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California’s Proposition 8, from a Mormon

November 5, 2008

Proposition 8, aka the Hate Ammendment, has passed in California.

This is of interest to me for three major reasons:

  1. I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, a “Mormon”. I joined as a convert in 1995. The Church strongly advised its members to advocate for Prop 8, in multiple statements and broadcast video events, directly from the Elders of the Church. While this is not “revelation”, it is guidance and counsel, which should be heeded by all.
  2. I am also a man who understands that homosexuality is not a choice, and that in all secular legal respects homosexuals are a minority group in which membership is neither voluntary nor desirable. I can not in good conscience see the fundamental rights of a group of people be stripped for no reason other than that they were born a certain way.
  3. The “Yes on 8” campaign sought to win this campaign through lies, mischaracterizations, and fear-mongering. I can not in good conscience support such underhanded tactics, even were they in the name of a righteous cause.

Since the amendment passed, the LDS Church issued a press statement, stating in part: “After extensive debate between those of different persuasions, voters have chosen to amend the California State Constitution to state that marriage should be between a man and a woman.”

There was no extensive debate here. There was blatant demagoguery and manipulation of base emotions. I saw children – children – out on street corners marching with Yes on 8 signs. Did they know what they were marching for? Or were they being used as fill-in props to back up one of the more flagrant lies of the campaign (that kindergartners would be taught about homosexuality if 8 didn’t pass)? My own kids were given numerous “Yes on 8” screeds in their Halloween candy bags as they went around the neighborhoods. Do these people expect my kids to be voting?

For a campaign which preached itself as being “for the children”, there was a striking willingness to use and abuse children to gain visibility.

This was not an informational campaign. Millions of dollars – much of it cheerfully given by well-intentioned and obedient Saints – went into overpowering the voices of the fact checkers and playing on emotions. I am thoroughly disgusted by the level to which the Yes on 8 proponents stooped in order to stack the deck in their favor.

I have serious trouble squaring my deeply held beliefs over the right for all people to seek happiness and live contented lives, with the “testimonies” of so many of my fellow Saints saying that those rights should be taken away. Frankly, I am seriously questioning my faith in this Church and its teachings. I can see no way to square a belief in the Church and its leadership with the hatred it fostered and pain it has just unleashed upon the 18,000 forcibly annulled marriages and countless other children of God who were just told they have no reason to expect the same rights as their “straight” brethren.

I do not blame my fellow Saints. Perhaps were my testimony strong enough I too would have decided it was better to follow the advice of the Elders even though it was obviously hurting a minority group. I blame the Elders who promoted this hatred, and the culture of obedience which caused so many to heed their call. I know these are but men, as am I. I know that men make mistakes in judgement. The Church Elders have made poor judgment calls in the past in the absence of direct revelation, primarily on racial and miscegenation issues, and so this would not be unprecedented. So many of my fellow Saints claim they felt the confirmation of the Holy Spirit here, though; that is supposed to be the distinguisher of God’s word from men’s ideas. If I am right, and this was not Heavenly Father’s work, then this draws serious question to the ability of men to really distinguish the movements of the Holy Spirit.

Perhaps it is I who is wrong. Perhaps all homosexuals who do not deny their biological imperatives are meant to be excluded from secular society as well as blessings of the Church. I have considered this, and I have prayed for guidance in this, but I can not see it as God’s will. I fear that, if the Elders are right in their guidance and conclusions, then my soul must be lost, for I can not gain a testimony based on excluding large swathes of Heavenly Father’s children from the joys of this world. I will continue to pray for guidance on this, but so far none is apparent.

I hope and pray that a few years down the road we will be able to reconsider this decision and remove this hateful exclusionary passage from our Constitution. The trend in California is noticeably in the direction of tolerance over hatred, given that this measure passed with significantly less of a majority than the previous non-amendment version had eight years ago. Unfortunately countless souls will suffer in the meantime. I pray that they will be strong. We WILL overcome.



September 2, 2008

We’ve heard incessant nattering this presidential campaign about “celebrities”. “Celebrity” isn’t important, though. It is more a side effect than a core issue, and one which can come from a good trait (leadership), or from a bad trait (spotlight-seeking). So let’s shift the discussion just a half degree: what is “Leadership”, and what does it mean in the context of this election?

Giving a good speech is vital to leadership, for how else can you bring clarity to issues for the masses?

