I am loving the dialogue about the compatibility of Obama and Mormon voters.
Many important points have been brought up in the comments to my recent post, Why Mormons Should Consider Backing Obama. In addition, Jettboy from Straight and Narrow Blog has written a thoughtful post: The Mormon Obama Mania Will End.
This dialogue warrants another post — even though I probably should be doing other things :)
Point 1: I am not a prognosticator. Unlike some pro-Obama posts, I really have not given a forecast of whether Obama will fare well among Mormons. (I do, however, predict that he will in fact be the next president of the United States.) Rather, my post relates some reasons to hope for the possibility, as well as to argue that Mormons CAN and SHOULD consider backing Obama (it doesn’t say that they WILL). Also, I agree that the Beehive Standard Weekly article is too optimistic, although I do think they make many valuable points.
Point 2: Obviously not many firm conservatives will vote for Obama. I wonder, however, how many Latter-day Saints are in fact solid, firm conservatives. I honestly don’t know the answer to this question (and I think it runs much deeper than self-identification), but I have been surprised at the number of Mormons turning to Obama, as well as the others who have been seriously thinking about it. The people who are doing so are probably ALREADY more moderate, even if they have leaned right in the past. When we consider the low approval of the Bush administration, large opposition to the war, and an overall worry about what “more of the same” will bring us (which McCain ultimately represents, in my opinion), a large number of people, Mormons included, are in fact trading sides. And by the way, Jettboy and others, it is not honest to caricature the hope for Obama among Mormons as a false hope of Mormon Democrats, considering that more independent Mormons have voted for Obama than Democratic ones.
Point 3: Most Mormons do not think about “issues” in the enumerated fashion that is presented on Jettboy’s post and some of the previous comments on this blog. Rather, there are things that are more and less important to people, always seen within the context of current world events, and everyone is willing to make compromises in selecting a candidate. Most Mormons, I suspect, know about Obama’s liberal policies, and more and more find themselves gravitating towards some of them. I have found this in my own life — though I used to see myself as a conservative, I realize more and more how the LDS values that I have valued all my life are both conservative and liberal. I have found that LDS women are particularly open to liberal policies concerning healthcare, the economy, the war in Iraq, and so on. Many of these women, I predict, will go to the polls voting for an Obama over a McCain (without their hard-core Republican husbands ever knowing :)
Point 4: Regarding Obama’s stances, there is a difference between being “liberal” and being “nonpartisan.” Without question, Obama transcends partisan politics and is actually willing to talk with people who disagree with him. I think that this openness attracts Mormons in spite of Obama’s own liberal stance. People are looking for a leader, not a person with all the right “issues.”
Point 5: Jettboy predicts that Obama will not get a “large portion” of the Mormon vote. I suppose that depends on what “large portion” means. Yes, it is probably a long shot for him to get a majority of Mormon votes, at least in Utah. But one thing to consider: you don’t have to get the majority of Mormon votes to win in Utah. Even the reddest of states rarely elect a Republican president by a majority more than 70 percent (at the very most). So, the real question, for Utah, is whether Obama can swing 15-20 percent of the vote. This is not all that far-fetched, even if not even close to all Mormons are on board.
Point 6: Without question, the extreme right-wing machine will use scare tactics to get Mormons to vote Republican, whether its an invasion of terrorists or an invasion of “activist” Supreme Court justices. This will turn some Mormons away from Obama, to be certain; never underestimate how the Republican Party uses fear as a primary motivating factor. The big difference between what I am trying to do on this blog and what others are doing is that I am trying to reason with people to weigh issues in relation to what is most important. Conservative fear-mongers simply say “partial-birth abortion,” as if the implication is, well of course you can’t vote for him. But really, there’s a deeper story going on — many people are tired of simply fighting about abortion and they realize that legislation alone will not change people’s hearts. Moreover, for many people, including moderate Mormons, 100 years in Iraq is much scarier than the thought of “activist” judges or the purely hypothetical, completely unfounded suggestion that if we pull out of Iraq we’re doing the terrorists a favor (especially considering the neglect in Afghanistan).
Point 7: I think that people are underestimating the fair-mindedness of Obama. What will be a huge issue is to see what Obama does once he wins the Democratic nomination. How will he reach out to moderates and even conservatives? It is ridiculous to suggest that of course he won’t do this. His values and appeal suggest otherwise. If Obama really speaks and reasons with moderate Americans, including Mormons, he will win over a lot of hearts — for good. It will be especially important if he speaks directly about abortion concerns and issues regarding national security. Who’s to say that Mormons and other right-leaners might not even have a little bit of leverage in having Obama pledge for certain compromises? (Honestly, would he be worried about losing votes from liberals?) In this respect, it is inaccurate to say that Obama is the most liberal candidate. It’s not just about issues. What is more important is leadership, and Obama possesses a strong notion of fair-mindedness (though perhaps this is a liberal principle nowadays?). Thus, there is a HUGE difference between Obama and Clinton. Think about it, when people have a gripe about Bush, how much is it that he holds this or that “issue.” No, it almost always has to do with decision making and his ability to work with others who disagree with him (on both counts, he has failed over and over again, even among those who agree with him on “issues”).
Point 8: Regarding some comments from my previous post, I am so tired of people saying that Obama does not have substantive policies. All inspiration, no substance, they say. This is FLAT WRONG — you are simply parroting a talking point from GWB and HRC. Obama has very detailed and substantive policies spelled out on his website. He simply is more “inspirational” in his speeches because that is what people want. When you think about it a “rally” is exactly that — it’s not necessarily the best place to get into nuts and bolts. So, I have a challenge for Obama naysayers. Go on his website and read his policies, then determine whether it’s all style and no substance. For example, someone asked how Obama is going to pay for his healthcare policy — Obama has outlined that in specific detail; it will be completely covered by lifting the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans (unlike Clinton’s plan, which is much more expensive), another conservative principle that is not very powerful to a lot of Mormons.
Point 9: I do think that some people are supporting Obama blindly. However, I disagree with the disparaging comments that downgrade someone’s support of Obama as a false hope that is grounded in emotion and not in reality. The relational connection with a candidate is a HUGE reality. Moreover, don’t we as Latter-day Saints believe that we can have a discernment of the Spirit that helps us to decide whether we can trust someone? Might I suggest that we make our political decisions more a matter of prayer in which we are open to inspiration that allows us to act in confidence.
Point 10: I would like to steer the LDS blogging community’s attention to Obama in a new direction. I think that a fundamental question for Latter-day Saints is not whether we will vote for Obama, but rather CAN WE? Of course, in a technical sense we can; anyone can. But I mean on a deeper level. Can someone with the core values of a Latter-day Saint vote for Obama? Can someone justify their vote for Obama not simply as someone who is compatible with their values, but as the candidate that BEST matches their values? This question cannot be deflected by simply saying, “But he is pro-abortion!” Rather, such an issue would need to be understood in light of a greater whole, including how one envisions the future relationship of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the world.
To LDS Obama fans: the online community needs to hear your stories; they need to hear you really speak from the heart concerning how your religious beliefs and your support of Obama coincide. They don’t need to hear bitter fights against Republicans from hard-core Democrats. I encourage LDS Obama supporters to make your voices heard, in the same spirit that Obama has been reaching out — if you have nowhere else to do so, I invite you to add your comments to this post. Tell your fellow Latter-day Saints that YES WE CAN!