Love Thy Neighbor: Even If They Are A Republican

balloonsLast Sunday evening, I had the opportunity to volunteer at a Salt Lake County Democratic Party fundraiser. With the exception of a thunderstorm deciding to downpour 15 minutes before the beginning of the event, it was a lovely evening. Once the rain cleared and things dried out, the event was well attended and a success.

The fundraiser was held in a beautiful garden located in an upscale Draper neighborhood. It is the type of neighborhood that you would expect to be both heavily Republican and LDS. I was assigned to work at the reception table at the entry to the event. This was out near the street in easy view of those passing by the home. The front yard was covered with many campaign signs as many of the county-wide and house and senate candidates attended the event. There were signs and balloons proclaiming it as a SL County Dems activity.

Of the several people who worked at the reception table, I was the only active LDS member. The others were either non-LDS or one of them may have been a disaffected or past member, I was unsure. As the evening progressed, we were sitting there enjoying each other’s company and casual discussion, when a pick-up truck came by and blatantly extended a middle fingered salute in our direction, then sped off. I can’t be sure of this individual’s religious affiliation.

Awhile later, a young man stopped his vehicle in front of the house, rolled down his window and yelled “What’s going on?” The group responded that it was a party. “What kind of a party?” shouted the young man. He was informed it was a Democratic Party activity. He then yelled back “bunch of dumb asses.” He then drove a couple of houses down and pulled into the garage. Almost immediately after he pulled into the house, a couple of young men in easily identifiable clothing went up to the house carrying fast offering envelopes. It wasn’t a stretch to conclude this was an LDS family.

I offer this experience not to sit in judgment or criticize. But I want to illustrate how this was perceived by the other individuals, who in turn shared it throughout the party. I said, “Well, that was warm and fuzzy.” And the response from the others was, “Oh, you mean a Mormon Fuzzy.” And, I really didn’t know how to react to that because, in this case, it was accurate.

Living in Utah, and being an LDS Democrat, has its own set of challenges. There are two things here that need our attention. First, on the church side, if we, as LDS members (regardless of political orientation) want to help our non-LDS brothers and sisters examine and embrace the gospel, we can’t continue to respond with hate and ignorance toward those who think, believe or act differently from what we might accept in our lives or homes. We actually have to believe the letter that is read from the First Presidency every election cycle. We also have to believe AND PRACTICE, the message of the 11th Article of Faith. Giving service to the ideas with our lips, but not with our hearts, appears blatantly false and hypocritical to our non-LDS brothers and sisters.

The second challenge is harder for us that our LDS Dems. We must endure the constant badgering, criticism and ridicule that is heaped in our direction from our Republican brothers and sisters in the church. While it may be obvious to us how our beliefs and ideals interface and conform to the gospel. Our Republican brothers and sisters either have conflicting viewpoints or just plain don’t “get it!” We aren’t going to change their minds with well-constructed arguments, clever tactics or cute Facebook cartoons or memes. These might cause some reflective thought. But real change will come as we set the example, model appropriate behavior and follow the Savior’s admonition to love.

The scriptures tell us that love is the basis for all the law and the prophets. If we want to help our Republican brothers and sisters to understand the importance of helping the poor, lifting those in need, providing educational opportunities to all, or respecting those who act, live or believe differently from us, we have to respond to their unpleasantness with love. The Savior’s example to us is love. We know that charity is the “pure love of Christ.” It’s unconditional and it’s real.

So, if some young man tells you that you are a “dumb ass,” don’t respond in kind. Respond with love and remember that the party symbol is a donkey. So perhaps he is paying you a compliment. Just respond with love, a good example and change the world.

LDS Dems-Idaho Interview: Heidi Knittel for Idaho Senate Seat 12

LDS Dems-Idaho Interview: Heidi Knittel for Idaho Senate Seat 12

This interview is part of a series of interviews of Democrat candidates across the state from varying religious backgrounds. LDS Dems-Idaho recently interviewed Heidi Knittel about her current run for Idaho Sentate Seat 12. We encourage you to learn more about her at www.knittelforsenate.org.

This interview was conducted by Jon Young, an LDS Democrat living in Boise, ID.

