven that he can reach across the aisle and work with Democrats.
    7. He refuses to usurp the authority of the other independent branches of government.
    8. He promotes moral character and hard work.
    9. He loves America and liberty.
    10. He is a stellar example of family.
    11. His stances are well thought out and he doesn't pander to the media's definitions.

    I could go on, but I won't. Two items deserve further discussion.

    7. Refusing to usurp authority. I believe this point goes to the core of most complaints about Romney being vague when it comes to his direction for government as president. I believe this is also one of Pres. Obama's greatest weaknesses when it comes to governing.

    The President of the United States is not the body of government elected to establish laws and write the specific aspects of each law--that is a power of the legislative branch of government, not the executive branch. Unfortunately, Pres. Obama has so usurped this authority through his "my-way-or-the-highway" philosophy of governing, that most Americans now believe it is the President's responsibility.

    I see Mitt Romney's refusal to get specific as a proper understanding of the role of President. The role of President is to communicate objectives and principles to congress and allow them work together to draft laws that the President can support and sign.

    Americans should be furious with a president who tries to usurp power and authority unto himself. (continued)

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  10. (continued from above)

    11. Well-thought-out, non-pandering stances. I assume most people who listen to the media on a regular basis will see this point as completely false, so I will explain it.

    Romney's stances on social issues are fairly nuanced and often don't fall into the available answers purported by the media as black or white. Because of this, the media tries to paint him as a "flip-flopper" on social and other issues. However, a closer reading of his purported "flips" usually reveals that his position has never changed, it is simply in between the two boxes allowed by the media.

    I am increasingly tired of the media trying to paint the answers to difficult questions as either black or white. I find that the real answer is usually "none of the above."

    Most of the difficult questions society faces today stem from bad turns somewhere along the way--abortion, gay rights, stem-cell research, environmental issues, etc., etc., etc. When you are trying to reach a certain destination and you make a wrong turn and end up at a dead end, you are usually better off turning around and backtracking until you find the wrong turn and correct it than you are trying to determine if you should go left or right when you reach the dead end.

    Romney's stances usually speak partly to this philosophy.

    Don't get me wrong, I don't think Romney is the end all. He is a fairly bad public speaker and has an uncanny knack for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. His tact on foreign issues need a bit of work. I also think he is too strong a supporter of trickle-down economics, and I don't think that theory really works--at least not that well (greed is too strong). But I do think he is the infinitely better choice of the two we are forced to chose between this November.

    I would sincerely like to see a similar examination from someone who supports Pres. Obama. I think it would help crystallize the real choices and issues we currently face as a nation.

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  11. Brian: Democrats have controlled congress since 2006, so blaming Bush without acknowledging that Democrats had a hand is disingenuous.

    I have a few questions for you.

    Why has the Democratically controlled senate not produced any budget in 3 1/2 years? Is that leadership? The Republican controlled house has produced budgets. It takes two to tango, and the senate is not playing. Policy differences aside, if you are going to blame the Republicans for not playing with the Democrats, you must acknowledge that they do the same thing.

    You decry the lack in Romney's plan, but what are the specifics in Obama's plan?

    How is generational theft humane and compassionate? To fund our parents' entitlements, the government is stealing money from our children and grandchildren to the tune of over 1 trillion per year. SOMETHING THAT CANNOT GO ON FOREVER WON'T. It's that simple. Run the numbers. When the LDS church leadership teaches about principles of thrift and debt avoidance, should that not apply to our elected officials either? Obama has a terrible record here.

    With the extraordinary deficits we are running up, we have basically three choices. First, we default on the debt and cause massive suffering around the globe. Second, we inflate our way out of the debt, which causes inflation. Third, we pay it down.

    Can we pay it down? Analysis suggests that if we become energy independent, we could completely pay off the national debt within a decade or two, while at the same time employing more people. Ah, but that is one of those resources you think we should not touch, even if it allows us to pay off the debt and employ people, so they don't have to rely on the government dole. Show me ANY profitable portion of the green energy sector and I may change my mind on this.

    So how is the nuanced diplomacy of the the current administration working out for you in the Middle East? Just curious.

    On compassion and humanity. Is it compassionate to kill with drone strikes that increase civilian casualties? Is it humane that in Afghanistan, 84% of the wounded and 70% of soldiers killed have come under this administration? (And why do we never hear these figures reported in the press?).

    Just curious.

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  12. I would just like to say that this is the type of political debate that I greatly appreciate. In the writings I can tell that real frustrations, beliefs and emotions are being expressed without being snarky. (I don't think I've every typed that word before!)

    Due to lack of information about who Obama really is, I went to see the movie "2016". I came out of the movie with more respect for Obama than I previously had, but with a stronger determination to do all I could to make sure he doesn't stay in power. I'd strongly recommend it to anyone who is on the fence... or anywhere close to the fence.

    I largely agree with Wright Mind above that we can't justify the spend now pay later (hopefully) mentality of current government. This has been a problem of both Rep and Dem parties of the last decade. My hope is that Romney has the true principled leadership abilities and the moral grounding to get the job done, crossing both lines to do it.

    As I've gathered information about Romney's past, I've come away with this:
    1. His young life was spent being taught righteous principles of life and leadership by his parents who themselves were great leaders.
    2. He attended some of the best universities in the nation, earning both a business and law degree from Harvard.
    3. In the middle of his schooling, he donated 2.5 years to religious service as an exemplary missionary who was put into an incredibly difficult leadership situation presiding over the mission when his mission president's wife was killed in an auto accident.
    4. He, along with a group of friends started Bain Capital which we know is substantially successful, and then retired a wealthy man.
    5. His motives are completely to serve America. As examples I put forward these points:
    a. When his father passed away, Mitt donated his inheritance to charity.
    b. He took over as president of the SLC Olympics to save a failing olympics. He didn't take any compensation.
    c. He was elected governor of Massachusetts, a strong democrat state and governed well, reversing their deficit into a surplus working with both Dems and Reps. Again, he didn't take any compensation.
    d. Throughout his very successful business career he as voluntarily served in positions of great trust and leadership within the LDS church. Without going into detail, any of us who are LDS know what kind of a person it takes to serve as bishop and stake president. Greedy, self-righteous, and uncompassionate aren't on that list.

    I wouldn't ask you to vote Republican as I too have problems with where both parties have taken us. But compare this with Obama's background as presented in the movie 2016 and I ask you to again consider voting for Mitt Romney, the man not the party, to be our President.

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