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Archive for November, 2012

Here in Virginia we are gearing up for another session of the General Assembly, the legislative body of the state government.  Delegates and senators have begun to showcase the bills they hope to pass in the upcoming year and there is one that should be of particular interest to any person who seeks to curtail the power of the federal government.

The purpose of bill, House Joint Resolution Number 130, is in “memorializing the Congress of the United States to honor state sovereignty under the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.”  This resolution has attracted a good number of sponsors, currently including: Delegates Randy Minchew of Loudoun County, Dave Albo of Fairfax County, Rob Bell of Albemarle County, Mark Cole of Fredericksburg, Chris Head of Roanoke, Keith Hodges of Middlesex County, Jimme Massie of Henrico County, Rick Morris of Isle of Wight County, Israel O’Quinn of Bristol, and David Ramadan of Loudoun County.

But what exactly does this resolution say?  Well, it begins by quoting the 10th Amendment.  “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.”  It further notes, “The Tenth Amendment defines the total scope of federal power as being that specifically granted by the Constitution of the United States and no more”.

The resolution goes on to boldly claim that “many federal laws are directly in violation of the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States” and “that Congress may not simply commandeer the legislative and regulatory processes of the states”.

The resolution concludes with the following assertion: “The Commonwealth of Virginia hereby claims sovereignty under the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States over all powers not otherwise enumerated and granted to the federal government by the Constitution of the United States. The Commonwealth by this resolution serves notice to the federal government, as its agent, to cease and desist, effective immediately, mandates that are beyond the scope of these constitutionally delegated powers. Further, the Commonwealth urges that all compulsory federal legislation that directs states to comply under threat of civil or criminal penalties or sanctions or requires states to pass legislation or lose federal funding shall be prohibited or repealed.”

The full text of Resolution 130 can be found here.

It has become clear that most of the legislators in Congress, the president, the courts, and the federal bureaucracy have little interest in restraining their powers to those specifically enumerated in the Constitution.  Therefore, in order to restore some sense of federalism, it is up to the states and the people to claim the authority that is rightfully theirs.

But lingering questions remain.  Will the delegates and senators in Richmond have the political courage to pass this resolution?  And if they do, are they willing to chart a course that will enforce the federal limitations found in the Constitution and the 10th Amendment?  After all, it would mean an end to federal control of many facets of life including, but limited to: education, healthcare, retirement, and the modern welfare state.

Conservatives, libertarians, and constitutionalists all across Virginia should support House Joint Resolution 130 and ought to write his or her legislators and encourage them to do likewise.  It’s time to make a stand!

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Shortly after the November elections, I heard Fun.’s Some Nights and realized that many of the lyrics in this song apply to the current turmoil in the Republican Party stemming both from the nomination of Mitt Romney and his failure to win the general election on November 6th.

Now, I know what some of you are thinking; gee, do you always draw ties between politics and pop culture?  Well, I guess that connection is simply programmed in my brain.  For example, when I watched the James Bond film Skyfall yesterday, I noticed a number of interesting theories at work, such as the question of when or if one should surrender his or her own needs and desires to the greater good of the state.  But any discussion of Skyfall will have to wait for another day.

First, if you haven’t heard Fun.’s Some Nights, or if you don’t remember the song, I encourage you to listen to it again here.

For purposes of this article, I’ll quote a line from the song and then explain the current political significance regarding the controversies within the Republican Party.  Is everyone clear on the format then?  Okay.  Let’s begin.

Right off, we have the line “Some nights, I stay up cashing in my bad luck”.

A few Republican pundits blamed the results of the 2012 election on bad luck.  Oh, if only Hurricane Sandy didn’t hit when it did…oh, if only Representative Todd Akin didn’t stick his foot in his mouth when it came to rape, Mitt Romney would have won.  Although bad luck can certainly play a factor in all facets of life, including elections, the Republican Party lost for more important reasons than simply “bad luck”.

The next line of interest is “But I still wake up, I still see your ghost”.

