Sunday, October 12, 2008

How can you be a Democrat if you're a Mormon?

I get asked this sometimes. I even had an experience at church today when someone said "Oh, don't you know that you can't get a temple recommend if you're a Democrat?"

They were joking. Mostly.

As for me supporting a Democrat, I guess it was an odd combination of my examination of conservative cultural values and economic realities. I think that government should not legislate morality - it should (and does) have the power to influence incentives in order to move common goals.

For example: roads. Everyone agrees that roads are important. Good roads make driving safer. Good roads mean that people save more money because you spend less gas and wear and tear for your car. The quibbles come in on how much to spend on the roads. Do we just pay for inner city roads, or do we take care of the roads in rural areas too that don't have as much traffic? Do we want to have super great roads, or roads that are "good enough", then let individual areas pay for better roads? Or should we ignore roads in general? There are people - mainly in the libertarian belief - that hold that private business would just build roads themselves without government help, since they have a financial incentive to do so. (Which ignores pretty much all of recorded history from the Roman and Chinese empire on down that shows when governments that build better roads tend to be more powerful empires - those that leave it to "someone will do it" don't do nearly as well.)

However - I have a serious issue when people want to legislate morality. I know - I shouldn't be a Mormon democrat. But the 11th article of faith states:

"We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may."

Based on that, I find it fascinating that the Republican party - which used to espouse the view that government should have no role in people's lives, switched during the early 1970's to a party that, over the next 20 years, became dominated with worrying about abortion, gay marriage, prayer in school, and whether the 10 commandments displays should be paid for by governments. Before 1970, any given Republican would have said "hell no" - and I would have agreed *based on the tenants of my faith not to allow government to interfere with people's individual religious beliefs*.

Then, after the 1972 supreme court decision regarding the ability for government to tax religious business assets, the Republican party got in bed with conservative business religious leaders. Note the distinction between "religious assets", which are non-taxable, and "religious business assets". A church is non-taxable. A church that owns a business garage and charges people to park there Monday through Saturday (when the church is not in operation) *is* taxable (depending on the state you live in).

After that, the Republicans - party of business - decided to hop in bed with religious leaders to espouse their views of "less government taxation" - a viewpoint I can understand. But by the 80's Reagen area and then the 2000 election, those cultural issues that religious leaders care about had far outstripped the traditional conservative values that had existed in the Republican party prior to the 1970's. I read through speeches given in the 1980 Republican convention speaking out against sodomy laws in Texas - laws that the Supreme Court later ruled were unconstitutional. By 1990, no Republican spoke out against anti-gay laws.

In the end, I supported that I couldn't support the Republicans on cultural issues, because I believe that church should stay out of state. And vice-versa.

The second issue, however, is economics. I like what works. I still have a scientific mind. If someone works, do that. If something doesn't work, stop doing it. The model of the sun in the center of the solar system worked, and though Galileo was tortured, eventually the Catholic church had to admit that yes, he was right, no matter what the dogma says.

During the 1900 - 1920's, the model was "business will control itself". Then came the 1929 crash, and suddenly the entire world learned that no - business *can't* control itself.

Economics is all about incentive. It's not about money - though we measure money by incentive. Is the incentive to spend money wisely - or to spend it on short term, riskier gain?

During the 1920's stock market, there were little to no controls, especially over banks. Banks were playing in the stock market with their customer's money. This is what made the collapse so harsh - banks that had $1,000 in their customers savings might have had $50,000 invested the stock market - so when the market fell, so did their customer's savings.

In the 1930's, Roosevelt and others sat down and figured out how to structure things. Banks couldn't invest money in the stock market - they could invest in loans and such, and only a certain ratio. (For example, $1,000 in customers savings and maybe only $5,000 in loans outstanding.) This way when things fall apart, customers won't be hurt too bad - and then there's the FDIC that all banks must pay into so if they do screw up, people don't lose their money. Banks weren't allowed to get bigger than a certain size. The stock market became more transparent.

I like to compare the economy to Nascar - I know, I've used this analogy before, but here it is again. Nascar used to be a lot more dangerous than it is now - there weren't concrete barriers, just people watching in stands. The cars could go as fast as possible, and there weren't pace cars. There were news reports of "car spins out of control and people get killed" - not often, but just enough that it was part of the excitement. Drivers actually found they were blacking out on some tracks because the turns were too sharp.

So rules were instituted. Engines couldn't be bigger or accelerate faster than a certain value. Drivers had to have protective harnesses. Concrete blocks protected the stands. There are pace cars so if there's an accident, everybody can slow down long enough to fix the problem, then the race can begin. It's still exciting, there are still crashes, there are still winner and losers - but not nearly as many people get hurt or killed as before.

During the 70's, 80's, and especially in the last 8 years under Bush, those rules have been relaxed. Phil Gramm - McCain's economic adviser - lobbied for language that removed the protection between "investment banks" (which are banks that don't do checking/savings, but just invest in the stock market), and commercial banks (the banks you and I use). With those protections down, banks could now have more debt than cash on hand. Banks could get super huge - "too big to fail." Then the failure of the housing market - which is another issue entirely, but it was done with the attitude of "let's not regulate this stuff - it'll fix itself", an idea that was championed by Republicans.

It's as if the Republican party said "OK - at Nascar races, get rid of the rules. The crowds want to get involved - so take down the barriers! Drivers want to go faster - let them do whatever they want to the cars. If it's too dangerous, they'll just slow down by themselves. If there's an accident, don't worry about pace cars - people will know if they don't slow down they'll get hurt."

The exact same scenario as what used to happen in the older unsafe Nascar days - only now we have even faster cars. So now we have a situation where there's a massive accident, cars are on fire all over the road, cars have crashed into the stands and people are bleeding and dying - and the question is "What happened? How could this have happened? We don't understand!"

I do. And I hate to say it, but the blame is 80% on the Republicans - and that's why when I started getting involved the studying the issues, I decided that I had to support the Democratic policies. Because, as a guy with a scientific mind, I was able to observe what worked and what doesn't. We tried it the Republican way for almost 30 years now starting with Reagen. Republican promised if they had more control of government, they'd make government smaller, leaner, more efficient and less involved in our lives. More fiscally responsible.

Instead, under Reagen, Bush I and Bush II, it's been worse. More deficits. Spending out of control. Spending - especially in Iraq - geared towards making the rich even richer by paying them taxpayer dollars. More infiltration of the government into our daily lives (like the NSA spying on our phone calls without warrants, or expanded powers of the TSA into our airline travel - expansions that security experts like me say just don't work compared to old fashioned police work).

And that's why I support a Democratic candidate. Even though I'm LDS.

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