Jon:  Besides winning in November, what do you hope to accomplish by running for the state senate?

Heidi:  Let me start by saying I am honored to run for Idaho State Senate in District 12. I’ve been talking with a lot of folks in my district. People are tired of the same, “good ol’ boy” politics, which line the pockets of big industries and legislators, but do nothing for the average Idahoan. They are highly concerned about issues that impact them daily: economy, education, and keeping their families healthy.

I think it is time to start a public conversation of how our 20-year, GOP-led legislative body has weakened Idaho to the point of being among the lowest states in education and health care, and among the highest in unemployment and suicide rates.

During the 2014 session, our GOP leaders turned their backs on education, the economy, human rights and healthcare. They denied a health insurance program that would have saved almost 600 lives per year and would have helped thousands of veterans. When the recession hit, Governor Otter and his legislators voted to take millions of dollars away from education, with the promise that when the economy began to stabilize and grow, they would put it back. Instead, they have put the money into a “rainy-day fund” that is already overflowing. Yesterday, I spoke with a school teacher who said she typically spent $600-$800 per year on classroom supplies. This isn’t right.

I would also like to engage with the 20% of Idahoans who say they have given up hope of a better future, and are preparing to move out of the state. I encourage them to stay in Idaho and reclaim Idaho’s beauty, diversity and independent, common sense politics.  It is time to hold our politicians accountable and to address the gaps that prevent us from keeping young people, doctors, educators and high-level workers in this great state.

Jon:  What are the primary issues you’ll focus on in your campaign?

Heidi:  My focus during this campaign is to meet with the folks of Canyon County District 12 and listen to their concerns. Most people I’ve spoken with do not feel represented by our current leadership. Despite their party affiliation, folks want to see a restored sense of balance to Idaho’s leadership. They are appalled by what has happened at the most recent Idaho GOP Convention. My goal is to represent real people rather than big business. I believe in: One person, one vote, rather than one dollar, one vote.

Jon:  As a part of achieving balance, are there any Republicans you look forward to working with?

Heidi:  Yes, absolutely. Senator Heider, for one. We were having a conversation in his office last year and he expressed his dismay at how “broken” the Department of Health and Welfare is. He expressed some willingness to try to understand what type of folks are on Medicaid. He said, “Is it just a matter of pulling yourselves up by your boot straps? I don’t know.” So I think there might be a little room for discussion there. Having worked with so many families, I would love to have the opportunity to share with Senator Heider a good sampling of stories, to demonstrate the “types” of folks on Medicaid who legitimately need our help, some in order to stay alive, and others to become successful, contributing members of society once again.

Jon:  Having been assisted by Medicaid myself, you can add me to one of those “types.”  I often hear people condemning others who are on government programs.  While I believe some people do abuse the system and some reforms are needed, it isn’t the norm.  What can we do to raise awareness of the actual needs and difficulties people are in?

Heidi:  We need a representative who has had firsthand knowledge of this population, understands its intricacies and can provide real working solutions to help these folks become independent. Having worked with 500-700 families on Medicaid, I intend to provide honest representation of this population.

Jon:  I often hear people say that government programs create more dependence on the government. Have you seen examples that demonstrate government programs can help people become independent of government support?

Heidi:  Sure, there will always be a few bad apples in every sector but for the most part, folks don’t want to be on government assistance unless they legitimately qualify, for example, due to cognitive impairment. Government programs are cut and scaled back constantly. I don’t know of anyone who lives high on the hog on Medicaid. On the other hand, I know plenty of hard-working families, trying to make ends meet, in order to get a job, get food consistently on the table, get off Medicaid, buy their own homes and live the American dream.

Jon:  What programs appear to work well?

Heidi:  I think food stamps have a huge positive impact. A child needs nutrients to sleep well, get to school on time, and remain alert while learning. A healthy, educated child has a greater chance at learning and moving on to higher education or a good job.

Jon:  Can you share a personal or professional experience that has encouraged you to run for the senate?

