A Joseph Fielding McConkie Story

I served as a missionary in Scotland for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints from September of 1987 until September of 1989. For the last five months of my service, that mission was under the direction of Joseph Fielding McConkie, a singularly gifted gospel teacher, a devoted disciple of Christ, a fierce champion of the Restoration, and a bold witness of the divine mission of the Prophet Joseph Smith. President McConkie passed away on October 10th, 2013.

He was only my mission president for a relatively short period of time, but he made an indelible impression on me and on my testimony of the Restored Gospel. If you have read anything I’ve written on the subject of religion here on this blog, chances are you’re reading warmed-over McConkie. So much of my thinking on these subjects has been shaped by his perspectives that it’s difficult to separate his point of view from my own.

As I attended his funeral yesterday and sang “Praise to the Man” alongside other middle-aged dudes in a choir of former Scotland missionaries, I tried to think of the best way to honor his memory here. I could recount some of his more memorable teachings, or I could recount some examples of his singular sense of humor.

Then I remembered a story that does both.

During a series of missionary zone conferences, President McConkie would take Bible texts used by critics of the Church and demonstrate how, rather than prove the Mormons wrong, these verses in context actually reinforced a testimony of the Restored Gospel. On this occasion, President McConkie began his instruction by quoting from the Book of Matthew, Chapter 22, verse 30:

“For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven.”

By that time in my mission, I had bumped into many an angry evangelical Christian that had thrown those words of the Savior in my face as evidence that the Latter-day Saint doctrine of eternal marriage ran contrary to the Bible. The conventional wisdom is that Jesus was announcing that there is no such thing as marriage in heaven. Certainly a cursory reading of his statement here would give that impression.

Not so fast, President McConkie said. Back up a little, focus on the context, and understand the point that the Savior is trying to make.

He began in verse 23 of the same chapter, which sets up the exchange that yields Jesus’s marriage statement:

The same day came to him the Sadducees, which say that there is no resurrection…

President McConkie noted that it’s important to recognize the Sadducee agenda here. These guys are questioning Jesus not to challenge him about marriage, but rather to trip him up about the reality of resurrection, a doctrine they rejected. (“The Sadducees didn’t believe in a resurrection,” President McConkie said, “so they were sad, you see.”)

That’s why Jesus, in his response, doesn’t focus on marriage, either. “But as touching the resurrection of the dead,” Jesus says:

But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying,

I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.

And when the multitude heard this, they were astonished at his doctrine.
(Matthew 22:31-33)

The astonishing doctrine is not the marriage doctrine, then, but rather the doctrine of resurrection, and everyone knows it, including the Sadducees. That’s the point of the exchange. So when we look at what Jesus says about marriage in order to make that point, we need to realize that his purpose is not to expound on the nature of marriage in the eternities to a group that rejects eternity, but rather to sidestep the rhetorical trap the Sadducees are setting.

Jesus did that all the time. “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s” and “the baptism of John, was it of heaven or of men?” and “he that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone” were all examples of Jesus refusing to accept at face value the premises being presented to him.

That’s all well and good, but what did Jesus mean about marriage in verse 30?

The key, according to President McConkie, can be found in the antecedent to the word “they” in Jesus’s answer. “They” neither marry nor are given in marriage. Who are “they?”

The Sadducees, in setting up the scenario to flummox the Savior, talk about how “there were with us seven brethren,” and each of them, in turn, marries a woman whose first husband dies. The next husband dies, too. This happens over and over again, and she ends up marrying eight times, so who is going to be her husband in the resurrection?

Again, it’s essential to remember that this query is coming from a group of people who don’t believe in a resurrection. They think this example, then, shows how ridiculous the concept of resurrection is on its face, and that Jesus won’t be able to provide a satisfying answer, and his authority with the masses will be undermined by anything he says.

But Jesus refuses to play the game.

“They neither marry nor are given in marriage,” Jesus says – the “they” in question being the people provided in the Sadducee example. “There were with us seven brethren,” the Sadducees said, emphasis added. In other words, seven Sadducees, who don’t believe in a resurrection, marry a Sadducee woman who obviously wouldn’t believe in a resurrection, either. The Savior, then, is masterfully skewering them for their presumption in assuming they’ll be married in a resurrection they deny.

They, the eight men and the one woman who deny the resurrection in the example provided, aren’t going to be married in the resurrection. If you want to be married in the resurrection, you have to accept the Lord and his doctrine. Implicit in Jesus’s rejection of the marriage example of the Sadducees is an assumption that, while “they” won’t be married, there will be others who will be.

“There’s a modern precedent to this,” President McConkie told us. “Can anyone think of a woman in our day who has been married eight times?”

Sure, we all answered. Elizabeth Taylor.

“Good. Is there any question as to who Elizabeth Taylor’s husband is going to be in the resurrection?”

We, laughing, shook our heads.

President McConkie laughed, too, and then said, “Elizabeth Taylor is going to be lucky to be resurrected.”

Joseph Fielding McConkie. A great scholar and a great man. I’m going to miss him.

Vote for Rex Lee

If I were a rich Democrat, I’d max out my donations to the Mike Lee 2016 campaign.

