Is Neo-Romneycare a New Word?

The restricted Google search that I just did indicates it might be. I coined the term in today’s Real Clear Books update to describe Mitt Romney’s approach to healthcare. I couldn’t use “Romneycare,” obviously because a) it is the program that Romney passed while governor of Massachusetts but effectively no longer advocates; and b) it’s basically Obamacare.

Alpaca and Omega

Wretched start to the morning. Saturday is my one day off — barring catastrophe.

So of course a little after 5 this morning, Real Clear Policy co-editor Joe Lawler informed me, via text because good luck getting a call through right now, that he and about a million other residents of the DC Metro area are without power and therefore without Internet and that the situation is likely to persist. The update was all on my groggy brain and clumsy fingers.

There was one columnal consolation, which I led with: Christopher Caldwell’s usual Saturday essay in the Financial Times. The subject was legal tax dodgers, a subject (and target) which the Brits have got themselves worked about of late. UK Chancellor George Osborne has described the practice of dodging as many taxes as we can get away with as “morally repugnant.” Other prominent polls have joined in with censorious words to that effect.

This political “consensus position,” writes Caldwell, was first handed down to us by the insufferably platitudinous US Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, who said, “I like to pay taxes. With them I buy civilization.”

Yeah, about that, Caldwell explains, “The problem is that where taxes are decided by legislation, they result from a tug-of-war between factions, not from ageless moral wisdom about what constitutes a ‘fair share.’ The UK’s offsetting-mortgage rule and its gift-aid scheme, the US subsidies for ethanol production and alpaca farming – you won’t find those things in the Bible.”

Read the whole thing and please stop by Real Clear Policy while you’re at it. My evil wake up time might as well serve some good end.

The Curse of Wordcounts

Matthew Lee Anderson attempted to reply to my post on his theology of the body piece but for some reason the Patheos comment apparatus locked him out. So he e-mailed it to me. Here’s what he had to say for himself:

The short version [for why I didn't namecheck John Paul II] is that I was asked to keep myself to 1000 words, and all the necessary throat-clearing and qualifying that I feel like I would have had to have done to generously commend the Pope’s work to that audience simply wouldn’t fit. That and I’d already written a fair amount elsewhere about my indebtedness to JPII on the issue, as in my chapter in my book and in my CT cover story last June. I’d prefer to not have any word count or content restrictions at all, but for some reason people won’t let me yet. I can’t imagine why.

A Good and Loving God Wouldn’t Allow X

My Real Clear Religion deputy Nicholas G. Hahn III just called me to say that it was my turn to do the weekend update. I was nearly inconsolable.

“Nick,” I asked him, “how can a good and loving God stick me with the weekend update?”

“I don’t know,” he said, “but it’s your turn.”

Obviously, he’s never heard of theodicy. Or guilt trips.

More on Mormon Decline

In response to the last blog post, Carrie Sheffield wrote to me the following. I asked if she’d like me to reproduce it here. She said yes, so here you go:

Hey Jeremy, I just saw your blog post. Would have been great if you had asked me for comment beforehand to understand some of the constraints I was dealing with.

A few thoughts:

-My initial draft included a link to an excellent study from Trinity College. This points out that “there are far fewer people who claim to be Mormon than are reported in official church statistics. The American Religious Identification Surveys allow scholars to look at self-identified members of the church in the United States … In early 1990, the LDS Church claimed 4,175,000 members in the United States, or 1.7% of the U.S. population. At the end of 2008, the church claimed 5,974,041 members, or 2% of the U.S. population. This constitutes a 30% increase in membership over an eighteen year span, as well as a 0.3% increase in Mormonism‘s ―national market share.
Numbers from the ARIS tell a slightly different story. From 1990 to 2008, the survey reports that the adult Mormon population in the United States rose from 2,487,000 to 3,158,000 but remained a steady at 1.4% of the U.S. population.”

-Unless someone proactively tells SLC they want their records formally removed through a process that takes weeks, they are still kept on Mormon rolls until age 110. That is why there are many many people, especially outside the US, who get baptized and perhaps never enter a chapel or temple again and yet are still counted as “Mormon” when in fact it has no place in their lives.