Heidi:  I decided to write my name in as a candidate for State Senate in Idaho’s Primary the night before the deadline. I made this decision because I was frustrated. My dad, a war veteran and a moral man, always taught me to treat others with kindness. I don’t think the GOP-led legislature, as a whole, has been particularly kind or fair in some of its legislative decisions. During my time advocating for Idaho’s most vulnerable citizens, I have seen the state systematically “balance the budget” on the backs of these folks. Services are the first thing to go, for those with medical, developmental and mental health disabilities. A couple years ago, the legislature voted against paying for preventative dental care for disabled adults! They made this decision after hearing dozens of testimonies from folks who would be impacted, many of whom were in tears. Folks had to have their teeth removed, because the state wouldn’t pay for fillings. We are now experiencing extreme mental health care cuts across the board. Due to lack of preventative services, folks are ending up in inpatient psychiatric hospitals and the taxpayer is footing the much more expensive cost.

Jon:  Great, here’s hopefully a fun a question I’ve not asked before:  Who of the founding fathers or mothers of the United States of America do you most admire?  How will the principles they lived by influence your campaign and government service?

Heidi: I love fun questions!

I admire Esther De Berdt Reed. She was a champion of American freedom. During the Revolutionary War she was an unstoppable force in raising money for General Washington’s troops. Her passion and action, including letter writing and door knocking, inspired others to participate in the cause to raise money for the troops.

I relate to Esther. She was determined, with an undying advocacy for her cause. She had a strong work ethic and, come hell or high water, completed her missions. If she had not died so young, I imagine her legacy would have been much larger.

Today, we are fighting a war on the working class, who are scrambling to stay ahead of poverty. They have no representation in the State Senate. In the meantime, the rich grow richer. In 1976, the top richest 1% of Americans took home 9 percent of the national income. Today, they take home 24 % – nearly three times more in as many decades.

Esther raised awareness, knocked on doors and gained support to keep our revolutionary soldiers clothed. Metaphorically speaking, our poorest and working class need new shirts – and I intend to advocate for them.

Jon:  In conclusion, why vote for Heidi Knittel?

Heidi:  For one, I am dogged. When I see injustice, I cannot remain silent. So much injustice was done during the 2014 Legislative Session.  I drove from Nampa to Boise, day after day, to testify, to meet with politicians, to deliver data supporting good decisions – anything I could. Currently, we are not treating our poorest and working classes as well as we could and should. We are downright neglecting our veterans. Mental health and developmental disability services in Idaho are being slashed continuously. Each new tax cut takes away dollars from education. Idaho needs a living wage standard. The rich are getting richer, as Idaho becomes fiscally – and morally – bankrupt. It is also important to say that I am learning the value in working with legislators you don’t necessarily agree with. It takes maturity, and can be difficult. Rigid ideology has split this country apart; I believe even Ronald Reagan would agree with that statement. While I am passionate about my beliefs, I don’t want to become part of the problem – someone who stonewalls bills simply to make a point or satisfy big donors. Reasonable compromise has always been necessary for progress.

Thomas Piketty, Marriner Eccles and the Book of Mormon

Thomas Piketty, Marriner Eccles and the Book of Mormon

If you follow current events at all, you have certainly heard the buzz about French economist Thomas Piketty and his book Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Briefly stated, the main premise of the book is this: Classical economists back to Adam Smith wrote that there was a problem with capitalism: With unregulated capitalism, wealth tends to flow upward and creates expanding inequality, and action is required by governments to prevent this inequality from becoming destructive to society. Marriner Eccles demonstrated that the Great Depression was caused by this inequality.

This classical theory lost favor for several decades because of the work of Nobel prize-winning economist Simon Kuznets. From his vantage point in the 1950’s and 1960’s, the data demonstrated that income and wealth inequality had decreased over the previous decades, and he developed the theory that the spread of knowledge and technical skills to the greater population was creating a “virtuous cycle” that would automatically suppress the forces that created economic inequality.

With the benefit of another half-century of hindsight, and based on over a decade of extensive research into economic data from Europe back to the early 1700’s, Piketty has shown that the trends observed by Kuznets were only temporary, that they were the result of the huge destruction of capital during the global disruptions of the 1914-1945 era rather than some “virtuous cycle”, and after reconstruction was complete by the late 1970’s, the forces that drive inequality that the classical economists warned us about have returned. Piketty claims we could be headed back to the same levels of economic inequality that existed before 1914 unless course changes are made.