It would be a bargain at twice the price. What Democrat could possibly match Lee’s ability to destroy the Republican Party from the inside?

I’ve read a number of statements from Lee’s diminishing number of devotees who, while forced to acknowledge the woeful ineffectiveness of his demagoguery, applaud his willingness to “stand for something.” These are often the same people who, rightly, deride liberals who want to be judged for a policy’s good intentions instead of the same policy’s disastrous results. I do not doubt Lee’s sincerity in wanting to get rid of Obamacare. But no one should doubt that Lee’s stupid stunt actually strengthened Obamacare, more so than anything the president or the Democrats could have done. His intentions don’t matter; his results do.

I’ve covered this before, so I don’t want to repeat myself any more than I already have.  Yet I remain baffled as to why Lee’s acolytes assign a level of integrity and righteousness to the man that somehow mitigates the disastrous consequences of what he actually does. Many believe his eagerness to “save the Constitution,” etc., endows him with a divine commission to pursue his warped strategies, which therefore holds him blameless.

God, it seems, is on Mike Lee’s side, so the rest of us ought to shut up.

But what’s remarkable, and what few people realize, is that “the rest of us” includes Rex Lee, Mike Lee’s father, a fine Latter-day Saint and arguably one of the greatest constitutional scholars that has ever lived. On just about every salient constitutional point, the father and the son not only disagree, but are diametrically opposed.

To illustrate this, I’d like to quote some excerpts from a speech that Rex Lee, former president of LDS Church-owned Brigham Young University, gave at the institution over which he presided. The address was titled “The Constitution and the Restoration.”

Behold a Lee who makes a whole lot of sense:

The descriptive phrase most commonly used by many members of the Church is that our Constitution was “divinely inspired.” Unfortunately, some Church members have deduced from that general, nonscriptural description more than the scriptures or the Constitution or common sense will sustain.

That is, from the general label “divinely inspired ,” some assume that the Constitution is tantamount to scripture, and therefore perfect in every respect, reflecting in every provision and every sentence the will of our Heavenly Father, just as is true of the Book of Mormon or the Doctrine and Covenants. That view cannot withstand analysis. Our Constitution has some provisions that are not only not divine, they are positively repulsive. The classic example is contained in Article V, which guaranteed as a matter of constitutional right that the slave trade would continue through at least the year 1808. There are other provisions that are not as offensive as the slavery guarantee, but they were quite clearly bad policy, and certainly were not divinely inspired in the same sense as are the scriptures. Moreover, regarding the Constitution as tantamount to scripture is difficult to square with the fact that our republic has functioned very well, probably even better, after at least one of its original provisions (requiring United States senators to be elected by their respective state legislatures rather than by the people at large) was amended out of existence by the Seventeenth Amendment.

This is especially interesting given that one of the centerpieces of Mike Lee’s campaign was the repeal of the Seventeenth Amendment. When asked about this specific issue in a candidate forum, Lee said his father “wasn’t always right,” but that we should “not speak ill of the dead.”

Mike Lee would often end his campaign rallies by quoting LDS scripture about “wise men being raised up” to write the Constitution, with the clear implication that the Constitution was, indeed, the very scripture that his father said it wasn’t. Rex Lee addressed that issue head on, and came to the opposite conclusion:

Probably the most helpful statement is contained in section 101, verse 80 of the Doctrine and Covenants: “And for this purpose have I established the Constitution of this land, by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose.” I submit that this scripture makes it very clear that our Heavenly Father’s involvement in the bringing forth of our Constitution was more an involvement in process than in end result. As President Benson has stated, “It is my firm belief that the God of Heaven raised up the Founding Fathers and inspired them to establish the Constitution of this land.” His focus, and the focus of the Doctrine and Covenants, frees us of the burden of trying to equate the Constitution with scripture and, therefore, to justify every part.

Mike Lee spent a great deal of time bemoaning any attempt to reform our broken immigration system, even, at one point, calling for the repeal of the 14th Amendment, which made slaves citizens. He also railed against the commerce clause, and Rex had some strong words on those subjects, too.

One of the most important features of the American Constitution, both in theory and in practice, is the magnificent breadth of its most important provisions–notably the commerce clause, most of the Bill of Rights guarantees, and the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process and equal protection clauses. The lack of specificity of these and other provisions has almost certainly been essential to the ability of this document drafted in 1787 to survive over 200 years of the largest and most unanticipated change that any country at any time has ever experienced.

The younger, stupider Lee would often wave a pocket copy of the Constitution at questioners who had specific policy concerns. “Just read this darn thing,” he would often say, referencing the magical document in his hands. “The answers are all there.”

The older, wiser Lee disagreed profoundly.

You can read the Constitution very carefully and not find, even in a footnote or an annotated version, any answer to [specific policy] questions… nothing in the text of the Constitution, and nothing in its history, provides the answer to those and many other practical questions that arise every day.

Finally, the most rancid issue that comes up with regard to Mike Lee is the oft-repeated, but seldom understood and possibly apocryphal prophecy that one day the Constitution will hang by a thread, and it will be Latter-day Saints like Glenn Beck and good ol’ Mike Lee who will be called upon to save it.

