Mitt Romney’s Religion Dilemma

There has been considerable speculation regarding Mitt Romney’s upcoming speech on his religious beliefs, with many noting the dangers of this backfiring. In a battle over the specifics of one’s religious beliefs, Romney is at a disadvantage against Mike Huckabee in appealing to religious Christian voters. In speaking about this, Romney risks making this distinction even more apparent and risks turning their religious views into the deciding factor in the race. Romney must appeal to religious tolerance, but cannot go as far as John Kennedy did in 1960 before a Republican audience. Just a few sections from Kennedy’s speech demonstrate how much the Republican voters of 2007 differ from the American voters of 1960:

I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute–where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote–where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference–and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.

I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish–where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source–where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials–and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all…

That is the kind of America in which I believe. And it represents the kind of Presidency in which I believe–a great office that must neither be humbled by making it the instrument of any one religious group nor tarnished by arbitrarily withholding its occupancy from the members of any one religious group. I believe in a President whose religious views are his own private affair, neither imposed by him upon the nation or imposed by the nation upon him as a condition to holding that office…

Whatever issue may come before me as President–on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling or any other subject–I will make my decision in accordance with these views, in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressures or dictates. And no power or threat of punishment could cause me to decide otherwise.

Throughout most of our history, Americans have understood the importance of separation of church and state as envisioned by the founding fathers. Historically it has often been religious groups who where the strongest defenders of a strict separation of church and state, recognizing that this was important to guarantee freedom of religion for all. In recent years many Republicans have been promoting an alternative history which denies our heritage of separation of church and state. Some Republicans have even claimed that the founding fathers intended to create a Christian nation.

John Kennedy’s views would not be welcomed by Republicans who hold these views. Nor would these views be welcome by Republicans who desire to use the power of government to impose their views on all. Many of today’s Republicans choose their candidate precisely based upon their religious views and would reject a candidate who insisted that they remain private. Issues including birth control, abortion, stem cell research, and same sex marriage are made prominent by the religious right which fails to recognize separation of church and state and seeks to decide upon these issues based upon the dictates of their religion.

None of these views are likely to be expressed by Mitt Romney in his attempts to seek the Republican nomination. He has a difficult task this week in writing his speech if he hopes to appeal to religious tolerance while still allowing the Republican base to believe he will promote their agenda.

Hillary Clinton Jumps the Shark

The Clinton campaign has placed far too much importance on recent polls out of Iowa showing Barack Obama with a lead and might turn these polls into reality by their desperate appearing actions. Clinton has now attempted two attacks on Obama with each backfiring against her.

The first mistake was over claiming that a mandate to require everyone participate in her health care plan made it a more universal plan than Obama’s. Showing that she has learned absolutely nothing since HillaryCare I, HillaryCare II assumes that simply making her plan mandatory would be seen as a virtue. Clinton, as well as Edwards, fail to comprehend that Americans want a health care plan which will allow them the opportunity to obtain more affordable health care, not a new set of orders from Washington to rule their lives. The logic that a mandatory plan is more likely to be universal is both repulsive to the pro-freedom sensibilities of many Americans, and isn’t even true considering the likelihood of less than universal compliance. Even Robert Reich has debunked Clinton’s charges against Obama on both Social Security and health care:

She says his would insure fewer people than hers. I’ve compared the two plans in detail. Both of them are big advances over what we have now. But in my view Obama’s would insure more people, not fewer, than HRC’s. That’s because Obama’s puts more money up front and contains sufficient subsidies to insure everyone who’s likely to need help – including all children and young adults up to 25 years old. Hers requires that everyone insure themselves. Yet we know from experience with mandated auto insurance – and we’re learning from what’s happening in Massachusetts where health insurance is now being mandated – that mandates still leave out a lot of people at the lower end who can’t afford to insure themselves even when they’re required to do so. HRC doesn’t indicate how she’d enforce her mandate, and I can’t find enough money in HRC’s plan to help all those who won’t be able to afford to buy it. I’m also impressed by the up-front investments in information technology in O’s plan, and the reinsurance mechanism for coping with the costs of catastrophic illness. HRC is far less specific on both counts. In short: They’re both advances, but O’s is the better of the two. HRC has no grounds for alleging that O’s would leave out 15 million people.

Clinton’s other attack on Obama is even more absurd. A few weeks ago I noted a report that Obama had written a paper while in kindergarten saying he wanted to be president when he grew up. I never would have guessed that this, along with a similar paper in third grade, would be considered meaningful by the Clinton campaign’s opposition research. Nobody is surprised that presidential candidates have had such ambitions for years and that they sometimes try to play down their ambition.

Obama responded by comparing himself to an internet startup and Clinton to Microsoft which captures the feel of the campaigns to date. If he really wanted to go for the jugular he might have suggested that if his kindergarten and third grade papers are being reviewed then Hillary Clinton’s papers as First Lady should also be made available for similar consideration. If not for the strike, we could also imagine the late night comedians having a field day speculating as to the content of Bill Clinton’s elementary school papers. John Edwards admits that when he was in third grade he wanted to either be a cowboy or Superman. It seems nobody ever grows up dreaming to be an ambulance chaser.

The real question is why Clinton is acting out of such desperation when she still has many of the advantages of front runner and remains within the margin of error of Obama. Clinton is ignoring two historical facts about the Iowa caucus. Voters don’t make up their minds until the last minute and they don’t react well to negative campaigning. While perhaps an effective negative ad might have a chance of working, weak attacks such as these will only backfire against her.