So why the title of this blog? The main message of the Book of Mormon is its testimony of Christ. Outside of that most important doctrinal role, a main theme is that unless we are vigilant, government will be taken over by the wealthy and the powerful, those who grind on the poor and worship “gold, silver, silks and fine-twined linens” – and when that happens, we are headed for a crash. Is there any argument that what happened in America in 1929 and 2008 was simply a repetition of the Book of Mormon pride cycle?

And I believe Thomas Piketty is the 21st Century’s Marriner Eccles, a prophetic voice, if I may use that term, warning us to change course to avoid economic destruction. The question is: Where is the 21st Century’s Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who can lead us away from the destructive path we are on? And why are the Latter-day Saints, comfortable in their current state of “all is well in Zion” so blind to the danger?

Democrats prefer democracy

Now that Utah State Senator Curt Bramble’s negotiated compromise with the Count My Vote proponents appears to be headed for a vote in the Legislature, cries of dismay from the extremist wing of the GOP have become deafening. A complaint by Rep. Mike Noel especially caught my eye (especially combined with his cry that Mitt Romney had – gasp! – hurt his feelings!):

“To me, the scariest voter is the uninformed voter.”

I can think of a few things more scary, Mike.

To me, the scariest voter is the voter that believes he deserves more say in how our country is run than his fellow citizens. They have a name for that: oligarchy. It sure ain’t democracy. One of the things that pushed me into being a Utah Democrat was hearing Republican delegates in 2005 call in to the Doug Wright show one afternoon explaining why they deserved more say in how the state was run than their clueless fellow citizens (especially if those citizens were registered Democrats). The arrogance of those people really shocked me. Rep. Noel makes it clear they haven’t repented.

These folks argue that it’s none of the public’s business how the Republican Party chooses their candidates. What arrogance. The taxpayer foots the bill for our elections; our system of electing our representatives belongs to the people, not to any political party.

While we’re talking uninformed voters, Mike: Which voter is more uninformed? The voter who is maybe a little superficial in how she investigates the candidates and issues, but remains open minded – or the voter who is so rigid in his ideology that his mind is completely closed to facts, evidence or any sort of rational argument that disagrees with his cherished beliefs? Neither of the above is ideal – but if I had to choose, I think we would be much better off with the first. Modern Republicans remind me of the old Mark Twain quote: “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you in trouble. It’s what you know that ain’t so.”

The Utah Legislature in general, and the fact that we sent John Swallow to the AG’s office and Mike Lee to the US Senate, are irrefutable examples that the current system is not working for Utah.

Kudos to Senator Bramble for bucking the extremists in his party and trying to find a workable compromise that maybe, just maybe, will be a good solution that balances the rights of the public with the concerns of political activists.

Congress: Do your job

Congress: Do your job

The conservatives are screaming bloody murder over President Obama’s stated plan this year to use his executive power to bypass Congress when necessary in solving some of the nation’s most pressing problems. And I have to admit: I’m a little uncomfortable myself. Like most Americans, I revere the Constitution and the concept of separation of powers.

The question is: Who is at fault for this problem?

To answer that, a few case studies from history might be instructive.

In the late Middle Ages, the largest and most powerful nation in Europe was the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. It stretched from the Baltic to the Black Sea and from Germany and Austria almost to Moscow. Almost all of what we know as Eastern Europe, include much of today’s Russia, was contained within its borders.

Except for avid students of European history, the above paragraph is probably mildly surprising. Most of you have probably never heard of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Where did this large, powerful nation go? We have Poland and Lithuania today, but these nations are hardly world powers. What happened?

The Commonwealth was ruled by an elected king and by the Sejm, a legislative body consisting of the nobles of the country. In the late 1600’s the concept of the liberum veto was introduced in the Sejm. This change allowed any member of the Sejm to veto any legislation, essentially requiring a unanimous vote to pass. About the same time, the members of the Sejm started to be more concerned about their own little fiefdoms rather than the overall good of the nation. The result was that the Commonwealth became ungovernable. Her neighbors took advantage of the situation, and during the latter half of the 18th century, she was literally carved up and partitioned amongst her neighbors; Russia, Prussia and Austria. The American Revolutionary War hero Tadeusz Kościuszko returned to his native Poland and led a revolution to try to save his country, but by then it was too late.