The elder Lee had no patience at all for this kind of nonsense.

A final area of constitutional interest unique to Latter-day Saints finds its source in the well-known “hanging by a thread” statements by the Prophet Joseph Smith. Similar statements have been reiterated by no fewer than six of his successors, including the current prophet. In a forthcoming book to be published by the Religious Studies Center, Professor Donald Cannon lists over forty instances in which these seven presidents have either used the “thread” metaphor or something like it. But in none of those quotations cited by Professor Cannon has any Church leader ever been very specific as to the metaphor’s meaning.

Unfortunately, some members of the Church have been all too ready to offer their own explanations. The only thing consistent about these explanations is that in each instance, it was the Church member’s own unresolved, often very private, grievance that supplied evidence that the thread was beginning to fray, sometimes beyond repair. Among some people, any problem from a tax increase to a failure to collect the garbage on time to a boundary dispute with one’s neighbor is likely to call forth the observation that it is certainly easy to see how the Constitution is hanging by a thread. A companion assertion is that the election or appointment of certain persons, often the person making the assertion, to designated positions provides the key to preventing the demise of our constitutional system.

In my view, this is another instance in which going beyond what our leaders have said can be misleading at best, and potentially fraught with mischief.

So when considering the differences between the two Lees, if Mike is on the side of the angels, does that make a demon out of Rex? Or, in the Lee family, has the Constitutional apple  fallen pretty far from the tree?

Anyone Want to Be a Beta Reader?

So I haven’t written much on this blog of late. My apologies. By way of explanation and not excuse, I thought I’d tell you why.

I’ve been producing a whole lot of content for the Deseret News, including a weekly column that you can find here if you’re not reading it at the moment.  My latest column about the moral dilemmas posed by “Breaking Bad” was published online last night and in the print edition today. Maybe I should publish them here, too, so it gives the illusion that I’m keeping this blog up to date.

But that’s not the whole story. I’ve been doing work for the Deseret News for over a year now, and I’ve still managed to produce some original content for this blog. The difference now is that I’ve spent every possible writing opportunity for the past few weeks in revising my novel, which attracted the attention of an agent in New York who hooked me up with an editor that provided invaluable feedback on what I need to do to get the book ready for publication. She gave me a lengthy overview that went through the book chapter by chapter, and then we had a Skype session where we were able to discuss the details in person.

She was filled with great advice. She objected to my use of the phrase “smooching like there was no tomorrow” and the word “poopiness,” insisting those were both too juvenile for the audience I was trying to reach. I gave her “poopiness,” as I didn’t even realize that word was in there, but it took a bit to put me at ease with letting go of “smooching like there was no tomorrow.” But let go I did – the things I do for my craft!

Um, yeah. Anyway…

The best advice she gave me, however,  came when she questioned one of the mythological components of the story. “Yeah,” I said, “I’m a bit fuzzy on that, too.”

“Well, if you’re fuzzy, then there’s no chance your readers won’t be fuzzy,” she said. She then insisted that I write a concise backstory that outlines the mythological framework of the whole book, so that I don’t break my own rules as I tell the story.

“That’s the reason Harry Potter is great and Twilight isn’t,” she said. “J.K. Rowling understood her universe and never broke her own rules. But Stephanie Meyer broke them all the time. Readers are completely unforgiving when a writer breaks their own rules.”

That was good advice, but it was easier said than done. My book has gone through various iterations over the course of twenty years, and it’s been hard to keep track of what the rules are. When I sat down and tried to flesh out the backstory, I ran into so many contradictions that I became frustrated that I would be able to make the book work at all. I was tempted to abandon it.

Then a reprieve came in the form of my nephew Matthew, who has just begun his service as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Little Rock, Arkansas.

At a family party, I shared with Matthew the part of the backstory I had been able to come up with, but I felt I had written myself into a corner. We swapped ideas, and he promised me he would think about it.

Then, about a day later, I received a 2,500 word opus from Matthew with an entirely new backstory he had fashioned out of whole cloth. Well, not entirely whole cloth – it still relied on the characters and the basic premise of my novel, but he wasn’t at all afraid to toss out garbage I’d been holding on to for the sake of tradition more than anything , and it took a bold new approach to the story, using fresh eyes to see the problems and solid suggestions to make the thing work.

I didn’t adopt all of Matthew’s suggestions, but I did use a good chunk of them, and, even more importantly, his overview gave me the catalyst I needed to bring order out of chaos. I set out to rewrite the book, and even though I already had a draft, it felt like I wrote the whole thing again from scratch. Characters were radically modified, combined with other characters, or discarded altogether. No section survived without major revision, and, in an 80,000 word book, about 20,000 of those words constitute entirely new material. It also has a new title, and the original title of “Captain Jumper” is entirely dead, since no character uses that name in this version.

And now for the good news is – the draft is done! Done! Honestly! I finished the unfinishable! Huzzahs all around!

But I’m not going to resubmit it to the agent just yet.