The political ghost for the Republicans is the spirit of Ronald Reagan.  Most Republican activists fondly remember the Reagan presidency in particularly idyllic terms.  Oh, they think, if only we could only find another Ronald Reagan then we could return both the country and the party to some sort of golden age.  Unfortunately, the standard practice is to whitewash history so we tend to forget that despite his greatness, Reagan did have his flaws and the country wasn’t perfect under his rule.  Nevertheless, Reagan was a good president, but we must recognize the simple fact is that he is gone.  The GOP must look to the future, not continually dwell on the past.

Moving on, we find the lines:

“Oh Lord, I’m still not sure what I stand for oh
What do I stand for? What do I stand for?
Most nights, I don’t know anymore…”

In these lyrics we find the crux of the GOP dilemma.  What does the Republican Party stand for these days, if anything?  Many conservatives I know would argue that the Republicans stand for a federal government restrained by the constitution, free markets, fiscal responsibility, personal liberty, a strong national defense, and a faith in God (see the creed of the Republican Party of Virginia).  But one does have to wonder, if those principles guide the GOP, why did they select such a poor standard bearer in the form of Mitt Romney? After all, during his political career, he opposed the 2nd Amendment, approved of judicial activism and fought against the right to life by supporting Roe v. Wade, spoke in favor of some aspects of government involvement in healthcare, and believes that government can deny citizens suspected of terrorism their basic constitutional protections.  Are these the values that the modern GOP supports?

Then we have “This is it, boys, this is war – what are we waiting for?”

Both the Republican and Democratic Parties have been actively working to destroy political dialogue in this country.  Differing political opinions are not tolerated; those who disagree, either domestically or internationally, are treated as enemies that cannot be reasoned with.  Taken in its extreme form, you get thoughts much like President George W. Bush statement in 2001, “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.”  The prospect of any sort of political middle ground is treated with hostility.  Once a people begin to treat their friends and neighbors as enemies based upon mere political disagreements, that country is no longer politically healthy.  As fellow political blogger Rick Sincere stated earlier today, “People with whom I disagree are people with whom I disagree. They are not demons, mortal enemies, or the Antichrist. Disagreements about policy and culture are the lifeblood of representative democracy and pluralist society. They are not signs of the Apocalypse.”

“Why don’t we break the rules already?”

The Republican Party famously chose to modify many of its rules at the Republican National Convention in order to favor the establishment and exclude liberty activists.  But it is okay, because the end justifies the means, right?

“I was never one to believe the hype – save that for the black and white”

Leading up to the election, some political pundits, like Karl Rove or Dick Morris, predicted a victory for Romney, apparently not based upon political reality, but predicated upon the mere hope that Romney would win.  Should we leave objective journalism to the “black and white” newspapers?

“I try twice as hard and I’m half as liked”.

Mitt Romney did work diligently to win the election.  However, far too many voters had a hard time liking a New England liberal elitist who was unable to relate to the plight of the average working man or woman.  Nationally, he claimed less votes than the not particularly well-liked John McCain.

“…but here they come again to jack my style”

Here we have the establishment lament.  Oh, those cursed Ron Paul supporters! If only they would have fallen in line behind the party nominee.  Who cares what principles they may or may not hold?  The victory of the party is of paramount concern.  They only exist to cause trouble or to “jack” the style of the establishment.

“…who I am, who I am, who I am.  Oh, who am I?”

As stated earlier, the GOP is a party with an identity crisis.

“Cause I could use some friends for a change
And some nights, I’m scared you’ll forget me again”

In order to survive as a national party, the Republicans will need to attract new voters or “friends”.  A lot of these potential friends are youth associated with the Ron Paul movement but in order to attract these folks, the party must adopt a more pro-liberty slant.

“Some nights, I always win, I always win…”

A repetition of the mistaken belief and/or fantasy that Romney and the Republicans would enjoy a great victory on Election Day.

“Well, that is it guys, that is all – five minutes in and I’m bored again
Ten years of this, I’m not sure if anybody understands”

One of the great concerns of the establishment is the acquisition of power.  To many of them, principles are a secondary issue.  Without this power, they grow bored and don’t wish to wait ten long years (or, in this case, four years) to regain influence in Washington.

“So this is it? I sold my soul for this?

Washed my hands of that for this?

I miss my mom and dad for this?”

