Harry Reid and Mitt Romney, Aspiring Latter-day Saints

From left to right: The late Elder Neal A. Maxwell, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; Marwan Muashar, then ambassador of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan to the United States; Senator and Mrs. Harry Reid; Elder Merrill J. Bateman of the Seventy, then president of Brigham Young University; and the Rev. Jubilation T. Cornpone, astonished interloper. The occasion was a banquet at the Jordanian Embassy honoring Brigham Young University’s Islamic Translation Series (part of its Middle Eastern Texts Initiative), which was conceived and founded by Rev. Cornpone.

 

Senator Harry Reid has recently announced that Mitt Romney has “sullied” the Mormon faith (which Senator Reid and Governor Romney share), and that Mr. Romney is “not the face of Mormonism.”  He may have picked that “not the face of Mormonism” language up from Gregory Prince, another Mormon who, using that very phrase, has expressed strong public disagreement with some of Mr. Romney’s political positions.

 

I would like to point out that neither Senator Reid nor Mr. Prince is “the face of Mormonism,” either.  No single mortal (unless, perhaps, he be the current president of the Church; and, even there, I would have reservations) is “the face of Mormonism.”  We’re a varied bunch.  Here’s as good a candidate as any:

 

“Teacher John,” by GayLynn Lorene Ribeira,
a painting in the Ninth International Art Competition
of the Museum of Church History and Art in Salt Lake City,
featured in the September issue of the “Ensign,”
showing John Essel, of Ghana, teaching an after-school class on the gospel.

Senator Reid is, by all accounts, a committed member of the Church.  I’m told, for example, that, of all the LDS members of the United States Senate in recent decades, he has been the most willing to help the Church out on international political issues (e.g., missionary visas, and that sort of thing).  He is, reputedly, a good man.

 

I don’t doubt it, though I confess that I haven’t appreciated his often rather uncharitable political style (which is putting it mildly) and I frankly disagree with many of his most important political positions.

 

I have very strong political views myself.  (You may possibly have noticed that.)

 

But I have always opposed attempts by my fellow conservatives to try, effectively, to read Harry Reid out of the faith because he leans politically left.  There is no single “Mormon position” on policy matters like “No Child Left Behind,” diplomacy toward Iran, Obamacare, or military budgets. Certainly not so obviously so that anybody should be called before a church court — as some Mormons on the Internet have, incredibly, proposed for Senator Reid — because he or she believes differently on such issues.  (I remember decades ago that the Rev. Jerry Falwell, who did some good things and who almost certainly voted the same way I tend to vote, seemed to be implying that there was a “Christian position” on the Panama Canal Treaty.)  These are prudential matters, and there is plenty of room for good, serious people to disagree on them.

 

Do we have a religious and moral obligation to serve the poor?  Yes.  Absolutely.  Does the government have a role in that?  If so, what should that role be?  Faithful Latter-day Saints can and do disagree about the practical questions, even while entirely committed to the principle.

 

Thus, I really don’t appreciate it when Senator Reid and Mr. Prince (the latter with more subtlety and nuance than the Majority Leader, and much less ham-handedly) seem to want to read Governor Romney out of Mormonism for his views.

 

An emeritus General Authority who happens to hold a Harvard Ph.D. in political science and to have taught for years on the east coast of the United States told me, a couple of years ago, of a conversation he had had with the late Michael Deaver, one of President Ronald Reagan’s inner circle at the White House.  Deaver complimented this General Authority (it was, perhaps, prior to his call as a General Authority) on how Republican Mormons are.  Mischievously, this Mormon political scientist responded that “Actually, most of us are socialists.”  Mr. Deaver was shocked, thinking that it was a jest.  But it wasn’t.  Internationally, our ranks include members of the British Labour Party, Venezuelan Chavistas, and many other species of Leftists who could probably not gain election to the Provo City Council.  Nor even, perhaps, to that of Berkeley.

 

I’m very much a man of the Right.  A serious conservative, with strong libertarian inclinations (particularly on specifically economic issues).  And Im prepared to argue for my positions.  I believe that socialism, statism, most forms of modern liberalism, Communism, and Marxism are, to their varying degrees, wrong, and even, sometimes, wickedly immoral.  But I refuse to break fellowship with Saints who don’t share my right-leaning political views.  And I don’t believe that they are justified in breaking fellowship with me.  Nor in even hinting at it.

 

 

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  • Kent G. Budge

    You touch on the great fallacy of politics, which is the fallacy that if you do not support a policy based on good intentions, you must not share the good intentions.

    I am personally sick to death of folks who think everything is political. Notwithstanding my own firm political views, I would like to see most of life placed in a politics-free zone.

  • http://joelsmonastery.blogspot.com Gerald Smith

    Thanks, I also commented on this with a letter directed to Brother Reid at Millennial Star. Some like my letter, others do not. As with you, Prof Cornpone, I established throughout that I believe he is a member in good standing as long as his bishop and stake president say he is. That said, I was saddened by his causing such a division. Politics are rough and tumble, and I don’t mind Harry attacking Romney’s political ideas. But to call him a bad Mormon is just bad form. It divides the saints, causing contention (which is the doctrine of Satan – 3 Ne 11). Reid would not want people putting his status in the Church in question, and so he should show the same respect and restraint as you have had with him.

