Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Ron Paul and Barack Obama

I've spent the year trying to study the different candidates and messages regarding America's future under a new President beginning in 2008. I've particularly mentioned some candidates that I couldn't support and I think I've made my case pretty clearly as to why. But I have not spent enough time talking about the candidates and messages that I *do* believe are worthy of support.

The two candidates that I find most compelling, given my particular values and concerns, are Barack Obama and Ron Paul. They are similar in many ways and I probably could support either of them in the general election.

Each of them talk with sincerity about unity, honesty, communication, and freedom.

At present, Paul gets the edge in my book. Paul is taking the much more difficult road, however, with his principled stance against special interest and lobbying funds – and consequently his actual message and platform are much less well-known.

Obama has plenty of mainstream corporate and lobbying support which assures him a greater probability of succeeding as either a Presidential or VP candidate in the general election, but also brings with it a great deal of baggage. Obama's substantial Israeli lobby support is, I would expect, an important part of his political calculus now – to name just one example.

Both Paul and Obama seem to have a better connection to the 'lower and middle' classes that comprise over 90% of our nation (depending on your definition, of course, read on). Congressman Paul spent decades delivering the babies of young, growing families. Senator Obama quit a law firm to follow his heart-felt calling to social work in struggling Chicago neighborhoods. The surprise and disbelief on his opponent's face last week when he asked if they realized that less than 6% of the country makes more than $97,000 (the income point that was being portrayed as 'working middle class') was just priceless – and for me, very telling. Most politicians with the means to compete at this national level are so far removed from the average citizen that it is simply unreal. But Paul and Obama – through their vocational choices – have a far greater understanding than average.

I've discussed some of Obama's multiple strengths before, but I haven't said much about Paul and he has become the candidate I support most strongly. I'll discuss them both more in future posts. Today I'd like to introduce Paul.

As a Latter-Day Saint my favorite parts of the Paul message are:

1. The Constitution is an inspired document that we have all pledged to uphold. We should follow it, and if we do not intend to, we should be honest about that and discuss it.

2. We are a Christian nation and should reasonably be expected to follow the precepts Christ taught. If we live as an example to the world, we will do far more good than if we attempt to force such values at the barrel of a gun.

3. Debt is real and must be reckoned with. The sooner the better. Denial doesn't make it go away. As Paul said the other day "My personal finances would be very good if I was borrowing $1 million a month. But someday the bills will come due." Key components in the Paul platform are reckoning with our astronomically frightening debt and fostering an atmosphere in which individuals and families could do the same. By at least one measure, simply fulfilling our current debt obligations would require $175,000 from each man, woman, and child in the nation. I don't know about you, but I won't *earn* that much this year . . . and neither will my wife or sons. The vast majority of that debt is from our ever-increasing misadventures in foreign policy. The fact that – like most debt – it's only increasing is not good. Furthermore, much of our debt is on loan from 'less-than-friendly' nations like China.

4. Individual responsibility is liberating and requisite. As nations, communities, families, and individuals we should be promoting liberty and responsibilty. Paul believes that Israel, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, etc. should be free of our national aid grants that purchase their military hardware and their indebtedness. They could then work out agreements that made more sense in the region and weren't complicated by pandering for our financial aid. [It is assumed by some in the media that this would benefit the Arab countries more than Israel, but there are a number of groups – even within Israel – arguing the reverse. Paul's consistency on the issue frees Israel's hand. Also it prevents the US from propping up dictators that surround them – like the $10 billion dollars and F16 aircraft we just sent Mushariff in Pakistan . . . not to mention all those years alternating propping up Iran and Iraq.]
Likewise, Ron Paul strongly advocates helping individuals and families break free of becoming dependent on government aid. He contends, quite convincingly, that if we were more rational in our foreign policy we would save so much money that not only would government welfare projects actually be solvent but further, individual Americans would see more money in their own pockets – which is an important step in reducing the number of people who become dependent on government aid.

5. Finally, for Ron Paul, every individual soul has worth and should not be dismissed with a label or attacked with a collective slander. When Ron Paul talks about our schoolchildren, soldiers, or immigrants, or the citizens in Iraq, Israel, Mexico, or Darfur – he has the same message. He doesn't need to tailor his message to appeal more to the Arab League or to the WTO or to Iowa veterans. If you listen to his reasoned wisdom on Iraq, for instance, you find that he has concern for both our valiant young men and women being sent into battle and the innocents that sometimes find themselves 'collateral damage'. He is not a weak pacifist or an isolationist. Indeed he strongly advocated going after bin Laden and al Queda – and still does – (remember when that was a shared goal?). But he believes that each use of our considerable might should be reasoned, clearly laid out, and executed quickly and judiciously.