-I had more details that were taken out of the piece about research from more than 3,000 questioning Mormons, far from the isolated anecdotes of one person. The table on page 8 shows a multitude of reasons why people leave the church.

-I also had more that was taken out about positive things that the official Church had been doing; this would have struck a more conciliatory tone.

Development of Dougherty Doctrine

The Dougherty Doctrine is a rhetorical trick that makes many political debates much easier to understand. It was accidentally coined by journalist and former roommate Michael Brendan Dougherty in an article for the Washington Monthly. Dougherty took in an intra-Republican debate and wrote, “the arguments all seem to boil down to something similar: If it were more like me, the Republican Party would be better off. It’s failing because it’s like you.”

The Doctrine has broader application than Republicans. All political parties engage in it from time to time as its members try to tug it in one direction or other. And pundits practice it constantly, usually without much evidence. (The “radical right” is costing Republicans with swing voters; Dems are losing because they’re “too centrist” or “too liberal.”) Sometimes that’s understandable: television is not the most thoughtful medium and the usual length of op-eds forces writers to use a lot of shortcuts. Still, it’s worth pointing out how identity-driven such politics actually tend to be.

Does the Dougherty Doctrine apply to religion as well? That possibility occurred to me when I read this piece by Carrie Sheffield in USA Today. It’s not a bad piece. Indeed, I led with it on Real Clear Religion this afternoon. But the biographical angle raises certain large questions.

Sheffield is a former Mormon whose work I’ve published in the past, when she was still Mormon. She writes in USA Today that she left the LDS church in 2010 and positions her exit as part of a larger rush out the door that the Utah hierarchy really needs to address.

“Church leaders can crack down and continue to see members, especially young people, leave,” Sheffield writes. “Or they can allow churchwide dialogue and changes relating to the church’s historical and doctrinal claims, financial dealings, proselytizing and treatment of women, skeptics and outsiders.”

Just how large is the problem? Sheffield writes, “This year, Elder Marlin Jensen, the Mormon Church’s outgoing official historian, acknowledged that members are defecting from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ‘in droves’ and that the pace is increasing.”

That sounds alarming, but without the relevant numbers, it’s not terribly helpful. Just how many Mormons are calling it quits and how does that stack up against Mormon births and conversions? She doesn’t grapple with that question. Instead we get a lot of anecdotes about some former Mormon protest groups, a YouTube video with half a million views, and “hundreds” of pro-gay Mormons that marched in something or other.

Nor does Sheffield consider what a sort of Vatican 2 for Mormonism would do to the faith and practice of the large mass of faithful Mormons. Maybe most Mormons would be fine with it, or maybe you’d see LDS participation plummet much like Mass attendance did in the 1970s. I’d guess the latter but it’s only a guess, because I’d like to avoid the temptations of the Dougherty Doctrine on this fine Monday.

UPDATE: Carrie Sheffield has replied here.

Remember, People Lie to Pollsters

Many years ago when I worked at the Cato Institute (more on that later) I managed to so offend friend and foreign policy guy Justin Logan that he backed slowly out of the lunchroom. You may wonder, what bigmouthed thing had I said? That America was right to invade Iraq? That torture is A-OK? That I was thinking of getting a Woodrow Wilson tat?

None of the above. We had been discussing a poll finding that something like a majority of Republicans believed large caches of Weapons of Mass Destruction had been found in Iraq, contrary to the evidence. I argued many of those Republicans did not, in fact, believe that WMDs had been discovered in Iraq.

Rather, I explained, Republicans knew how those polls were going to used polemically and so answered a different set of questions. What they heard was more like “Do you support President Bush and/or the boots already on the ground in Iraq?” So of course they had answered yes.

To his credit, Logan asked a few questions before quitting the field. I explained my belief that people lie to pollsters all the time for a whole number of reasons. These reasons range from social disapproval (“Do I really want to tell the complete stranger on the other end of the line that I’ll vote for Jesse Helms?”) to confusion (the wording of the question can be all-important) to a cynical sophistication (“If I answer x, it will be used to argue y. So, let’s go with -x.”).

At the time, Logan really didn’t know what to make of such high-proof skepticism. I wonder if that’s changed.


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