Some conservative activists are rightly upset that they compromised their principles in order to defeat the supposed greater threat of Barack Obama. The line, “I miss my mom and dad for this?” echoes the fact that many volunteers sacrificed their family life for the pursuit of this political goal.  Unfortunately, at the end of the day, we don’t have a Republican victory, the GOP doesn’t seem to hold too closely to our principles any longer, and some of our personal relationships have become strained apparently needlessly.

“Who the %&*# wants to die alone all dried up in the desert sun?”

Unless the GOP returns to its principles and works to attract the new converts, sooner or later the party will die alone or be relegated to political irrelevance.  This line could also refer to the neo-conservative foreign policy of George W. Bush, which was extended by Barack Obama.  These conflicts resulted in many of our soldiers dying alone in the deserts of the Middle East.

“When I look into my nephew’s eyes…
Man, you wouldn’t believe the most amazing things that can come from…
Some terrible nights…ahhh…”

I’ve stated this fact over and over again, but the youth are the future of the party.  If we could but understand their concerns and tie them into the greater Republican movement then perhaps some good could come from the terrible night of November 6th.

Although I began writing this article before watching Fun.’s video, the backdrop of the U.S. Civil War is appropriate to the political situation.  After all, the Republican Party is embroiled in its own civil war to determine who will control the party, the establishment or the conservative/liberty wing.  This battle is clearly playing out in Virginia as Lt. Government Bill Bolling squares off against Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli for the Republican nomination for Governor in 2013.  One important question is yet to be determined.  Is the modern Republican Party in the mold of Thomas Jefferson, who called for a limited federal government, or has it reverted to the party of Abraham Lincoln who promoted the expansion of federal authority?

Perhaps after reading this article, you might hear something new when Some Nights comes on the radio again.  So what does the Republican Party stand for these days?  Honestly, some nights, I don’t know.  But I do know the direction that I’ll be pushing it.  The GOP must be a strong advocate for liberty at all times.

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In the days leading up to the November 6th elections, predicting the outcome of the presidential seemed a bit murkier than one would expect.  A few polls, like Gallup, had Mitt Romney ahead, while others, like Rasmussen, showed a very close race, and some, like Huffington, heralded another strong victory for President Obama.  It seemed to me that a lot of news outlets reported on the outcome that they hoped would occur rather than what would actually happen; Republican pundits predicted a solid Romney victory and their Democratic counterparts made similar claims.  Fellow Republicans were critical, but in 2008 I wrote about Barack Obama’s victory on the day prior to Election Day, as I believed the results were already a foregone conclusion.  However, I wasn’t quite as certain this time around.

In the end, however, Mitt Romney stood no chance of becoming our next President.  In the electoral count, he faired only slightly better than John McCain did in 2008.  He won the tradition Republican states of North Carolina and Indiana unlike McCain, but failed to capture key battlegrounds like Virginia, Ohio, Colorado, and Florida.  Curiously, both Romney and Obama failed to garner as many votes as the candidates did in 2008.  It seems obvious that Obama’s numbers would decline as his presidency has not been particularly popular and the great excitement (or novelty) generated from electing our first black president in 2008 is gone.  But what about Romney?  Although some activists have been urging people to resist resorting to the “blame game”, ultimately I believe that voters had a hard time supporting a rich New England liberal who had difficulty relating to the plight of the average American.  In addition, the actions taken by the RNC and the Romney campaign, which can only be described as unnecessary and spiteful, to exclude Ron Paul and his supporters at the Tampa convention tore open the growing rift in the Republican Party between the establishment and the liberty movement.  As stated earlier, a majority of Paul supporters I know either voted for Gary Johnson, wrote in Ron Paul, or simply stayed home on Election Day.  Speaking of the other party candidates, Libertarian Gary Johnson finished in third with almost 1%, Green Jill Stein was fourth with .35%, and Virgil Goode was fifth with .1%.