The editor and my nephew provided the fresh eyes I needed, and I’m hoping I can impose on you – yes, you, the person reading this – to help me polish this version. If you’re reading my blog, you don’t have a major aversion to what I write, so you might be interested in being a beta reader for my novel, now titled “Gods, Monsters, and Jeff Downey.” I’d love it if you’d be willing to read through the book and tell me what you liked, and, even more importantly, what you didn’t like. All suggestions and criticism are welcome, ranging from fixing grammar and poopiness-level word choices to massive, overarching thematic visions you think I’ve missed.

If you’re interested, send me an email to jim@stallioncornell.com and say so. I’ll send you back a message with a copy of the book in an MS-Word file, and I’ll eagerly await your feedback as you dive into my fictional world.

(One caveat – if I don’t know who you are in real life, I may balk at the idea of sending my book to you. I’m not saying I won’t send it, but I would ask that you provide me with enough personal info to help me be comfortable with the idea of trusting someone I don’t know with a copy of my unpublished manuscript.)

So, with that said, who’s in?

Understanding the Enemy

More people have discovered our president’s rank incompetence as a result of this Syria debacle, but what shocks me is that some of them never seem to have noticed it before. That this president is not only a failure, but a colossal failure, has been beyond dispute for quite some time.

Yet the fact that the country signed up for another four-year hitch for the guy that botched the job so profoundly in his first term made me realize that I just don’t understand the mindset of the nation at large. Who could stare in the face of record unemployment, anemic growth, metastasizing government, exploding debt, and the imminent/inevitable collapse of Medicare and Social Security and say, “More, please?”

Turns out that the other side doesn’t understand me, either.

I stumbled on this little “Funny or Die” sketch that truly made me despair for the possibility of mutual understanding across the ideological divide. You can watch it if you want, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

I watched this and kept wondering what the joke was.

If you haven’t watched it, and, again, I don’t recommend that you do, the premise is that the NRA should start advocating gun ownership for young black men. That’s it. That’s the joke that’s supposed to have you rolling in the aisles, or, even more importantly, “make you think.”

What it makes me think is that these guys do not understand those with whom they disagree. At all.

In order to find this funny, witty, or even coherent, you have to begin with the premise that the NRA exists solely to allow the George Zimmermans of the world to hunt down and kill unarmed black teenagers. You then have to believe that they only want to preserve the Second Amendment for non-people of color, and that the idea of a law-abiding black citizen wielding a weapon keeps these racist riflers awake at night.

Except there isn’t an ounce of that that meshes with reality.

There is precisely zero evidence of the NRA using racial rhetoric in any of their recruitment efforts, nor is there any evidence that they would exclude or discourage black membership in any way. If anything, they would welcome a young black person signing up because it would demonstrate that race has absolutely nothing to do with their mission. But this video thinks it’s being bold and shocking for proposing the idea that blacks ought to sign up for the NRA, too, because, well, you know, wink wink, nudge nudge.

This video reinforces the prejudices of viewers who agree with the people who made it, but it’s more confusing than offensive to those of us on the other side.

However, I do find the overall preoccupation with race in this country, a preoccupation that has grown, not diminished, since the election of our first black president, to be entirely confusing and more than a little offensive. When a Facebook friend of mine noted, in passing, that only “deep-seated racism” would explain opposition to anything Obama has done, I decided to hide him from my newsfeed lest I say something rude. And when prominent media types poo-poo outrage over the IRS targeting of the president’s enemies, or the disgrace of Benghazi, or the massive expansion of government spying, as a symptom of Republicans who “want to impeach Obama for the crime of being president while black,” it just makes me want to throw up.

If a white guy named Bush had done all or even one of these things, he’d be rhetorically eviscerated by the people now defending Obama. But I’m supposed to give Obama a pass for his terrible performance because of something as triflingly irrelevant as his skin color? Why on earth should I care what color anyone’s skin is?

I don’t think race should be an impediment to gun ownership and/or NRA membership, to holding elected office, or to any lawful activity under the sun. And, by the same token, I don’t think anyone’s race ought to provide an excuse for shoddy performance in any endeavor.

So, that said: Obama is a lousy president, and those who refuse to acknowledge that for fear, as Hollywood paleoliberal Ed Asner has put it, of “being anti-black,” the problem with race is theirs, not mine. Although, given the fact that people who think that way control the levers of power , they’ve made it all of our problem now.

Heaven better help us, because nothing else can.

Undissing the Monkees

It seems I have slandered Davey Jones, Mike Nesmith, Peter Tork, and Mickey Dolenz. Time to set the record straight.

I wrote a column for the Deseret News entitled “Hey Miley Cyrus, what’s wrong with being wholesome?” The point of the column was that artists who think they’ll be taken seriously by being sleazier usually fall flat on their faces. I cited several examples, including George Michael, Julie Andrews, and, yes, the Pre-Fab Four, AKA The Monkees.

I later recieved a thoughtful email from one Bret Wheadon, the Webmaster of Monkees – The Complete Guide that set me straight.