Clinton does have two problems in Iowa besides falling in the latest poll. As Clinton is the second place choice of far fewer voters than Obama and Edwards, the fifteen percent threshold rule in Iowa could deliver many more votes to her opponents as supporters of weaker opponents are forced to go to their second choice. An even more serious problem for Clinton is that her strong points have been the illusion that victory for her was inevitable and that she best knew how to run the perfect campaign. The first illusion is destroyed when she falls behind in the polls, and the second becomes questionable when she responds this poorly to adversity. Voters who supported her because of either of these two reasons are left without a good reason to vote for her. Having lost those illusions, Clinton must actually fight for votes, and Obama just might have the edge in such a battle.

Giuliani Campaigning Blocked by Paul Fanatics and WSJ Firewall

The battle between supporters of Rudy Giuliani and Ron Paul continues, and once we see that the greatest obstacle Ron Paul faces to being taken seriously as a candidate are his own supporters. Rather than getting their message out, the story is about Paul supporters shouting down their opposition, analogous to the manner in which they spam blogs and on line polls. The Atlantic Journal-Constitution reports:

Giuliani nearly drowned out by rival’s supporters

It was Rudy Giuliani campaigning for president on the Marietta Square on Sunday afternoon, but anyone listening may well have thought the candidate’s name was Ron Paul.

“RON PAUL! RON PAUL! RON PAUL!” — a crowd chanted from Glover Park, effectively drowning out comments from the former New York mayor and occasionally changing the chant to “FREEDOM! FREEDOM! FREEDOM!”

The younger crowd of Paul supporters had stronger, or maybe more enthusiastic, lungs than the middle-aged crowd of Giuliani’s gaggle, who responded with a college try — “Rudy! Rudy! Rudy!” — while the Paul cadres tailed the GOP front runner on his walking photo op in downtown Marietta.

The Paul backers, handing out their own candidate’s literature, said they were more interested in a president who would truly try to shrink government, not just promise to do it, and who promises outright to bring the troops home from Iraq.

“You’re being very inconsiderate,” an elderly woman, aghast at the lack of Southern manners, told three young female Paul acolytes.

“You’re not helping your candidate with this,” a middle-aged man told a 20-something man toting a blue-and-white Paul campaign sign.

Giuliani also has a commentary in today’s Wall Street Journal on The Meaning of Fiscal Conservatism. While their news content is often restricted to subscribers, the opinion section is typically free. I was therefore surprised that Giuliani’s commentary was blocked until I signed in, assuming that if Giuliani had any say in the matter he’d want this widely distributed. Giuliani does show some honesty in his assessment of the Republican record writing, “Fiscal conservatism is based on two fundamental principles — cutting taxes and controlling spending. In recent years, the Republican Party has successfully cut taxes, but we have fallen short when it comes to controlling spending.” He does later ignore the Republican propensity to think they can cut taxes while increasing spending when claiming, “Republicans have a clearer understanding of how our economy works.” I wonder how many investors who subscribe to The Wall Street Journal will consider how the market typically does better under Democrats than Republicans when reading this claim.

Giuliani makes claims about his own record, with having previously noted how Giuliani exaggerates claims of cutting taxes. Giuliani next outlines how he would decrease spending as president, making sure to shore up conservative support by giving homage to Ronald Reagan and using Republican memes such as the “death tax.” Giuliani writes:

This summer, I unveiled my tax plan, which committed to making the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts permanent, while aiming for still-lower marginal rates. We’ll give the death tax the death penalty, index the Alternative Minimum Tax for inflation as a step toward eliminating it entirely, expand tax-free savings accounts, and expand health-care choice through tax reform. We also need to reduce the corporate tax rate — which is currently the second highest in the industrialized world, behind Japan — to at least the average of the other Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development nations, or 28%. These actions will protect American jobs, empowering us to compete and win in the global economy.

Controlling spending must be a chief executive’s priority or it doesn’t get done. That’s a lesson I learned from Ronald Reagan, and put into action when I was mayor. Real per capita spending actually fell during my administration. We cut the city bureaucracy by 20%, excluding cops on the street and teachers in the classroom.

We can do the same thing in Washington. Over the course of the next two terms, 42% of the federal civilian workforce is due to retire. We’ll only hire back half, taking the opportunity to right-size government by taking advantage of technology like the private sector did in recent years, and ultimately save taxpayers $21 billion annually.

We also need to return to spending controls and caps, a proven way to make Washington set priorities. As president, I will direct all federal agency heads to find 5% to 10% efficiency savings. If they come back to me and say it’s impossible to find 5% savings in a $2 billion agency, I’ll call on the Office of Management and Budget to identify the cuts. It’s time to put the “M” back in OMB.

Reforming a culture of wasteful spending requires standing up to special interests and insisting on transparency and accountability. Congress spent $29 billion on earmarks last year alone. Earmarks are the broken windows of the federal budget, signs of dysfunction and distress. Recent examples range from the absurd ($1.1 million in 2005 for researching baby food made from salmon) to the self-congratulatory ($2 million for the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service). The American people want us to end earmarks once and for all.

But more needs to be done. We need to root out wasteful spending and fraud in benefit payments and contracts by convening a Government Waste Commission, such as the one that closed military bases. It can require Congress to vote up or down on a whole package of recommended cuts, beginning by considering the 3% of programs currently rated “ineffective” by the federal government itself.

Finally, we can both save money and provide better services by consolidating duplicative programs. We don’t need 342 economic development programs or 130 programs serving at risk youth or 72 federal programs dedicated to ensuring safe water (according to a 2004 report). No doubt many of these programs are worthy, but citizens shouldn’t have to navigate a maze of overlapping bureaucracies. Digital one-stop-shop centers will provide better citizen service at lower cost, while transforming industrial age bureaucracies to fit the information-age citizen.

Steve Benen has further comments on Giuliani’s proposals.