Moving on to Virginia’s U.S. Senate contest, as we approached Election Day it became increasingly obvious that George Allen would lose to Tim Kaine.  The conventional wisdom was that an Allen victory hinged heavily upon Romney’s coattails.  If Romney won Virginia by a large margin, then it was likely that Allen would also be victorious.  However, if the election was close or if Romney lost the state, Allen would be defeated.  Although the crossover wouldn’t have influenced the outcome, it is still important to note that Romney had the support of 37,766 more Virginians than did George Allen.

The House races in Virginia were not particularly exciting.  Each incumbent won re-election with a comfortable margin with the exception of Scott Rigell in the 2nd who won by 24,000 votes.  In the 6th, Republican Bob Goodlatte easily dispatched Democrat Andy Schmookler.  However, Schmookler did best Goodlatte in the more urban areas of the district, capturing the cities of Harrisonburg, Lexington, and Roanoke, and boasting a fairly close contest in Staunton.

Given that Harrisonburg voted Democratic for president, senator, and representative, it should come as no surprise that the Democrats faired well in the city council election.  With eight candidates on the ballot, three Republican, three Democratic, and three independent, Democrats Kai Degner and Richard Baugh were re-elected along with newcomer independent Abe Shearer.  Only Degner and Shearer cracked the 6,000-vote mark.  All but one of the other candidates was in the 4,000-vote range; Roger Baker finished in last place with less than 2,500 votes.  Political newcomer Christine Johnson finished at the top of the Republican office seekers, missing out on third place by only 202 votes.

So what does the future hold politically for Harrisonburg, the 6th congressional district, Virginia, and the nation as a whole?  Well, it depends on a number of factors including the strength of the candidates and the overall political climate.  Will the GOP learn anything from the 2012 elections?  It is obvious that they didn’t figure anything out from 2008.  Without strong conservative candidates that can clearly articulate the merits of a constitutionally limited government, the Republican Party will continue to suffer nationally, statewide, and locally.  Let me end this article with a bit of advice: Past big government Republicans who lost in a previous election don’t somehow miraculously transform themselves into either conservatives or winners.  So don’t retread on me.  Don’t retread on me!

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One particularly interesting development regarding the 2012 Presidential Election is the possibility that Americans could elect a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, better known to many as a Mormon.  Personally, I’m quite surprised that the issue of Mitt Romney’s religious faith has not played a larger role in public discussions.

If we turn back the clock a few decades, when John F. Kennedy ran for president in 1960, the fact that he was a member of the Catholic Church was a cause for concern for many citizens throughout the nation, sparking fears that he would owe his greatest allegiance, not to the United States and her people, but rather to a pope in the Vatican.  Recently, in response to this potential 2012 Mormon controversy, the perhaps best-known evangelist, Billy Graham, tried to defuse the situation, offering some tactic support of Mitt Romney’s candidacy and his church.  This news was a bit of a shock to many, given Graham’s previous declarations that the Mormon Church is a “cult”. 

I assume that there is generally little widespread knowledge regarding the Latter-day Saints, also known as the LDS Church.  Before spending considerable time learning about the religion and meeting many Mormons while living in Charlottesville, VA, in the mid 2000s, I’ll confess that Mormonism put me at unease; this concern did not stem from a reasoned theological disagreement with the church, but rather a lack of understanding and general widespread prejudice.  Now, I won’t claim to be an expert on the subject, but I’ll start off by saying that there are a number of issues that set Mormonism apart from what is generally regarded as traditional Christianity.  Some of the best well-known distinctions of Mormonism include the Book of Mormon and the church’s previous support of polygamy.

Let’s start with the Book of Mormon.  According to Mormon theology, Joseph Smith, the founder and first prophet of the LDS Church, through the assistance of the angel Moroni, discovered a number of golden plates on a hill in upstate New York.  With the aid of “seeing stones”, Smith translated the writing on many of these plates into what is now known as The Book of Mormon.  The text describes the ancient people of America as a lost tribe of Israelites and explores their history and theology.  In addition, after his death in the Middle East, Jesus appeared to these early Americans to impart teachings, many of which are similar to the concepts found in the Bible.  Some time later, two factions within these ancient peoples, the Nephites and the Lamanites came into brutal conflict.  The last Nephite, the then human Moroni, wrote the final portion of the Book of Mormon and buried the text only to be discovered by Smith about 1500 years later.  Besides the Book of Mormon, the LDS have additional extra-biblical texts including the Pearl of Great Price and the Doctrines and Covenants.