More recently, we have the example of the depression-era Weimar Republic in Germany, where a bickering, divisive Reichstag resulted in paralyzed government and paved the way for Adolf Hitler to assume power.

There are many more examples, but the lesson is clear: The path to tyranny is paved by dysfunctional government, especially in the legislature, which is the branch most closely tied to the people.

The parallel to the United States in 2014 is clear. One of the major political parties has a curious, perverse incentive: Their ideology claims that the government can’t do anything right, so they have the incentive to create a self-fulfilling prophecy.

However, the government has to function. We can have honest debates over what the government should do, but once the decision has been made, we must work together to make government function.

My message to congressional Republicans couldn’t be more clear: Are you upset about President Obama trying to do your job? Then why don’t you do your job.

Time for a Tax Increase for Education

Time for a Tax Increase for Education

by  LaWanna “Lou” Shurtliff

Former Utah State Representative Ogden, UT 84403
District 10

Let’s raise taxes to fund education. I know this is a bold statement in Utah where we are expected to do much with little funding, but most polls show that over 60% of Utah citizens are willing to pay more taxes if the money is used for schools.

Believe it or not, in the 1980’s, Utah’s funding per child was about the national average. At the time, we had large families and many children in our schools just as we do now.

Years earlier with a Constitutional Amendment, some forward thinking legislators, I will call them statesmen, earmarked all income tax to go to schools. The Education Fund would support our public schools, kindergarten through 12th grade. This decision would leave the General Fund to take care of the other obligations in the State.

But come 1995, the Legislature saw the money in the Education Fund and wanted to use it as they saw fit. So again, a Constitutional Amendment was put on the ballot that the Education Fund could be used to fund Higher Education. Teachers were concerned about losing this funding, but they were told if they came out against the Amendment that the income rate could be lowered. Also, the worst part was that it was pitting one educational entity against another. The Amendment passed. As a result, in 1996 the public schools were receiving about 98% of the Education Fund. In 2008, the last year that I served in the House, they received 73%.

In 2008, the Legislature passed the “flat tax” rate for income. The idea was to make it easier to file your state income tax. Even though it was touted as a “flat tax,” several items were kept, such as a deduction for children and a deduction for charitable contributions. The change was to be revenue neutral. In other words, taxes would not increase, but the schools would not lose money. The end result: the schools lost approximately $200 million per year.

At the present time, our “flat tax” is 5%; not including the deductions that are still allowed. If we raised that amount to 5 ½%, $275 million would be generated which could lower each classroom by three students or which could be used for needs as assessed in each school district. Six percent would give the schools $550 million. About 10 years ago, Mississippi was on the bottom as far as per child funding. They always used the term “bite the bullet” as they raised taxes to fund their schools. Their funding is now well above ours.

During this recession, many have had to sacrifice; some have not. The hard part of any proposal is trying to decide how people will be affected. We do know that those with large families, including some legislators, end up not paying any income tax.

In the past fifteen years, we have had these two dramatic hits to educational funding. Now is the time that we need to step up to the plate and take care of the students of Utah. Reports are showing that our students are not doing as well as they should. Of the 50 states, Utah is at the bottom of funding by at least $1000 per child. I believe it is time we meet the challenge and increase our income tax rate to meet this crisis of funding in our public schools.

 

Two options for solving the “disincentive to work” problem

A recent op-ed by Nobel prize-winning economist Paul Krugman resulted in a personal epiphany over how we might begin to approach one of the biggest problems in our country: the struggles of the working poor.

Despite the occasional snarky comments you hear about poor people being lazy, there are tens of millions of American families where both spouses are working full-time, or even multiple jobs, and still struggling to make ends meet. One thing Krugman admits in his column is that the current safety net has huge disincentives for improving one’s economic situation. This is not because America’s working poor are lazy. It’s because the current system of public assistance tapers too rapidly. Working more hours, taking a second job, or sending your spouse into the workplace could result in an effective tax rate on that new income of up to 80%, as the government takes away assistance almost at the same rate as income increases. If the system penalizes you for improving yourself, it will of course affect the choices you make. The Affordable Care Act makes an honest attempt to remedy this situation in regards to access to health care (in the states where Republicans allow it to function), but in general, it’s still true that those who are on full public assistance are sometimes better off than those who are working hard to try to support themselves.