Here’s what he wrote:

Hi, I enjoy your columns, and generally agree with them wholeheartedly – but one paragraph in your column: “Hey Miley Cyrus, what’s wrong with being wholesome?” caught my eye. You wrote:

If Miley doesn’t want to learn from George Michael, then she ought to pay attention to the object lesson provided by the Monkees, the screwball quartet that took the nation by storm with a goofy-yet-clean sitcom, which they followed up with a filthy, incoherent feature film called “Head” that froze the Monkees’ collective career for a couple of decades. When they came to their senses and embraced all things wholesome again, they achieved new success by reconnecting with the audience they’d alienated.

From that paragraph, I’m betting dollars to doughnuts that you have never seen the movie HEAD that you vilify here. I’ve seen it – and there’s nothing “filthy” about it – there’s no nudity, bad language, violence or gore. Yes, it’s at times incoherent, in a mild psychedelic way, which was a deliberate effort by the Monkees to deconstruct the samey-same scripted act they were known for. But it is rated “G” and watching it today – it totally deserves that rating (unlike something like the original “Planet of the Apes” which is definitely NOT rated G entertainment.

It’s a musical psychedelic comedy where comedy sketches begin, but then fall apart as the Monkees decide they’ve lost interest. And the “head” of the title is Victor Mature’s giant head where the Monkees play dandruff.

Defending my Monkees!

Here’s what I wrote back:

You got me, sir. I have seen excerpts, and I actually had a class with Charles Macaulay at USC, who was in the film, and he dismissed it as a “drug-frenzied nightmare,” so I was going by reputation. I’ll put a correction up on my blog.

Thanks for writing to me!

Longtime readers of this blog will recognize Mr. Macaulay as Landru from the original Star Trek TV series.


Mr. Wheadon wrote back and said the following:

Well, and let me backpedal (a bit) I seem to remember one clip which features a famous black and white film clip of the execution of a (Vietnamese?) citizen – all while Davy Jones is doing a softshoe in white tie and tails… more of a bizarre social commentary than anything else.

You won’t find that in a Disney movie!

So there it is. Just wanted to correct the record.

Discrimination Goes Underground

Back when I was still in the theater biz, I had an exceptionally awkward conversation with an exceptionally dimwitted producer trying to get my advice as to how he could avoid hiring any homosexual actors.

(As an aside, who would go see a professional theatrical performance that didn’t have any gay people in it? Given that there has likely never been any such production, we may never know the answer to that.)

He was unfazed when I pointed out that he was both colossally ignorant and loathsomely bigoted, so I appealed to his reptilian instincts and told him he’d be in trouble with the law if he were to proceed with this plan.

“Oh, we wouldn’t have to tell them that’s why we’re not hiring them,” he said. “They’d never be able to prove it anyway.”

I thought about that as I read the story of Elaine Huguenin, the New Mexico photographer who, because of her religious convictions, refused to take pictures of a gay couple’s commitment ceremony and ended up losing a lawsuit because she ran afoul of the state’s new anti-discrimination law. Had she claimed to have another assignment the day of the gay wedding shoot, she could have bowed out without raising any eyebrows or prompting any litigation. She’s being punished not just for discriminating, but for being honest about what she believed. In that sense, she’s morally several steps up from the anti-gay producer, except that his theater kept hiring gay people in spite of their pinheaded leader, so it’s hard to tell which situation is more problematic.

Huguenin’s lawyers argued that the New Mexico statute preventing anti-gay discrimination violated the First Amendment by suppressing Huguenin’s freedom of religion. Dale Carpenter of the University of Minnesota filed an amicus brief that said, in part:

“Consider, for instance, a freelance writer who writes press releases for various groups, including religious groups, but refuses to write a press release for a religious organization or event with which he disagrees. Under the court of appeals’ theory, such a refusal would violate the law.”

That’s true, but it would also probably never happen. Even if someone complained, the state wouldn’t be likely to prosecute. State crackdowns on religion tend to be a one-way ratchet.

Defenders of this decision equate opposition to gay marriage with racism and claim that Huguenin violated the law precisely “as if [she] had refused to photograph a wedding between people of different races.” But if that’s the standard, that would mean that the flip side would also be true. Professional shutterbugs in New Mexico could be conscripted into service as the official photographers for the local branch of the Ku Klux Klan.  Or, if it’s opposition to immoral sexual behavior that is uniquely restricted, then what’s to prevent producers of pornography from legally compelling Ms. Huguenin to take pictures on their behalf?

But, again, who thinks either of those scenarios would ever come to pass? Not me, certainly.

This is not to say that gay weddings have anything in common with pornography or Klan rallies.  Rather, it’s an acknowledgment that the First Amendment was designed to protect a wide variety of religious expression, even if, or perhaps especially if, that expression is out of step with the conventional wisdom of the day.

But that doesn’t seem to be how it works in practice.

Fact is, we place clear restrictions on religion when it interferes with someone else’s fundamental rights, and I’m okay with that. I’m glad, for instance, that anyone refusing to let a black person shop at their store can’t justify themselves by saying that racism is part of their religion. With the DOMA decision, homophobia and racism are now considered legally and morally equivalent, so more Huguenin-esque incidents will crop up in the days ahead. But even more likely, you’ll see more of what my gay-hating producer was doing. Opposition to homosexuality will go underground, and gay people will encounter increased discrimination disguised as something else.