Polygamy, (more specifically polygyny, the practice of a man taking multiple wives), was an early custom in the Mormon Church.  Joseph Smith had a number of spouses as did Brigham Young, who led the Mormons on their trek to what is now the state of Utah.  Perhaps not surprisingly, polygamy caused considerable tension with the non-Mormon population and the United States government, which was one compelling reason for the Mormons to move westward, away from the established American communities.  Perhaps not surprisingly, Utah was not admitted as a state in the union until the Mormons renounced polygamy, which they did in the Manifesto of 1890.

Besides the Book of Mormon and early support for polygyny, there are a number of other aspects of the Latter-day Saints, which set them apart both in theology and in practice from traditional Christianity.  For example, there is baptism for the dead, where a member of the Church can, by proxy, be baptized for a deceased person.  The reasoning in doing so is to allow the deceased person an opportunity to enter into heaven, which would previously be denied to someone who had not participated in this rite while alive.

Most people consider a fundamental element of Christianity is the idea of Trinitarianism, the belief that God exists simultaneously in three separate but united persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. However, Mormons believe that God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are three separate gods.  In addition, Mormons believe in the concept of eternal progression where men and women can become like God.  As former LDS President Lorenzo Snow stated, “As God now is, man may be.”   This theological distinction could lead some to claim that Mormons are not monotheistic, but rather either polytheistic or henotheistic.

Interestingly, I have found that many socially conservative Christians, like Billy Graham, who, all things being equal, I would assume would reserve the greatest criticism for Mitt Romney’s Mormon ties, are some of his more ardent defenders.  Then again, I’ve also heard some of these very same people use the line that it is better to elect “a Mormon than a Muslim”; playing upon the fear that Barack Obama is secretly a Muslim and threatens to subvert our national interest to Islamic terrorists.  Do they dislike Mormons still, but reserve a greater distrust of Muslims?  For some people, is it simply another case of choosing the “lesser of two evils”?

One overarching question that needs to be asked is what makes a person or a church Christian?  It is simply holding the belief that Jesus is the messiah sent by God for the redemption of mankind and that following him is the only path to salvation?  Does it require a literal or figurative understanding of the Bible?  What about acceptance or rejection certain texts like the deuterocanonical portion of the Bible, also known as the Apocrypha, or the Book of Mormon itself?  Is baptism required and, if so, how and when should it be done?  Must Christians adhere to follow the leadership of a certain spiritual leader?  So, are Mormons Christians?  How about other groups often labeled as cults such as Jehovah Witnesses, Christian Scientists, or Unitarians?  Given their veneration of Mary and other differing beliefs, are Catholics Christian?  Does supporting predestination preclude calling Presbyterians Christian?   And can a person be a Christian even if the church to which he or she belongs is outside the traditional definition of the term?  What about those who have no official church membership?  Is there one simple answer to this question and can it be universally applied?

Anyway, as mentioned at the beginning of this article, it is quite possible that, like the 1960 election, this contest will re-define the American perception of what it means to be a Christian.  Mormons, like Catholics before them, once viewed with suspicion and hostility, might slowly be welcomed into the larger Christian fold.

Although I appreciate the chance to improve religious dialogue, I am disappointed that this conversation seemingly arose, not from a desire to promote understanding, but rather as an afterthought to advance a particular candidate.  Do conservatives, like Billy Graham, honestly now believe that Mormonism is simply another branch of Christianity and not a cult?  Or are they willing to cast aside their longstanding beliefs for political gain?  If the answer is the first, then I’m hopeful that this change will permit more people in this country to openly practice their religious convictions without fear of societal persecution.  However, if the answer is the second, which I worry is the case, then the state of organized religion and politics in America is in a much more sickly state than I previously imagined.

Regardless of the circumstances and any particular personal preferences, as a result of the 2012 elections, Mormonism is being mainstreamed.  Whether you adhere to a more traditional Christian tradition, you are a Mormon yourself, or you chart a path separate from either, this development does make for a lot of important theological and political ramifications in America today.

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