Having 38 million people tune in to watch you speak is a reflection of your leadership. It doesn’t prove leadership, but its absence would cast doubt on your leadership abilities.

Leading a country doesn’t require you to be the smartest person in every room, nor does it require you to be the most informed on every issue at every moment. Leadership requires the ability to motivate others to do that which you can not do, the curiosity and intellectual honesty to examine others’ opinions and facts and separate the wheat from the chaff, the guts to stand behind the right choice even when it is not the most popular one, and the communication skills to convince others that they should stand with you.

We in the US have been bullied into believing that the Presidency exists to stamp all policies and actions with the imprint of the values system of the man elected that office. It is not, and should not be. The Republic is a Representative Democracy: we elect representatives who in turn should reflect our will and our interests.

We do not need another egotist reigning over the laws of the land as his personal civics experiment. Instead, we need a leader: someone who can motivate us to do the great works of a great country, who can be bothered to arbitrate the issues of the day and come up with the best answer at least most of the time, who can stand firm in his convictions, and who can explain loud and clear why he is doing what he is doing so that we can know plain and clear why we should do what we need to do.

That man, in my honest opinion, is Barack Obama. But, electing him to office is not the extent of our responsibility.

In the LDS church we pledge to support and sustain our leadership and helpers. Which means, whenever called by a member to assist in their job in the Church, we pledge to do whatever necessary to help him complete it. Obviously, that doesn’t mean the fellow in charge of setting up the chairs in the overflow part of the chapel can expect me to come over to paint his house, and it also doesn’t mean that that fellow could expect me to help him set the chairs up facing the wrong direction. But, inasmuch as it is clear the member is properly executing his own calling, we are duty-bound to assist wherever necessary and practical.

In the US there is no such language in the voting booth, but perhaps there should be. Our duty can not end when the votes are tallied and a new President has been elected. He will need our help, and he will call on us for our help. We must be ready to answer.

In the end, he will need to lead us, not just in a perfunctory manner to do what we would do anyway, but in a daring and tough manner to do that which we don’t even think is possible.

That is leadership. That is why 38 million people tuned in to a 45-minute speech, more than tuned in to the Olympic opening ceremonies. That is why Obama has been featured on magazine covers and profiled in countless articles. And, most importantly: that trait, leadership, is exactly what this country has been lacking for the past eight years and what we desperately need for the next eight.

I, Palindrome, I

September 2, 2008

See the bulletproof dress hanging from the clothesline.
See the medical chart with the random zig-zag.
Now I’ll have to decide:
I, palindrome, I.

—- They Might Be Giants, I Palindrome I

Wow. How prescient are John and John? In fact, the entire Apollo 18 album could be aligned to the McCain campaign through one metaphor or another. Additional example: My Evil Twin. Anyway, that’s beside the point.

Either way you look at it, the story with Palin is the same: she may be a horrid pick for McCain, campaign-wise, but she would doubtless be horrible for the country, governance-wise.

Let’s review the issues with Palin. It’s always best to have a jumping-off point to provide structure, so I’ll take Michael Medved’s Palin rationale as my jumping-off point.

It begins to close the energy gap. The biggest problem for the GOP this year is that Obama devotees were vastly more energized than McCain supporters. Even though polling looked close, the other side was more excited about their candidate. The Palin pick will help Republicans to catch up, exciting the party’s base – particularly religious conservatives.

The first point potentially in favor of Palin is that she’s not an old, lethargic, forgetful man. That is certainly in her favor during the campaign season. Verdict: Good choice for the campaign and would be good for governance if she were trusted with the “car keys”, but only in comparison to any other old rich white guy. Relative to Obama, she’s just closing a gap, not moving the campaign forcibly ahead.

It underscores the best issues for McCain – drilling for oil and cutting government waste. Palin’s obviously an expert on energy production (taxpayers in her state get yearly government checks because of it) at the same time she’s won credibility taking on big oil companies. She’s also been tight-fisted (and veto prepared) when it comes to cutting spending.

This is a compound one, and I disagree pretty completely with Medved here. I don’t see how she is “obviously an expert on energy production” any more than the governor of, say, Texas is “obviously an expret on Longhorn ranching”. She may or may not be, but what we’ve seen so far (and the painfully uncomfortable recorded interviews on the subject) definitely don’t make that “obvious”.

Cutting spending? Every report I’ve seen has had her focus on increasing revenues to the state of Alaska (by oil co windfall taxes, a position McCain seemed reticent to support last I’d heard), and rather ambivalent to the other side of the state budget and finances.