There are theoretically only two ways to remedy the above incentive problem:

  1. Dramatically reduce or eliminate public assistance. If there is little or no public assistance for poor Americans, the tapering question is moot.
  2. Reduce the rate of change for tapering public assistance from earned income sources, with an eye toward eliminating the disincentive for self-improvement. This could be done many different ways; through the tax code (such as making the earned income tax credit more generous), through temporary “underemployment” benefits, or direct assistance.

The first proposal would result in an increase in human suffering, especially for children, and arguably would hurt the economy by reducing already suppressed consumer demand.

The second proposal successfully solves the incentive problem, while reducing human suffering and adding demand dollars to the economy. It would be one of the simplest ways to begin to address what President Obama has rightly called the challenge of our time: persistent income inequality and the separation of Americans into economic classes with little economic mobility.

The second solution does have one drawback: It would cost more. And by definition, given what we’re trying to accomplish (removing disincentives for self-improvement among the working poor), that cost would have to be borne by higher income Americans.

Conservatives would obviously balk at the second idea. But there is one argument that they could not make: That it would be just another government give-away to lazy freeloaders. The people who would be helped by this approach are the hardest working Americans of us all. The whole idea would be to ensure their efforts at self-improvement are not in vain.

It remains to be seen if the President or any mainstream elected Democrats out there are courageous enough to pick up the gauntlet that Professor Krugman has thrown down.

 

 

A few thoughts on marriage

A few thoughts on marriage

A few (personal) thoughts on Judge Robert Shelby’s historic ruling on Utah’s Amendment 3 in December.

As a practicing, temple-endowed Latter-day Saint who was sealed for time and eternity to my high-school sweetheart almost 36 years ago, I believe that the religious sacrament I call marriage is a sacred covenant between one man and one woman.

However, here’s the problem: Others have deeply held religious views that marriage between individuals of the same gender is also approved by God. This creates an uncomfortable quandary (or at least it should) for a people who believe in a modern scripture that reads “We do not believe it just to mingle religious influence with civil government”. The quandary is especially uncomfortable when Amendment 3 opponents are able to produce quotes by John Taylor and Brigham Young condemning monogamy (i.e. traditional marriage) that use much the same language as today’s opponents of same-sex marriage.

How do you decide whose religious belief gets enacted into law, when there is no consensus? The obvious answer is you can’t. Because of this, well-meaning supporters of Amendment 3, including attorneys in Utah’s AG office, have tried to translate religious arguments into secular and legal ones. It is from this perspective that Judge Shelby decided arguments that same-sex marriage was harmful to traditional marriage did not hold water. In their latest appeal to the Supreme Court for a stay to Judge Shelby’s decision, the AG’s office sent a subtle signal about the legal weakness of their case when they dropped the procreation argument. Attempts have been made by Amendment 3 supporters in editorial columns in Utah newspapers the last month to state logical, legally sound secular arguments for their support, and to any fair-minded person, these arguments come across as stilted and strained.

I think we have to admit that the only logically sound arguments for opposition to same sex marriage are religious ones, and the soundness of such arguments depends upon whether one accepts that particular religious viewpoint.

Given the political climate in Utah, the Attorney General’s office probably doesn’t have any choice but to pursue all avenues of appeal to Judge Shelby’s decision. But it’s hard to see that effort succeeding in turning back the sweep of history.

In the meantime, LDS Dems have a great opportunity to change the discussion. If the goal is strengthening the family – who can disagree with that? Why not start a discussion of things we agree on, and how we can take effective, concrete steps to strengthen traditional families?

