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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?

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  1. Almost 20 years ago, I received a letter from BYU saying that if I attended Summer School, I could continue on in my education at BYU. The letter was signed by Rex Lee, and in my young, naïve mind, I knew it was him personally who allowed me to study at BYU. I have revered that man ever since.

    And then his son came along… I had these exact same thoughts as you. What would Rex think of his son’s leadership? Surely Rex wouldn’t be the senator that Mike is. I’m so glad you wrote this for me.