Verdict on Point 2: The impression may be she knows what she is talking about (if and only if you equate “Alaska oil production” to “energy production”) in the campaign, but the weighting of an Alaska oil girl on the ticket will have just as much good governance effects on energy policy as the weighting of a Texas oil guy and a Wyoming multi-national-corporation guy on the previous ticket. Which is: no good energy policy will come when the first second and third thoughts are “how do we get enough oil out of Alaska to replace everything drilled in Saudi Arabia”.

She emphasizes McCain’s credibility as a reformer. She’s clearly identified with the reform wing of the notoriously corrupt Alaska Republican Party. McCain owned the title “reformer” in 2000 – with his talk of cleaning up lobbyist influence and special interests in Washington. No he should recapture the designation and make the most powerful and important point of this election cycle: you can’t clean up government by expanding it. The only way to fight government corruption is to shrink government, not grow it. McCain and Palina re the right team to go to Washington to drain the swamp and give back the people’s money – not to expand the bureaucracy with dozens of ambitious new federal programs.

Hmm. First, while she may be identified with the “reform wing of the notoriously corrupt Alaska Republican Party” that’s about as much a compliment on being attached to the reform wing of the Politburo. We wouldn’t allow Gorbachev as our VP (Constitutional issues aside). While being a “Reformer” is great, it doesn’t translate to the national stage well. For instance, as a “reformer” in Alaska she openly and loudly supported Ted Steven’s “notoriously corrupt” administration and policies. She attached herself to Jack Abramov’s own Washington lobbyist to further Alaska issues on Capital Hill. She campaigned on support for the “Bridge to Nowhere” long before she canceled the project, and only canceled the project on the terms of getting the Federal funds which would have been going into that bridge to do other local pork projects. That’s not reform we can believe in, as someone might say.

Second, the idea of her shrinking government is a new one. I haven’t come across evidence of this personally, so I’ll give Medved the benefit of the doubt here.

Verdict on Point 3: The illusion of “reform” gives the campaign something to talk about, but will open the door to recent-associations attacks. I think it is a loser of a campaign issue. And governance-wise, there’s no evidence she’d be in favor of reform on a national level at all.

Palin allows Republicans to compete on the novelty front. One of Barack’s biggest advantages has been the widespread sense of wonderment he inspires: “I can’t believe we can really elect a black guy on a national ticket!” Now McCainiacs can claim a miracle of our own, as we pinch our delirious selves: “I can’t believe we can really elect a woman on a national ticket – and a conservative woman at that!”

Okay, I’ll grant novelty, although I do have to note that the “woman as VP nominee” is not exactly a first. On the other hand, you could also put a one-armed midget into the race to get novelty; that doesn’t mean she’ll get votes. It obviously doesn’t mean she’ll govern well. Verdict on Point 4: Possible campaign advantage, no governance effect.

The choice should help to reassure grumblers on the right who have insisted that McCain isn’t a “real conservative.” For these folks, the Arizona Senator’s lifetime rating of 82.3% from the American Conservative Union was never enough (Obama’s number is 8%, and Biden’s is 13%). Along with his pro-life, pro-gun, never-supported-a-tax increase voting record, McCain now shows that in the most important decision of his political career he reaches to the right, not to the center. Sure, he offered praise for his friends Lieberman and Ridge (talk is free, after all) but when it counted to define his legacy, to launch his administration, he selected one of the nation’s most conservative governors – and a stalwart leader on the human life issue. More than anything else, this shows McCain’s true political identity, and should reinforce his promise to appoint Justices like Alito and Roberts, Scalia and Thomas.

Not going into McCains late-blooming ultra-conservative bona-fides here, but obviously Palin’s Creationist hardliner idealogy sits well with the “real conservative” base. And, yes, it is 100% guaranteed that the McCain/Palin duo will nominate three new Supreme Court justices (replacing the most liberal three on the bench currently) who will reverse the Roe v Wade decision, making abortions illegal, unsafe, but still not rare.

Verdict on Point 5: This is a major win for conservatives on both the campaign trail and in governance. On the other hand, no matter who McCain’s VP pick was, he’d be nominating ultra-conservatives to the SC bench; the only difference is that with Palin they get a life insurance policy on McCain, which is worth its weight in gold. On the other hand, if you live in the more reality-based world which has been around for a few billion years longer than the Creationists’ 7000-year-old world, this is a major governance issue. If the point is highlighted throughout the campaign (as opposed to the dog-whistle telegraphing Bush/Rove are so adept at) then it will be a major negative for the campaign outside the ultra-conservative 27%.

