Is Bruce Reed for Real?

Given that he’s accusing everyone else of being fictional, we might as well ask him the same thing.

That’s right, in his latest smear, Reed takes Tagg Romney to task for . . . the fact that a possibly fictional person has written blog posts about him and even commented on his blog. Do we really want a president that has a son that receives notes from fictional people? Also, Tagg is a cyborg, like his father- so stiff he’s “frozen,” . . . but he also shoots from the hip, preferring to “speak first and ask poll questions later.” Also, Tagg is a square . . . but he has a frat-boy sense of humor.

Perhaps these contradictions are just signs of good nuanced fiction. One hopes that is what Reed is aspiring to write here, because this bizarre, derisive piece would look far more at home coming out of a community college creative writing program than from one of our preeminent online magazines.

Slate’s campaign to brand Romney and his family as too good to be true (an angle of attack inextricably linked with the “up with people vibe of [their] cultural Mormonism” as Andrew Sullivan has unctuously put it) continues. But the latest episode is not worth serious response. I think this blogger’s take is much better fitted to Reed’s brand of “journalism.” (And funnier than Reed, too).

Explain Your Faith! (But) Don’t Run on Your Faith!

In an interesting column at U.S. News’ religion blog, Jay Tolson makes the following assertion:

Would Romney do more for himself and his church by being more forthright about what he thinks makes Mormonism different and even, presumably, special? It is hard to say. But such candor might be a better strategy than vague generalities, which arguably have had the effect of heightening suspicions about both Romney and his church.

Tolson believes, perhaps correctly, that Romney’s reticence regarding the specifics of his Mormon beliefs could be hurting him with voters. Perhaps the only thing wrong with Romney’s Mormonism is that no one understands it, so if he would explain it, the whole problem would go away. (more…)

Is Mormonism A Cult? Part I

Perhaps one of the most common, and most damaging accusations leveled at the LDS church is that it is a cult. You can find iterations of this attack in the political realm here, here, here, and here, for example. Which, of course, doesn’t scratch the surface of dialogue in the religious world, where the accusation is bandied about with alarming regularity. This topic deserves two separate treatments. Part I deals with the semantics of the word “cult” when used in the political realm. Part II will deal specifically with how well the term applies to Mormonism.

The first thing to note about the “cult” epithet is that it means nothing at all. I’m serious. (more…)

New RomneyExperience Features: Resources and Attacks

Several new features have been added to RomneyExperience, accessible from the navigation bar at the top of this page.

First, the resources page offers various web and print resources that will be helpful to the public and the press in understanding Mormonism in the upcoming campaign. This page will be updated regularly. Tips or suggestions welcome. (Please forgive the temporary formatting problems).

Second, the attacks page is also up. This contains links to all of the most prominent attacks made on Mitt Romney’s religion over the course of the presidential campaign. Readers may click through to the attacks made by Jacob Weisberg, Damon Linker, and Garry South, among others. Over time, this page will come to be an extensive catalogue of the intolerance leveled at Mormons in the political sphere. Hopefully it will not grow too much larger.

RomneyExperience will also be responding to each of the attacks on that page. The first RomneyExperience rebuttal has been posted, refuting Damon Linker’s claim that a Mormon President would be a puppet for the Mormon Church. You can find it here. Other responses will be posted shortly.

And of course, look for new features coming in the days ahead.

So What Can We Ask Mitt? Agreeing On Some Boundaries

Jake Tapper responds to my initial piece on his suggestion that Mitt Romney should be expected to explain his faith to voters. He questions why, if Romney can say he is religious, voters should be expected not to ask what that claim means to Romney. Others in the blogosphere have similar questions. It’s clear that despite some well-defined standards for respectful discourse, we as a nation simply haven’t come to an agreement about what is and is not fair game in discussing the religion of a candidate for national office.

I would like to submit a few suggestions from a Mormon perspective. First, it is important to note that the Tapper position (in which questions about any of a candidate’s beliefs appear to be fair game — he posits that he should be able to ask Romney about where he thinks he’ll end up in the eternities), while appearing even-handed, would raise a de facto bar from office to any person belonging to an ill-understood religious minority. Imagine the scenarios under this model. Catholic X runs for president and has to answer a few questions about abortion and maybe an odd question about transubstantiation (maybe). Mormon X runs and the door is wide open for direct questioning to the candidate on everything from polygamy to church history to the most obscure statements of past church leaders.