I’m not sure what to conclude from this, although I’m happy to call attention to what a slimeball my old producer was.

To Save the Planet, Get Your Hands Dirty

Well, it looks like global warming is real.

Yes, despite a 15-year pause in the process which was not predicted by global climate models and which modern scientists can’t adequately explain, those same infallible scientists are 97% agreed that we are turning earth into a toxic fireball because of all the CO2 we generate, and, when you get right down to it, it’s all your fault. (And, of course, my fault, since I have spawned too many children who exhale carbon dioxide. It’s also probably George W. Bush’s fault, too, but he’s already got enough blame to be going on with.)

In order to avoid being branded as a Flat Earther, you have to stipulate to the above tenets at the outset of any global warming discussion.

So I hereby so stipulate.

I refuse to argue about the underlying science. How could I? I’m not a scientist. I’m no longer going to ask pesky questions about how much of the climatic variability is natural and how much is man-made, even though this monolithic scientific consensus doesn’t agree on the percentage of warming attributable to human activity. I’m happy to overlook the fact that previous climate models were wildly off the mark in predicting our current rate of warming, and I’m going to presume that no such errors exist in weather forecasts ten years out. Squabbling about the underlying science is so yesterday’s news.

Nope. The science is settled. To paraphrase Al Gore, the planet has a fever, and humanity is the virus. (Case in point: Miley Cyrus. Need I say more?)

The debate is over. It’s time to take action!

So here’s what I’m going to do. Every morning, I’m going to get up and go to my backyard. There’s a big patch of dirt over in the northeastern corner of the yard that used to be the kids’ sandbox. That is where I’m going to send a daily message to the Earth, employing naught but the extremities Gaia evolved me with. Using my right index finger inserted into soil moistened by the morning dew, I’m going to write the following words at dawn in big bold letters, all in caps:


Four exclamation points seem sufficient, but if the mood strikes me, I may add a fifth.

This primal communication, produced by all-natural means with a minimal carbon footprint, will establish a mystical connection between myself and the dust from which I sprang. The synchronicity of all things will make it impossible for the planet to reject the heartfelt plea of one of its children. And if one lone finger’s daily scrawl will not go unnoticed, imagine the power of every man, woman, and child of this great nation giving Mother Earth the finger on a daily basis.

Sure, the unenlightened will scoff, claiming that collective dirt doodles aren’t going to actually accomplish anything.


When did efficacy become the standard by which we measure efforts to combat global warming? 100% of scientists agree that cap-and-trade, a carbon tax, and every other political solution being championed by Al Gore and his ilk will be just as effective as my dirty digitary demonstrations, but they don’t abandon their silly proposals just because they will have no impact on global temperatures, either. Indeed, they applaud the effort because, well, at least they’re doing something.

Well, I’m doing something, too!

Furthermore, my something is just as effective as their something, and, really, it costs a whole lot less than cap-and-trade’s multi-trillion dollar price tag of new taxes and diminished economic output. Plus, under my plan, you to get to put your fingers in dirt. So it’s win-win all around!

In the future, this is where I will make my stand whenever this issue is discussed. Wasting time diagnosing the problem over and over again is pointless when every cure you propose is nothing more than environmental homeopathy.

Everyone wants to do something about global warming. Great. But what’s the point of doing something really, really expensive that doesn’t work?

Stupid Senatorial Threats

Utah Senator Mike Lee recently wrote a piece for USA Today where he laid out the case for defunding the Affordable Care Act, AKA ObamaCare.

I’m no fan of Senator Lee, certainly, but he does manage to squeeze in several cogent points.

“By a margin of two to one, Americans say ObamaCare will make their family’s health care situation worse, not better,” Senator Lee said. “Just 12% support the individual mandate. Doctors don’t want it. Businesses oppose it. Unions say it’s bad for workers. Studies show it will drive up premiums and force Americans off their health plans.”

Wow! Look at that! His Obamacare diagnosis is right on the money. Where we differ is in the details of the proposed cure, which is, in a word, stupid.

“Congress controls the power to appropriate funds,” writes Senator Lee. “The House can add language to the next spending bill… that says Congress will fund all the functions of government… except ObamaCare.” He concludes that “Senate Democrats will have a choice: Fund the government or shut it down to protect ObamaCare.”

See? Stupid.

Undoubtedly, Senator Lee realizes that even if Senate Democrats agree to this, which they won’t, President Obama would have to sign such a bill into law, which he won’t, so all he’s left with is an empty threat, which he claims is no threat at all. At a recent town hall, Lee was pressed on this by his ardent supporters, who are apparently smarter than he is, and he responded  by saying “A lot of people have blatantly mischaracterized it as a shutdown threat,” Lee said. “It is not.”

Um, it’s not? What happened to “Senate Democrats will have a choice: Fund the government or shut it down to protect ObamaCare […?]” How is that not a shutdown threat? Did he even bother to read his own op-ed?