Despite not being in the back pocket of any large and influential organizations, Ron Paul's message is so rational, so 'in touch with the people', so consistent, and so, well, "good" that he literally has the largest grass-roots support any presidential candidate has ever seen. His supporters put up signs and spend hours creating you-tube videos, writing letters to the editor, etc. Regardless of what you think of such efforts, please take a couple of minutes to watch one short exemplary fan-made video. Paul's words are clear and speak for themselves better than any summary I could attempt.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Some Potential Hypocrisy in Romney's Talk

Romney is weakened a bit in his potential to give a JFK-like straight-talk about his private religion – and how it should in no way influence people to discriminate against the job he could do as a public executive. This is because – despite his apparent sincerity and dedication in his private religious observance – he seems to be overlooking the gravity of one of his key public failings in that observance. And his advisors may actually be correct that consequently he would do better to play it down, rather than highlight it.

The sad fact of the matter is that Romney's own blatant discrimination against Muslims in general [for political gain] – and his facile echoings of the exaggerations, slanders, and lies leveled against Islam generally – have hobbled him as a moral authority in speaking of respect for religious freedom in American politics.

Without doubt, there would be some hypocrisy in Romney going before the American people and talking up the cherished freedom of religion that we all enjoy. It would be disingenuous to propose that he strictly embodies his own religious creed that
"We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may."
In saying this, let me emphasize that I am not questioning his faithfulness as a Mormon. Indeed, I've commented many times that I think Mitt Romney is an excellent example of a faithful Mormon for the public eye. He is positive, cheerful, sober, intelligent, hard-working, and – very impressive to me as a father of four boys – appears to have the strong support of five remarkably successful sons. His relationship with his wife and children is a strong testament to me of his character. One that can simply not be dismissed.

Furthermore, contrary to some, I have been impressed with nearly every instance where I've seen him pressed on Mormon doctrine, culture, and beliefs. His knowledge, practice, and well-spoken answers leave me sincerely impressed with Mitt as one attempting to live as a "Latter Day Saint". It is no wonder that he has served in various ecclesiastical leadership positions and I am well satisfied that he has done as well as anyone can in those capacities – which is no small feat. And a great sacrifice which few outside the faith are likely to be aware of.

On the other hand, I've never met a perfect person and consequently I've never known a perfect Mormon. Tragically, one of the only public failings that I've seen evinced in Mitt Romney coincides bafflingly with the question of religious bigotry. [His other public failings seem inextricably linked with this. As much as I like Mitt the person, many of his weaknesses are right where I think our nation's leadership is most lacking at the moment.]

Following lock-step in the dubious advice of such Washington luminaries as Cofer Black (VP of Blackwater) and Norman Podhoretz (publicly "praying" that we bomb Iran regardless of diplomacy), Mitt Romney has made anti-Muslim-defamation a key plank in his presidential platform. As Massachusetts governor he proposed specifically wiretapping every Mosque suspected of preaching "hate" and investigating every University student from a known Islamic nation. As a presidential candidate he has talked numerous times about the imminent danger of a present war that will end only with a Muslim 'caliphate.' Consciously or not, he is a key figure spreading the fear that Muslims generally advocate the violent overthrow of the world's nations in order to unite under a pure Islamic leader. And he is using that fear to pander to the frightened for their votes.

There is something profoundly wrong with promulgating the known falsehood that the Muslim religion *itself* is filled with hatred, blasphemous genocidal justification, and dangerous fanatical calls to 'jihad' – and then asking the American people to overlook any of the probably over-wrought falsehoods about his own religion that they may have heard.

Indeed, almost every world religion can be painted as dangerous and full of fanatics. Ironically, Muslims share many of the same criticisms as the Jews and the Christians. The Old Testament has a great number of frighteningly black or white calls for God's People to entirely wipe out another nation, for instance, or stone – to death – an apparent sinner. Those passages are certainly not, in my opinion, precisely representative of the larger text. And neither are the few similar passages in the Koran.

Nevertheless, you can always find a modern rabbi, or Christian preacher [with an actual following] who emphasizes such frightening passages in ways that the majority of Jews or Christians would be quick to repudiate. Additionally, you don't have to look very far in the past to find Christian [or Jewish] leadership colluding with (or at least appeasing) evil madmen intent on murdering innocent populations of people to make political statements. The local Catholic leadership's relationship in Germany and Spain with Hitler and Franco, respectively, are just two well-known examples. Despite what some will say are crucial differences inherent in the Muslim faith that the 'politically correct' crowd is glossing over, it simply is not so.

Given his religious heritage, I find it especially disturbing that Romney would embrace such obvious distortion and bigotry about another faith. A century and a half ago, his religious ancestors found such fears and slanders of their own beliefs magnified to the point that the surrounding populations in Missouri and Illinois were agitated to violence against the Mormons generally. Much of it was later found to be orchestrated by evil-intentioned politicians and mis-informed, but well-intentioned, religious people.

If Mitt Romney wants to offer "True Strength for America's Future", he would do well to consider if the founders had divine inspiration in protecting diverse religious freedoms and why it was that stunning portion of Joseph's Smith's letter [written to John Wentworth of the Chicago Democrat – and containing a resolute defense of the sanctity of individual religious thought in Article 11 –] was canonized in his personal religious tradition.

Unfortunately, it is clear that Romney is so far down the road of defamation against a particular religious tradition – so contrary to both his own private religious conviction and what he must ask of the general populace for himself – that he cannot in all sincerity speak of it effectively during this campaign.