Why the difference? (more…)

Monday Morning Links

Today’s must-read feature is the Boston Globe’s in-depth biographical feature about Mitt Romney’s childhood and youth, growing up in Michigan, attending college at Stanford, and serving his LDS mission in France.  The Globe has done an excellent job of reporting these periods of Romney’s life in an interesting and detailed way.  This story appears to be the first in an upcoming series, so stay tuned for future installments.

Forbes magazine has a good piece up about the importance of Romney’s family to his life and campaign.

Finally, a very mature take on the Romney-religion issue, by John Fund in the Wall Street Journal.

Where was Mitt During Vietnam? Boston Globe buries the lede, then digs up the grave, and throws it in the river.

I found this Boston Globe piece informative. It has become something of a ritual of presidential politics to inquire where each candidate was during Vietnam. The difference between missing days on National Guard duty and living for years in the Hanoi Hilton can be very significant for any candidate, and the public has an interest in the patriotic history of each presidential hopeful.

So where was Mitt Romney? Serving an LDS mission France for two and a half years (would the story have been printed if it hadn’t had this religious tie-in? One wonders). After that, he received draft deferments to pursue his education. Ho hum. So now we’ve answered that question. (more…)

ABC: A Man of Faith Should Explain his Faith

ABC’s Jake Tapper asserted on the network’s This Week today that if Romney wishes to run as a man of faith, he should be expected to explain exactly what his faith requires him to believe. He raises the example of the Mormon beliefs regarding Jesus’ eventual Second Coming to the earth. If Romney wishes to be taken seriously as a religious candidate, why can’t he tell us exactly how the specific tenets of that religion inform his world view?

This position has a nice logical ring to it, but breaks down on examination. First of all, it is not entirely accurate to say that Romney is running as a man of faith. Rather, he has asserted that he is a religious person in line with the mainstream of America only as a defense to attacks that his Mormonism should disqualify him from office. This is not an affirmative talking point, but a defense against the anti-Mormon crowd. The fact that he is forced to highlight his religious values in order to stay in the race should not be read to open the door to discuss all of Mormon doctrine in a political campaign.

Secondly, note the example Jake Tapper brings up. So Romney is a man of faith, but why should that mean he needs to explain complex doctrines regarding the far off return of Jesus Christ? Surely John McCain, Mike Brownback and Mike Huckabee, if they take their brands of Christianity seriously, have their own beliefs about the mode and meaning of Jesus’ return. Mitt Romney has been no more emphatic about his own religiosity than any of these men, so it should follow that we are entitled to hear their own thoughts on this “important” issue.

To imagine John McCain being forced to expound his beliefs on the Second Coming highlights the absurdity of the argument in the first place. Why on earth should voters care what John McCain thinks about how and where Jesus might someday appear on the earth? Is Mitt Romney any different?

Tapper’s argument rests on the idea that voters are entitled to understand the basis for their candidates’ claims. If you say you’re a conservative, you should have to prove it, and if you say you’re religious, you should have to back that up too. But there is a certain line to be drawn as well. Mitt Romney’s belief about the location of Jesus’ return will not inform his administration of the country in any way. His ideas about integrity, fidelity in marriage, and Christian kindness might. Ask away on those topics. But before you can expect him to discuss his beliefs on more obscure points of doctrine (on which topics all religions have their own positions), you’d better explain why those questions bear any relevance to voters.

So, the ball’s in your court, Mr. Tapper– as soon as you can explain why voters should care about Mitt Romney’s beliefs on the Second Coming of Jesus, Romney can be expected to detail exactly those beliefs. Deal?

When Campaigns Attack, Part II: Fighting Through the Nonsense

Now that we’ve discussed the surprising trend of direct attacks by other campaigns made in open air (on a “closed” topic), let’s not just leave the attacks hanging out there. Let’s deal with each little bit of innuendo, one by one.