Here is one example. Leaders as diverse as Ezra Taft Benson, Hillary Clinton and Robert Reich have argued forcefully that full-time care by a parent in the early stages of a child’s life is a worthy goal for society. If that is true, if we all agree on that, then why is it that the “godless socialists” in Europe have parental leave policies that are so much more family-friendly that we do? My own daughter gave birth to a beautiful daughter six months ago, but little Mariah was born with significant health problems related to being one of the “little people” (the new kinder term for dwarfism). The crush of medical bills made it necessary for my daughter to go back to work just a few short weeks after birth. Thank goodness for a good girlfriend who was able to care for this handicapped child, but how can one describe this situation as “family friendly”?

Our fellow Mormons claim strengthening the traditional family is their most important priority, and Judge Shelby’s ruling has brought that subject to the forefront. It’s an opportune time to forcefully point out how damaging conservative economic policies have been to the traditional family.

In closing: A wise and good friend, who is a member of a stake presidency, made an interesting comment in a Sunday School class recently. He said that we as Latter-day Saints believe the ideal family is a father and mother married in the temple for life and raising their own children in righteousness. But he went on to say that upholding this ideal is not mutually exclusive to recognizing the reality that there are other types of families, and we need to find a way to serve and strengthen all families. There are single parent families. There are families like my wife and I who are raising a grandson. And yes, the unavoidable fact is that there are families where two members of the same gender are making a life together. I am hopeful that recent events might act as a catalyst to help us begin working on the things that we can agree on to strengthen all families.

 

My discovery of “It Takes A Village”

My discovery of “It Takes A Village”

A few weeks ago, we had our 4th Sunday lesson in priesthood meeting on Elder Christofferson’s talk “The Moral Force of Women” from last October’s conference. Although I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the lack of political talk in our new Ogden ward (compared with our old ward, where I would often come home from church with blood running down the corners of my mouth from biting my tongue), that particular lesson did contain the obligatory attacks from some of the older gentlemen on the “women libbers”. At one point, the teacher brought up Hillary Clinton’s book, “It Takes a Village”, and resurrected that old Bob Dole snark: “No, maam, it takes a family.” Then the teacher proceeded to claim that Mrs. Clinton’s book denigrated the role of traditional families in her book.

Well, I knew he hadn’t read it and based his opinion on one smart-alecky sentence from a political opponent. I would have called him on it, until I realized: I hadn’t read it either!

Thanks to the miracle of technology, within an hour from arriving home from church, the 2006 second edition of “It Takes a Village” was on the Kindle reader on my smartphone. (I don’t know about you, but the ease of getting a new book from the Kindle Store sure makes it hard to keep on a reasonable book budget.) I’ve been reading it during lunch the last few weeks, and was left with one overriding impression: Not only was Bob Dole and our priesthood instructor dead wrong; I believe if you took the text from that book, put it in a different cover with a new name, and pasted the name of a General Authority on the front, it would be an instant best seller at Deseret Book. I’ve never read anything more supportive of the traditional family, or more sympathetic to our traditional LDS values.

The chapter on divorce was especially emotional for me. I think everyone knows about President Clinton’s troubled childhood. Mrs. Clinton had good, supportive parents, but her mother, Dorothy Rodham, came from a broken home. She tells the heartbreaking story of how her 8-year old mother and her 3-year old younger sister were put on a train in Chicago by their father for a three-day trip, all alone, to live with their grandparents in Los Angeles. Our little grandson Silas, who lives with us, turns eight in April. I just can’t imagine! I have never read more passionate arguments about the scourge of divorce on the lives of young children than those contained in that chapter, or a more clarion call for us to do better as a society. Suddenly, I had an epiphany about Mrs. Clinton’s own life. There have been all sorts of nefarious theories about why she stayed with her husband after his well-publicized problems with keeping his marriage covenants, but it became clear to me that she simply hated divorce, and loved Chelsea too much to allow their family to be split up. If conservative leaders in our country were as committed to keeping marriages together “for better or worse” as Hillary Clinton has been, our nation would be a much friendlier place for traditional families. The contrast between her and folks like Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich is stark indeed. (Speaking of snark: I loved the one-liner from the late night comedian in early 2012 who said the only Republican presidential candidates that had only one wife were the two Mormons.)

Mrs. Clinton had extraordinary credentials for writing this book. During her years at Yale Law School, she participated in ground breaking research into childhood health and development, and her book is filled with both the passion for the importance of loving homes and the science supporting her passion.