Yes, this undermines McCain’s future use of the experience issue, but that’s almost certainly a good thing, too.

Okay, stop right there. The issue isn’t that McCain can’t keep using the “experience card”. The issue is that he is a hypocrite for saying experience is so important and then annointing an inexperienced neophyte to replace him. This is not a game-changer for the rest of the campaign so much as it invalidates everything he has said and banked on to date.

Verdict on Point 6: This is a major campaign failure. It is also a major governance failure: if McCain is – heaven forbid – incapacitated or dies in office, Palin takes the reigns of the country long before she is ready. If he lasts through the four years, he is unlikely to run for re-election (I’m betting), and Palin takes the stage as the instant frontrunner for office. Will she be qualified then, after four years as VP? It all depends on how well McCain has done at giving her responsibilities throughout his term, of course. But, in a parallel world where a seasoned VP had been sitting there for four years, that hypothetical VP would have been completely ready to take the GOP’s reigns as the presumptive nominee in 2012. The problem here is opportunity cost: to put Palin in a place where she might possibly be halfway ready to take the reigns in 2012, you neglect to put someone else there who could absolutely be ready for the role. So, verdict on governance is that this is a failing issue there as well.

The televised Vice Presidential Debate in October suddenly becomes an important media event, and offers more risks for Joe Biden than Sarah Palin. If the GOP had nominated a “boring old white guy” (Romney, Lieberman, Ridge, or even Pawlenty—who’s not old) few viewers would have tuned in. The novelty of a young, attractive female taking on grizzled Joe Biden will give this debate special juice. The expectations for Palin are so low she should have no difficulty (if well prepared) in exceeding them. Moreover, Biden can’t fire back contemptuously the way Lloyd Bentsen did against Dan Quayle because Palin is a sympathetic female. Republican Rick Lazio lost the Senatorial election against Hillary when he tried to be too tough and confrontational in the debate. Palin, on the other hand, can surprise the world by being as aggressive as possible against Biden — after all, her nickname on her state championship high school basketball team (she was point guard) was “Sarah Barracuda.”

This is potentially true. I’d like to think the American public is more adult than this, but they did elect Bush twice.

Verdict on Point 7: Major campaign plus, no effect on governance (unless you believe that the oil lobbyists behind closed doors will likewise be kowtowed by their innate sense of chivalry).

Okay, that missed the major problems with Palin, though:

Trooper-gate. And her history of promptly firing anyone who supported her opposition (meaning, people in historically non-political positions). Do we need or want another executive in the office who is willing to abuse his/her power to wage their personal wars?

Alaskan Secession. Palin’s husband had long been a member of the Alaska Independence Party, which seeks to pull Alaska out of the US, and which openly campaigns to place supporters in positions of power in the Federal government. He changed to “undeclared” in 2002 when she first ran on a Republican ticket. While her husband’s views are not necessarily her own, and he may have registered in the AIP as a lark to begin with, this is something which will need more addressing than it has gotten (which is a simple denial that she was ever registered AIP).

Church Over State. Palin has a history of pushing for heavy church involvement in the running of the state, from banning books with non-Christian themes to pushing for “equal time” to Creationism relative to science. I think the country has had enough of that BS.

Poor Judgement. Palin’s legendary 12-hour plane ride while in labor with a Downs’ Syndrome child is telling. Perhaps her motivations there lie in her Alaska Uber Alles secessionist leanings (wanting her son to be a “native” of Alaska), or perhaps for family reasons (so that everyone could witness the birth). The risks she took, though, were disproportionate. The child had a large chance of needing serious care upon delivery, care which would not have been available on the flight, and which would not have been available in her small-town hospital (she flew another four hours away from the Juneau hospital with a top-notch neonatal facility). She didn’t alert any of the flight attendants that she was in labor (they didn’t even realize she was pregnant!) To me, it charitably speaks to poor judgement, or, uncharitably, to willful endangerment of her unborn child. Granted, all turned out well in this case, but nine times out of ten driving home drunk doesn’t lead to an accident either. It’s still a sign of dangerously inadequate judgement.

Overall, I think she is a minor positive balance on a flailing ticket. From a governance perspective, however, I think she would be an absolute disaster for the country.