I suppose it’s not a shutdown threat if the president willingly signs a blackmail bill that guts his signature legislation and throws the entire health care system into even more turmoil than it is already weathering. That might happen just as soon as baboons burst forth from my bowels and wing their way to the Caribbean.

Even a fifteen-year-old girl can figure out just how stupid that is.

For it was at this same meeting that teenager Samantha Jensen asked him, “If you don’t want a shutdown, why are you proposing a bill that will do just that, that will shut down the government if they don’t defund Obamacare?”

Lee’s answer: “I never, ever, ever proposed a shutdown.”  See? Never ever ever! Rather than clarify his incoherent argument, he piles on the intensifiers. Ask him again tomorrow, and he’ll insist that never in a million years, never ever ever times infinity would he propose a shutdown. And then he’ll push forward with his loopy government shutdown proposal.

As of now, he’s enlisted a whopping 14 Senators for his non-shutdown shutdown threat, which means… um, well, not a lot. 51 votes constitute a majority, but you’d need 60 votes to end an inevitable Democratic filibuster of this nonsense. That means you need another 31 Republicans  willing to embarrass themselves, as well as five Democrats willing to betray their party and their president for a lost cause that will enrage the nation and not actually do anything.

Anyone want to bet me that this will happen? I promise to give really good odds.

No, the end result will be an exercise in futility that, in the nigh-unto-impossible event it proves successful, would only manage to make it more difficult for people to get access to Social Security or Medicare but will have no practical effect on ObamaCare’s implementation. In reality, this push will make Lee look like a bigger impotent joke than he already is, which will be difficult, given his legislative vapidity until now.

You would think that a lawyer like Senator Lee would be willing to pay attention to precedent.

Recall that in 1995, Newt Gingrich made a similar calculation that President Clinton would yield to Republican demands in order to avoid a government shutdown. He didn’t, and the Republicans took the blame. Yet back then, the Republicans had commanding majorities in both houses of Congress. Today, the Democrats have the Senate and the White House, and the political blowback to this kind of posturing from the minority party would undoubtedly be far greater than what the GOP experienced last time they tried a boneheaded stunt like this.

Yes, ObamaCare is a mess. It’s too expensive; it’s unworkable, and, as the latest jobs reports suggest, it’s pushing people away from full-time employment and into part-time work. So I’m happy to applaud Senator Lee’s motives. His methods, however, are idiocy on parade.

Glenn Beck Is Provably Dishonest

Since I officially broke my own taboo about mentioning biographical details yesterday, maybe it’s time to pull this off the shelf. It’s an op-ed I wrote a few weeks back and submitted to various newspapers with no success. So I present it here to you in all its unedited glory.



In April of 2010, my father, Senator Robert F. Bennett of Utah, was fighting for his political life, and, as his campaign spokesman, I was on the front lines of the battle. Dad remained popular with the Republican Party at large, but his fate was in the hands of a relative handful of delegates that selected the party’s candidates in Utah’s quirky caucus system.

These delegates were chosen in neighborhood meetings held two days after the passage of Obamacare, which my father vigorously opposed. Disgust for the so-called “Republican Establishment” that had proven incapable of preventing this debacle motivated thousands of Tea Party activists to flood their caucus meetings with a single mission – get rid of Bob Bennett.

Many of these delegates were members of Glenn Beck’s “9/12 Project,” which was one of the most influential groups on the vanguard of the Tea Party movement. Our campaign recognized early on that Glenn Beck’s opinion carried a tremendous amount of weight among Utah conservatives, most of whom shared a common faith with Mr. Beck as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Some of them go so far as to give credence to discredited Mormon folklore and presume that Mr. Beck will be instrumental in rescuing the Constitution as it hangs by a thread. So when Mr. Beck took to the airwaves on April 27, 2010 and said he would “vote for a mouse over Bob Bennett,” we knew we had a serious problem on our hands.

Personally, I had been a longtime Glenn Beck fan. I loved his sense of humor, and I never missed an episode of “Moron Trivia,” where Beck would call convenience store workers to ask them ridiculously simple questions and marvel at their uninformed answers. But Beck’s tone shifted considerably with the election of President Obama. I felt he had become far more strident than he had been during the Bush years, and I found myself increasingly uncomfortable with his apocalyptic rhetoric.

Then I discovered that he wasn’t willing to let the truth get in the way of a good story.

The same day he expressed his preferences for rodents over Bob Bennett, Glenn Beck castigated my father for voting to confirm Cass Sunstein as the Obama administration’s Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.

“You have Bob Bennett, “ Beck said with contempt. “You have a guy who looked me in the eye, a guy who looked me in the eye and said, ‘You know what, Cass Sunstein, he told me that this was all academic stuff. I mean, I looked him in the eye, Glenn, and Cass Sunstein, that’s all academic.’”

The problem with all that looking in people’s eyes is that Glenn Beck’s eyes and Bob Bennett’s eyes have never been in the same room at the same time. My father has never met Glenn Beck. He has never spoken to him on the phone. There has been no direct communication between these two men in any way, shape, or form. To hear Glenn Beck claim that Bob Bennett looked him in the eye and called him by name was nothing short of astonishing to me.