  • danpeterson

    Excellent comments. I couldn’t agree more, with both of them.

  • H_Nu

    I’ve come to realize I’m a human first, a conservative second, a male third, a husband fourth, and a Mormon fifth. People like Harry Reid who continually lie will not receive my fellowship…

  • Stephen Smoot

    Let’s get one thing straight: Reid didn’t say Romney was a “bad Mormon”. He said, correctly in my view, that he is not the face of Mormonism and that his terrible comments about the “47%” have sullied Mormonism. I believe he is right on both counts. Let me explain.

    1. Mitt Romney has, for better or for worse, become the icon for 21st century Mormonism. When many people think “Mormon” they think “Mitt Romney”. They also think that Romney’s ideas and views reflect the ideas and views of modern Mormonism. What Reid and Prince are saying, as I understand them, is that Romney’s attitude toward those on government assistance is not the only view of modern Mormons. (Same goes for Romney’s other political views.)

    2. Romney’s shockingly insensitive comments did sully Mormonism. So too have comments Reid has made in the past, and the imperfections of every other imperfect Latter-day Saint. I have sullied Mormonism at times with my poor actions or behavior. And I’d wager so has every other imperfect Saint. Mitt Romney is not perfect, and his shameful comments should be roundly denounced by every Latter-day Saint. So too should mine, or Harry Reid’s, or anyone else who makes shameful comments.

    I am not a Harry Reid fan. I think he can righty be criticized on a number of issues. But I think his criticism of Romney was spot on. Whatever political schemes Reid may have had behind this, well, that’s another issue. But as they stand, I agree with Reid’s criticism.

    Now excuse me while I duck for cover. ;-)

    • Kent G. Budge

      Stephen,

      Yours is not exactly a ringing endorsement of the idea that I can disagree with your political views without being evil.

      • Stephen Smoot

        Um, yeah, I don’t know how you read “I think you’re evil because you disagree with me” in my post.

        All I said was that I think Reid has a legitimate claim against Romney. That’s it.

        But in case you’re confused, let me be clear: I DO NOT believe you are evil because you disagree with me. Nor do I believe that Romney, Reid, Obama, or any other American politician today is evil. There are only a couple of politicians in history that I think were genuinely evil: one from Germany, and a couple from the Soviet Union.

        Hope that clears things up. :-)

    • http://plainandpreciousthing.blogspot.com/ Rozann

      Shockingly insensitive? Stating the fact that 47% of voters have already made up their minds to vote for the incumbent and he’s not going to worry about them is shockingly insensitive? How so? Romney’s actions speak for his compassion for the poor and needy, he has given generously of his own money, time and resources to help those in need, but because he doesn’t toot his own horn about it he’s called insensitive. And if you don’t think Obama is evil, you’d better get back to reading the Book of Mormon to clarify what evil leaders want and do. The blindness of the populace is going to be our downfall.

  • Bob

    Very very well said, Stephen.

  • ldskid

    While my politics are diametrically opposed to Senator Reid’s, I recognize his right to his opinions. I do not however, approve of his seemingly perpetual lies about Mitt Romney and all other Republicans and conservatives. I have addressed him directly via emails with the question, “How can you respond afirmatively to your Bishop that you deal honestly with your fellowman?” There has been no response!

    • danpeterson

      I would agree that Brother Reid’s apparently wholly baseless claim that Brother Romney hadn’t paid taxes for ten full years — made from the well of the United States Senate, no less — was shocking irresponsible, at a minimum.

      • Stephen Smoot

        For the record, and to show that I really am not just picking on Romney, I also think Reid’s baseless accusations about Romney’s tax returns are just as sullying of Mormonism as I think Romney’s remarks were.
        Again, my point is that all imperfect Latter-day Saints make mistakes, and say bad things, that sully Mormonism, or, more specifically, the Church and Gospel of Jesus Christ.
        And for every finger I point at Romney or Reid, I point four more right back at me.

        • Kent G. Budge

          “Just as”?

          I’m not sure I buy the moral equivalence of Reid falsely accusing Romney of not paying any taxes over a period of years, and Romney (probably correctly) concluding that a good chunk of the electorate are too dependent on their federal payouts to be likely to respond to a message of federal austerity.

          • Stephen Smoot

            That’s a nice positive spin (like the kind Romney tried to do in his hasty, ad hoc press conference where he’d only say that his comments weren’t said “elegantly”), but it’s clear Romney’s attitude was much more, how shall I say, Mr. Burnsesque:

            “There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what. And I mean, the president starts off with 48, 49, he starts off with a huge number. These are people who pay no income tax. Forty-seven percent of Americans pay no income tax. So our message of low taxes doesn’t connect. So he’ll be out there talking about tax cuts for the rich. I mean, that’s what they sell every four years. And so my job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives. What I have to do is convince the 5 to 10 percent in the center that are independents, that are thoughtful, that look at voting one way or the other depending upon in some cases emotion, whether they like the guy or not.”