The theme of “It Takes a Village” is simple: Hillary Clinton argues passionately that our communities need to do a much better job of supporting traditional families and the precious children than live in those homes. Bob Dole’s snarky remark couldn’t have been more wrong. It reinforces my anger at an LDS culture that automatically assumes that conservatives are pro-family and progressives are anti-family. I am embarrassed now that it took me this long to read this landmark book, and it makes me more dedicated than ever to the cause of speaking out against that falsehood. I gained a new appreciation for Mrs. Clinton and the strength of her character. Makes me even more proud to be a Democrat! You can count me in as one American who would be thrilled to see her become our first woman President.

A kinder, gentler Mike Lee?

A few weeks ago, just after the end of the shutdown, Senator Mike Lee gave a speech to the Heritage Foundation. The tone made me wonder, “Who are you and where is Mike Lee?” The partisan firebrand was nowhere to be seen, and in its place was this reasonable sounding man who claimed the GOP’s message wasn’t relevant to most of the country, that they’d lost their rich intellectual tradition from the Reagan era, and – finally! -  said conservatives needed to come up with an alternative to health care reform rather than just throw rocks at Obamacare.

Now, we in Utah believe in repentance. If a kinder, gentler Mike Lee has arrived, it would be a great thing for our state. He does seem like a genuinely nice guy, if somewhat misguided, so I would be inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt – even if the probable incentive for this possible change of heart is his cratering approval numbers.

But in the spirit of “bringing forth fruits meet for repentance”, I’d like to concentrate on one important aspect of his speech. Senator Lee admitted we need to do something about the broken ladder of upward mobility in America. The gap between rich and poor is greater than any time since the Great Depression, and studies show economic mobility in our nation is lower than any other developed country. If a child is born to a poor family, the barriers to her rising out of poverty in America are nearly insurmountable. Surely this must be considered one of the most pressing issues we face.

I’m wondering if Sen. Lee is ready to acknowledge that some dearly held Republican policies have contributed to this serious problem.

Take supply side economics. The admitted goal of these policies was to transfer more of the nation’s ongoing wealth to the “job creators”. Hence the huge cuts to upper income tax rates and investment and inheritance taxes, coupled with payroll tax increases and elimination of middle income tax exemptions and cuts to social programs for the poor. We now know from hindsight these policies also resulted in an explosion of “rent-seeking capitalists”, who make their fortunes not from creating new wealth but by transferring existing wealth into their own pockets. (Dylan Rattigan coined the colorful term “greedy b**tards” for this type of capitalist.)

The claim was that the benefits from these policies were supposed to “trickle down”. The evidence is indisputable: Instead, there was (using a term coined by Utah business tycoon and mid-20th century Federal Reserve chair Marriner Eccles) a “giant suction pump” pulling all the nation’s wealth into the hands of a few at the top.

Which of these policies is Senator Lee now willing to admit helped create today’s huge gap between rich and poor, and what changes would he support to reverse the trend?

Here’s another thought: Conservatives hold up the 1950’s as a time when everything was right in America, but one characteristic of that period was that almost 40% of American workers belonged to a union. It is no coincidence that the stagnation in middle class wages correlates to a huge drop in union membership.

Conservatives like to point to anecdotes that demonstrate union corruption (some of which are a half-century old), but occasional bad apples are found in every human endeavor. I didn’t see any Republicans calling for the end of corporations after Enron and Tyco. The fact is that large corporations will always have a power advantage over workers, and collective bargaining is one way to mitigate that imbalance. Large retailers like Costco and Starbucks have proven you can pay your employees a livable wage with benefits and remain profitable. As they have in the past, unions could help make these fair practices more universal.

Is Senator Lee willing to take the lead in ending the long-standing Republican animosity to organized labor?

Yes, there are non-political factors that have contributed to the wealth gap like the rise in technology and globalization, but the fact remains that other developed nations have done far better than we to ensure the fruits of economic growth are shared by everyone. Senator Lee is correct. America’s huge gap between rich and poor is a serious problem. I hope he will follow the example of Bill Clinton in the 1990’s in admitting the policy failures of his own party and take the lead in charting a new course.