I fired off an email to Glenn Beck twenty-four hours after the broadcast, identifying myself and recounting his words from the day before. Borrowing from George Will, I asked, “Given the fact that you have never met my father, in what sense was your statement true?”

I received no reply.

Mr. Beck’s fortunes have risen and fallen over the years, but his influence on Utah politics remains potent, despite the fact that he predicted a civil war in the summer of 2012 – there wasn’t one – and his insistence that the government will soon confiscate your scriptures, which they won’t. His recent conspiracy theories about the Boston marathon bombings should be enough to persuade reasonable conservatives that this is not a man who is helpful to their cause. As he grows increasingly messianic, he is unlikely to be hampered by things as trivial or mundane as facts.

For me, his credibility was shattered on April 27, 2010, the day he demonstrated that he was willing to make things up if it suited his purposes. He ought to be shunned by principled conservatives, regardless of whether or not they agree with him on any or all issues. No amount of ideological purity can justify deliberate dishonesty in the service of the cause.

What I’d Do About It

The comment referenced below came in for moderation last night at 10:09 PM. Since then, I have wrestled with my conscience to determine whether or not I ought to allow it to see the light of day.

Bill A’s message to me came in response to my “I Hate It” post, where I lament the vicious hatred exposed by the Trayvon Martin case. Bill A quotes me – accurately – as saying ““We’ve reached a point in America where we can’t disagree without presuming that the disagreements are rooted in malice. It’s not enough that I be proven wrong; I have to be evil besides.”

To which Bill A responds:

Yes. So what’s your point, Jim? What do you plan to do about it?

Now, already, “Jim” is a red flag for me, as I have tried to maintain some veneer of anonymity here. The rest of the comment goes on to reference my family and my personal circumstances in a way that would have previously caused me to delete the comment in moderation and block the commenter from ever writing anything again. But times have changed. Now that I write a Deseret News column in my own name – the latest of which is in the paper today and can be read online here – it seems silly to balk at the use of “Jim,” especially since each column links back to this blog. In addition, I’ve referenced my father and my personal circumstances repeatedly in that column, so I don’t really have a leg to stand on if I try to prevent such details from appearing here.

So here’s the rest of Bill A’s comment/indictment, highlighted in green:

This is the place we’ve been headed now for decades. It’s where Democrats have been taking us. It’s where RINOs (including your father) have been letting them take us with little objection.

So how were you fighting these attitudes when you abandoned the GOP and went off to support Sam Granato after they dumped your father for Mike Lee?

I ask this not just as a Utahn, but as a resident of the state senate district you once tried to represent.

Well, there it is.

I want to begin my response by stepping back from the personal nature of the comment and call attention to its stark logical deficiencies, which should be readily apparent to any dispassionate reader. Remember, my “I Hate It” post, and the sentence Bill A pulls from it, focused on the viciousness of our current political discourse, where all disagreements are rooted in the presumption that those who disagree with us aren’t just wrong; they’re evil. Bill A places the blame for this solely on the Democrats, and then he asserts that my unwillingness to be sufficiently partisan is a major contributing factor.

In other words, the way to diffuse ideological hatred is to be more rigidly partisan, excoriate RINOs, and place the blame solely on the left side of the aisle.

Does that make any sense to anyone else? Because it certainly doesn’t make any sense to me.

Of course, I could be blinded by the personal viciousness of the comment, which I will now address in detail. I’ll begin by answering Bill A’s second question – i.e. “So how were you fighting these attitudes when you abandoned the GOP and went off to support Sam Granato after they dumped your father for Mike Lee?”

In my mind, that’s precisely what I was doing in supporting Sam.

I talk about some of this in my Tribal Politics post, but I want to go on record as saying that my work on the Sam Granato campaign was, personally, one of the most satisfying experiences I’ve ever had in the political arena. It opened my eyes to the fact that most Democrats are, in fact, not evil, and that they want what’s best for the nation, too. Indeed, that experience was the direct catalyst for the sentence that Bill A quoted at the outset. On the Granato campaign, I was in the line of fire of the very partisan hatred that I rail against and which Bill A embodies.

Also, for the record, I do not think Mike Lee is evil. I think he is wrong. I think his brand of Tea Party extremism is not what the GOP ought to be championing, and I believe he has proven to be every bit the embarrassment to the state of Utah that I thought he would be. I’m also watching, behind the scenes, as Utah Republicans who agree with me line up to challenge him in 2016. But that’s a discussion for another day.

So to answer the first question, which is the title of this post – i.e. what am I going to do about it?

I’m going to make every effort to presume that people who disagree with me are doing so in good faith. I’m not going to let the fact that someone’s a Democrat dissuade me from acknowledging and appreciating any good ideas they may have. I’m going to refuse to pick my friends on the basis of party affiliation. I’m going to support and work with good Republicans and good Democrats to make a better nation and a better world. I’m going to oppose people like you, Bill A, when you try to advance the idea that the Republican Party has a monopoly on virtue. And I’m going to support you wholeheartedly when you’re right, which, unfortunately, in this instance you are not.

So what are you going to do about it, Bill? Because your comments are emblematic of the problem of which you are a part.


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