I'm not saying that Romney and Huntsman are liberal. That would just be silly. But I am struck by the odd situation that in spite of the very strong political conservatism that runs through cultural Mormonism, when I see Huntsman and Romney in the midst of the Republican field for the presidential nomination, they are the sanest members of crazy-town. And I don't think I''m the only one that has noticed.
Now, both of them certainly have their problems and are unlikely to get my support in a general election. Huntsman just pegged Romney accurately as a "well-oiled weather vane" which also does in Huntsman's promise to run a "positive" campaign. But there is a basis for rational, progressive politics in Mormonism, even if you set aside Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, as most Mormons and conservatives tend to do anyway.
My blogger friend at Keepapitchinin.org is running a series of excepts from Mormon historical documents that show a more liberal view of things. The latest from yesterday is a striking exhortation of the "social gospel" in a 1928 Sunday School lesson manual. The timing itself is so interesting as it came at the height of post-WWI prosperity just months before that prosperity collapsed in the Great Depression. It wasn't some reaction to the plight of those suffering in overwhelming economic disaster, rather a call to the fortunate to practice "social justice" which should send our Brother Glenn Beck running to find a new church, p.d.q.
As per usual, the tone of the conservative response to "social justice" or even our well-established social safety net and progressive taxation (not to mention health care reform), is to argue that such programs destroy free agency as they follow "satan's plan" to "make" us all be good. I'd like to simply point out that I think that's all a red-deviled herring. Besides the fact that I don't think he was exactly being honest (the father of all lies, ya know), I see his problem was as much taking all the glory as taking all the agency. "How art thou fallen from heaven!" and all.
Condemn me to heck if you must, but I think there is a heck of a lot of individual responsibility and agency required in participatory government as God holds us accountable for our acts in relation to our self-government, "both in making laws and administering them, for the good and safety of society." The Social Gospel is not Socialism. I, for one at least, do not believe in the people's government owning all property or the means of production. (Maybe some public utilities and transportation systems, sure. But that's about it). I don't see any problem with We the People providing for the general Welfare as we come together in self-governance to find common ground to provide equal opportunity for education, safety, employment, health care and even entrepreneurism. You can argue all you want about the value and practicality of a progressive tax system, but when you tell me it is a "sin" because it follows satan's plan to destroy agency, you've lost me there. And I really don't think I'm going to heck for it.
Getting back to Romney and Huntsman. I am absolutely fascinated that in spite of the very conservative political strain that runs through Mormonism at least in the second half of the 20th Century, neither of "our" candidates for President are anywhere near that tradition of Skousenite Bircherism that has come to renewed prominence with the popularity of Glenn Beck on radio and TV. I mean, the Tea Party sentiment in Utah has been filling the State Legislature with their boys (and some few girls) as well as our very own US Senator Mike "Tea Party" Lee. Yet both Romney and Huntsman are criticized among the other Republican candidates and even here in Utah for not being conservative enough! (just read the letters to the editor in the SL Trib or D-News sometime.) I admit it's an odd point I'm making, but could it be that Romney and Huntsman are helping to moderate Mormons from the extreme right of the Skousen legacy? Time will tell.
I haven't lost Hope yet.