Monday, March 26, 2007
Why Romney Should Openly Discuss His Religion
You’ve probably heard by now that Mitt Romney has a Mormon problem. It seems every pollster of note has published a poll showing that many Americans consider Romney’s membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—commonly called the Mormon Church—a potential deal-breaker.
John Kennedy faced a similar challenge as he campaigned to become the first president who was a member of the Catholic Church. Many are encouraging Romney to borrow several pages from the JFK playbook, especially the speech he delivered to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association in September 1960.
If you haven’t read the speech, you should. It’s a timeless masterpiece. But like many great works of art, its overarching brilliance masks a flaw or two in its background. Romney would be well served by echoing most of what Kennedy had to say in the speech, but one line of reasoning advanced by JFK seems so absurd to me that I’m surprised he got away with it.
Consider what Kennedy had to say about his personal views on religion and church affiliation:
“So it is apparently necessary for me to state once again -- not what kind of church I believe in for that should be important only to me…I believe in a president whose views on religion are his own private affair..”
Common sense alone should lead us to conclude that exactly the opposite is necessary. If a candidate truly believes in a church, its principles are likely to be the most fundamental building blocks of that person’s character. And personal character is always one of the key attributes voters should consider when electing a president. Thus it seems obvious that voters should try to ascertain both the depth of a candidate’s faith and the primary principles of that faith.
Times have changed, and in more recent presidential campaigns, the press has done a pretty good job of providing insight into each candidate’s depth of faith. Imposters who are not active in their faith or whose actions are not in harmony with the faith they profess are usually exposed over the course of a campaign.
Unfortunately, the press has not been very good at providing insight into the primary principles of any candidate’s faith. It’s understandable. Reporters are not theologians and naturally shy away from the topic. But as Kennedy discovered in 1960, members of other faiths who have an axe to grind are more than willing to fill the vacuum, turning theological mole hills into mountains of misconception. Romney’s faith is more susceptible than most to this problem because only 2% of Americans are Latter-day Saints (LDS). To put that in perspective, around 25% of Americans are Catholic and 50% are Protestant. So unless you are LDS, or you’ve invited the door-knocking LDS missionaries into your home for a chat, it’s not very likely that you know much about the principle beliefs of the Latter-day Saints.
Romney should guard against his faith being defined by misinformation by speaking openly about it when asked. As someone who was once Protestant and is now LDS, I’m confident that most Americans would find the primary principles of Romney’s faith compatible with their own. There are certainly some aspects that voters will find unusual and unorthodox. But that’s no big deal. Most church-goers don’t even agree with some aspects of their own faith. And on matters of personal spirituality, Americans cut the sincerely faithful a lot of slack. After all, America was initially a haven for those whose faith was ridiculed and condemned elsewhere. Too many bigoted Americans have forsaken their roots, but tolerance and respect for sincere but unorthodox spirituality are still dominant traits in the DNA of most Americans.
That’s why Romney should borrow most, but not all, of Kennedy’s Houston speech. If he hopes to overcome the Mormon problem, Romney would be best served by not hiding his religion behind a cloak of privacy.
Monday, March 19, 2007
Lake Powell Pipeline: Is It Inevitable Too?
If you have fond memories of the way things used to be in the St. George area, you would enjoy “Delivering the Future,” a marketing video for the proposed Lake Powell Pipeline. It can be found online at www.lakepowellpipeline.org. You’ll be impressed with the beautiful images of southern Utah at its best: Irrigated ranches, open spaces, red-rock beauty and plenty of solitude.
But if you’ve visited St. George recently you might find the images alarmingly out of sync with today’s reality and certainly not an accurate prediction of the future if the Lake Powell Pipeline is built. Water from the pipeline is only necessary to prolong the rampant urban sprawl that is consuming the ranches, open space, red-rock beauty and solitude featured in the video. Many Utahans think images of the smog, traffic, sprawl and urban ugliness of Las Vegas would have been a more accurate visualization of what the pipeline would deliver to southern Utah.
Many residents of Washington County—perhaps even a majority—are not interested in delivering that future. The State of Utah is going to great lengths to convert or wear-down the naysayers, even fronting the entire $500 million required to build the pipeline. That might sound too good to be true—because it is. Residents of southern Utah would eventually reimburse the state the full amount—plus interest—through hikes in local property taxes, water bills and impact fees.
The pipeline would serve three southern Utah counties: Iron, Kane and Washington. But 70 percent of the water—and the bill—would end up in Washington County. It’s safe to say the pipeline wouldn’t even be a pipe dream without the allure of extending the lucrative population boom in the St. George area.
Many Washington County residents believe there is more than enough boom left without the pipeline. The county has104,000 acre feet of water available—72,000 now and an additional 32,000 scheduled to come on-line before the pipeline is built. For planning purposes, state water officials assume 2.6 residents can be supported by one acre foot of water. Therefore, there is enough water without the pipeline to reach a minimum population of 270,000.