            Yeah, stupid poor people and Obama for feeling like we have a social/governmental obligation to help them with things like… ya know… food…and…shelter. If only those lazy urchins (including the children, elderly, and the working poor who are included in that 47%, http://factcheck.org/2012/09/dependency-and-romneys-47-percenters/) would be as industrious and enterprising as Mitt Romney, everything would be better.

            What kind of socialist, anti-American, freedom hating, communist enabling hippie would think that we should sacrifice even to our detriment to help the poor, regardless of how they got in their situation… Oh, right. (Matthew 19:16-26; Mosiah 4:16-19)

            That’s why I’m happy that I don’t support either Obama or Romney. I don’t have a horse in this race, so I am happy to call them both out when they say stupid things.

            I think there is a genuine need to reevaluate government assistance programs. Romney and the Republicans have some good criticisms of current government spending habits. But his attitude as revealed in that tape is a shockingly un-Mormon and un-Christian way to look down at those in genuine need of help.

            And that’s all I’ll say on this matter. Peace out. :-)

  • Raymond Takashi Swenson

    The Church is very clear about not being involved as a church in partisan politics. The Church rejects the practice of some pastors in other denominations who purport to tell their congregations that a particular candidate should be rejected because he or she holds to a religion that is different from theirs. I have seen some candidates in Utah and Idaho who have tried to explicitly appeal to Mormons to support them, and the Church has explicitly criticized such efforts to coopt the Church and claim the Church supports them. I think Reid’s statement attacking Romney for being a defective Mormon is precisely a violation of the Church policy, and an attempt to tell Mormons that they should reject Romney as a betrayer of Mormon standards of behavior. Remember he made his statement while speaking to Nevada reporters with a substantial number of Mormons in their audience, and Reid was telling Nevada Mormons that they should feel self righteous in voting against Romney. I think that offends the teaching of the Brethren as much as it would if a Mormon were challenging Reid for his senate seat and Reid acvused his opponent of departing from Mormon standards of behavior.

  • Raymond Takashi Swenson

    At the crass political level, Senator Reid was joining in the effort to distract nattention from President Obama’s incompetence in international affairs and national defense displayed in the military assassination of the US Ambassador to Libya and three other Americans. His story that certain Muslim extremists commit violence only because of offensive cartoons and videos, and that he does not have to guard our embassies and our people against attacks, on 9/11, of Al Qaeda terrorists with mortars and rocket propelled grenades, is incredible. If Geoege W. Bush had been caught flatfooted in that way, the news media would have been constantly attacking him every day until the election. If a video can lead to violence, how about the video i n which Obama claims sole responsibility for killing Osama bin Laden? Yest Obama was naively thinking that there would be no blowback from the organization that he had attacked when he killed bin Laden.

    So Reid wanted to say something that would act as a red gerring to take the focus away from our Commander in Chief.

    • Ganondox

      As someone whose family works for the FSOA and lives in a predominately muslim country I need to point out a few things. First, this wasn’t a military assassination, it was a riot were protestors sought to kill the ambassador and somehow they obtained weapons. Second, the embassy was guarded, the fact is some of the guards actually betrayed the embassy. Finally, the attack had nothing to do with Al Qaeda, it may have been triggered by the video, but in the end it was just general hatred for the US.

      • danpeterson

        Unfortunately, just about every proposition in the above scenario is, at best, under current debate, and, at worst, false — as American intelligence has been acknowledging over the past several days.

    • Ganondox

      I fail to see how left wing politics are uncharitable and right politics are charitable, I guess that what makes us politically different. Anyway, for the most part I agree with this article, though the one thing I disagree with is the interpretation of Ried’s statement, I don’t believe he was saying Romney isn’t a real Mormon because of his political believes, just that a careless statement from Romney doesn’t reflect all Mormons.

      • danpeterson

        I would, personally, never describe right-wing politics as “charitable” and left-wing politics as “uncharitable.” And I haven’t done so.

        However, I do believe that, on the whole, the free market benefits the poor far, far, far more than do the sorts of command economics favored by the contemporary left.

  • Jason Covell

    I very much appreciate your thoughtful blog posts, Dr Petersen. You and I would no doubt differ on a number of political issues; but I come here not so much for politics, but more for your perceptive, wise and witty thoughts on a great many topics relating to scholarship, the Church and, well, a great many other things.

    As a non-American, I (thankfully) can sidestep the “Republican or Democrat?” question. However, as I am centre-left on some issues, and a bit of a Burkean conservative on others, I’m not sure any easy label would fit me. One line I have tried a few times among folks from Utah is to call myself a “Hugh Nibley Democrat”. That sort of works.

    I won’t comment on the US election, as it is not mine to comment on, except to say that I like and respect both presidential candidates – and it is not often that I can say that.

    • danpeterson

      Thanks for reading!

      I don’t expect that there’s anybody out there who agrees with me on everything (though, of course, in an ideal world everybody would).

      As to politics, I’m something of a “Hugh Nibley quasi-libertarian.” (Don’t worry. Hugh wouldn’t know what to make of that, either.)

  • Eric

    Old “Tattered and torn – pone.” Thanks, Dan, for the lively and thoughtful commentary.


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