According to the Boston Globe, McCain County Chairman Chad Workman “discussed an article alleging that the Mormon Church helps fund Hamas, and likened the Mormons’ treatment of women to the Taliban’s.” Translation: Mormons are terrorists. You can see why a Romney presidency would be unfortunate for America. No one likes to see a terrorist running the country.

However, Mr. Workman clearly doesn’t have his facts straight. As to the first charge, I’ve done some digging. It appears to arise from a blog piece written in 2006, which reported that the LDS Church’s charitable arm gave money to Islamic Relief Worldwide, a charitable organization that has been accused of giving money to other groups that gave money to other groups that . . . .eventually gave it to this or that Hamas front group. Let’s simplify: Romney=Mormon=Islamic Relief Worldwide=one or two intervening groups=Front Group for Hamas.

The truth is that the LDS Church quietly gives enormous amounts to charities all across the world, without regard to politics. It also does its best to make sure its donations get into the hands of the poor, and stay out of the hands of the evil. According to the release issued by the Church in September 2006, when this story broke:

The Church has partnered with some 1,500 officially registered NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) and charitable agencies across the world. The Church works diligently to identify respected organizations with excellent track records.

The LDS Church conducts careful evaluations of its charitable partners through Charity Navigator, “a highly respected independent monitoring organization.”

This organization has awarded Islamic Relief Worldwide a four-star rating. Moreover, according to the release:

contacts made by the Church at various levels of the U.S. Government have confirmed that the organization is not listed as a suspected terrorist organization and there are no restrictions in dealing with it. . . . The British Government likewise continues to work officially with this organization.

In short, there is simply nothing to this baseless allegation. It is particularly unfortunate that Mr. Workman has chosen to attack the LDS Church on one of its most unassailable practices– that of allocating monumental resources for the benefit of the world’s poor.

Let us hope that the owner of the Straight Talk Express can prevent such idiotic noise from emanating from his campaign in the future.

Update: You can view Islamic Relief’s four-star rating and evaluations by Charity Navigator here.

McCain Camp Joins in the Anti-Mormon Fun

According to this Boston Globe story, a County Campaign Chairman for McCain in Iowa recently made a speech at a meeting in the county courthouse about Mitt Romney’s religion.  And it wasn’t about tolerance.  According to several witnesses, Chad Workman discussed allegations that the LDS Church helps fund Hamas*,  and is similar to the Taliban in the way it treats women.  According to Workman, the major flaw in Romney’s candidacy is that he is unqualified, incompetent, moderate, irreligious, lacking in virtue, wrong on the issues a Mormon.  Ah yes, that most damning of political liabilities.

In case you’re not keeping score, that makes three direct assaults on Mormonism by three mainstream campaigns in the last month alone.  The Globe story adequately summarizes the first two- in which staffers for the Giuliani and Brownback campaigns forwarded emails meant to cast Mormonism in an unflattering light.  

It is a happy (though unsurprising) fact that the principal of each of the above campaigns has promptly apologized for these attacks, and promised course corrections.  And yet, one wonders if the message is getting through.  Does every single campaign feel it has one freebie before it has to get tough on religious bigotry?  If McCain truly cared about keeping his campaign free of faith-based mud-slinging, couldn’t he have sent the message to his troops after he saw not one but two other campaigns getting dirty?  The only positive to come from this is that from this point on, any campaign that crosses this line should be very much held accountable for the bigotry, because each has now had ample opportunity to communicate its standards to its operatives.  And if the candidates are to be taken at their word about such behavior, any other staffers pulling this kind of attack should be fired.

Coming into this primary cycle, a few things were predictable.  It has always been likely that some Christian groups would publicize unfavorable information to discredit the Mormon faith.  It was also a good bet that a campaign or two might engage in some below the belt whisper campaigns, but mostly through surrogates or behind a veil of anonymity.  What is truly surprising is that here in June, three high profile campaigns have already taken off the gloves on Romney’s religion, and done it completely out in the open. 

The only thing that can stop the snowball now is a genuine commitment from the candidates to stop the attacks now, or a clear message from voters or the press that they are unacceptable.  At this stage, I am not confident that either will come to pass.

*I have never heard this particular accusation before.  If you have any information on the accusation that the LDS Church helps to fund Hamas, please forward it to me.  And by the way, I can tell you already, it’s complete nonsense.