In addition, per capita water consumption in the county decreased 16 percent in the last nine years. It’s reasonable to assume that improvements in technology and smarter utilization will continue, pushing the pre-pipeline population total well beyond 300,000.
There are around 130,000 residents of Washington County today. So, even without the pipeline, residents can look forward to more than double the sprawl, double the bumper-to-bumper traffic and double the number of rooftops, strip malls and fast food joints.
But just imagine what could be accomplished with the water from Lake Powell. Using the same planning assumptions, the annual allotment of 70,000 acre feet of water would enable an additional 200,000 residents. A fully utilized pipeline would therefore provide for a population of more than 500,000. That’s nearly quadruple the current population. At that point Utahans would likely need to describe the St. George area as roof-top country instead of red-rock country to avoid running afoul of truth-in-advertising rules.
Of course there are many who would like to deliver that future to Washington County—primarily because it would make them very wealthy. Developers, builders and real estate agents would share in the billions of dollars flowing from the wallets of so many newcomers. And state and local politicians are probably already planning how they might spend the windfall tax revenue that would flow from the pipeline.
Public servants in Washington County have convinced too many residents that rampant uncontrollable growth is inevitable. It’s not. Growth is a choice made every time a request to rezone and develop property is approved and any time growth-facilitating infrastructure is built. The Lake Powell Pipeline is not inevitable. It’s a choice—a choice so important to the future of Washington County that it should be the subject of a countywide referendum.
If state and local politicians are going to lower the Washington County quality of life to hell in a handbasket, we should first verify that at least half the residents want to go along for the ride.
Monday, March 05, 2007
Mitt Romney's Abortion Flip-Flop: Like Father, Like Son
Is the following fictional press release a flashback to actual events that occurred in 1968 or a prediction of events that will yet occur in 2008?
Governor Romney’s once promising presidential campaign ended badly today. Romney showed tremendous promise early in the race but lost ground after admitting to a change of heart on one of the most important moral issues of our day. Romney never recovered from the setback and he stumbled across the Republican finish line in sixth place.
If you recognized it as a flashback, you’re right. It’s a press release that could have been written in 1968 when George Romney, a former governor of Michigan, competed for the Republican presidential nomination. Romney was an early favorite, but his campaign crashed and burned when he changed his position on the Vietnam War. The campaign might have survived the fact that the once hawkish Romney turned against the war, but his lame explanation for the reversal was even more troubling than the reversal itself. Romney’s statement that his original support for the war was the result of “brainwashing” by pro-war generals doomed his campaign. Not many voters were comfortable with the possibility that their president might be susceptible to brainwashing.
On the other hand, if you thought the fictional press release was a prediction of what might yet occur in 2008, you might also be right. Mitt Romney, the son of George Romney, is following in his father’s political footsteps. He recently completed a term as governor of Massachusetts and has launched a campaign for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination.
There is certainly much in the distinguished father’s life that should be emulated by his son. But it should be clear to anyone—even a son—that the senior Romney’s flip-flop was one misstep any presidential candidate should avoid, not emulate. Yet Mitt’s recent reversal of position on abortion reminds us once again that sons often seem destined to repeat the mistakes of their fathers.
Mitt Romney’s change of position on abortion has been well-documented and acknowledged by Romney himself. In his two Massachusetts campaigns—a failed 1994 U.S Senate bid and a victorious 2002 gubernatorial effort—Romney unabashedly presented himself as a pro-choice candidate. For example, in response to a 2002 campaign questionnaire, Romney wrote:
“I respect and will protect a woman’s right to choose…Women should be free to choose based on their own beliefs, not mine and not the government’s.”
But in late 2004, Romney had a change of heart on abortion. It was triggered by a meeting with experts to help him better understand stem cell research. He explained it in a recent National Review Online interview:
“At one point, the experts pointed out that embryonic-stem-cell research should not be a moral issue because the embryos were destroyed at 14 days…..it just hit us hard just how much the sanctity of life had been cheapened by virtue of the Roe v. Wade mentality.”
It’s a very troubling conversion story. If Mr. Romney was shocked by the fact that a 14 day old embryo created in a test tube might be destroyed, what in the world had he been thinking while millions of naturally created embryos were destroyed through abortion in the years between 1994 and 2004? In that decade, Romney openly supported the legal destruction of more than 10 million embryos that had advanced well beyond 14 days of life. Most were 45 to 90 days old, but some had advanced to nearly six months, and a rare few even beyond that.
Romney arrived at his pro-life decision in such a backwards manner that it’s difficult to take his explanation seriously.
So what does this conversion story tell us about Mitt Romney?
Is he a political opportunist willing to take one side of a life and death issue when seeking liberal votes and quite willing to take the other side of the same issue when seeking conservative votes?
Or is he someone who adopted a political position on a moral issue without giving any serious thought of his own to the life and death implications of the position he adopted?
Sound familiar? It should. It’s the same two possibilities voters pondered about George Romney back in 1968. Either way, it’s a pretty damning mistake for a presidential candidate to make.
And a very interesting example of like father, like son.